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Benefits of basing your startup in Scotland (rookieoven.com)
55 points by mdhayes on Sept 5, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 76 comments

We're a startup in Scotland (Edinburgh and Glasgow) - (http://www.getadministrate.com). This post annoyed me b/c I was just about to post about the advantages I see starting and running a business here :)

The author misses quite a few of the main things that I find great about being in Scotland, although I do agree with the general thrust.

Some thoughts about Scotland compared with the USA, having previously started and ran 3 companies there:

- wages are very cheap here compared to the USA or even the South (England), and the talent is good.

- It's easy to market to and service the USA (no huge timezone difference or language barrier and Americans like the Scottish accent).

- there are already some incredible tax advantages (low capital gains) for startups, and more being pushed by the current government.

- most funding seems to be done by angel syndicates in a public / private hybrid where both the gov and the angels share risk and reward. I much prefer the syndicate model to individuals as you get more structure and less hassle.

- you don't need health insurance for employees, which removes a distraction and makes your job offer compete on a more level playing field when compared against a traditional large company

- the tech community like the author pointed out is really good, particularly for the size

- the quality of life here is AMAZING. Can't fully describe the benefits in a comment.

- office space is currently very cheap

- great public transport

- easy to travel (for business and pleasure) to either EU or USA

If wages are so cheap, doesn't that usually mean that real talent leaves to find better jobs in the USA or London or similar places?

Is office space really that cheap in Edinburgh or other large cities?

Two others already responded but I'll echo them. Office space in the city centre of Edinburgh and Glasgow is remarkably cheap and plentiful. Living costs are very low (even in these cities) for what you get compared to the suburbs in the USA. There is some brain drain, but the culture and quality of life is the "pull" that the original article was describing. Most Scots who are brain drained away come back to raise kids or retire.

In Edinburgh especially, there is a lot of empty high-quality office space at the moment. You can negotiate very favourable terms, not limited to long rent-free periods, well spaced breaks in contracts, and more-office-for-no-extra type deals.

> If wages are so cheap, doesn't that usually mean that real talent leaves to find better jobs in the USA or London or similar places?

The cost of living is cheaper and quality of life is usually considered better, so when making personal decisions about where to go it's not just a simple wages comparison.

Wages are cheap because cost of living is low. If someone wants to find "better jobs" somewhere else, they generally have to accept higher cost of living. Those remote jobs where you get San Francisco wages and live in the rural mountains are fewer than is ideal.

Remember that some people dont want to go to London. They want to live in Scotland. (this same argument applies to many places, some London people would hate to move to Scotland, some people from rural England do not want to move from that part of rural England etc.). So there is a pool (of some size) of labour that really wants to stay in the area and is probably willing to earn less rather than move.

For a business this can be an advantage.

It's great to see Scotland mentioned here on HN.

For a country with a rich, celebrated history of inventions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_inventions_and_discove...), it would be wonderful if we could eventually see a start-up culture like they have in NY/SF.

Can we please not call it Silicon Glen though?


Edit: As a developer from Glasgow I find it hard to find interesting start-ups. If any happen to be reading, I'd love to hear from you: <shamelessPlug>http://martinw.net </shamelessPlug>

> Can we please not call it Silicon Glen though?

How about this? :-)


"A NEW technology strip, dubbed the “Silicon bridges”, is emerging in the centre of Edinburgh as the city becomes a hotspot for internet start-ups."

(Although I'm amused to see they still haven't corrected the typo in the place name in the headline.)

> Edit: As a developer from Glasgow I find it hard to find interesting start-ups.

Try hanging out at the tech events around town <shamelessPlug> - see details on http://opentechcalendar.co.uk/index.php (Disclaimer: that's my project).</shamelessPlug>

There's lots of startups. A good place to start would be the Scottish Lean Circle https://groups.google.com/forum/?hl=en&fromgroups#!forum...

I work at www.metaforic.com -- we're based in Glasgow.

Can we please not call it Silicon Glen though?

too late, I'm afraid - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicon_Glen

That's not where the startups are it dates back many years.

It is generally where the startups are, but only because it also just describes the area where ~90% of the people in Scotland live.

I kind of want to agree with most of the points but I think there also has to be a level of realism as to what kind of business Scotland can accommodate. For example, it's very unlikely that companies on the scale of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc, could ever grow to their current levels within Scotland. I think this for a few reasons.

The first is that the VC funding is just not at the same levels as in the US. Secondly, the talent pool is way to small. As much as we like to think the presence of 4 universities in Glasgow alone must mean we are overflowing with people this just isn't the case, you are lucky if you have 40 final year students in a CS course, and maybe around 15% of them are actually "excellent", and the numbers have been decreasing over the years. I have at least 4 friends that were looking to recruit in the last month or so and each one has been despondent about the quality of the candidates. Then finally you are going to be in a dog fight with the large financial institutions that dominate the hiring of new grads. Graduates here are still relatively conservative in what kind of job they want.

