Some Thoughts On London On Our Way Home

We are heading back to NYC today. The Gotham Gal has been in Europe since July 4th. Our kids have been here for parts of that stay. I have been here for most of it with one trip back to the states in the middle of the month. The Gotham Gal has been travel/food blogging the entire trip and there is a treasure trove of advice on Rome, Tuscany, Zurich, London, and Normandy on her blog for those interested in visiting those places.

Our family rented an apartment in London and my daughter Emily did a program at Central Saint Martins the past month. The rest of us tagged along for parts of the trip.

I was able to get a fair bit of work done over here. I'd like to thank the people at Index Ventures who provided me an office, wifi, and a few lunches too. I enjoyed doing meetings at VC hangouts like The Wolesley and The Soho House. The Wolesley reminds me of Balthazar and I vastly prefer the London version of The Soho House to its NY cousin.

Speaking of cousins, London feels like NYC's cousin. The cities are very similar in many ways. The language, the culture, the nightlife are all close to each other. It's easy to live here if you live in NYC.

But there are some interesting differences. The most striking is the Middle Eastern, Russian, and Indian wealth that is resident in London these days. I was walking up Bond Street in Mayfair one afternoon by myself. I was walking faster than everyone else and passed at least a dozen groups in a four or five block span. And I noticed that hardly any of those groups were speaking english. When you walk into the most expensive stores, there aren't many brits or americans in them. But they are full of people from countries to the east of europe. It is a stark reminder of where the wealth is being created in the world today.

I believe the tech scene is alive and well in London and growing throughout much of Europe. I covered a bit of this in my post on Seedcamp. London feels like NYC did five years ago. There are a bunch of strong entrepreneurs and startups but the investment community is still pretty thin and there aren't enough active angels. Like NYC, London entrepreneurs are commonly recruiting engineering talent in less expensive locations and there are plenty of those places a few hours plane time from London.

Throughout our month in Europe, I was using Foursquare to checkin. Since we left NYC on July 4th, I've checked into 133 locations in five countries (including my trip back to the states). That's roughly four checkins per day. I have found that Foursquare is actively used in Europe. We found checkins and mayorships in almost every venue we visited. However, it is much easier to gain mayorships in Europe. I have no mayorships in the US right now but I have accumulated six while we've been in Europe.

I really love the ability to map my checkins that I blogged about a few weeks ago. Our apartment was in Mayfair but we traveled all around London while we were here. And yet, you can see that my checkins are very much centered around Mayfair and Soho.

Foursquare checkins london 

We are excited to be going home. We've missed our apartment, our beach house, our friends, and most of all our dog Ollie. But we really enjoyed our time in London. I hope to be back soon.

#Blogging On The Road

Comments (Archived):

  1. Donna Brewington White

    Safe travels and welcome back! It’s been fun tagging along. Gotta love technology.

    1. Tereza

      Yeah I’ve felt like a bit of a stalker but boy did I enjoy “my time” in Rpme, Tuscany, Sch, London, etc…Gotham Gal’s restaurant posts particularly brought it to life. Got to imagine my late dinnertime bowl of cheerios was decadent local food, LOL!

      1. Donna Brewington White

        For some of us, a bowl of cheerios would be decadent local food!Are you one of those lucky ones who can actually ignore carbs?Am married to a man who has probably had a bowl of cereal almost every night of his life and you’d never know it by his waistline. It’s not fair! (but then he does run — and with two little ones, you probably get your fair share of physical activity too — haha)

        1. Tereza

          Oh, my, not at all! Best keep the bread basket away from me.Alas my first and last attempt at vegetarianism many moons ago, which consisted of copious amounts of bread and cheese, resulted in an swift and hefty gain. The horror!I usually order red meat. My husband usually something light, green or fishy. He eats girl food. I eat guy food. We’re a good match.

      2. ShanaC

        I enjoyed the art!

