How to grow your tech business in London

Technology computer chip
James Parton, former Director of Twilio & Producer of the Land and Expand series shares his tips for tech companies growing in London.
  • Create your legal entity
  • Build your regional team
  • Find an office
  • Get involved in the community… in person
  • Get involved in the community… digitally
  • Learn from people that have done this before

1. Create your legal entity

Under UK law, 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 which provide clear information and online company creation. You can discover more by visiting the GOV.UK guide to setting up a UK business

If you are thinking of setting up in London, then London & Partners are here to help guide you through the process.

2. Build your regional team

If you are planning on parachuting existing employees into the UK to help set up your regional operation, a legal entity and UK bank account need to be in place before you can apply for work visas for non-EU nationals, so plan ahead of time as these steps can take a couple of months.

Visas 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 an excellent 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 visas mentioned above, your organisation must gain a sponsor license to enable it to apply for additional Tier 2 visas.

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, and can ‘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.

Considering 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 might find that unicorn that can perform both the initial fire starter role and has the experience and seniority to take on GM duties as the business grows.

3. Find an office

There are many options to match your budget and preferred time 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 specification, expect to pay between £250 – £1,200 per dedicated desk per month in a fully serviced space.

It typically makes sense to start in a co-working or serviced office space. This allows your team to focus on building your product and growing the business, rather than worrying about finding and running an office. It’s also wise to take a flexible lease with a provider who understands the needs of startups.

Many providers operate in multiple cities, which provides additional flexibility.

Central Working: nationwide/international
Offers a membership format that allows members to roam across their seven London locations; Manchester; Cambridge and internationally. Central Working presents an attractive proposition. Memberships covers all options for flexible working, from individual flexi desks to managed office space.

Techhub – nationwide / international 
Silicon Roundabout veterans, TechHub were an early pioneer in the format set up by the fantastic Elizabeth Varley and Mike Butcher of TechCrunch fame. With space in two London locations and Swansea, plus five other European locations, Techhub also caters for all aspects, from flexi desks to private offices.

WeWork – nationwide / international 
The US co-working provider has set up in the UK, with many London and UK locations. WeWork also operate on a membership system, meaning you get access to multiple locations and join their global community.

Hoxton Mix – London 
Three prime sites in the heart of the London tech cluster. Hoxton Mix is long established and run by fellow entrepreneurs.

4. Get involved in the community… in person

Make sure your people are prepared to invest time getting involved in the local community around them, to build their network and raise awareness that your company is setting up for business. In my 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 the 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 their address book to you. There is a good Harvard Business Review article on networking here.

For the broader community, think thoughtfully about how your people and your company can add value to the existing community – 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 meetups 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.

Here are some suggestions:

General Tech Meetups

Technical Meetups

5. 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, LinkedIn,, Eventbrite, Lanyrd are all good choices, depending on the individuals and communities you are looking to connect with.

To get you up and running on Twitter I have prepared a list of key influencers to connect with. On Facebook head to London Startups and London Tech Startups.

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