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Missed Opportunities for Britain’s Dotcoms in Europe!

British techies should focus on products and markets they know best, like consumer services, international students and cult TV shows...

Contributor Christian Boas kicks off our new series about opportunities for tech entrepreneurs in Europe! Christian, 29, is an associate partner at VC firm Quorumm, which invests in early stage digital marketing agencies. He has been involved in both for-profit and non-profit start-ups, and in raising finance for infrastructure projects in Eastern Europe. Raised between Germany and the UK, he has plenty of insights on tech innovation and entrepreneurs in both countries! Christian studied Philosophy and Political Economy at the University of Exeter and is based in Berlin.

We all know about cultural stereotypes in Europe. which British traits are admired and have the potential to penetrate foreign markets?

If we think of Germany for example, we think of a leading manufacturing nation with household names like Mercedes, Siemens and Volkswagen. France is big in many sectors from nuclear energy to luxury goods, and of course wine and cheese. 

But which British traits are admired and have the potential to penetrate foreign markets?

Britain has, since Thatcher, distanced itself from manufacturing and put a greater emphasis on the services and finance industry. London, specifically the City, attracts the biggest players in the sector and is seen as the financial capital of Europe, if not the world.

How can British firms make use of this know-how and monetize it online? I see a great opportunity for sites like Which?, Greasy Palm and MoneySupermarket entering new markets if they maintain the quality of service and localise their offering. The opportunity for widgets that pull information into third party sites and handheld devices, is huge.

It’s not only the existing firms that can take these services abroad. Entrepreneurs with the ability to create quality sites and work with a local team to adapt the services can do just as well. English is nearly always the second language in continental Europe so finding a bilingual team to run the service should not be difficult. So if you see an online business that works in the UK, be bold and have a shot at growing a version of it in Europe!

Britain has a common language and close cultural ties to America. As a result it’s often hard for British sites to compete, as many users do not mind opting for the US version.

There’s an opportunity here as well, however. If it’s possible for Brits to pick up on trends from the US earlier, executing them in Europe should be easier for them than for Americans and faster than for most Europeans.

Many of the viral movements in Facebook were copied in non-English speaking countries much later. Music, games and film are also often only released much later in Europe, and there are opportunities in licensing and in e-commerce sites selling fan merchandise. A Berlin techie secured the German rights to the movie The Artist early on and made a small fortune.

British humour is huge in Europe. The is a classic British parody called Dinner for One enjoys cult status in Germany and is shown every Christmas Eve. I have the impression it is far more famous in Germany than in Britain! If British humour is already so popular, why not make use of it yourself and transfer the wit to digital products to amuse people like e-cards or printed t-shirts?

You see a lot of people walking around wearing t-shirts with classic quotes from Hollywood movies, apparel that refernces popular British shows could be just as popular. I would use white label services like Vista Print to test and minimize risks before scaling.

Many more foreign students are studying at UK Universities, and some even went to school in the UK before entering university . High quality information on studying in the UK, catering to people from specific countries could be a service customers would pay a lot for.

There are services out there but they do not offer the community feel that parents and students want. For example, the University of London offers online courses and networking tools to enable its students to interact as a community. But the social element isn’t great. A Facebook app to host students from British Universities in their own micro-site within Facebook would be great.

It’s also during their studies that many students develop preferences for elements of British culture or products clothing, food and entertainment that are hard to get abroad. UK entrepreneurs should build ties with foreign students to supply them in their local markets when they’re back home – a niche area of e-commerce with a worldwide customer base, thanks to the diversity on British university campuses. 


Interested in how Facebook got started? Check out our interview with Divya Narendra, one of the site's original founders


Monday 18th June 2012, 18.12 (UTC)


Agree lots of potential for consumer comparison 'widgets' fed on to other websites - but these are generally market-specific (i.e. you wouldn't want a British restaurant widget fed to the US)

Monday 18th June 2012, 18.12 (UTC)


the problem with the uk tech sector is that they're trying to copy silicon valley, and things like consumer finance advice or international students aren't cool enough for them

Tuesday 19th June 2012, 10.33 (UTC)


Completely agree with you Christian, thanks for sharing. Also Agree that international students aren't cool enough for the UK. My concern is whether the UK brand image is strong enough. Most popular culture largely remains American so I wonder how big a market there would be for cult products. The larger task is surely one of building and sustaining that brand and international students just might be the way to start this. Looking forward to the upcoming posts:)

Friday 22nd June 2012, 07.00 (UTC)


Very interesting article. Christian is right,The UK has a big opportunity, I hope businesses can cease the moment. Our company 50cycles.com will be looking to go international within the next 6 months and can identify with the sentiments of this report.

Saturday 23rd June 2012, 21.36 (UTC)


Thanks for the good comments. Some responses here: @ Bea : Yes, some widgets are only country and market specific but do not forget , alot of widgets include complex processes where the variable to that market or country can be changed. @Nathan: Its in some sense a waste to copy US Stuff because what I always felt in the UK that we adapted the big all encompassing sites like Youtube, Facebook or hotmail.com from the USA because they were well done and had such funding no British Site could compete. @Efe : Yes, I can imagine dealing with education is not cool. Nevertheless if you can find foreign talent who pick up something British and take it in partnership with you and export maybe something with you. Dont forget how many people also go to boarding school and that is also an untapped market. @ Scott:: I looked at your site and you got a very interesting niche. I think Germany and Holland are very good secure markets to enter. There are some cities in Germany and Dutch cities close to each others boarders, for example Münster. This city is a university town and has more bikes then people in it. I would look for someone good in bikes in Münster. I do not know enought about your product but maybe post ads at Münster University ( or other ones), someone may help out. If anyone has more questions that I can help with please post here ? Thanks for reading the article and your input

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