Rich guys and nerds

As first published in Cardiff Life magazine in September 2012.

I was recently re-reading Paul Graham’s 2006 essay “How To Be Silicon Valley”. It discusses whether it’s feasible to reproduce the success of San Francisco’s incredible hotbed of startup activity, or whether the circumstances that led to it are just far too unique for it to be copied anywhere else in the world. Graham is a venture capitalist, celebrated computer programmer (having created the world’s first web app and also the code that is the inspiration for all today’s spam filters) and is the co-founder of Y-Combinator, probably the world’s most famous startup accelerator. So he knows a thing or two.

He talks about how it’s not the bureaucrats that make the city what it is, and that they shouldn’t be in charge of deciding which startups receive investment “It would be like mathematicians running Vogue”, he says “or perhaps more accurately, Vogue editors running a math journal”. But, he believes, along with such things as time, universities, personality and competition, you have the makings of a good recipe. But the most important things that he thinks you need to really get this cake baking? “Rich guys and nerds”.

His theory, simply put, is that you really only need two types of people in a city to get a startup ecosystem bubbling away. You need the “nerds” to build the cool technology, he proposes, and the “rich guys” to give them the seed capital to get off the ground and growing as quickly as possible.

So how does Cardiff stand up to this measure? Do we have sufficient rich guys and nerds? Well, yes and no. There’s no doubt that we have a huge amount of talented, ambitious young science, technology and maths students graduating from our Universities every year. The problem is that many of them leave the city before they’ve considered the possibility of creating a startup. Something that we’re trying to address with Cardiff Start, incidentally. The appeal of the startup scenes in London and abroad are far too attractive for our brightest and best, and we need to work harder at keeping them here. Secondly, we actually do have our fair share of rich guys. But, as I alluded to in my July column, I just believe that the majority of them are the wrong kind of rich guys. The majority of potential investors I’ve met in Wales couldn’t have been more helpful and friendly, but the reality is that most of them are middle-aged and made their money in “old fashioned” industries such as manufacturing and financial services. So when confronted with a proposition for a social media aggregator, or an affiliate driven cloud-storage service, or a real-time search engine, it’s no surprise they’re just not going to have the confidence to invest in something they don’t understand.

If Cardiff is going to be a success as a startup city we’ll really need to think of more effective ways to keep our “nerds”, and find smarter ways of getting access to relevant rich guys for our startups.

Another 60-second interview with a Cardiff startup

Hello. Do introduce yourself!
My name is Nigel Sachdev, I am the founder of Cardiff based and an Internet Marketing specialist.

So, what does your startup do?
Stereoboard is a trusted ticket price comparison site that helps music fans get hold of legitimate gig tickets as cheaply as possible.

What makes your startup special?
We were one of the first UK music sites to launch a ticket search facility back in 2009 to help gig goers locate tickets from official box offices and reputable secondary sources.

What was the eureka moment that made you realise you had to build this company?
The proliferation of ticket scams was alarming. Fans didn’t know what sites to trust and just didn’t know where to find legitimate tickets for sold out shows. Too many people were getting ripped off.

How’s business at the moment?
We’re making great progress. We regularly see over 2m unique visitors a month and our ticket search facility accounts for over £5m per year in ticket sales.

If someone could wave a magic wand, what would you want them to do for your business?
People discover us when looking for tickets to sold out shows. There’s still much work to be done, we’d love people to instantly think “Stereoboard” when looking for gig tickets.

Where would you like your company to be in 5 years time?
Hopefully within that time we’d have firmly established ourselves internationally as a leading brand for ticket comparison, the GoCompare or MoneySuperMarket of concert tickets!

Where can we find out more?

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