10 Tips For Bootstrapped Startups Going to London

London is by far the leading startup hub of Europe – according to concentration of venture capital, tech companies and almost any other aspect.

  • If you’re planning to start a startup you should spend at least some time in London testing your idea. Go to events and bounce your genius ideas off as many experts in the target industry as possible.
  • If you’re building a product you need to get feedback on it from potential clients in one of the largest economies in the world.
  • If you’re fundraising, you should go and spend at least couple of months collecting as many term sheets as possible. Don’t just take the first local investor offer – make them compete and co-invest together into your venture. London VC’s will most likely be more experienced and better connected because of the volume of deals they get by being in London. Local investors will help you locally and will be interested to reduce their risk. Win-win for everyone involved.

You probably get it and have your own specific business goals that could be achieved faster in London. I have been traveling to London from Vilnius, Lithuania since 2006. What keeps surprising me is lack of common sense by some of fellow startup colleagues on how to keep their burn rate low in London. So here goes my collection of tips on how to save of such trips:

  1. Travelling to London. Looks like some still didn’t get the memo that flying has become ridiculously cheap if you think and plan ahead of time. Don’t take the bus or car – it is waste of your time and energy. Also, you won’t have where to park the car.  Align your trip to major startup/target industry events. Set up cheap ticket alerts for those dates in Ryanair, Wizzair, your favorite airline and aggregators like Kayak. Check Momondo and other similar tools for cheap flights with different airlines. Try to keep it as light don’t take check in luggage – if you going for less than a month, it can be easily done with carryon. Well, if you wash your clothes regularly.
  2. Accommodation. Don’t look for a flat in London, it’s just depressing. If you’re going for a first time and you’re working in an early stage startup the chance of you knowing what you’ll do in 6 months time is close to zero. Ask your friends, search your Facebook, Linkedin connections who live in London and ask friends or acquaintances if you could crash on their sofa for a while for free or small fee (this even has a term in London, it’s called dossing. BTW, dossing should not be more than 5-10£). If that doesn’t work – stay in hostels, there is a huge variety for range of prices and usually in great locations – this way you’ll also save on metro etc. Of course there is always Couchsurfing or renting Airbnb and other services like Homestay.
  3. Other living expenses. Walk or bike – you need to exercise after sitting in front of laptop all day. If meeting is ±30min away, there is no need to pay for taxi or metro. You’ll get fresh air and come to a meeting energized. Shop in large supermarkets, buy in bulk, freeze and then cook your own food. It will be healthier and a lot cheaper than eating out. Go to startup events and don’t be shy with free food and drinks. Most coworking spaces will have 1 day or longer trial times – use them, there are so many coworking spots in London now, you could go weeks to a new office every day. They always have free coffee/tea and sometimes cookies. WeWork even has beer on tap! 🙂 And there are dozens of cooking and on demand delivery startups battling in London, they often have promotions. If you’ll be transferring money between the UK bank account and your company’s bank account in your home country – don’t do it via your  bank. Use fellow fintech startup TransferGo service – at least for me, they are 10 times cheaper and much quicker than transferring via banks.
  4. EU / local government programs and grants. My last trip to London was funded by EU mentorship program Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs. That’s 1 000 Eur per month + mentoring from local more experienced business person for up to 6 months. I’m very happy with the experience so this is open promo of this program 🙂  15 new entrepreneurs went to UK from Lithuania in the past 6 months alone (e.g. only 1 entrepreneur to Berlin and 1 to Amsterdam). It’s simple program and not to take advantage of it would be stupid. To learn more: Lithuania – reach out to to startup friend Jone from Civitta, neighbours in Latvia – contact good folks at TechHub Riga, Estonians – KODA, Finland – MIKSEI. They will hook you up with a receiving organization in UK and help you find local expert who will mentor you in your field. Since startup has been “it” for politicians and officials to look relevant already for few years, there are a number of programs. Just when we started TrackDuck we got into Lithuanian Startup Roadshow, a fully government funded startup showcase trip to London. Reach out to them and see if they can help. Also check out government support for export, innovation etc.