However, where I do think we can excel is in creating tech startups that don't focus so much on the consumer side of things. There are plenty of hard problems out there that don't necessarily need 300 million active users to make some money.

Regarding the scaling issue, location is irrelevant nowadays. Anyone can create a massively scalable system using a laptop and an internet connection thanks to services like AWS.

I'm sure if a startup looked as if it was becoming a global hist then it would relocate to the U.S. if it wasn't bought by an existing company there first.

I could say exactly the same about Ireland, especially the west, a great place to live and the government are very supportive of startups

He lies!!! The weather is crap, the minimal acceptable standard of food is lower than anywhere else in Western Europe except Britain (on a par) and it's quite expensive to live anywhere considering what you get out of it, whether in the West (where the weather is bad from even an Irish POV) or in Dublin (the capital and Ireland's only credible claim on a city).

If I ever move back to Europe I'm heading to Berlin. Ireland's weather is awful and it's depressing as hell to be in a country where everyone is leaving.

I've been working in Cork a couple of years ago (callcenter…), and wasn't too excited about the living conditions. Very high rent for pretty bad apartments, and the city itself was a pretty bad mix between some money spent on the inner city and pretty rundown estates all around. Granted, once you leave the city, it's gorgeous…

Remember the Irish property bubble bust around 2007. Prices have come down a bit since then (current stats have houses worth half what they used to be). Rent has decreased a little, but not that much.

On the other hand, a financial crisis probably won't make for a more enjoyable cityscape. But given that I was there 2003, the property bubble might have improved the architecture of the city a bit before it burst…

Total cost of living was pretty high, and I'm coming from one of the more expensive regions in Europe. I'll definitely have to visit again. A callcenter job and depressed Scandinavian roomates probably colored my impressions a bit…

Ireland is a bit more expensive (salaries + living expenses) than Scotland though, isn't it? I am just basing this on what I remember from being in Ireland a few years back, and on being from Scotland.

One problem with being out west is that it can be hard to find staff. Even in Dublin its hard to find staff. You may need to pay someone lots to get them to move to Ballygobackwards.

which city particularly in the west?

Well Galway is generally regarded as a good place to live, if you don't mind lashings of rain.

... its a stretch (by international standards) to say there are cities in the west of Ireland.

Edinburgh is the place to be, although i live northern ireland- having been over for the recent fringe and talked to some imigrant workers, they couldnt be happier.

A nice apartment would run you about £550/$800 a month which is a tad dear but its a great city with so much going on.

A walk around the museum will show you a place that was built on inventions and innovation.

only downside is the scottish climate

I'm an American (US) citizen, but OK, let's say I want to do my startup in Scotland. Is there a new "come to the UK and live here and do a startup for as long as it takes" visa that I'm not aware of? Country after country (I'm talking to you Canada) makes all kinds of noises about wanting startups to take root on their soil, but damned if they're going to let any foreigners come to help make it happen. So this article would be more aptly titled "Benefits of basing your startup in Scotland if you're a EU citizen or permanent resident already otherwise buzz off".

Another great benefit is deep-fried Mars Bars: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep-fried_Mars_bar

Scotland also a pretty active tech/meetup community. Living in Glasgow I'm mostly familiar with the ones which happen here, but if you're interested in tech startups or want to chat with some fellow geeks you should come along.

Some of my favs are RefreshGla, RookieOven, Techmeetup and Popup Hack (which I organise)

There are details and more events listed on http://glasgow2.com/

Seconded, I organise Techmeetup and regularly visit Edinburgh Coffee Morning, Edinburgh Hacklab, Edinburgh Refresh and many others. I've just been helping others get 3 new meetups going (PHP, Android & Open Rights Group) so it's looking great in Edinburgh.

Don't let ppl tell you there is a Edinburgh vs Glasgow divide btw; it's only 50mins via trains that run late at night so it's easy to nip across for the evening.

Also check out http://opentechcalendar.co.uk/index.php - that has more Edinburgh events at the moment but it's very early days for this site and more are being added all the time. (Disclaimer: That's my project.)

Would have to disagree with you about the divide. To a lot of people (such as yourself) it's a non-issue however the majority are averse to travelling across the country (people in both cities). I can understand cost being a factor with it costing >£25 peak time to travel across the central belt.

The number of people from the capital who have attended RookieOven meetup at least once over the past year is appalling. I get the feeling it's the same for TechMeetup, Refresh, Popup Hack and more.

Cost is a factor, but if there's any way you catch the 4:30 train it drops to £12 which is much better. Or the bus has no peak time charge, but it takes longer.

I guess I'd just like more people to think about it. To many people go "Glasgow/Edinburgh, eww" and set up a false divide without even considering if it's possible to head across.