  2. RichardF

    You hit the nail on the head Fred, the investment community is extremely thin here, particularly at the angel level. You were staying with one of (if not) the best at Index.There has been wealth here from the Middle East since the 70’s and the Russian oligarchs staring moving in post 90’s. If you stayed in Mayfair then you were in the centre of it, that’s where it’s at it’s most obvious. It’s a very popular place for the wealthy from the Middle East and Eastern Europe to live. It’s a reminder that oil/natural resources is still where the serious money is. Foursquare need to up their game with the incentives to get people to use it over here regularly. Badges are not enough, give me a free drink if I visit somewhere x many times and tie it to previous purchases. I often forget to check into Foursquare, I rarely forget to pay for my coffee with my Starbucks card.Hope Emily enjoyed the course.

    1. fredwilson

      No question that getting venue owners to offer real value for checkins is the next big thing in location based servicesIts happening a lot in parts of the US. It needs to happen outside the US more

      1. johndodds

        That’s going to be a real chicken and egg situation here in the UK The likes of Foursquare are barely known over here outside the bloggers and the geek fraternity (indeed I read recently that there were only 50,000 foursquare users in London or maybe that was the UK) so it will be a hard sell to retail stores etc to induce them make such offers.

      2. LIAD

        Im guessing sooner or later Dennis will start offering venue owners a similar value proposition to Groupon’s – thats when LBS’s will start to get uber-lucrative for all concerned.If 4SQ’s looking to beef up operations in the UK – please send him my way

      3. ShanaC

        Personal thought- why just locations? Locations are a function of where you are right now. You could throw a bunch of fun things based off the time element, what you are doing in time. Scavenger hints, activities, all sorts of craziness. Venues could capture a big marketing bonazanza online and in real life based off people doing stuff in front of them in time…

      4. markslater

        Me and a group of guys built an engine to address precisely this point, and its now just about finished. The absolute key is to bring the merchants in to the conversation.But we have not based this on check in’s as we are taking a very different route.

        1. fredwilson

          there is more than one way to skin a cat

          1. markslater

            its funny how great ideas (not saying that what we are doing is one as it still needs to be proven) can often come from looking at an existing (and successful) concept like FS and just not believing that the approach is the end of the day i am convinced that FS is a service that provides a means to an end. (which is not to say again that it is not wildly successful as that) but i am equally convinced that the home run service is one that provides the “end” – a realtime interaction with a merchant that leads to a transaction.

          2. RichardF

            I completely agree Mark, looking forward to seeing your service live

    2. ShanaC

      There is a time element in that…I keep thinking about that. It’s not just what we do where, it is when we do it.

    3. Donna Brewington White

      Hi Richard — replying to your earlier question from another one of Fred’s post — which I received this a.m. thanks to Disqus:”Are there many British expats where you are Donna? California is popular with us Brits I know.”I never stopped to think about it until now, but in almost every social or professional setting I am in here in Southern California, someone is British. This is especially true when the location is Malibu, and this includes my kids’ elementary school.I know it’s tourist season and, added to that, my awareness was heightened by your question, but in a fairly congested public setting in Malibu today, I was struck by how many Europeans were around and how many of the accents were British. Maybe Fred didn’t see many Brits in Mayfair because they are all in Malibu!Malibu is not the norm for anything, so I don’t know how many conclusions I can draw from my experience. However, interestingly, although Malibu is known for the concentration of arts/entertainment celebrities and execs, it is heavily populated by entrepreneurial types and as a community has very strong entrepreneurial characteristics and attributes. Just as an aside. BTW I recently discovered that one of my closest friends who is a transplant from London was operations manager for a VC firm in London! She left to manage her husband’s music career when he got a record deal in the U.S. (and of course they moved to Malibu). I’ll have to find out the name of the firm she was with — would be a really small world if it is one of the names I’ve heard today.Have you ever been to California?

      1. RichardF

        It sure would be a small world Donna.I’ve been to NorCal several times, mainly for the skiing in Tahoe but not SoCal but that is on our travel list, just waiting for our son to get a little older!

  3. stephanwehner123

    Isn’t it true that in the US it is more common to use English instead of your home language?

    1. fredwilson

      There does seem to be more integration in the US than in London

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        Is it integration or compliance?

