That’s an awesome ambition, huge vision, incredibly large market, but do you not think it’s too big? If it was such a great idea someone in the States would be building this right now, Andreessen Horowitz would have invested in it already, Naval Ravikant or Tim Ferriss would be talking about it on their Podcasts or Tweeting about it. I think, and this is just me, you’d be better working on something smaller. Find a different market, one that people in the UK can grasp ahold of, understand and invest in. This won’t be done from here. Sorry.
— Leading British Startup Mentor
When talking to British business people or investors I’ve often lead with a quip that’s meant to be amusing but has increasingly proved to be painfully real.
The UK is 10X as conservative as the USA
Scotland is 10X as conservative as the rest of the UK
It’s meant to be a joke which reflects on certain experiences I’ve had but, like all good punchlines, it’s funny because it’s true. The UK lags behind US investment markets because we refuse to embrace a global outlook when trying to build products and services that can literally change the world. There is some part of the collective British spirit that finds it incredibly difficult to fund and encourage globally ambitious people. People aching to change the world become browbeaten and their imagination to dream recedes to meet expectations other people have forced them to conform to.
Rather than trying to change the world, we focus on small markets solving marginal issues which lead to average businesses. Our nation, with one of the proudest histories in delivering innovation that the rest of the world consumes, has been embarrassed into submission by false modesty and the derision of experts who expect you to stick to your station. Don’t dream too big because you’ll embarrass the rest of us is the most British of default settings and one that frustrates me more than almost anything in the world.
Rather than starting from a position of imagination if the best things possible happens, people here expect you to fail. I don’t mean they are literally wishing for it to occur, rather that is the range of their experience they view your idea through the prism of. Instead of believing, we expect to see the fully completed plan at conception and when we don’t, and when the idea is still fragile, we stamp on it and extinguish the flame of creation. Instead of cultivating the conditions for something of value to emerge, out of fear for the unknown or to protect our egos from our own inadequacy, we discourage rather than daring those who follow to do better than we could ever have imagined.
Maybe it’s the mindset that persists from the Empire, from a small nation that built and reached globally before capitulation. Fear that we will again be discovered and forgotten, we have embraced what exists within these shores rather than daring to voyage again. For me, that would be an abomination.
Startups in the UK die most frequently by strangulation. The are snuffed out before they have ever had the opportunity to emerge. The bigger the idea, the fewer the believers willing to entertain your ambitions. The UK views ambition and vision with suspicion. Egotistically driven by arrogant people who should know better and should be mocked rather than encouraged. Every great venture begins with a necessary dose of delusion, that changing the world is not only possible but achievable. In the UK those things are held against you by people who care for your wellbeing. I don’t know if this is just a culture intrinsic to the UK, but the whispers you catch a whiff of as you enter a room linger as negativity in conversation that follows. That’s not to say it’s universal, only that it’s overwhelmingly felt by a disproportionate number of British founders comparative to the rest of the world.
What’s sad is that there is people here doing ridiculously, outrageously ambitious stuff. There are certain conditions which make specific things more likely here than anywhere else in the world. That should be the most exciting thing in a generation — that we have been endowed with constraints which make revolution more likely here than from anywhere else in the world.
What wrong is that we are too blind to open our eyes to the opportunity. We will miss it like other things. It will emerge elsewhere and we will become passive consumers instead of creators that set the course of travel. Rather than asking questions, we give answers which provide only finite possibilities.
Fortunately, there are a few who provide a route towards a bigger future. For those who care to imagine that they possess the requisite skills to build something that can compete on the biggest of stages, there is hope. There will always be doubt which is heard clearly and loudly from those who will benefit directly if what imagined emerges, but for those with the right salt that becomes additional petrol on the fire.
The UK’s silent startup killer is our own lack of belief. It conspicuous in the way we talk, our reluctance to sell the broadest and most full vision of our moonshot belief of what we can build.
So be bolder, be braver, and the UK has the greatest opportunity of any place in the world to lead in the private future that is on the cusp of emerging.
If we care to trust in our potential and deliver it.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is ourlight, not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.