Back in the 17th century, Londoners networked in the first coffee shops, getting together to establish companies that would trade around the world.
Today they still network relentlessly but not just at coffee shops - they email, IM, text, post on social media and Skype as well. And it is this vast network of bright, knowledgeable, hard-working and highly-qualified people that makes London one of the best places in the world to set up an innovative new-technology business, say Tom Valentine and Alex Saint, founders of the luxury holiday website Secret Escapes (secretescapes.com).

 

The networking effect


"Stuff that you might have had to find a consultant to do or spend hours on the internet researching in the old days, you now get somebody who has done it three or four times who is glad to help, probably in expectation of a future favour, and just writes you a quick email setting you straight," Valentine explains. "It is a very friendly community and people are glad to ensure the community only makes a mistake once."
And the networking effect has got stronger and stronger since the pair set up Secret Escapes in 2010. "It's astonishing the change we have seen even in the last six years. Like any network, as the number of people working in it grows linearly the value of the network grows exponentially," he says.
Secret Escapes is based in the Hatton Garden area to be in easy reach of the digital heartland in Shoreditch, the money men in the City and many of their best clients in the luxury hotels of the West End.
However, physical contact is not always necessary, Valentine says: "A lot of communication is mailing lists and Facebook groups and Skype chats. Occasionally you realise you have been corresponding with someone for a couple of years and you have never actually met them in the flesh."

 

 

A magnet for talented people

 

Co-founder Alex Saint believes that London's magnetic attraction for talented people makes it the only place to look if you want the best, especially in creative industries such as advertising. "We solicited offers from agencies outside London for both creative and media buying and there was an obvious difference in talent and experience from the people we found in the city. I guess for certain industries there is a concentration of talent in London that is very difficult to beat," he says.
Specialist expertise such as legal and financial services also tend to concentrate in the capital, he says: "Finding venture funds is really difficult outside London."
There are downsides, of course.
"It is phenomenally expensive, our rent has doubled in the last two years, salaries are higher and the competition for staff is tough," Saint says. "Our people regularly get head-hunted and finding good people to recruit can also be a challenge because competition in the digital space is pretty hot."
In short, it's tough at the top but if you want to get to conquer the world, London is a very good place to start.

 

Secret Escapes Timeline (click to enlarge)
Infographic