  4. gregorylent

    fab city, get an oyster card, can go anywhere quickly … love the art scene as well, and the languages! the whole world is there! and the service workers, from all over europe, young, working hard, living several to a room … making the city be alive, much like an asian one .. and, culture, my gosh

    1. fredwilson

      We all got oyster cards. We had to top up at the window because the machinesdidn’t like our US cards. But otherwise I love the oyster cardI should have mentioned the whole ‘topping up’ concept in my post. I amtotally into the top up, including topping up the pint at the pub

      1. RichardF

        yep topping up a pint of beer is definitely one of life’s pleasures

        1. Carl Rahn Griffith

          But is the glass half full or half empty? 😉

          1. RichardF

            Always half full Carl ! 🙂

          2. Carl Rahn Griffith

            God didn’t make days by halves, indeed 🙂

      2. rich caccappolo

        I found issues with cards, too, and I noticed a couple interesting differences or advancements. First, many merchants still balk at taking American Express. Second, merchants expect consumers to have chip and pin credit cards – CC fraud is a more prevalent issue in Europe than here in the States. Finally, at every restaurant and even in shops, did you notice how CC checkout was done via handheld devices? The waiter brings over a mobile credit card processing device and you do the transaction at the table. Your credit card never leaves your sight – also, you can see how payment via mobile device would come about. No one would feel comfortable giving their iphone to a waiter to take back to a cash register, but having it read by a device offered to you at your table seems very possible and acceptable.

        1. johndodds

          Same can apply when using UK cards in the US.

        2. Geoff

          In fact according to chip & PIN regulations the card should never leave your sight or be handled by anyone other than the cardholder!

  5. Julien

    Safe travels!

  6. Possicon

    That was nice Fred! It’s good you enjoyed your trip to London. We really cannot discount the impact of population and culture. I see the US as being very flexible hence the rapid development of VC/Enterpreneurship community.London, will follow suite but only on the path created by NYC.

  7. Phil

    It’s in the poorer communities of London that you’ll find the most languages spoken. Some schools in the East of the city can have dozens of different ones. Very challenging for the teachers when English is a second language for the vast majority of the pupils.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s like parts of Brooklyn and Queens in NYC

      1. aminTorres

        Spanish Harlem, El barrio and most of Washington Heights.

        1. ShanaC

          Washington Heights is weird. YU owns good chunks of Washington Heights and there is a nice town versus gown problem up there- for whatever the reason, they’ve been disinclined to invest in the area….

  8. Hazlo por Ti

    Having lived in US and eventually settled in London almost 10 years ago, London feels more like a melting pot. Even groups of teenagers messing about are a postal picture for Bennetton.At Uni in the States, I could personally feel the evident multi-segregation. In London, it feels like two groups, British… and the rest. With mostly everyone keeping links to the motherland, in my mind, London has turned into the epicentre of a benevolent cancer that reaches the furthest corners of the non-American world.A quick walk around Edgware Road any day of the year will (not just in July, when the city turns a party town for the wealthy Middle Easterns and a cash cow for Harrods and chauffeured Mercs) will make you wonder exactly in which country you are.With all due respect for the trade (you never know who’s who these days) I usually compare London to a prostitute. Everyone, including the Brits, comes, performs the act, gets what s/he wants, and moves on to the arms of the truly loved.Perhaps language cohesion doesn’t let that happen in the US. Perhaps the entry barriers to the US makes us thing of it as a long term destination and adapting to the society has its value.I am no VC or angel investor even though I see that as a hopeful future where I could fit nicely in, but the States feels to me as a society with a “let’s do it” attitude while London sings the “let’s re-market it!” one.

  9. Martinowen

    I was a schoolteacher in London back in the70’s. The school I worked in had 51 mother tongues. As a Physics teacher I was grateful for the Eastern European and Asian kids to keep me employed – the source of engineers hasn’t changed much since then!In the same way that NYC is not the US London is not the UK (and Mayfair is not London! (but is Boardwalk Atlantic City????)). Trying to be an entrepreneur in Hicksville is hard but not impossible. If I can make it here I can make it anywhere – is doubly true if you are not in the hub. The Soho club is fine – but it ain’t a village pub where I meet my angel (in my case set by the sea)

  10. Razvan

    thanks for all the great information you provide here Fred…can I ask what service/company did you use to rent the apartment in London ? thanks again

    1. fredwilson

      i cannot recommend the service we used. we did not like our apartment verymuch

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        Friends of friends and word of mouth recommendation is often best in such matters (as is often the case) – give us a shout next time if having problems getting your preferred apartment, Fred.

