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Building global tech ecosystems with Russ Shaw, Founder of Tech London Advocates

We asked Russ Shaw, Founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates about how he is building one of the world’s largest tech ecosystems and what role partnerships play in it.


Russ, thank you so much for finding time today. As the Founder of London Tech Advocates, you're one of the major driving forces behind the tech ecosystem and partnership in London. Can you help us understand how models of partnerships and collaborations in the London tech ecosystem evolved during almost six years since you started London Tech Advocates?


Well, I started with the Tech London Advocates back in 2013. And I think partnerships have evolved in terms of, there's more of a spirit of openness and inclusion and collaboration. One of the reasons why I set up tech London advocates back in 2013, was I felt that too many doors were closed. And it was great that the government was promoting London's tech ecosystem, it was great that the Mayor was promoting it. But I felt like if we're going to build a truly world leading tech ecosystem, many different people from the private sector need to come together. And one of the main building blocks of tech London advocates is an ethos about helping and supporting one another. So that was very inherent from when I started the group. And we're not there yet, by any means. But I think over six years, it's gotten much better. The collaboration is much stronger, and people are open to working with many more partners.


Brilliant. In one of your talks, you mentioned that there are three pillars, or three drivers of London Tech ecosystem, which are investors, entrepreneurs, and corporates. Do you also see some tech sectors being more collaborative than others?

As I traveled around the world, yes, there are some tech ecosystems that are more collaborative than others. I think if you look at Silicon Valley, it's probably one of the most collaborative in the world. And that's been built over decades and decades, people are open. And I always joke about Sequoia Capital, one of the most prominent venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, will usually give you 30 minutes, and then they'll usually say, “No, thank you” to your idea. But then they'll say, let me introduce you to this person. Let me connect you over here. And and that spirit, that ethos has been there for many, many decades. As I travelled around the world, you know, I think London is really starting to build a global reputation for its openness, for its collaboration, for its welcoming of people from all around the world to being here. And I think as ecosystems mature, many of them start to realise that they have to be more open, more inclusive, more dynamic, more diverse, if they're going to be successful over the longer term.


Right. In Partner Insight we see many Partnership roles emerge, thousands of Partnership roles emerge in London tech ecosystem alone. Companies hire Partnership Managers. From your perspective, does this mean that companies move from partnering with handful of companies into partnering with a broader variety of companies.

Yeah, I think in general, over a period of time, we've seen companies saying we have to establish many more partnering relationships. And I think particularly large corporates are in the position where they're now saying: “We can't just do this on our own, we have to work with other organisations, we have to create better, deeper partnerships, because we don't have the resources”. Even if we're a large multinational corporation, we don't necessarily have the resources to do everything that we want to do. And therefore, a partnership model is really key. I think it's also a realisation that, you know, companies cannot specialise in everything. So if you're looking to take your business model and connect it into another part of the value chain that you operate in, in all likelihood, there's somebody else who's doing that really well. So why don't you partner with them? So that's the good news. I think the challenging side of this is, how do you actually do it? And I've worked from both startups, to large corporates where it's, it's easy to say, it's hard to do. How do you create the platform? How do you create the agreements, so that ultimately, it is a win win scenario. And for me, if partnership works well, when both partners are gaining something useful from the relationship. I think more of the startup mentality today is around, you know, growing their businesses quickly. And the best way to do that is by having a number of partners that you can work with that can help you to grow your business model.


Right, very interesting. Global tech advocates, which you established is now a worldwide community with more than 10,000 members. Apart from your great leadership, which I think is amazing, what is a driving force behind this profound movement?

This is a global network. As of today, there are 14 groups of Global Tech Advocates and Tech London Advocates is one of those 14. And I've got two more groups in formation stage. But I think one of the things that I've learned is that underpinning all of these groups is a spirit of volunteerism, you know, every advocate around the world is a volunteer, everybody has a day job, they might be a founder of a startup that could be an angel investor, they might be working in a big corporate, they might be an IP lawyer, or an accountant or a university professor, but they're all coming together as a volunteer to build something bigger in their tech ecosystem. And I think I never fully appreciated how powerful that would be. And I think I've learned over the years that this spirit of volunteerism is so important and so potent, because everybody seems to put their other agenda to one side, say, we want to create London, in this case, as a world leading tech ecosystem, and we're going to get behind that in a great way. And that might be through a FinTech working group, or it might be through a women in tech working group, or digital skills group or group that might connect London, into Africa, or Latin America, or wherever it may be. And that, to me is what has built this network in such a powerful way. And I'm really excited, we're going to bring the whole community together later this year in China and do our first global tech advocates festival in Shanghai, where all 14 groups, and actually two of the newer groups that will launch in 2020 will come to meet each other, because we all have something in common, which is we're all working for the greater good, as volunteers. You know, I do all of this pro bono. Everybody's a volunteer. And I think that when you get everybody in the same room, it’s really powerful experience.


So what I'm hearing is that people want to be part of something great, right. They are happy to give away time to build something great.

Yes, I would agree with that. And I think that's to me, that's human nature. You know, people, you know, in many different areas sometimes aspire to be part of something bigger, it might be a movement. We like to sometimes call our advocates groups a movement to really support tech ecosystems to promote what's going on in them, but to also be honest about what's not working in those ecosystems, and how can we make them better?


So what is your biggest challenge then?

My biggest challenge is probably my own time management. I try and keep a very flat structure to these groups. So it's me running Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates. For Tech London Advocates, it's me with 46 or 47, TLA working group leaders, an advisory board, and nearly 8000 advocates. There's not much structure there, there's not much hierarchy, I do use an agency called Seven Hills to help me. But I think many of the other global tech advocates groups are also similar. They're also flat structures. In order to keep these groups open and inclusive, you know, we all try and rely on funding through things like corporate sponsorship. That takes a lot of time and effort. But I think, coming back to me, it's around what time can I give to make sure we're getting our message out to the world about what we're doing, to welcome individual advocates into a group every day, to support the working groups, and to get behind big initiatives that are really important for these tech ecosystems?


So what would be your one advice for a tech CEO or a startup founder who wants to become a part of this?

Yeah, well get in touch with me. If you go onto the website, you can either connect through me or connect with another advocate to be introduced to me. And the if you say, I want to be part of tech London advocates - great, I'll send you a welcome email with a few next steps. So that you're getting the communications about working groups, upcoming events. We’ll share a lot of the media coverage that we get in terms of what's going on and, and the messages that we're putting out to government, to media, to key influencers, about the tech ecosystem. So it's very easy.


Brilliant. Russ, we wish you good luck, and we hope to see you in Shanghai in October, which definitely will be a great forum. And thank you so much for your time.