For the fourth year in a row, LinkedIn cofounder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman is co-leading "Silicon Valley Comes To The UK" (SVC2UK), a four-year-old program to inspire and foster high-tech entrepreneurship in Britain. Over the course of four days, about 30 Silicon Valley executives, founders, and investors are meeting with students, entrepreneurs, and British policymakers to share what they know and catalyze the kinds of networks that will lead to more high-growth startups in the U.K. and Europe.
Hoffman sat down with Fast Company to talk about why he carves time out of his packed schedule to try to build up a tech scene 5,000 miles away from home.
(Tomorrow: Hoffman talks big data, his upcoming book, The Start-Up of You, and why he’s only checked LinkedIn’s stock price a few times since the company went public in May.)
Fast Company: You’re a busy man. Why spend time on something like SVC2UK?
Reid Hoffman: We believe in spreading high-impact entrepreneurship and increasing the abilities for people anywhere in the world to start high-growth companies. There's a fair amount of entrepreneurial spirit in Oxford, Cambridge, and London. We want to teach students about high-impact entrepreneurship and what's possible with technology, to connect them with local entrepreneurs, CEOs, and founders, and to connect them with local investors.
Is there something about tech entrepreneurship in the U.K. that you’re particularly excited about?
Any place that has a good depth of technical universities and skills, and even a partial entrepreneurial culture, I tend to be very supportive of philosophically. What’s unique here is the U.K. is perhaps the central place where, if you were thinking about a capital of entrepreneurship that could go all across Europe, you’d basically come to London, Cambridge, and Oxford.
What needs to change here for startup culture to really take off?
There are a lot of things governments can do to facilitate effective high-impact entrepreneurship. They have this "Entrepreneur Visa" that lets entrepreneurs to come here to build companies. But they need to expand that to be generally intelligent on immigration. It's not just the founders [who need to get in], you need a broad pool of capable talent.
Governments should think a lot about how they foster platforms, marketplaces, and networks, like how they can help entrepreneurs to connect with each other. And there are things they can do in procurement. One of the things startups need are customers. We can help them out by making government an early easy customer.
And then there are things they can do on labor laws. One of the reasons Silicon Valley has flourished is "at will" employment for small companies and a lack of enforcement on anti-compete clauses. Anti-compete clauses are generally the way big companies can beat up small companies.
Are there any startups or incubators in the U.K. that you're particularly excited about?
Saul Klein is doing interesting things with Seedcamp, which goes across Europe. We at Greylock Partners have made a Discovery Fund investment in a startup here called ArtFinder, partially because we think the category of art is interesting and partially because Spencer Hyman, the CEO and founder [and former COO of Last.fm, which Hoffman invested in], is somebody we know.
Some people say you just can't export Silicon Valley. Are they wrong?
You could probably do a Silicon Valley in Europe. The attributes of Silicon Valley can be rebuilt and learned in other places. In Silicon Valley, you have a dense network, and people share information about what techniques are working, what new technologies are coming, what new prospects might be, what ways of solving problems of customer growth should be—all sorts of things.
Those kinds of things are buildable in other places. They won't necessarily be exactly like Silicon Valley. Maybe Silicon Valley will be the primary consumer Internet hub of the world. But there's room for clean tech and other industries.
The entrepreneurs you work with in the U.K. learn a lot from you. What do you get out of interacting with them?
For me, it's simply a delight to be solving new problems with young, motivated, highly talented people trying to change the world.
You also maintain your own youth and agility of mindset by talking to people with new ideas, new mindsets, who are pushing on boundaries, who are not taking conventional wisdom as truth, but seeking to do something new and different.
Image: Greylock Partners