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Making American connections: tales from a Silicon Valley visit

Written by Giulia Simonelli on 19 April 2018

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We asked Johnnie Ball, Chief Data Scientist at Fluidly how he and his company benefitted from EEN’s recent trip to Silicon Valley.

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As part of the Global Business Accelerator Programme, 16 UK artificial intelligence businesses had the opportunity to network with in-market Venture Capitalists (VC). Before you read the article, here's how they got on...

 

 

Fluidly is a seed stage fintech company with a focus on AI in business finance. What particularly prompted you to identify the US market as a potential growth opportunity?

 

We’ve always considered the US as a potential market as it has a huge number of SMEs and wide adoption of cloud accounting software, both of which are critical to our business. In particular, the US is a somewhat natural progression for Fluidly as the tech and AI ecosystem is so well established. Silicon Valley is - of course - one of the leading markets to an AI company, so to hear from investors first hand and to learn about the tech culture in the US vs the culture in London and to get a frank view on how you scale within the US was invaluable to us.

 

You weren’t going out to raise funding directly. So what was your main purpose of going on the visit?

 

We raised funding in October so weren’t aiming to raise directly on the back of the trip.  However, we wanted to establish contacts and informally lay the ground work for if we do decide to look for investment from the West Coast.

 

As we don’t yet have a US focused product on the market we weren’t expecting to close any sales or establish a customer base.  For us, the trip was about experiencing the Silicon Valley culture and building an investor network.

 

Why did you choose to attend the global accelerator programme?

 

I’ve not come across overseas visits like this for our industry before.  The programme was recommended to us and once we saw the list of companies and investors it was planned we’d meet on the trip we knew it would be really valuable. The fact the trip was focused specifically on AI was also obviously highly relevant to us as well.  Knowing that the EEN was backing the trip ensured it was an opportunity not to be missed.

 

What did you find most rewarding during the trip?

 

The meetings that were arranged during the trip were exceptional.  Margaret Jennings, the organiser, leveraged her personal network so the meetings were open and personal – the investors were putting in more than just their time which was greatly appreciated. To get dedicated time with the major investors such as Y Combinator and General Catalyst is something that, as a young startup, we wouldn’t have been able to access had we gone alone.  It was a very special opportunity.

 

I also enjoyed spending time with such a fantastic group of British AI businesses. It was important for us to not only network with overseas investors but widen our domestic network in London. For small businesses, like ours, the credibility from being invited on a visit like this is really important.

 

What was your perception of the US market before the trip?

 

Silicon Valley has a reputation for deep experience in technology startups and for being highly competitive so I was expecting it to be a high energy atmosphere. I wasn’t quite sure of the structure of conversation with investors but I did expect there to be a focus on how we could quickly scale AI companies in Silicon Valley.

 

Did your expectation of the trip meet the reality?

 

Making contacts was key for us. In terms of building our presence, we succeeded. The VCs we met were very engaged and openly offered contacts and introductions. The investors passed an incredible level of knowledge and expertise onto us. It would have been really difficult for a small British company such as ours to make such connections independently, or to break into the market, or pitch to investors without the trip.