Guest post: 9 things Silicon Roundabout got me for free

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This is a guest post by Mike MacCana, founder of I’m Everyone, a magazine-style anonymous problem, confession and discussion site. Prior to launching the company, Mike worked as a Python programmer, and technical journalist. His first taste of startup life was in 2003 at Red Hat.

So is all this ‘Silicon Roundabout’ stuff just a bunch a of empty hype? I work in a building in Shoreditch, London commonly known as ‘Nevada Robs’, due to it being the the location of the monthly London startup poker games. The office is currently shared with two other companies – Rob’s own The Startup Toolkit and fashion retailer lyst.

I’ve been there 10 weeks, with some cash saved up from my former day job taking care of my expenses while I work on my startup. In that time, for nothing more than the cost of my desk rental (55 bucks a month), I’ve gotten the following free of charge:

1. UI advice from a trained designer

One of the people in my office is a professional UX designer, with degrees in architecture (yes, buildings), fine art, and computer science. A couple of weeks into developing my site I had a very specific issue where I needed to either break convention inside my site, or break convention with other discussion forum UIs. After tossing up the alternatives for days, and still not coming to any conclusions, I asked the aforementioned left/right brained genius. I got a very specific answer with very strong reasoning, and saved myself about two days coding something I would have ended up throwing out.

There’s a lot of this in co-lo offices – sometimes I trade my Python skills with the guys around me for Javascript knowledge. People fill in each other’s gaps, and occasionally pay each other back with a cortado from one of Shoreditch’s many fine coffee establishments.

2. The front page of Hacker News

The site was intended to be soft-launched three weeks ago, with preview to Hacker News. In case the submission didn’t go anywhere, I called the guys in the office and asked for a vote for me. While there’s only a handful of them, the site hit the front page of Hacker News with a decent amount of votes. This snowballed into the site hitting the front page of Reddit, and Smashing Magazine tweeting it to their 300,000 followers. The ‘soft launch’ went overboard: suddenly my site was very much publicly launched. I got no sleep while I fixed technical issues, but was otherwise opverjoyed.

3. Social media advice from Digg’s Chief Architect.

Social media sites like Reddit, Digg and HackerNews use explicit voting to send things to the top of their sites. Things that are new and have lots of votes get bubbled to the top, then, as newer stories push them out of the way, float down again.

I’d had an idea about creating a similar concept for my own site, but replacing the voting with the level of engagement – views, comments, and likes – and combining that with age to determine the items rank on the front page of the site.

At the FOWA after party in BarMusicHall I was able to run that by Joe Stump, the former Chief Architect of Digg, and an all-round swell guy. His response? ‘yeah, I wanted to do that at Digg for ages, I kept bugging Kevin about it. Do it, it’ll be awesome’. The next day I coded it and threw it up on the demo site. I tweaked the algo a little, and the result of that conversation is now the front page of my site. Thanks Joe!

4. A TechFluff interview

The TechFluff guys are often roaming local events. A chance encounter with Hermione on the street led to a TechFluff interview with Lucie a few weeks later.

I don’t work at TechHub, but I do go there for demo night and other events. From one single event alone – the TechHub Christmas party – in the space of four hours, I got the following four items:

5. An hours free PR

I’m self funded, and I don’t have the money for professional PR at this point – I do what I can myself. And PR is difficult: running a community problem / confession site, it’s important not just to attract people, but to attract the right people. Ballou, who specialize in startups, gave me a free hour of advice to clarify the positioning and message of the site and identify publications which are worth targeting. Not only does this get me the right kind of customers, it saves me time by letting me focus on the publications that would deliver them.

7. An offer of free hosting for the site.

Did I mention I’m self funded yet? The guys from WebFusion offered to host the site for free. Pow, instant saving.

8. A VC pursuing me

I ran into someone at the TechHub party who seemed to be unusually very interested in the site. They handed me a card: they’re a VC and they want me to call them. The sites only been public for three weeks, and I’m not seeking funding yet, but when the time comes, it’ll be handy to know I don’t need to cold call.

9. Mince pies

If you’re wondering why the mince pies are on this list, you haven’t tasted the mince pies from the TechHub Christmas party. I think the secret is they’re moist, so you’ve got something to assist you to chew through the pastry, rather than the inferior dry fruit of other less worthy pies.

So is Silicon Roundabout something real? Judge for yourself.

  • Anon

    It’s all well and good talking about your experiences doing something which is relatively “tech-light”. Silicon Roundabout provides nothing for companies which are “tech-heavy”, perhaps involving hardware or complex software. In my opinion “Silicon Roundabout” is more an offshoot of the creative sector in that area rather than anything else. Perhaps down the road in the financial sector or up the M11 in Cambridge you’ll find something more representative of Silicon Valley.

  • Mike MacCana

    Hi Anon,

    If by complex software you mean more more algorithmically oriented apps rather than consumer software then yes, London in general (outside the roundabout) already has this covered – there’s a large quantity of pure maths, physics, and computer science people employed in algo trading who are quite active at social events (London Financial Python in particular). I think that’s already fairly well known though.

  • Anon

    Well I mean consumer software/services that are algorithmic (the obvious example being Google). At the moment there’s no incentive for the UK’s next Google to relocate to Silicon Roundabout because it only seems to cater well for creative oriented (and usually “tech-light”) consumer businesses. Consumer hardware developers also don’t have much of an incentive.

    Not to say there’s anything wrong with creative oriented businesses but for Silicon Roundabout to be a success you need tech businesses of different types.

    • Mike Butcher

      Since when was AMEE ‘tech-light’? Slap bang on the Roundabout. Jolicloud – hardware. Mendeley. etc

  • Ankur

    Hello Mike, Very informative and encouraging entry. I was wondering how do you apply/ who to talk to to rent a desk at silicon roundabout. And as you say desk rental cost 55 pounds month in your entry just want to be clear if its per month or per week?.

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  • Admin

    OK,such a great guideline!

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