Why a top UK tech firm is choosing the Big Apple over The Big Smoke

With a strong startup culture and readily available public and private sector support, London is a world-class city in which to build a business. So why is Matt Barker of mpb.com bypassing the capital and heading overseas to New York?

Silicon Beach

First of all: we’re based in Brighton, which itself has a burgeoning tech scene to rival other major tech clusters in the UK. Home to around 1,500 tech companies—the same number as London’s Tech City—the city has one of the most highly-skilled workforces in the country. Brighton’s tech credentials have been further enhanced by the recently-signed £170M Greater Brighton City Deal, signed by government, leaders of local authorities and the Local Enterprise Partnership. This has firmly cemented Brighton as a major centre for creative and digital businesses. Within easy commute of the capital but with lower rents and a closely-knit business community, Brighton has everything we need to compete in the UK.

But apart from the fact that our home city negates a necessity to be in London, we’ve chosen New York over other US hubs like San Francisco for a number of reasons, not least of which is growth.

For the globally-minded entrepreneur, the US is the best place to expand. The funding rounds, the customer base, the potential partners—everything in the US is geared towards growth.

A rising tide

New York mayor, Bill De Blasio, is encouraging British tech business in and our very own Boris Johnson is enthusing about this transatlantic business partnership of two great cities. There now looks to be a steady stream of UK tech companies launching into US markets in the near future.

Though London has a slight edge as the world’s leading financial centre, ranking first to New York’s second, the population of Manhattan, 66,940 people per square mile to London’s 14,070.

But when you dig through the numbers, the cities are strikingly similar. New York and London were 1 and 2 in the 2011 Global Cities Index, second and first in the Global Financial Centres Index for 2011. Their populations differ by only three percent. In New York, 6.8M families earn more than $20,000 annually; in London, it’s 6M. Between 1993 and 2010, New York’s city GDP grew 26% faster than the entire country, while London grew 27% faster than the UK.

The United States is certainly still smarting from the recession, but it’s growing nonetheless. After decades of suburban growth, young people are moving back into cities and New York is growing faster than it has for most of the last decade. As a rising tide lifts all boats, a growing US economy is lifting New York.

People, places and things

But it’s not all economics. Other factors that make NYC an attractive option include the people, the market, the ambition, and the real-estate.

Access to talent in the US is far easier; there’s no shortage of good people looking to work in tech and marketing, whereas the UK is reported to be losing young professionals to cities offering a better quality of life, like Berlin.

Commercial space is easier in New York too. For rapid growth SMEs like mpb.com, the rent is cheaper and the density of tech companies more concentrated than in London. And for startups—as with London—there are a host of co-working spaces at all budgets to get you started. As for the business space in which we operate, New York also offers the very specific plus point of being a larger market for our products.

Beyond tangible assets, there are other differences that make New York an exciting option for us. From cab drivers to IPOs, everything moves faster in the Big Apple; access to people, deal-agility and the overall speed in which people want things is much faster. Ambition and expectation is higher and because risk is part of the culture. It sometimes feels like UK business is stifled by a lack of drive and ambition. While our growth route has been measured and consistent, I firmly believe that it’s crucial to take good risks and be flexible enough to push hard when the moment is right. With year-on-year profitability since our 2006 launch, the time is definitely right to build on that and scale the business by expanding into overseas markets. The energy of the New York tech scene excites me.

Facts on finance

Further fuelling the growth in NYC is the merging of bright young people and Wall Street. A move into New York exposes us to US investors and gives us an international edge for all those on the lookout for emerging tech companies to get involved with.

While we are easily able to complete cross-border trades across the European VAT zone, outside of that you really need a physical international presence. Shipping overseas to the US from the UK would become overly complicated and laborious with customs at tax requirements.

Is New York the centre of the world? Maybe not, but people here believe it and that confidence and enthusiasm goes a long way in my book.