personal-profiles

Once Gritty, London’s Tech City Shines with New Startups

If you’re in London, where your startup is located couldn’t be more important. And right now, everyone is competing for space in the super-hot neighborhood of Moorgate.

“We’re originally from Holland and where you’ve based there doesn’t really matter,” says Vincent Karremons, founder of the online recruitment network Magnet.me. “It’s not something people would really ask about. But here, everyone’s always keen to know. And it’s always good to be able to say that our office is in Moorgate. Although you’re a startup, you add some legitimacy.”

Moorgate is part of an area of London’s East End that has become known as Tech City. Seven or eight years ago, you wouldn’t have found more than a handful of tech companies in what was then a rundown part of the city. Today it’s home to an extraordinary 6,792 tech businesses, according to figures recently released by the commercial property firm Stirling Ackroyd.

That makes Tech City the third largest cluster of tech-oriented companies, after San Francisco and New York. And the presence of giants like Facebook and Amazon guarantees it will continue to grow.

A few months ago, Magnet.me moved into an office in WeWork Moorgate. The building’s location in Tech City and its proximity to the City of London, one of the world’s leading financial centers, is a boon for Magnet.me.

Karremons says that the huge number of companies in the area opens up lots of business opportunities. Magnet.me is currently a three-person operation, but the team benefits from rubbing shoulders with movers and shakers near the water cooler, at networking events at WeWork, or just being out and about in Tech City.

London’s center of start-up culture

The diversity of the community in this part of London is key to its success, says Taavet Hinrikus, co-founder of international money transfer service TransferWise, also based in Tech City. And it’s not just early stage companies that get the benefits, he says. Established firms like TransferWise, which now has more than 450 employees, are fired up by what Hinrikus calls the “entrepreneurial spirit” of start-up culture.

“There’s a theory on creativity that talks about how the collision of different people, cultures, and approaches fosters greater creativity,” he says. “It’s about the unexpected. A lot of the time people or businesses tend to congregate with others that are like them. Once you start mixing it up, different things start to happen. It’s exciting to see.”

Offices like WeWork are an important piece of the puzzle. Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City UK, a non-profit group set up by the British government in to support businesses in the area, estimates that there are as many as 80 co-working spaces in London. Moorgate and Shoreditch, two neighborhoods in this area known locally as Silicon Roundabout, are among the most vibrant environments for startups.

“They’re a great place for any business to not only be able to know even more people who can help their business, but also share ideas, approaches, problems with others who may be at a similar stage in their development,” he says.

Grech says that businesses benefit from more than just proximity.

“A lot of co-working spaces are now curating events specifically to help digital businesses grow,” he says. “I think that’s a terrific way of bringing added value other than just space and access to Wi-Fi.”

Growth attracts big-money investors

It was affordable rents that first drew tech entrepreneurs to Moorgate, Shoreditch, and other parts of the area less than a decade ago, following in the wake of the artists who had begun to gentrify what was then an undeniably gritty neighborhood. The recession meant that the area had a lot of vacant office space.

Demand has pushed prices up since then, of course, but the environment is more favorable for young businesses today, argues Reshma Sohoni, co-founder of the Shoreditch-based first-round accelerator Seedcamp.

“Start-ups need the flexibility to be able to grow fast and not have to take 10-year leases, five-year leases,” she explains. “You can pay daily, weekly, all of that’s on offer. There’s an incredible amount of flexibility, it’s something we’ve never seen even when actually prices were much lower.”

Another reason Silicon Roundabout-based firms are able to grow so quickly is the ready supply of talent in and around the area.

“If you are sitting in Moorgate, you’re within 40 miles of six of the top 10 universities in the world, which obviously produces some high calibre people— graduates and PhDs that get snapped up into great companies,” says Grech.

Committed to widening the pool even further, Tech City UK last year launched the Digital Business Academy, an online learning platform available for free to all U.K. residents. It features courses from University College London and the Cambridge University Judge Business School.

“Half the people coming through the academy want to start their own business, half want to join a digital business, so this is how we make sure that a community is completely connected into the tech scene, and ensure that it certainly isn’t an ivory tower,” says Grech.

The area is easily accessible to talent within other U.K. tech clusters, too, an important factor in Skyscanner’s decision to open an office at WeWork Moorgate this fall.

