Carsonified, which runs Silicon Valley-style UK events, attacks a UK startup trip to… Silicon Valley

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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.

  • Scott

    Well, I agree with you Mike.

    I think the webmission is a great idea and knowing some of those that are there (and how chuffed they are to be) plus, knowing some that missed out (and how gutted they are)….I’d say quite a few companies back it.

    Now if they’ll please come back with lots more funding I’d appreciate it ;)

  • Mat Atkinson


    Agree 100% with you and have just commented on Ryan’s original post.

    So a few entrepreneurs from the UK want to network in Silicon Valley. What’s the big deal?

    Ryan travels and networks in the US all the time. Why does he have a problem with other UK entrepreneurs doing the same and building contacts in the US?

    Many of the speakers at his London events are from the US, so it seems like a double standard that he is happy to use US resources to put bums on seats at his conferences, but not happy about UK entrepreneurs going to meet many of those same people on their own turf.

    My only problem with WebMission is that it wasn’t well enough publicised in advance. Would love to have been there. Next time.

  • Mike Butcher

    Mat – I publicised Web Mission on this blog several times over several weeks and also on the US site – just go and do a search. The trip also appeared on Venture Beat and a number of other blogs out there. We tried.

  • Cary Marsh

    Great to see high profile bloggers having strong feelings about the mission – if nobody cared it would have been very disappointing.

    Let them throw hissy fits and let’s get some real PR for our chaps!

    I predict a riot.

  • Bronwyn Kunhardt

    Just saying the same thing here as I did on Ryan’s blog, and I think it’s great that this is being discussed. My perspective is that if Web Mission acts as a catalyst for people to discuss what it takes for web start-ups to get better support in the UK, then that’s ok with me. The Valley will always be a source of direction/inspiration/support for UK web companies. That will never go away and building good contacts and relationships over here is a normal part of any web business. The responses to Ryan’s post are very balanced on that front. It’s not an “either US/or UK” situation it’s an “and” situation.

  • Jackie Danicki

    The only thing I found a bit weird is that the start-ups are staying in such an expensive hotel (in the same group as London’s Sanderson). One of the most successful start-ups in Europe that I know does trips out here every so often, staying in an apartment shared by three of them that costs a few hundred dollars for the week. That’s the kind of practice you don’t have to go to the US to learn about (though I agree with Mike completely that there is much learning and other benefits from the trip to be gained by the companies on it).

    Encouraging “bubble behavior” seems a little inappropriate, especially with the DTI providing backing. Who is picking up the hotel tab, taxpayers or the corporate sponsors? (As someone who pays tax in both the US and the UK, I’d be a little perturbed if it’s the former. I don’t begrudge anyone their right to stay in a flash hotel if they wish…as long as they’re not taking the money out of my pocket to pay for it. :))

  • Berislav Lopac

    Hey, Zagreb is closer to UK than Kiev! ;)

  • jas

    Yeah damn right Jackie but i expect it’s the taxpayer picking up the bill so everybody can have a jolly up,i’m off to florida in july any chance of picking up the bill ;-)

  • Mike Butcher

    Just so everything is clear about who and what is funding this WebMission trip I have had a candid conversation with the organisers and got the full info. This post has now been updated, so I suggest you read the update it and take it on board. The skinny: The taxpayer is getting a fucking good deal out of this.

  • Ivan Pope

    I think it’s a great idea and I say go for it guys.
    But Mike, what does this mean “There has also been the suggestions that RecommendBox’s Robert Loch and others are not part of this trip. For the record, they are not – nor to they claims to be – and they are attending any official meetings or tours.” Too many double negatives there.

  • Mat Atkinson

    Mike. Ooops. Sorry.

  • Mike Butcher

    Ivan – Apologies. I wrote this in a hurry. Post now updated to make more sense.

  • Paul Williams

    So polecat, tc and the daily networker paid for themselves. Thanks for the clarity.

  • Grant

    @TC Nice one guys… I was thinking carsonified was the only way to get there….. Seems that don’t understand there is enough business to go round.

    FTW the Community…

  • Sam Sethi

    Please leave Ryan alone. Clearly people have forgotten how much work Ryan has done for the UK community over the last few years (gratis), besides the worldclass events he has organised which saved many people having to travel to the valley.

    I am not sure I fully agree with Ryan’s post given that Ollie has been planning this event for over twelve months and the worst outcome can only be better connections/awareness for UK startups.

    We all know there is little to no angel money in Europe. So why not get funded in the valley from the many successful entrepreneurs (Bebo, Paypal, Youtube, Redi Hoffman) come angels who are keen to invest in good ideas where every they originate from.

  • Chris Grew

    As one of the (full paying) sponsors of Web Mission 08, we couldn’t be more pleased with how the event is going.

    A lot of people have worked hard to bring Web Mission 08 to fruition (Oli, Jim and Bronwyn, amongst others) and we’re only part of the way through.

    Let’s ensure that a lot of positive things come out of this — lots of good stories, deals and partnerships (and maybe even a funding or two).

  • Alexander Danilov

    As you said: “it’s a democracy after all” – and anyone may criticise or be enthusiastic about such an event as WebMission’08.
    Finding a partner or an investor for a project is equally important and uneasy. On the whole it is not that much important where those partners or investors come from, it’s much more important to get in touch with them.
    I can understand the position of trying to keep young companies “within the boarders”, but that is just the matter of what they can get there and how they can get it.
    We have mainly the same problem here, in Russia, but on the other hand we face another challenge of getting such companies started. What we do is trying to help them to move through their seed-stage with our help to be more competitive at the later stage.

  • Mike Butcher

    Paul Williams – Polecat and Oli Barret are covered by the sponsorship. TechCrunch UK (me) was given a flight over with the group as press, but I am picking up all other expenses like hotel etc.

  • Zuzanna Pasierbinska-Wilson

    I don’t know Ryan, I am sure he’s a nice bloke and all, but I think he completely missed the point. You cannot build business stewing in your own local juices for long. How else would we ever learn anything new?

  • alanp

    @Jackie D quite right far better the taxpayers’ money is spent supporting rich prodigal bankers in trouble than struggling tech entrepreneurs ;-)

    This seems a fairly sensible – or at least harmless – thing to do, I think the main gist of Ryan Carson’s post was more that you don’t have to change the world or go home, you can do very nicely just changing some people’s lives and you don’t need big SV $ to do that.

  • Fabio De Bernardi

    I have a simpler explanation for all this noise…
    Mike, in your recent post ‘What is the future for tech VCs in Europe?’ ( didn’t mention Ryan’s events and he outlined that in the first comment (which you haven’t ‘bothered’ to answer):

    Ryan Carson
    April 11th, 2008 at 4:07 pm
    Hey Mike,
    Not sure why you’re not including FOWA London in your list …

    To me it’s where all this anger started and nothing more.

  • Dennis Howlett

    Well, the folks have been out there pretty much a week and the only things I’ve seen are 2 blog party reports, Qik videos from Paul W – from parties – and some Tweets telling me how the Oracle gig was a sales job. Did anything actually happen?

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