Her Majesty's Techies: Inside GBx, the exclusive Silicon Valley club full of British techies that have created billion dollar companies
- GBx is an exclusive group of British entrepreneurs and investors in Silicon Valley.
- Founded a little under two years ago by British expats and the UK Consulate, it's a way for British techies to meet up and talk about industry issues - and "salt and vinegar crisps."
- Membership of the 250-member non-profit organisation starts at $150 a year, and is restricted to founders, investors, and senior executives.
- It hosts private tech industry events and helps support British entrepreneurs moving to America - as well as more casual get-togethers like curry clubs and cycle rides.
SAN FRANCISCO - About two years ago, Pete Flint had some time on his hands.
The British entrepreneur and California Bay Area resident had led a merger between Trulia, an online real estate platform he had founded a decade before, and rival Zillow, in a deal that valued his business at $3.5 billion. "I was freed up from a big operational role, and I started to kind of think about different ecosystems within Silicon Valley," he said.
The American tech industry is dotted with groups catering towards expats of varying nationalities - the Canadians have C100, Israel has IEFF, and so on. And while Flint had been meeting up with other British entrepreneurs and founders to "talk about the trials and tribulations of being a startup founder" in a pseudo-support group as long as he'd been in the Bay Area, there was no dedicated organisation catering towards the needs of Brits living and working in the tech industry, he noticed.
Flint wasn't the only Brit in the Bay Area to feel that way. A group of British techies and the British Consulate in San Francisco subsequently determined to do something about this - and in June 2016, GBx was born.
A 250-strong group of entrepreneurs, investors, and tech executives
GBx, at its simplest, is an exclusive group of British entrepreneurs and tech workers living in Silicon Valley.
The group has three key roles: It's a community for Brits in the Bay Area, where they can get advice and support from their peers. It's an existing network for British entrepreneurs moving to America, so they don't have to start from scratch. And it's a space for discussing policy issues with the aim of informing British government policy.
Its growth in its first two years highlights how, even as the British tech scene flourishes domestically, its expatriate citizens are also becoming ever-more present in Silicon Valley. Business Insider spoke to key figures within the organisation to learn about its history, and what it's trying to achieve.
Evie Griffin/London & Partners
Members of GBx range from entrepreneurs to investors to senior employees at big American tech giants. There's Flint, who serves as one of GBx's two co-chairs, is a managing partner of early stage venture capital firm NFX. And there's Michael Birch, cofounder of defunct social networking site Bebo who now an angel investor and philanthropist - and founded popular San Francisco venture capital haunt The Battery.
Other members of the organisation's board include Julian Green, a product manager at Google-linked moonshot factory X; Jaclyn Mason, the British consulate's head of trade and investment; Janice Roberts, GBx's other co-chair and partner at Benhamou Global Ventures; Andy McLoughlin, a partner at SoftTech VC and cofounder of SaaS company Huddle; and Kate Dutton, GBx's executive director.
It's an experienced group, and kept exclusive by design - there are currently only 250 members, with membership largely limited to entrepreneurs, senior executives, and investors. You're not going to bump into many mid-level sales people or marketing managers at its events.
"When a community gets too big you don't re-encounter the same people again [at events]," Michael Birch said - making it it difficult to build relationships. "There is value is keeping it focused on people who have something in common."
Flint added: "We think it's just really important to be highly curated, high quality, and we're really designed for c-level executives or founders. Not to try and make it exclusive ... it's really just trying to solve this specific issue for Bay Area entrepreneurs and executives."
The British connection
In December 2017, GBx members and their families were treated to a private showing of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" at the cinema at Lucasfilm's headquarters in San Francisco. (Business Insider attended and can confirm it was excellent, despite what the haters say.)
Rob Price/Business Insider
The organisation isn't just British techies sharing lessons about the venture capital ecosystem - there's a social aspect to it, its members held together by a shared cultural experience as they navigate a foreign land. It's "always fun for Brits to get together, talk about the Queen," Michael Birch joked.
Birch, along with his wife and serial cofounder Xochi Birch, have hosted brunch at their San Francisco home. Members have gone on a group bike ride. It's got a curry club. And there's a glitzy annual members' gala which debuted in 2017 - "a real coming of age moment" for GBx, said British Consul General Andrew Whittaker.
Of course, there's the more serious business too. It throws member events, from panels on industry subjects like healthtech and talent, to meetings with British government officials like London's chief digital officer.
What members get out of GBx - and what they put in - varies wildly from member to member. For a startup founder new to the US, it's an opportunity to learn from people who've done it all before. Birch, meanwhile, has lessons to share about growth marketing. Flint has direct experience of building billion-dollar companies on two continents. And for Whittaker, it's less about sharing lessons as it is about listening to members' inputs and using it to try and inform UK government policy.
It fulfills a similar function to the "ICE list," an exclusive UK-based tech network of entrepreneurs and investors that hosts events ranging from focused panels to ski trips in Europe (though GBx hasn't considered residential trips for its members just yet).
After kicking off in 2016, it formalised its activities in early 2017, with Kate Dutton coming on board as executive director in March, and then it incorporated as a non-profit organisation in April. Members' fees range from $150 a year for the lowest tier to $1,000 to be an "inspire" member, with perks like unlimited event access, guest passes, and sponsorship opportunities.
So what's the appeal of having a British-focused group? Why not stick to existing, non-regional tech networks? "I think there are definitely elements of British culture ... recognising when you talk about, I don't know, salt and vinegar crisps, or the things people can relate to very quickly," Whittaker said. "There's also the bit about being a Brit in the US - it is a foreign country, and people sometimes miss that."
"We're not trying to be patriotic, or live a British lifestyle, quite the opposite," Flint said. "You become fast friends because you have a similar background, and Silicon Valley is inherently a place where people are very generous with their ideas and their time."
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