“From a location perspective, it’s very attractive not only for people in metro London but also being able to extend out and be interesting for people in some of the adjacent technology hubs,” says Bryan Dove, senior vice president engineering at the global travel search website. “Commuters from Cambridge can make it to Kings Cross or Cambridge to Liverpool Street on the direct train.”

It’s a similar story when it comes to investment, says Sohoni, with money “moving eastward” from the center of the city in Mayfair. She mentions venture capital firms like Connect Ventures and Local Globe that now have offices closer to the tech startups of Silicon Roundabout.

“Capital, which used to be very Mayfair-centric—one of last things we would’ve expected to move east, because it tended to be comfortable out there—they’ve also felt the pressure that the talent is here and the draw is all here,” says Sohoni.

It’s still early days for Tech City, but all the signs point to a momentum that just continues to build.

“You’re seeing people who have built businesses, sold their businesses or listed them on the London Stock Exchange, who have now become seed investors in early stage companies, reinvesting that money back into the system,” says Grech. “Which is what strengthens an eco-system.”

Sohoni agrees.

“You see it with Silicon Valley over two decades, three, four decades,” she says. “It just feeds on itself. There isn’t a cap on it, it just continues to grow. You see four, five venture capital firms here, they attract another five, another ten, and you feel that you’ve got to be in this area otherwise you’re missing out.”

Illustration credit: Vincent Conti

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city-guide

Made in Detroit: Why the Motor City is a Great Place for Creators

After filing for bankruptcy in 2013, Detroit famously rolled up its sleeves, and got back to work. This “can do” attitude is what you’ll find behind its booming startup culture and efforts to rebuild one business at a time.

“‘Made in Detroit’ has become a brand in itself,” says Ryan Landau, founder of Detroit startup re:purpose, which matches people with jobs by finding the right culture fit.

“It’s a rare opportunity to be part of the comeback story,” he says. “I think you can see it in the retail, the restaurants, the new businesses, and technology scene that is popping up. In the last five years, each year, the rate of change is exponential.

If you ask Landau, the reason Detroit is so attractive right now is the talent, the resources, and the fact that it’s affordable. Home to one of the country’s most skilled workforces, the 29 colleges and universities graduate more engineers per capita than any city in North America.

wework detroit common area_

“From a talent perspective, there is a real hustle,” says the Merchant’s Row member, who launched the first business out of WeWork’s new space in Detroit. “People are loyal to this city and trying to make things happen, not only for their individual company, but for everyone. We are all a part of a collective effort to rebuild.”’

From a resources perspective, Detroit is still a big city, but compared with San Francisco or New York, people here, especially in technology, have a bigger piece of the pie.

“From a customer standpoint, you’re not getting lost in the buzz of competition,” Landau explains. “Every new business is a win for the city.”

That means entrepreneurs have access to more capital and more customers than in saturated markets. And that has attracted new brands like Warby Parker, Shinola, and Bonobos, all of whom have made big bets on Detroit.

One of the first people to make that bet was Dan Gilbert, chairman and founder of Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans, who moved his headquarters and 1,700 employees to downtown Detroit in 2010, in effect jump starting the urban revitalization.

Today, Gilbert’s businesses employ over 17,000 people. That includes Bedrock, which has invested several billion dollars in local real estate, a major driver behind the city’s ability to attract talent.  With new lofts and apartments opening every day, employers are finding the cost of living is much lower than other major U.S. tech hubs.

Historically Detroit’s economy was powered by aviation, defense, and the car industry. The new Detroit continues to build upon its manufacturing roots, while diversifying into a next-generation hub for technology, creators and makers.

Take Shinola, which has helped put Detroit back on the map as a place for high quality, American-made goods with its signature watches, leather products, and bicycles.

“The mission of the brand is to create jobs, and we were 100 percent ready to hire local people and provide that training,” says Bridget Russo, chief marketing officer at Shinola, which opened in 2011 with just a handful of people. “From a people perspective, there is a good vibe here,” says Russo. “They are still open to collaborating and being supportive of new businesses coming in and being helpful.”

That kind of collaboration is also evident in Detroit’s thriving artistic community.

standby detroit mural

“When we opened our gallery over four years ago, we wanted to make an impact beyond these walls, with a public art component,” says Anthony Curis, owner of the Library Street Collective, a contemporary gallery located in the heart of downtown.