  5. UK / London support for startups. UK has a range of programs to help foreign entrepreneur come and start building businesses in London. Check UK Trade & Investment agency, which has been covered in Arctic previously. And London and Partners, where you should reach out to Kristine Metuzale, she works with companies from Nordic/Baltic region. London & Partners are the experts on doing business in the capital, helping overseas businesses to set up, and grow. Their team is very well connected across London tech scene and beyond and  can advise you on every aspect of locating and doing business in London, free of charge.
  6. Don’t pay for startup events. Or pay the least possible 🙂 Few simple tricks – ask for a free ticket (such early stage, much bootstrap, great thanks, wow social media outreach), if you get a no – ask for a startup discount. Try to book events as early as possible. Follow specific organizers in Meetup, Startupdigest, Eventbrite – they all have alerts according to location and industry. Set up Google Alerts according to your industry, usually they use they some industry keywords which you can track.
  7. Accelerators, corporate programmes. London is full of various angel investors and VC’s. The problem is if you’re going to London for the first time you don’t know them and they don’t know you. If your startup is in the really early stage you don’t have traction to show them to lower the guard and start the conversation. My advice, especially if you’re doing all of this for the first time, meaning you are a first time founder and don’t know how it all works – do yourself a favor and join an accelerator. They will most likely help with your product, train you to pitch and talk with investors. Most importantly they will introduce you to their network, which is the most valuable asset of any accelerator. This should save you a bunch of time. You can find and apply to most of accelerators online via AngelList and F6S. You should apply to at least few, because the most popular ones like Techstars London get so many applications, it’s literally a lotery. Make sure to check out newer ones, as they are usually hungrier and have something new to put on the table like AngelsCubeBesides regular accelerator there are a number of growing corporate programs and incubators. Microsoft has one, so does Paypal and Barclays. These are great, because they usually don’t take equity and often give some funding, plus free coworking. Just make sure you don’t get into any tricky agreements and IP remains with you.
  8. Lawyers, consultants & co. As a new startup you will be needing all kinds of services and help. Lawyers and consultants are expensive in London. There are few things you can do before spending on them – meet as many potential prospects as possible and interview them. After meeting 5 different law firms you should already at know all the possible options how to deal with a certain situation – maybe you can Google the rest or ask for advice / templates from fellow startup founders. If you need to hire – negotiate the price and get a fixed fee. If it’s for fundraising the fee should be success based, if deal doesn’t go through there should be at least big a discount for their services. Always do your researchBTW, most of the startup programs and co-working spaces will have some kind deal or free hours available with a law firm. Also, these law firms that focus on startups often host or participate in events related to some specific startup law topic – follow their websites and social media for opportunity to get free tips.
  9. Crowdfunding. It’s one thing I’m sad we didn’t try when we were starting out with TrackDuck. Crowdfunding is a great way to validate your idea and probably the best possible way to get funds to start working on your product. Just while writing this post in a coffee shop I met an old friend, who is a visual artist and just successfully crowdfunded for her new documentary in San Diego – the main expense being flight to San Diego from Lithuania. If she can do it, so can you! For different startup crowdfunding options in UK, check out Crowdcube and Invesdor.
  10. Sell. The best for the last! You should always start selling as early as possible. Certainly you should try selling your product before the trip to one of the most expensive place to live in. If you don’t have the product yet – sell the vision, here are some great sales tips how to do that. Or pitch it as a custom project, or services – consulting, development etc. If you can’t do that – find a job in London, preferably in another startup or target industry leading company, until you get to that phase. However, you should certainly be doing customer development from day one you get serious about your idea.

This was my first post for the new ArcticStartup column – please let me know if found it useful by tweeting with @edmundas.

P.S. We’re giving away free TrackDuck visual feedback and bug tracking for web projects tool subscription to fellow startupers. If you’re working on a new website or designs, sign up and reply to welcome message that you’re from ArcticStartup post.

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