From what I've seen at Techmeetup (both Edinburgh & Glasgow) the number of travelers is small, but they are there.

The article makes the mistake of equating universities with talent pool. Scotland has a much smaller talent pool of developers than many other countries and that's a fundamental bottleneck for any startup.

I must admit I don't see the problem with equating universities with a talent pool. Could you elaborate on why that would be wrong? It isn't always true, but it is a reasonable assumption that graduates are of a decent calibre.

I would fully agree that a university education is not required in order to be considered talented (some of the most talented people I know didn't attend university), but at the same time having a degree shows a certain level of ability. If you have a CS degree, you should at least know your way around a computer, and the post-graduate research being done by universities is world leading. Being at the forefront of your field isn't talent, what is? (again acknowledging that this doesn't make those people product geniuses - a different form of talent!)

Scotland has a much smaller talent pool of developers than many other countries

Presumably only because the population is smaller than many other countries?

Indeed and they are very good Universities. Haskell (the Glasgow Haskell Compiler ghc) was a product of there.

Haven't you heard? Hating on a college education is all the rage these days.

Scotland has a smaller pool of people than many other places. But there are still plenty and people would relocate if there was more demand as the article says.

Exactly - companies like Rockstar don't seem to have too much of a problem recruiting developers in Edinburgh. And re-locating from somewhere else in the UK to Edinburgh is for many people not as huge an issue as other relocations could be.

I think a lot of the talent is drained away to the South, as bulk of the jobs in Glasgow and Edinburgh are in Finance or public sector.

Well, we had a 100 CEO's at the CEO To CEO @ the Turing Festival in Edinburgh two weeks ago - so I think you are wrong on that.

"Scotland has a much smaller talent pool of developers than many other countries and that's a fundamental bottleneck for any startup"

It wasn't clear but I was meaning talent to staff the startups, I don't think there would be a bottleneck! It would would stop the drain.

Any thoughts on how possible Scottish independence might affect this?

Hardly at all. At the risk of a flame war (it's a perma-warm topic in the UK) Scottish Independance will have minimal up or downside when considered broadly.

There are lots of clever Economists who expalin how different choices will cost / bring in millions or billions but I have yet to see anything promising more than 2k per citizen - and to be honest I doubt anyone will move house to get a 2k pay raise, so the overall effect - minimal

of course some areas of Scotland are long term grindingly poor and recieive lots of start up credits (they are called enterprise zones) - but they are nit focused on HN style startups, services and light industry is the bigger recipien of enterprise grants.

of course some areas of Scotland are long term grindingly poor and recieive lots of start up credits

My area in northern England is like this - you can't move for constant advertisements for "start-up events," in the local newspapers, on the local radio and so on. It just feels like a way of spending EU money. I don't think they actually hand out many start-up grants or credits, they just run these endless "events."

I live in a small town of 8,000, and they even have them every month there, plugged ceaselessly on the local radio station. It's quite a good way of propping up the local media with advertising revenue, but I'd be interested to know how many people actually get anything out of this.

"(it's a perma-warm topic in the UK)" No, most English people don't give a toss. It is a warm topic in Scotland so long as you don't ask how its going to be paid for.

some areas of Scotland are long term grindingly poor and recieive lots of start up credits (they are called enterprise zones)

I grew up near Greenock, which fits that description fairly well and found that the Scottish Enterprise system round there was not at all geared for anything remotely ambitious. Although I found that the people on the front line were great, as I delved further into the depths of the monster I just got circulated between stuffy box tickers, who seem immune to novelty as it is never their department. The whole experience was just depressing and completely unrewarding.

Highly unlikely. Remember Scotland already has a separate legal system and different bank notes from England & Wales.

The only way things could change massively would be if a newly independent Scotland left the EU, which as far as I know, noone wants. Scotland in the EU would mean Scotland would have access to the EU single market (which includes England etc.). This means there'd be no customs, visas etc with England (etc.)

Personally I don't see it affecting any of the five points raised: however, if you're looking to start a new business there may be some financial considerations. But to be honest, despite all the talk true independence is really quite a long way off, and certainly not until the EU financial situation has generally calmed down (so, a long way off!).

The Scottish government has been pushing to lower corporation tax for a while now. They've been prevented from doing so by the English government as they fear that companies will simply hop the border to reduce their taxes.

It's a small point but that would be the UK government, there is no English government.

Isn't Scotland holding in 2014 a referendum on independence from the UK?

The Scottish National Party (ruling party in Scotland) is trying to hold it in the weeks just after the 700th anniversary of the greatest Scottish victory over the English at Bannockburn.

It's unlikely they are hoping for a nationalistic fillip but more a negotiating position over the actual wording of the referendum - but it is an amusing bit of chutzpah and what one expects of the SNP leader :-)

Yeah sorta. There's a lot of details to be worked out. The main political party in the Scottish Parliament wants independence. But in the UK/Westminster Parliament (of which Scotland is a part), the Conservative ("Tory") government isn't so keen on the idea.

