Wired’s oral history of how the London startup scene came to be is a good reminder that, typically, a city needs some great big exits (acquisition or IPO) to really kickstart an ecosystem. In the case of Silicon Valley, you could perhaps trace things back to Fairchild Semiconductor (1950s). But a more recent example of this phenomenon would be the PayPal Mafia, whose members have gone on to found Tesla, LinkedIn, YouTube, and other companies that you may have heard of.
Put simply: success begets success. When a startup does really well and the founders and employees of that company get rich, it is likely that many will go on to found/fund other successful companies in that same city. In the case of London, that catalytic startup was arguably Skype (at least according to Wired). Microsoft acquired the company in 2011 for $8.5 billion, giving birth to the Skype Mafia. Of course, that wasn’t the only ingredient, but it sure helped (excerpt from Wired):
Since 2008, according to data compiled by Dealroom.co, the UK has created 60 unicorns (tech companies valued at $1bn or more) – 35 per cent of the 169 created across Europe and Israel. In the past three years, the UK has created more unicorns (25) than France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden combined (19). And London has produced 23 unicorns with a combined value of $132bn, compared with Berlin’s eight, worth $32bn.
The world has changed since Skype was founded. It’s now cool to be doing a startup. But given that every city seems to be trying to establish a thriving startup scene, I think it’s valuable to point out just how important a single big exit can be, not just for the people within the company, but for the broader city. Easier said than done, right?