WebMission – That's a wrap!

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I’m going to have to apologise for the lack of updates on the Web Mission trip of 20 startups to San Francisco and Silicon Valley this week. What with being located in a different hotel to the group, having to run and jump on a bus somewhere every morning, getting WiFi in dribs and drabs, and then racing back to hotels only to go out again, the blogging has somewhat suffered! However, here is a quick update on events so far:

Following the Sunday Brunch at Jim Buckmaster’s house (he is co-founder of Craigslist) the Monday saw a half-day series of chats and a panel at Oracle. I chaired a panel consisting of representatives from Facebook, Amazon and Google. It was a pretty general discussion with several highlights which were useful to the startups. At the end I asked the panel if they though it would be a good idea for UK companies to have some kind of presence (everything form visiting now and again all the way up to an office) in Silicon Valley. They all said yes. Then again, I guess they would, but they were pretty emphatic. That evening the group went to a special Glasshouse event – a conversation between Bebo’s Michael Birch and Jim Buckmaster – which was extremely funny. Think Pete and Dud.

The next day saw the group head out to sponsor Heller Erman’s officies where each startup pitched their company before an audience of press and about 13 VCs. It was at this point I fully realised the high quality of the startups who’d been selected for WebMission, and these pitches formed the basis of my write-up in TechCrunch.

After lunch the group went back to the SF hotel and dinner with Oracle, while I headed out to the unassuming TechCrunch HQ (Mike Arrington’s house). I did some work there and later Mike gave me a lift back into town.

It was at this point that WebMission entered networking mode, and we all hit a lot of parties associated with the Web 2 Expo conference, such as the party thrown by Digg and others. I don’t think anyone would be grudge us the opportunity to network and get into the vibe of the startup scene here.

Wednesday saw the group hit the Web 2 Expo in SF and plenty of walking was done between the vast, echoing halls of the conference. The sheer scale of the event was hard to take in, with hundreds of companies represented. On Wednesday evening we were kindly hosted by Bebo and a few speeches of thanks were made, especially to organisers Oli Barret, Jim lawn and Bronwyn Kunhardt of Polecat.

On Thursday the startups were treated to some sessions on US procedures for setting up some kind of presence in the US, if that was their interest, and more looking around the Expo. In the evening we were hosted by the British Consulate in SF, and met up with some fellow Brits out here for the Expo. (And later on we happily ran into some of the Irish contingent). Of course, while all these events were going on the startups took private meetings with companies and potential partners over here.

Today it’s Friday morning and it is all over too soon in some sense, but perhaps it’s time to head home and reflect on what happened here.

I want to write about this more fully some other time, but as the bus is waiting for the last time I will say just this.

I think the startups involved in this event got three main things out of it . Firstly they got to network with eachother, away from the distractions of their businesses and the UK, and create a support network for eachother. Designers and developers have had support networks like this for many years. Startups CEOs, especially in Britain rarely experience it. Secondly, they were able to network with companies here in a co-ordinated way that would never have happened if they’d come on their own. Lastly, the experience and insight they had into a centre of astounding innovation and technology culture here in California must have been worthwhile. Certainly everyone I have spoken to says WebMission was a resounding success for all involved. Now it remains for us to communicate to those of you back in the UK the many useful things that have been gleaned from this trip. See you soon.

UPDATE: Just to be clear about the tangible outcomes of this exercise: Apart from raising awareness of UK startups generally, and those on the trip specifically, each startup had private meetings about potential investment, partnership, distribution/marketing deals and other meetings. I know for a fact that several real commercial deals will be announced as a result of this trip in the coming weeks and months (Skimbit was the only one to be in a position to confirm three new partnerships during the week).

UPDATE 2: I have now obtained the list of the VCs the startups pitched to:

Thomas Weisel
Bessemer Venture Partners
Hercules Technology Growth Capital
Founders Fund
Founders Fund
Felicis Ventures
Benchmark Capital