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Adding “swagger and style”: What London’s Silicon Roundabout can learn from Silicon Valley

A little west of London’s burgeoning technology cluster most frequently referred to as Tech City or the Silicon Roundabout, lies the towering UK headquarters of API software specialists Apigee, hailing from the very Californian location the UK seeks to replicate in its capital.

The famous Silicon Valley provides the blueprint for London’s tech hub, and with more attention being afforded to the UK startup scene than ever before - not least through ITProPortal’s all-new dedicated channel – we paid a visit to Apigee’s plush Paddington offices to find out what Tech City companies could learn from a Valley graduate.

Apigee may not be a household name in the UK, but the firm, which builds its own API Platform and brings developers and enterprises together for their mutual benefit in the ‘app economy’, is a shining example of what can be achieved when boosted by the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship fostered in the Valley community. Apigee is currently experiencing 90 per cent year-on-year employee growth and 30 per cent of its new customers in 2012 are on the Global 200 list. A sweeping expansion through Europe, heralded by its arrival in London last year, is now fully in motion.

Encouragingly, Apigee’s CEO Chet Kapoor and EMEA Managing Director Jeremy Perlman are clearly enthused about London’s technology scene, and the duo said there was no question the necessary talent pool of developers and programmers already existed in the capital.

“What I find interesting is that everyone wants to import the ideas from the US, but often they’ve already built a lot of great things here,” Perlman said, suggesting British developers needed more confidence in their own innovation rather than “always benchmarking and understanding” via US examples.

So if the capabilities are here already, what is the key to the Silicon Roundabout flourishing in the same way as the Valley? “It’s really down to getting a unique mix of ingredients,” said Perlman. “There’s investment, but there’s also a cultural aspect - you could call it a business culture - this appetite for risk. People taste the culture of success at these [Silicon Valley] companies, and there’s an effect of it all coming together and one feeding off another.

“One of the things that’s great in Silicon Valley is that there’s so much happening that it’s a magnet for talent, because people think, ‘Well, if this project doesn’t work out, there’s another just sprouting up for next time.’”

Kapoor eagerly latched on to Perlman’s reference to a “cultural aspect,” claiming that vocal self-promotion and a sense of bravado was an important trait in the Valley that helped generate momentum and a sense of belief in new projects.

“I think publicising success [in the UK more] will make a difference", Kapoor said. “When you have something like the Valley, whether you like it or not, you’re competing for space because the Valley is so loud about everything it does. I think it’s really important for people to believe there’s a lot of really cool stuff coming out of here and publicising it more and more. As more success stories happen, I think it’s important to get the word out.”

But all of this back-slapping and bluster isn’t very British, I said. We’re not very good at it. “But we are,” responded Kapoor with wide eyes and a wide smile. “We know how to do it and we’re going to spend more time doing it with our [UK] customers – but focusing on them, not on us.”

“We like to stick to our guns,” Perlman concurred. “In effect we’re importing some knowledge and expertise, and maybe some swagger and style along with it – and that’s why we’re not a traditional enterprise company. I’m really not interested in wearing a suit to go meet someone, even if they expect that. It might even make it more interesting if I don’t. And we’ve got some people who can be even more outlandish.”

Managed well, a confident approach running through a company can aid its rise, Apigee argues, and a degree of bullishness can be justified if the technology is in place to justify it.

“I think we have our style of game,” Kapoor says. And if others don’t like it? “We just slap people around!” he laughed. “All joking aside, it’s not just what we do; we care deeply about how we do it. We’re a global company, we’re growing rapidly, but I think there’s a consistency [in style] our customers expect.”

Adding this style to the substance already in evidence at the Silicon Roundabout and beyond could well be the next step needed in the UK's tech evolution. Yes, the whooping and hollering we witness at tech events Stateside will never really be a 'British' thing - thank goodness - but adding some Silicon Valley gloss and conviction to the projects emerging from our shores may well add the necessary buzz, and ultimately investment, to take UK startups to the next level.

Top image: Flickr (Ogoco)