Curis, and his wife JJ, have been instrumental in Detroit’s downtown public arts scene, supporting the installation of large and small sculptures, paintings, and large scale murals.

“When we heard there was going to be a new, massive parking garage, we were concerned how it may affect the neighborhood,” says Curis. He came up with a plan which would be a game changer for Detroit.

Curis worked with garage developer, Bedrock, to create large scale murals on every floor of the Z Garage, bringing in 27 artists from Detroit to Kiev. Once that was built, Curis pitched the idea for a pedestrian alleyway called at The BELT, a public space that is home to murals and art by local, national and international artists including Nina Chanel Abney, Shepard Fairey and Cleon Peterson.

nina

Today, the BELT attracts visitors from all over the world and boasts a James Beard nominated restaurant, the Standby, and a seasonal cocktail bar, The Skip.

Russo thinks what’s happening in Detroit resonates with many people because “it’s an emblem of hope that if things can turn around here, they can in place like Baltimore or Pittsburgh.”

On May 25, Detroit will host the Creator Awards, a global initiative by WeWork to “recognize and reward the creators of the world.” Finalists from the Midwest and Canada will compete for $1.5 million in grants. Over the course of the year, WeWork will be giving out more than $20 million at a series of events taking place in cities spanning the globe.

With two WeWork locations, at Merchant’s Row and soon at Campus Martius, Detroit is the second city to host the Creator Awards, after Washington, D.C.

“Simply put: If you want to be part of the rebirth of a great American city, there’s no better place to live, work, and have an impact,” says Landau. “This isn’t just something we believe. It’s something we’re betting on by locating our headquarters here.”

Photos by Sal Rodriguez

 

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news

At New WeWork Services Store, One-Stop Shopping for Businesses

Everyone knows WeWork provides workspace for creators of all types, from solo entrepreneurs to teams from global corporations. But Co-Founder Miguel McKelvey says it’s always been more than that.

“When we first started WeWork, we thought about it as a holistic solution,” says McKelvey. “Our goal was to think, ‘What do you need to be successful? What are all the things we could do for you?’”

Unveiled this week, the WeWork Services Store marks the next chapter in the company’s evolution. This integrated hub for business services — similar to an app store — gives members the tools they need to better run their companies. It streamlines the process of finding, managing, and purchasing the various services that a growing company needs.

WeWork Services Store“We are going to make it easier for you to operate,” says McKelvey. “We are going to save you money, packaging services that can all be billed through one invoice.”

WeWork is partnering with more than 100 top providers, including Slack, Amazon Web Services, Office 365, Salesforce, and GoDaddy. Members will have discounted access to these and other services, which they can handpick to meet the needs of their company. The services include tools for everything from hiring and recruiting to accounting and invoices to marketing and website creation. Think of it as one-stop shopping for your business needs.

“What we are saying is, ‘These are software tools that we really believe in, that we feel are the right ones for you,’” says McKelvey. “We are consolidating them all into one place, so with one click you can have all the software you need to run your business.”

Ron Gura, the company’s senior vice president of digital products, says his team did a lot of research so they could “really understand what would be the most meaningful offers” for WeWork’s 100,000 members worldwide. The store launches in the U.S. this week, and will roll out globally in the future.

One of the members that the digital products team reached out to is Teresa Tsou, the president of Pipcorn, a snack company that makes hand-seasoned mini-popcorn.

“One of the things about WeWork that’s great is that they really do understand how businesses and entrepreneurs work,” says the WeWork Dumbo Heights member. “And so with the WeWork Services Store, to be able to find recommendations on applications that make sense for businesses our size is invaluable. It allows us to really focus on what we love — which is popping popcorn.”

The store includes recommendations from fellow members about what products they use, helping streamline what can often be a confusing and time consuming process.

“Bringing a curated selection of things that are relevant to you, and are trusted by people like you, is exactly what you want when you are trying to build something,” says Clark Valberg, founder and CEO of InVision, a platform for planning, designing, and building apps.

Valberg says the last thing entrepreneurs and creators want to think about, and spend time on,  is what marketing email or accounting software to use; “So getting clarity on that decision super fast, and knowing the people around you feel the same way, and actually love the product, is incredibly liberating for people starting a business.”

