Ollie Saunders is a 24-year-old web software developer who recently moved to Edinburgh following stints in London and Toronto. We met Ollie at the inaugural Lean Startup Circle meeting. He had only been in Scotland for a matter of days, but already had a packed schedule of events to attend.
We know Edinburgh has a lot going on, but when you live here, it’s hard to get the big picture. How does the startup scene in Edinburgh compare to London or Toronto? We offered Ollie a public introduction to the city in exchange for his fresh take on Edinburgh.
When did you move to Edinburgh? What brought you here?
I’m from nowhere any one has heard of in Hertfordshire where pretty much nothing happens. You can’t make a career there so I had to move. I heard there was a good startup scene here in Edinburgh. Virtually all of my programming career has been spent working on things alone. I want to put a stop to that.
How are you finding the city? What are your first impressions?
When I arrived I didn’t really know what I was going to see. I recall saying “Oh wow, Edinburgh is pretty” to the taxi driver immediately after I arrived at Waverley. The proliferation of parks and other green bits are great, and not something you get in Toronto, which is basically a concrete jungle. One thing Toronto does have over Edinburgh is skyscrapers and wide roads. I find being in big, wide open spaces very energizing. You can’t beat North America for that and that’s also one of the reasons why London isn’t for me.
Tell us about Toronto. What were you doing there? How did you find the startup scene?
I was working as a web developer for a video production company in Hertfordshire and was starting to find the job increasingly less relevant to what I really wanted to do. I wrote on a forum about the situation and some guy replied and suggested I go hang out in Toronto. At first I dismissed the idea as ridiculous, but then it dawned on me just how cool it would be!
I managed to wrangle three-weeks holiday to properly check it out. When I landed, a border services official questioned each passenger as they got off the plane. She made me wait until the end to be questioned a second time when I honestly replied to the question “How do you know the person you’re meeting?” with, “Through the internet,” but it was all fine in the end. [Also a lesson for internet daters. Duly noted.]
I was lucky in that my new Torontonian friend introduced me to just about everyone he knew, and he was pretty well connected. After the holiday I applied for a work permit and returned for a year.
I was interested in consulting, so my experience was of hanging out at meetups focused on particular languages or paradigms (Rails, AJAX, UX, etc.) I don’t recall a lot of events focused on entrepreneurial-technology (Democamp is an exception). There were certainly a lot of politically-charged technology events—and I remember that despite not really looking out for them.
How would you compare it to what you’ve seen so far in Scotland?
Edinburgh seems to have a very strong startup scene with fewer consultants. I was really impressed by the number and variation of events, although I do miss those technology-focused meetups too.
Another interesting comparison is London, which I think is predominantly larger businesses with typical nine-to-five employees and lots of PHP work. I’m sure there’s loads of startups in London—it does have a massive population after all—but you could hardly say the city is a hub for startups like Edinburgh is becoming.
Is there anything you’re hoping to find in the community now (furniture, food recommendations, contacts, work, whatever)?
I’m just happy to be meeting new people. Work-wise, the dream is to find a similar-minded co-founder to start a startup with. But I may end up joining an existing one or doing something else.
Watch for Ollie at local events, on the Meadows playing touch rugby, or on Twitter at @olliesaunders.