Songkick founder Pete Smith on how Silicon Milkroundabout is taking on the banks, and why you should work for a startup

Songkick founder tells us how 'startups are no longer 'two MBA guys raising a bit of money and getting some dude in Eastern Europe to build the website', how '...there is no better way to get your apprenticeship than to spend a few years at a company and see all the ins and outs'

Pete Smith Songkick

He’s not a big believer of this attrition rate of startups. Pete Smith, the founder of Songkick hopes for Silicon Milk Roundabout to become ‘a really established event, so it’s no longer a curiosity, it’s just a fixture on the calendar’. At their first event 10% of attendees were turning up and getting new jobs – a statistic that makes the event hard to ignore. I caught up with Pete Smith, co-founder of a leading East London based startup Songkick, the company behind Silicon Milkroundabout – the event which “…brings together 100+ UK start-ups offering 500+ technical jobs”. Sunday was their second event, which seems to be disrupting the traditional graduate jobs career fair or roadshow model. The first event was held back in May, and this time around it was held in a much larger venue – The Brewery off Brick Lane in Shoreditch.

In this interview with Pete Smith of Songkick, he told us told us how the Silicon Milkroundabout came about over a pint with Ian, one of his co-founders – and how they should do a jobs fair “…because one company shouting into the darkness that they are hiring for one developer can’t compete with Goldman Sachs”. He also went on to say how Silicon Milkroundabout is in fact now selling a job with a company, but “…a category of jobs in a load of different companies” which is something Pete says “…we haven’t really had before – the categories we compete with are ‘work for a bank’, ‘work for an agency’, freelance, ‘work for Google’.”

Interview with Pete Smith of SongKick on Silicon Milkroundabout by PostDesk

He also told us about the benefits of working for a Startup, and how Startups are no longer “two MBA guys raising a bit of money and getting some dude in Eastern Europe to build the website.” and how he thinks that “…in general engineers are entrepreneurial.” continuing to say how “…there is no better way to get your apprenticeship than to spend a few years at a company and see all the insides, ins and outs of the company, and how the company gets built, there’s a lot of transparency, as a developer you’ll have a lot of exposure to the business side”

Silicon Milkroundabout

In response to our question about the perceived risk involved with taking a job with a startup as opposed to a bank – Pete told us how he agrees with what Simon Willison from lanyrd.com said at the recent HNLondon meetup event - ”…you can go into a startup knowing the runway of that startup you can say well that startup I know they have 18 months or two years before the next funding round is needed. Or they think they can get profitable in that time this is a bit of a punt and I hope that they can.” – continuing to say that, “I’m actually not a big believer of this attrition rate of startups, a good startup and you make a good decision that startup shouldn’t fail.” – going on to say how “…if you are ready to go and you spend two years working on hard problems that you enjoy you’ll learn so much in that time, be smart about it, choose the right company, choose the company with a runway you feel comfortable with. Songkick’s never been close to dying over the years and that’s because we are consistently building a really good team. And I think you can be the judge of that when you are considering working for a startup, “do I trust the founders”, “do I trust the CTO”, “do I trust the developers”, do I trust them to make smart decisions over the next few years because if you do, then there’s a very good chance that company will be fine.”

We went on to ask Pete about the benefits of attending Silicon Milkroundabout for a Startup – to which he told us how with “…companies having conversations with engineers, in some respects there’s a two-way sell going on.”. In terms of the future plans for Silicon Milkroundabout, Pete told us how “…now the word is out the only limit is the capacity of the venue”, and that they plan to run the event twice a year and can “grow it out elsewhere in the venue” if they need to expand. He went on to tell us how they “…hope to make this a really established event. So its no longer a curiosity its just a fixture on the calendar.” . With “10% of attendees turning up and getting new jobs” at the first event – it’s certainly likely to become much more than just a curiosity. Speaking to some other exhibitors and attendees at the event, it appears that the event is so well organised and brought together that some were going as far as speculating how Songkick will become an events management company over anything else – one thing is certain though, and it’s that the London startup scene has come together and gone from strength to strength exponentially over the past year. These are undoubtedly very exciting times for anyone behind a startup in London. As Pete himself said in an interview with Wired, It’s now clear that ‘Silicon Roundabout is starting to catch up New York as a tech centre in terms of size and quality.’

What do you think? Is Silicon Milkroundabout the key to success which will allow London to start competing with Silicon Valley – and is working for a Startup a real alternative to working for a ‘large company’ or a bank? Is the London tech scene the start of a significant culture change or is it just part of a short lived ‘.com bubble 2′? Share your views and contribute to the discussion in the comments below…

Silicon Milkroundabout

The full transcript of the interview is available unedited, and in it’s entirety below:

For those that don’t know tell us about SongKick

[Pete Smith] So Songkick’s the service to track bands so you never miss them play live. We want your tastes, we want your Facebook likes, your iTunes library all the ways we get hold of your taste information; “your music tastes” and we turn that into recommendations for concerts.

How successful has your iPhone app been?

[Pete Smith] It’s been really big yeah, I mean I can’t go and tell you the numbers but it’s been a real game changer in terms of how much we [SongKick] cares about mobile. We knew it was going to be big. And we knew that moment when you download the app and it scans your iTunes on your phone and gives you instant recommendations, we knew that was going to be such a step up from the web experience where you have to download a plugin or you have to use our java applet to scan your library. We knew the integrated experience on the iPhone was going to be killer.

Songkick iPhone App

How did Silicon Roundabout actually come about?

