Thinking of launching in Tech City London? Here are the 6 things you need to consider up front
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Launching in Tech City London, a.k.a. Silicon Roadabout, is the most popular choice for tech companies looking for a launch pad into Europe or to directly access the UK market. This article will arm you with the top 6 things you need to be thinking about ahead of taking the leap.
Whilst this article is written through the lens of the Tech industry, the tips generally apply to any kind of company in any vertical looking to establish themselves in the UK
Also once you have finished this piece, check out its sister article – our 5 minute bluffer’s guide to the UK Tech scene.
#1 Create your legal entity
Under UK law (The Companies Act) all overseas companies setting up in the UK must register a UK entity. This is not as onerous as it may sound. The UK enjoys world class online Government services at Gov.uk which provides clear information and online company creation. You can discover more by visiting the Gov.uk guide to Setting up a UK company.
If you are thinking of setting up in the capital, then London and Partners are there to help guide you through the process if you are setting up in the capital, including recommendations on legal firms. You can find more information on their Setting up a UK company page.
Note, if you are planning on parachuting existing employees to help set up your London operation, a legal entity and UK bank account need to be in place before you can apply for visa’s.
#2 Bringing over your existing people
Many overseas companies like to parachute in an existing employee(s) to establish their UK base of operations, as they already understand the business and company culture. Note if any of these employees are non EU nationals, then you need to create a UK legal entity and open a UK bank account ahead of starting the visa application process. Planning ahead is vital, as these steps can take a number of months and can’t be started in parallel to save time.
Visa’s can be complex, but typically one of two visa options apply for your initial person:
- If the person is one of your founding team, then the Tier 1 entrepreneur visa could be a good choice.
- If the person is a non founder, the sole representative visa is the one to check out.
Note: before you can bring over additional non EU nationals after your initial placement under one of the Tier 1 visa’s outlined above, your organisation must gain a sponsor license to enable it to apply for additional Tier 2 visa’s.
#3 Hiring locally
One of the key attractions of London is its diverse and world class talent pool. Making your first local hire is a big step. If the person is going to take the leadership role, then you need a rare combination of skills. Someone that can quickly understand your business, can be trusted to work independently from HQ and across time zones, has the ability to ‘fast start’ to gain quick traction. They also should come with a rich local network to get your company quickly ‘plugged in’ to the local ecosystem. If that sounds like the description of a unicorn, you are not too far off the mark, especially when you factor in your urgency of needing to hire quickly. You don’t have the luxury of holding out for the ideal candidate to land in your lap. If it sounds daunting, let us help.
Consider your first hire may not end up being your long term country or regional GM. A lot goes into longer term senior hires. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you find that unicorn that can perform both the initial firestarter role and has the experience and seniority to take on GM duties as the business grows. The Land and Expand founder performed such a role for US software company Twilio. James was Twilio’s first international hire back in June 2012 when the company had just 70 people, all based in the US. He started the European business from scratch in London and helped build out the team that grew regional revenue from less than $50k to over $25m in 5 years.
The UK enjoys flexible employment conditions, but there is a lot you need to understand ahead of hiring locally. These include employment law, payroll, taxation and employee benefits to make your company attractive. You can consider a temporary or fixed term contract route to help provide that fast start and give you flexibility. However understand that a sustainable medium term strategy would be permanent open ended contracts with associated employee benefits to attract and retain top notch talent. Also, consider it is not unusual for senior UK people to have between 1 and 6 months notice periods in their existing employment contracts, so plan ahead for the needs of your business.
We cover great places to advertise your roles (and to research how others are doing it) in our article How to land yourself a unicorn – the best 11 UK job boards you should be all over
#4 Office Space
There are many options to match your budget and preferred time period commitment. There has been an explosion in co-working and serviced office space across the UK to meet the demand for high quality flexible work space. As a guide in London, depending on location and spec, expect to pay from £250 – £1,200 p/ dedicated desk p/ month in a fully serviced space.
A number of providers operate in multiple cities, which provides additional flexibility. Leaders include Central Working, WeWork, and TechHub. For a more detailed breakdown of options, read our Practical field guide to the UK’s top co-working spots.
#5 Get involved in the community… in person
Make sure your people are prepared to invest time getting involved in the local community around them. In our experience, the UK Tech Community is open and willing to network over a coffee or at an event. Always respect people’s time and understand popular people are popular for a reason, so it may take a couple of attempts to grab 30 mins in their schedules.
Also follow our golden rule of networking when building out your local relationships – give, give, give many times before you ask for anything in return. Don’t just show up to meetings looking for people to help you figure out your strategy free of charge or open up their address book to you. There is a good Harvard Business Review article on networking here. Think thoughtfully about how your people and your company can add value – it’s all about authenticity. You should really care about supporting the wider community, and not just approach it as a sales tactic.
It doesn’t have to cost money either – time is just as precious as cash. Many meet ups and events rely on volunteers to operate. Encourage your people to get out there and help. If you do have a budget – that always helps 🙂 The community relies on sponsorships to run the hundreds of events that are happening virtually every day of the year. Of course if you are spending money, you will no doubt be asked why, and what is the return on investment? This can be tricky – read our guide on event ROI here.
For more information on the local community, check out these posts Work that room – London meet ups to supercharge your network and key local meet ups and events.
#6 Get involved in the community… digitally
The UK community operates on global digital platforms, so the good news is there is no need to rebuild your existing brand presence from scratch. Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Meetup.com, Eventbrite, Lanyard are all good choices, depending on the individuals and communities you are looking to connect with.
- 1 MINUTE: Follow our influencer Twitter list to start getting the lowdown (and follow us!)
- 1 MINUTE: Get your finger on the pulse by signing up for our weekly Tech City newsletter
- 5 MINUTES: Lets talk. Click this link to book in a 30 min conversation
- 30 MINUTES: Listen to a TechCityInsider Tech Talk podcast covering setting up in London that James participated in, including the country managers from Air BnB, Twilio, oDesk, General Assembly and London & Partners.
- 1 HOUR +: Additional reading. Eight additional Land and Expand articles are linked from this piece, and they drill into more detail on the individual subjects. There are also nine external links. You may need to make a coffee (or tea, for those looking to localise) ahead of ploughing through it all.