  11. KirkWylie

    Glad to see that you enjoyed our side of the pond. Always nice to get another American’s view on our sordid little burg.I think one of the reasons that you experienced such a lack of English spoken is that you were here during July and August, when Russia and the Middle East get unbearably hot, so the mass exodus to London happens for the wealthy. Selfridges is completely unbearable right now, and you couldn’t get a chauffer driven car if your life depended on it. By keeping so closely tied to Mayfair, you were running into that. We’re a hugely international city, and it’s scattered throughout the city, but the wealthy foreigner thing is very much a W1-in-August thing.I think you’re right that one of the things that’s thinnest on the ground here from an investment perspective is angels. When I was fundraising at the beginning of last year, I really wanted to do a small convertible note from an angel syndicate; I just couldn’t find any willing to do anything other than 50k cheques for consumer internet. I very happily closed a full-on Series A with Accel (who like Index have a fantastic presence here), but I wonder how much more opportunities Accel and Index would have with more active angels investing.

  12. awaldstein

    Hi Fred…thanks for sharing these thoughts.I have some general sense of the ‘type’ of startups that a place like SF might attract over let’s say NYC but don’t have an idea of the types of projects or entrepreneurs that London is a magnet for. Interested to know if you found a sense of place in the types of startups that were finding a foothold there?And also, followed your TUMBLR over the last month. Between that and Gotham Girl’s blog got a real sense of your thoughts on the place from street level….fun stuff.

    1. ACM Johnson

      Watching the London scene with attention, visited in May and several times last year – types of startups include financial tools (Kirk Wylie) and video tools – the portfolio list for Octopus Ventures is indicative.Places to stay – I used @unhotel with success (nice apartments to rent – worth it if you are in town for more than 1 night, particularly if there are several of you)

      1. awaldstein

        Thnx for the input!Video certainly. I introduced a social video product for Facebook in the early spring in London and the natural bent of Europeans towards video usage, maybe engendered by Skype, was obvious.

    2. fredwilson

      i think London is a magnet for entrepreneurs from all over europe, includingeastern europe and possibly also the middle east

  13. gedcarroll

    Interesting take on things Fred. VC and angel funding have historically been thin here. Most of the VC money tends to go into things like MBOs of existing businesses rather than innovative ones. We had a boom in investment during the boom, but much of it wasn’t smart money unfortunately. Now that innovation has got cheaper due in a lot cases to open sources tools we are seeing more interesting ideas.One thing that US VCs may want to think about is that it is a lot easier to list on the AIM or LSE than it is to list in the US, so the UK may be more attractive for them because of this easier exit – just saying (^_^)

  14. Chris Morton

    Surprised to see your checkin map didn’t involve Shoreditch, cheap rent and creative vibe mean it’s full of startups…

    1. Andrew Walkingshaw

      What Chris said. Most of the early-stage startups in London are based near Silicon Roundabout – which means near Clerkenwell Road and Old Street. It’s a shame you didn’t come over to our parish!

      1. fredwilson

        i was in the area a few times

      2. markslater

        what happened to the silicon ditch? i spent some time working out there in the late 90’s

    2. fredwilson

      i was there a couple timesmy college aged girls basically lived there

  15. William Mougayar

    London is definitely very multi-cultural, as much as Toronto is. I read somewhere that 1/3 of people living in London weren’t born in the UK. It would be interesting to compare this stat to other big cities. I’ll admit I was snooping on your Foursquare checkins a couple of time to see where you were in between blogging…

  16. kirklove

    Glad you had a great trip. Welcome back.

  17. LoJo_100

    From your map alone, it looks like a fantastic trip! Love London and the tech community there. I can’t wait to expand my business to the UK.

  18. reece

    i’ve still got my heart in my startup, but i’ve got one eye on the rest of the world for my next idea as i just got my citizenship for Portugal (read: I can live/work in the EU!).

