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What Londoners Can Learn From San Fransisco

A lesson from Silicon Valley to the Big Smoke…

San Fransisco and London have a lot in common. They are both known worldwide as hubs of innovation and entrepreneurship. They’re beautiful cities that attract people to them from around the world. But as a Brit who has experienced both San Fransisco and London, we can’t help but think that there’s some things to be learned from the city that gave the world Silicon Valley, and consequently some of the most groundbreaking inventions of the modern world. London is a fascinating place, but should definitely look to San Fransisco to learn about…

Formality (and the lack thereof)

A friend of mine recently visited a Healthtech conference in London, and was surprised to see that there was a dress code. For a conference, a place for sharing ideas and talking about innovation and progress, those attending were required to wear Business Formal attire. That, in a nutshell, is the attitude towards business in London. It is a place steeped in history and tradition, and sometimes that can hold the city back. Most of the offices there still have an unspoken uniform, and stick to old-fashioned work practices. There’s an unwillingness to accept change that could be traced back to the past where London was the most important city in the world, bar none.

This is where there is something to be learned from San Fransisco. In a city where everything feels more modern, where people attend meetings wearing jeans and work in coffee shops, there is a feeling of openness. When fewer people are thinking about following the crowd, there is a different atmosphere. This is the sort of place where revolutionary ideas are born.


Ask an American how they are doing today, and they’ll reply ‘Great!’ or ‘I’m good.’ Ask a Brit, and you’ll often hear ‘Not too bad,’ and ‘Fine.’ It’s subtle, but it translates into an enormous difference in attitude. This attitude permeates everything. In London, failure is a source of shame. In a survey from Barclays, only a third of Londoners agreed that entrepreneurs who fail initially should persevere, and the same amount of people admitted that they judge those who have failed in their career negatively. However, in the same survey, 73% agreed that they learnt a great deal from failure in their career or business. So we are left with a strange duality in which failure is something to learn from, but quietly.

In San Fransisco, once again, this is not the case. Failure is a badge of honour — something to learn from and share your findings. It’s universally accepted that the people who made Silicon Valley what it is wouldn’t have reached those dizzying heights without failure. There’s a certain respect given to it that we haven’t seen in London. It’s admirable to fail, to move on quickly and to say ‘I tried, I failed, and I learned a hell of a lot.’

Role of Women

When we think of famous or influential Tech companies, we’d think of Youtube, Facebook, Yahoo. All of these companies are led by women. 24% of female-led startups are in Silicon Valley, leaving it 3rd in the number of businesses with women in charge worldwide. London is 11th on that same list, and young girls hoping for a well-known female role model are still looking. Although there’s a wealth of inspirational women in London, their names aren’t familiar. Young girls still have to go looking for their role models, whereas names like Marisa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg (who are based in California), are everyday.

The recognition of women in Tech, and entrepreneurship in general, is vital to progress. There’s no point in ignoring 50% of our workforce and shrouding them in outdated stereotypes. This isn’t just a London issue, but as a forerunner in global business, we should be seeing much more in terms of an example.

The work culture in these two places is very different. It seems that San Fransisco has a thriving tech community, whereas London has a much wider diversity of businesses that make up its economy. San Fransisco is laid back, outdoorsy and modern, and London is bustling, historical and intriguing. The cities themselves, however, both pride themselves on being centres of the business worlds. A huge part of business is growing and learning from others. London could do well to look West and see what is being done over the pond to advance business and technology.