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personal-profiles

Hip Haberdasher Donovan England’s Style Suits Everyone

Donovan England is in a hurry. He’s wrapping up a phone interview with a reporter while he and his friends speed to the airport to board a private plane. His destination for the weekend? A bachelor’s party in New Orleans.

“Things are going pretty fast,” England admits.

The 34-year-old entrepreneur’s business—an eponymous line of bespoke suits—is also going places. Just take a look at his Instagram account, where nearly 90,000 followers look forward to his next post—usually shots of him wearing one of his own smartly tailored looks.

Donovan England 2There’s nothing off-the-rack about what Donovan England offers clients. Every suit is custom made to reflect each client’s personal taste. And the fit is impeccable, with England himself taking 23 different measurements to ensure that cuffs and lapels look perfect.

And can we talk about the fabrics? There’s a wide range of colors that go far beyond the usual black and navy blue.

“The fabrics are from England and Italy,” says England. “We looked at 100 different manufacturers before we found the right ones.”

England started out in institutional banking, but he realized that he wanted to work for himself.

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur,” he says. “I’ve started a lot of different companies. Some make money, some lose money.”

It was a couple of poorly fitting suits that convinced him to start his own custom clothing line with an initial investment of just $550.

“I figure that when you have a lot of money, you’re going to spend a lot of money,” England says. “We were able to do it with a lot of trial, and a lot of error. But it was all worth it.”

For six years England worked from home, but now he’s based at WeWork Uptown in Dallas. At his office, look for leather furnishings and a gleaming bar cart with top-shelf spirits.

“Our space that reflects what we’re doing with the brand,” says England. “We’re going for that haberdashery feel.”

Photos by Megan Weaver

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start-your-business

5 Tips for Creating a Newsletter People Actually Read

If you think email newsletters aren’t important for your business, think again. In fact, niche-driven, carefully-crafted newsletters engage audiences and create a customer base that grows by itself. Take the New York Times, who for years had newsletters that were essentially an extension of their newspaper. In an effort to increase traffic, they shifted from newsletters driven by automatic feeds, to ones heavily curated by journalists, expanding to over 30 newsletters, which span a diverse set of topics including cooking, politics and parenting. The new strategy created a noticeable jump in open rates and subscribers. Their current email open rate is now 50 percent, double the industry average. Are you hoping to do the same? Here are five tips for creating a newsletter people will actually click and read.

Offer original, useful information

This may seem obvious, but your content is the most important part of your newsletter. It needs to be creative, thought-provoking and original. Many sites miss the mark by creating newsletters that simply rehash old material they could find on their website. You will add value by creating content that requires research, or is based on information that is hard to find.

Your newsletter should remain consistent in order to draw in readers who care about the topic for months, rather than days. This will help you build readership.

Make sure it looks good

Again, this might be obvious, but your newsletter’s design is an important part of ensuring readers click on, read, and come back to your newsletter.

This also holds true for written content, which should follow a consistent style. Make sure your newsletter’s layout is visually engaging and highlights your creativity by using high-resolution photos, illustrations, an appealing color scheme.

And don’t forget to build your newsletter with mobile capability in mind. Over 53 percent of all emails are read on mobile devices. If your newsletter doesn’t format properly on a phone, chances are it might not get read at all.

Treat it as a stand-alone product

Quality writing attracts and retains readers, plus it creates a word-of-mouth marketing campaign that can expand your readership. A great example of this is Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter, a newsletter that has half a million readers and a 70 percent open rate.

Newsletters like Lenny Letter and those from The New York target specific kinds of readers. For example, Dunham, a Millennial feminist, has a largely, young female audience. By doing this, they establish real value in their writing that is difficult to replicate in marketing.

Market your newsletter

A newsletter can’t have impact until people sign-up for it. To get your hard work in other people’s hands, you must market the existence of your newsletter. Even though you’re probably creating a newsletter for the sake of marketing, you still need to get the word out.

Tell the world about your newsletter by creating simple banner ads online or marketing it through your existing social media channels. The New York Times did this when they started to diversify their newsletters and it was very successful.

Be consistent

If you’re interested in creating a consistent base of readers, keep them satisfied with scheduled content. Stick to a publishing schedule and build a pool of creative content you can pull from, if need be, repeatedly. Set a schedule that works for you. Whether that’s weekly or monthly, what’s most important is that your build trust with your readers with a regular, high quality product.

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