  19. Sophie

    Further to what I wrote on Twitter at the core of the 2 cities, the people who live their day to day lives would find it much harder to live in either city. New yorkers are used to a 24/7 lifestyle, with delis open all night and pizza and star bucks are at every corner, where getting into the fancy clubs is about the length of your dress. Lon on the other hand is the opposite most people living in Lon are ridiculously rich, everything closes pretty early and the club scene is about your accent, as they say how rara you are. This is obviously a much shorter version of my reasons but there you go!

  20. Emi Gal

    Glad you had a good time, Fred. Come back soon! 🙂

  21. Henry Yates

    Hi Fred,Always happy when you blog about London, especially when you give it such a vote of confidence. Thank you!I am glad you highlighted the weakness in Angel investing over here. I would be interested to know your thoughts on the best way to kick start it. As you say, there is plenty of money around. Do you think we just need to be patient or is there something missing? There was an interesting post on Techcrunch Europe talking about the lack of dialogue on returns that investors make on startups in the UK:…It seems like a lot of the angel activity in the US is driven by ex-entrepreneurs that have made money. Maybe we just havent got to that point yet (we have a few tech entrepreneur investors, just not that many). What do you think?

    1. Carl Rahn Griffith

      I believe a lot of the problem stems from the perception over here (the UK) of the ‘self employed’ – for years the tax authorities – and many people in conventional employment – feel this is someone avoiding paying their full taxes and doing work ‘cash in hand’ etc – a legacy of the building industry, etc.Many ‘professional’ and ‘tech’ types have gone self employed and in many cases it would be more nurturing/positive to perceive these people as wealth generators, entrepreneurs if you wish. A wholly different mind-set.

    2. fredwilson

      NYC got a boost when entrepreneurs had success and started plowing theirgains back into the ecosystemsame as silicon valley for the past 30 years

    3. markslater

      i can tell you one of the problems (and being a londoner living in the US i have a bit of a unique perspective) – if you are seeking to raise capital in London you can far more easily run in to groups (either hanging a shingle as a Venture group, or a PE firm, or a private wealth management firm) who CLAIM to have the capital but are really just middle manning it. The first thing any company should do is to do diligence on their LP structure and have a discussion about capital call process.In the US with the majority of known VC entities this is never a problem (unless you run in to a firm who’s fund is largely invested and they are in the “harvesting period”) – In london everyone seems to be on the fiddle.We ran a pretty significant process last year more in the PE realm than the VC as it was our second raise and we had made good progress – and some of the stories i could tell of these PE funds are laughable…….

      1. Tereza

        Really interesting comment. I encountered this a couple years ago on a firm out of LATAM. Similar. They called themselves a “venture firm” not a “venture fund”, which meant if they liked you they’d start dialing for dollars.

  22. Carl Rahn Griffith

    Having lived and worked in both London and NYC your observations resonate, Fred.The conspicuous wealth thing seems much more apparent in London – sometimes it seems a rather hedonistic and debauched place (to me).NYC is – I found – much more discreet regards showing of wealth, and that most obvious statement of wealth (and often a lack of taste!), the automobile, is much more visible in London than in NYC.The previous ‘New’ Labour government was, ironically – given it’s ‘Labour’ and socialist roots – very ‘welcoming’ to wealth coming into London, regardless of provenance. Tony Blair, bless him – a very aspirational networker …Glad you all had a great time in London – hopefully we can hook up next time.PS, Sheffield Wednesday had first match of season on Saturday – and won! Fingers crossed we have a damn better season than the last one!

  23. markslater

    aghhh my beautiful hometown!Next time you go you should ask us londoners to each reccomend 1 restaurant, and 1 “other destination” for you to consider visiting while there.And i agree on the Soho house – the NY one may as well be in LA.

  24. Raj

    I’m always fascinated by the differences between the US and the UK in reference to Indian immigration, wealth creation, and societal assimilation.You’ll see Indians spread throughout the socio-economic spectrum in the UK, but not so much in the US. My hunch is that history has something to do with that.

  25. Carl Rahn Griffith

    Indeed. But primarily being extracted from, and not re-invested? Apropos:”When you walk into the most expensive stores, there aren’t many brits or americans in them. But they are full of people from countries to the east of europe. It is a stark reminder of where the wealth is being created in the world today.”