There's going to be a lot of horsetrading and politicing over what the referendum will actually say, e.g. if there was 2 questions "Do you want independence? Yes/No If not, do you want Scotland to have more power Yes/No", then the Scottish independence people can almost win either way, if 50.00001% vote for independence, they can claim it, if not, but a majority say "more power", then they can claim more power for Scottish Parliament

Not much. They are likely to stay using the pound and Scotland already has its own legal system. And it would remain in the EU.

You can't become independent, and remain using the UKs currency. Won't happen.

If they do become independent, they will have to create their own currency, or join the sinking Euro.

The Republic of Ireland broke parity with the pound sterling in either 1973 or 1976, I forget which. So there was either a 51 or 53 year long period in which you could take Irish currency to the Central Bank on dame Street and exchange it at par. It can be done without the actve co-operation of the country whose currency you're pegging.

On a more mundane note the SNP currently seems to be aiming for devo-max, (devolution maximum) where Foreign and Defence policy stay with Westminster and in other matters Scotland is for practical purposes independent. Devil's in the details of course.

Sure you can. The notes look different anyway, so you could just peg the new Scottish pound at 1:1 with the UK pound.

No reason you can't use the same currency as another country. Some non-EU countries (Montenegro and Kosovo) use the Euro and aren't in EU.

Quite a few countries are currently pegged to the US Dollar (e.g. Cayman Islands dollar), so it is not a new process for a country. Pegging to the UK pound would work better right now than going for the euro.

On a currency side note, I do wish someone would not divide their main currency into 100's (decimal) so pennies wouldn't exist. How about being a nice non-decimal 12?

The UK tried using non-100 divisors and gave up in 1971. http://www.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/customs/questions/mo...

Yeah, but thats beyond even 100 divisions, they had 240. I was more thinking along the lines of 12.

What's wrong with pennies? Just aesthetics? Some countries don't go below 0.05 which is essentially dividing it into 1/20s.

In the US, it is a cost issue. Pennies cost too much to make and people tend to lose them.

I wish the US would get rid of the penny and nickel and go to a one decimal digit system instead of two. It would be better to go to 12 -> 1 just because of divisors (10: 1, 2, 5 or 12: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6). Much better for dividing food bills.

12 isn't the key divisor it's 60 - basis of the Babylonian system (hence minutes and seconds, and 360 degrees in a circle) and historically the basis of the 'old money' in the UK (as those of us who can remember it call it):

* pound - 240 old pence * 10 bob note - 120 old pence * crown - 60 old pence * half crown - 30 old pence * florin/2-bob bit - 24 old pence * shilling/bob - 12 pence * sixpence - 6 old pence * thrupenny bit - 3 old pence * penny, ha'penny (and before my time, farthing - one quarter of an old pence).

Missing intervals are the groat (4 old pence) in the old Scotch money.

Agreed on the value of using 60 except it is too many divisions to make a coin profitably.

Why divide at all? The yen has no fractions.

OK, you could in theory, but it'd be stupid to base your currency on a country you just separated from, unless you wanted to be completely beholden to their economic policy.

Lots of countries do it. Ireland got independence from UK and pegged the currency for 50 years. When a country gets independent their economies are often quite tightly tied already, so the smaller country is often beholden to the larger country already.

That depends on their tax policies. Spending plans less English handouts leaves a huge gap to fill. Of course they'll try to support fledgling businesses but if the large wealthy businesses (and people) leave then ...

I know plenty of businesses eyeing up moves across the border.

Perhaps it would simply come down to what happens to the tax rates show a local government have the ability to raise and lower taxes? Lower taxes and more grants for small businesses === more people willing to try their hand at their own business.

I am based and from Scotland (Glasgow). I have a startup that going to be looking for a first round of funding in the next few months, anyone had experience with this? Is there an equivalent Kickstarter for the U.K.?

Lots of people - (more in Edinburgh). There is Entrepreneurial Spark in Glasgow http://www.entrepreneurial-spark.com/ and Rookie Oven of course. Scottish Lean Circle in Edinburgh https://groups.google.com/forum/?hl=en&fromgroups#!forum...

These seem to be support groups or clubs rather than places to look for funding, I was thinking more Angel investors or crowd sourcing.

Yes, but we all know the investors, the angels, who to approach, who is funding, what you will need to get funded, how to apply to Seedcamp, etc, etc.

Funding isn't just about 'ding, dong, gies some money'.

Ah right, I though I just sent a link to my system to a couple of rich dudes and my bank account would then become overflowing :-p

Joking aside thanks for that, looks like a great way to lplug into the funding network.

Is the benefit a constant "Error establishing a database connection"?

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