The future of tech startups in cardiff

A few years ago (Jun 2019), I tweeted the following thread, having returned to the UK after a couple of years away. I’ve made some slight edits just to make it more readable in blogpost format, but you can read the full thread (and replies & discussion) here. Things have improved somewhat since then, but have no doubt been slowed down by the pandemic.

I’m worried about the future of tech in Cardiff. I think we have a couple of SERIOUS barriers to significant long term success. And unless they’re fixed, we’re going to continue to lag behind our “competitor” cities. (I don’t necessarily subscribe to the view that cities should be in competition).

Anyway, here’s 3 things that I think are glaringly obviously missing. Can you name single tech startup in CDF that is likely to achieve exit / liquidity event in next few years where, crucially, founders are likely to commit to the local ecosystem (NED roles, attending meetups, investing etc), rather than leaving the city / “retiring”.

I can’t. I have no problem if they choose to retire, or they don’t actively want to be an ongoing part of the startup community post-exit? Entirely up to them. But in every successful ecosystem there are some successful founders that do. This knowledge really only comes with experience. Without that knowledge recycling into the ecosystem, nobody is learning.

I’m consistently staggered by how many Cardiff startups are missing FUNDAMENTAL knowledge about how to grow a startup. Really, really basic stuff. Some of them have even raised a couple of rounds. And they are seriously unlikely to succeed. I met one recently – has raised £350k over 2 rounds. No idea what their CAC was.

None.

I met another who had spent a lot of time and money getting to launch, but wasn’t really sure what problem it is that they’re solving. So, problem one is recycling of knowledge. And it’s a vicious cycle. If nobody gets the relevant mentoring, then they’re unlikely to succeed and be able to mentor future startups themselves.

2 – Where are the meetups for founders? I can’t see any. There are specialist dev meetups. There are a bunch of generic business events. And there are some vaguely digital-tech events that have some relevance. But nothing that’s specifically for founders to chat, learn, swap knowledge that only they are experiencing. There’s quite a bit of kinda useful stuff that’s organised by a variety of organisations run by middle aged white guys in suits. (normally set up as part of the glorious fiefdom of King Terry and Queen Edwina, of course, and stifled by WG’s need for control – please folks, read @bfeld‘s Startup Communities and understand the relationship between “leaders” & “feeders”)

But unless you’ve laid awake at 3am wondering how to reduce churn so that your runway will last past the end of next month, and you won’t have to tell your investors you need more money, then your advice is much less likely to be useful, relevant, or sympathetic. 3 – There are STILL no equity based, tech specific, accelerators in Cardiff. Possibly the whole of Wales. I learned more in 3 months of taking part in one of these in London than I did in the previous 5 years of trying to work this shit out for myself.

I’ve been out of the city for a few years, working alongside startups in 4 different countries. I’ve seen what works. I’ve come back to Cardiff to find more activity. More startups. More talented people working really hard. BUT unless we find a way to get relevant knowledge into the ecosystem, we’re essentially handicapping our entrepreneurs, resulting in more of them spending too much time, and too much money, to realise they’ve failed. And then not want to be an entrepreneur.

If they’re going to fail, let them do so quickly, and with full insight into mistakes they made, so they’re ready to go again. WalesOnline articles, awards ceremonies, and achieving some kind of revenue are NOT the signs of a flourishing startup ecosystem. Let’s not kid ourslves. TLDR:

I genuinely believe tech in Cardiff is potentially in trouble. To a potentially huge degree.

To recap:

1 – No relevant successful founders reinvesting time and money. And none on the horizon.

2 – No founder meetups.

3 – No accelerators.

I’m happy to help.

OK, I clearly need to reiterate something. I’m not saying there are no success stories on the horizon. There evidently are.

This isn’t about whether there’s likely to be success. This is about whether relevant knowledge they’ve learned is effectively recycled into the ecosystem. Finally, if you or someone you love has been affected by the contents of these tweets, please apply to be a member of our Wales tech founders-only Slack group here:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSf5a9mPfclR57C1HFHIyTZmKWwNzfsAzl9bgYZ5i-dCi2LvVw/viewform

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