Life as a start up in Edinburgh, quick view from the inside – conversation with Ben Eliott, founder of startup Legalesign.com
Q: So, first off, you’ve founded Legalesign and based it here in Edinburgh, I’m interested to know the main reasons for this.
A: Well, probably there are three main benefits for a start up in Edinburgh. First of all, everyone in start-ups is keenly aware of their cash flow and Edinburgh is a great place for living less expensively. When I’m in London I find money disappears from my pocket as soon as I walk out the door. In Edinburgh everything is an order of magnitude better priced and the quality of life here is super. I walk everyday to work through a UNESCO world heritage site and take in a fantastic view of one of the worlds great castles. Secondly, I find one of the main responsibilities for myself as founder is to stay true to what we’re doing, to distinguish signal from noise, and to stay the course. In London ideas and opportunities are everywhere, which is great, but behind every business is a lot of grind and focused effort and at some point you need to make some choices and create some distance and Edinburgh is perfect for that. I was talking to a friend in financial management who said a similar thing about her industry, I think it has something to do with why Edinburgh is also a top financial centre for fund management in Europe. Lastly, and these are two related points, the tech community and informatics department at the university here in Edinburgh is excellent. Our office at Appleton Tower is in fact the top floor of one of the informatics buildings. If I want to recruit some great talent I just put up a sheet of A4 in the lift, it’s as easy as that. The top three floors here are all start up businesses and there is a thriving community of tech start ups. There are also some more established companies here like skyscanner and freeagent who shine a light on the path for startups and who sponsor and support the tech community.
Q: Some people say capital is harder to acquire here?
A: Even though we’re in a downturn and a few hours down the track from London, if a business is developing well I think there is capital available for it. When you look around you see funding coming into successful businesses. I think it’s true that it’s less easy to get capital for very early stage businesses. But I don’t think that’s because of where we are, I think that’s because of the general discovery that bootstrapping a business goes a long way. By the way, I’m talking about web business here which just by their nature are not capital intensive businesses to get started. By bootstrapping you can eliminate a huge amount of risk, the net result I think are businesses that are more stable and investable, which is better for founders and investors equally. Eric Ries is a great proponent of that approach. I’d just add that ‘informatics ventures’ based down the corridor runs an annual event called ‘Engage, Invest, Exploit’ that showcases new ventures and has a large draw of investors.
Q: So where are you with Legalesign?
A: We’re heavily into our programme of continued improvement now which I want to remain a long term habit for the company. We’re excited about what esigning can do for companies and people are just beginning to realise that it’s a must-have for more productive businesses. In some ways we’re a start up for start ups, one of our key goals is to be flexible to business change and change for a start-up is the backdrop to day to day activity. But I have this picture that if all companies switched to esigning everyone would be immediately better off, that’s what we’re trying to do. In connection with what we talked about earlier, I mentioned about the tech community, well one of the advantages of that is that there are plenty of complementary products being developed here so we’re excited about the potential for co-marketing.
Q: What does the future hold, does the independence debate affect you?
A: Independence doesn’t really affect us at the moment. If you like, the worst case scenario is that we need to move in which case this would be relatively easy even if it’s undesirable, Edinburgh is a great place to live and work. If I can make a meaningful contribution to the independence debate I’d like to, but at the moment if I was to say anything it would be to ask for some harder facts and figures. I fear increasing rhetoric as we get closer to the day. More generally Scotland currently offers good support for early stage companies, we’ve found the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce who are a gateway to grants and other funding to be genuinely helpful and supportive.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today
Ben Eliott is founder of Legalesign.com, an online esign service for business.