Note: Please see update below.
It’s just morning here in SF so I have just seen this post. The below is my initial response, but I have to go offline imminently (I am in San Francisco on the trip in question) so I’m just rattling this off now….
I think it’s rather strange of Carsonified’s Ryan Carson to go “attack dog” now when he could have called any one of the WebMission partners weeks ago when this trip was announced and put together. But hey, he has a right to criticise, it’s a democracy after all.
I don’t know if he was prompted to this because so far the WebMission trip just looks like socialising. But the Saturday and Sunday were understandably light on business meetings for the group as it’s… the weekend. Keep watching…
It’s worth pointing out that a tiny minority of the WebMission companies have even hinted to me that they would move to the US. The vast majority are simply here to research the market, take meetings with potential partners or investors or perhaps look at establishing a small office here. They are also here to LEARN, and take back anything useful to the UK, to make the startup scene and their own businesses more vibrant – something Ryan wants to I believe. I question his view that there is NOTHING to be learned from this exercise and everything we need is need the UK. That seems nonsensical.
As for the “message” that this trip sends? I don’t see the problem. UK companies working out if there is anything to be gained from establishing trade or investment links in the US is not that big a story. Would we think the same thing of 20 startups which went to Paris for a week with a similar aim? No, and probably they’d get criticised for going on a jolly – but aren’t there also French startups and VCs and a market there to learn from? Carson’s post smacks of isolationism which feels unrealistic in today’s globalised world.
I find it odd that some critics seem to imply that the WebMission attendees are somehow children who will immediately swallow the Silicon Valley cool-aid and destroy their businesses with US-thinking inappropriate to their strategy. Er, guess what people? They may well have their own grown-up minds and can take or leave the learning from this experience. Like, duh.
There has also been the suggestion that RecommendBox’s Robert Loch and others are part of the Webmission trip. For the record, they are not – nor to they claim to be – and they are not attending any official meetings or tours. For the record, Segala’s Paul Walsh acted as an official advisor to the project and connector to people in the Valley. However, there was nothing to stop other UK companies coming along and creating a ‘fringe’ movement – but only some appear to have had the sheer imagination to do so. To get off there arses, come over here and hang out with us, after hours. If you’d like to peruse the agenda, you’ll see that it was published. It’s all open and transparent (and I’d ask to you name a similar tour with as much openness?). Anyone could have come here. Everyone is a private individual with their own choices to make.
Carson’s post is also odd because I have been to Carsonifed events where it is often hard to find a British accent amongst the speakers. Many are often from… Silicon Valley. Now, that’s not a criticism. The reason Ryan (who is an American with great connections in the Valley) and his crew have been so successful and gotten so much love from the UK startup and geek community – and I include myself in this – is that they recognised that the UK needed to here from the kinds of people who created Twitter and Google and Sun and Pownce, etc etc. Plus, we get to see DiggNation live, which is AWESOME :-)
I’ll respond more fully on TechCrunch UK in due course. Personally, I would also have liked to have gone to this week’s conference in Kiev because I think UK startups should be making lots of connections across Europe as well as the US (but I can’t clone myself just yet).
UPDATE, MONDAY: I’ve spoken to the WebMission organisers and this is what they tell me about the financing. The decision was made not to offer an all-expenses-paid trip to the Valley, and that to do so would attract the wrong kinds of startups. So companies have paid £1,200 each to be on the trip (after they were selected from the 100 startups who applied). This figure takes in the cost of flights and the hotel, and was used to secure the best deals possible, such as a reduced price on the hotel because of a block booking etc. If anything was left over after that amount was levied, the surplus has gone into providing for other aspects of the trip, such as receptions/bus travel etc. Although some might criticise the choice of the upmarket Clift Hotel, the startups are not paying normal Clift prices and it was only selected by the WebMissoin organisers following advice from local experts on the ground in SF (and I dare say wouldn’t be again for too many reasons to mention here). Everything else has been picked up by sponsors (list here) and UK Trade Invest has put in a “significantly smaller amount”. Most of their contribution has been logistical, not financial, so the taxpayer is in no way being stiffed, to use a technical term (believe me I’ve been told the figure of record (£125 per startup), which is peanuts, not to be too rude to the very nice people at UKTI). Of course, UKTI is doing this in the basis that the startups create connections here, grow an end up being bigger, thus paying more tax. QED.