I was chatting to a technology startup founder the other day who, after we compared notes on whose golf game was in a more woeful state, reminded me that “you can’t get the product wrong”. “You can get everything else wrong”, he said, “but not the product”.
I had the good fortune last month to support the CEO and PR team of San Francisco-headquartered UserTesting, a Silicon Valley tech company that has developed a product so successful that around half of the world’s leading brands use its on-demand customer insights platform, as the company announced that it was opening its first international office here in Edinburgh.
UserTesting’s CEO, Andy MacMillan, remarked that he and his team see Edinburgh and Scotland as one of Europe’s next great tech hubs. In meetings we lined up with the press, MacMillan expounded the case for choosing the city ahead of other metropolitan candidates in the UK and Europe - with the computer sciences talent coming out of multiple Scottish universities and the standard of public-private partnerships among the factors that counted in Edinburgh’s favour.
At a small private dinner we organised at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, we were joined by senior figures from Scotland’s enterprise agencies, venture capital and university scenes to discuss, albeit on a very informal level, the opportunities and challenges for Scotland’s technology ecosystem. Over some fine food and a drop or two of the national nectar, we heard some spellbinding stories straight from Silicon Valley and by the end of the night the bridge between our ecosystems didn’t seem as big as many of us may have previously thought.
Fast forward a week and my agency handled another announcement that is evidence of how far Edinburgh and Scotland has come in the UK and international tech stakes when a longstanding client, software development studio Cultivate, was acquired by Amazon-backed food delivery scale-up Deliveroo. One of Europe’s fastest-growing technology companies, Deliveroo plans to invest in an Edinburgh tech office at CodeBase, with Cultivate’s Andy Robinson heading up the team.
When you consider that cities like London, Amsterdam and Dublin have received a lot more metaphorical love through inward investment by U.S. and European tech giants, it’s great to see Edinburgh getting a slice of the action and I feel privileged to have helped to tell the story around these recent announcements. Perhaps, we are on the verge of a tipping point in 2019. That could be the really exciting bit: if the commitment and ambition shown by UserTesting and Deliveroo to our tech ecoystem leads to a critical mass of international technology companies landing in Scotland.
In turn, a critical mass of large, scaling technology companies would keep more students and graduates in Scotland, while attracting more talent from outside, including Scots who have brain-drained to London because of a lack of quality tech jobs at real volume here. As young people increasingly desire lifestyle and wellbeing over material gain and Edinburgh shoots up the global charts as a desirable place to live and work, I get a strong feeling that things will continue to trend to our advantage.
Industry commentators regularly relay statistics around how rapid technological advances mean that most kids in school today will end up in jobs that don’t yet exist. Having what UserTesting’s Andy MacMillan describes as “one of the next great tech hubs” here in Scotland will mean our future economy will be positioned to support the next generation with highly-skilled jobs. Win-win.
This week I will be handling announcements for Heriot-Watt University around its graduate apprenticeship programme - the largest of its kind in Scotland - and Robotical, a tech startup who are teaming up with one of Scotland’s top football clubs to teach kids digital skills in the local community; with both initiatives representing building blocks that will help to create a world-class entrepreneurial society in Scotland.
An edited version of this article appeared in The Scotsman on Monday 19th August