[Pete Smith] So we, Ian and I, Ian’s one of my co founders – we were having a pint in April, like early April and we were talking about how this just should exist, it was an idea we had talked about a couple of times, we should do a jobs fair because one company shouting into the darkness that they are hiring for one developer can’t compete with Goldman Sachs, e.g. if you are a four person startup trying to find somebody. But get a hundred startups and you’ve got five hundred jobs; And actually what we are selling here is not a job with a company, were selling a category of jobs in a load of different companies and that’s something we haven’t really had before – the categories we compete with are ‘work for a bank’, ‘work for an agency’, freelance, ‘work for Google’. They are big categories. What we aren’t saying is work for Songkick, work for Global dev., we’re saying work for a startup – come along to a room where there are a hundred of them in one place and talk to all the different teams

This might beg the question – what’s wrong with working for a big company what’s wrong with working for a bank and why work for a startup?

[Pete Smith] Good question, so the first is there is nothing wrong with working for a bank, I hope people make informed decisionabout their jobs and quit if their not happy and stay if they are happy. So you know there’s variables that you are playing with when you make your career decisions. I’d say what we are hoping to achieve with Milkroundabout is you add another option to your list of options, I think mostly people are not thinking straight out of Uni, or even when they are safely ensconced in the BBC or another big company, “Should I work for a startup?” And if they do they are thinking probably not, ‘it’s a bit risky’, ‘I don’t know anything about them, I’d have to go around 100 different offices before I found a startup I really wanted to work for and has the technology I really want to work with’. So back to the overall goal of this, it’s to put 100 startups in a room and make it incredibly easy for people to make a call on whether working for a startup is the right one for them. I say work for a startup because you tend to be able to choose your colleagues you choose the teams you want to work with and you choose the product you get to work on, and that’s crucial. I mean a lot of the companies here today you talk to their engineering teams represented here and they just love the product they work on. And whether they have got enterprise users or consumer users you’ve got teams that know what their users do with their products, they get feedback immediately that they release something, all that kind of stuff is extremely rewarding when you’re building something you actually care about. I mean we had companies like JustGiving today they really have changed the game in terms of making it so much easier to give to charity and doing sponsored walks and runs and then all the way to Moshi Monsters that are absolutely loved by tens of millions of kids all over the world, that’s one massive thing startups give you. Behind the scenes stuff like share options and autonomy and choice over what you work on, and of course ultimately if you wanted to start your own company, there is no better way to get your apprenticeship than to spend a few years at a company and see all the insides, ins and outs of the company, and how the company gets built, there’s a lot of transparency, as a developer you’ll have a lot of exposure to the business side.

Silicon Milkroundabout

Absolutely, there’s an interesting point you raised about people treating working within a startup more like an apprenticeship, Does this say something about a culture change in terms of a more entrepreneurial spirit and entrepreneurial culture amongst developers? Do you think this is a real culture change?

I think one thing that’s definitely changed is tech startups have the DNA of product and engineering teams, they are no longer two MBA guys raising a bit of money and getting some dude in Eastern Europe to build the website. And that’s what you would often have, that conversation you would often have with people five years ago in London. It would be like hey we just raised a bunch of money and now we need some coder to code the website and that’s completely changed – you talk to all the startups here today, they are genuine product and engineering teams, they know that tech is at the heart of building a business and building a product, that language has definitely changed. But I think in general engineers are entrepreneurial, and you know whether we have the shining lights that silicon valley have to provide the examples of what can be achieved, I don’t really know – not yet. Although Skype and LastFM are all companies we love and are proud of, whether we have those companies yet doesn’t really matter because UK based software engineers can look to the valley, can look to Facebook can look to Google and say well I have the potential to achieve as much as they do.

So playing devils advocate – some might say, the most critical people might say that working for a startup is potentially unstable what with this perceived dot com bubble. What do you kind of say to the people with such concerns?

[Pete Smith] Well I heard Simon Willison from lanyrd.com [incidentally, this was at the Hacker News London meetup which took place a few days before the Milkroundabout event] talk the other day on this exact subject, I think just as you go into a bank know its going to be pretty secure know you are gong to make a bit of money. You can go into a startup knowing the runway of that startup you can say well that startup I know they have 18 months or two years before the next funding round is needed. Or they think they can get profitable in that time this is a bit of a punt and I hope that they can. You go into that with your eyes open and you know two years is a pretty long time and it’s a nice period of time to work with people you like, on a product you love and if the company doesn’t work out, I’m actually not a big believer of this attrition rate of startups, a good startup and you make a good decision that startup shouldn’t fail. But in general if you are ready to go and you spend two years working on hard problems that you enjoy you’ll learn so much in that time, be smart about it, choose the right company, choose the company with a runway you feel comfortable with. Songkick’s never been close to dying over the years and that’s because we are consistently building a really good team. And I think you can be the judge of that when you are considering working for a startup, “do I trust the founders”, “do I trust the CTO”, “do I trust the developers”, do I trust them to make smart decisions over the next few years because if you do, then there’s a very good chance that company will be fine.

Songkick

How are the companies that take part in Silicon Milkroundabout actually selected, how do they come together?

[Pete Smith] It’s a first come, first served; we started off just blast emailing all the founders we knew in London. That was the first 20 companies back in may and then by the time we did the event proper in 20th of May or something like that, we had another 30 companies involved, so it was around about 45 I think that were involved in the first one we are now at 103. We actually stopped registrations a couple of weeks ago to get really organized, I mean we could have done 150 and we might next time. Now the word is out the only limit is the capacity of the venue.

What are the benefits to a company like those attending here today, of attending Silicon Milkroundabout?

[Pete Smith] I think the shear volume of conversations I’ve observed happening has been phenomenal today, I think people turned up at 11am, there was a queue from the get go, people just walking around in a really informal relaxed manor. You know everybody gets a booklet with a bit of information about the companies. And people were using that booklet to pinpoint the companies they wanted to chat to, that’s been the main thrust of the whole day. Companies having conversations with engineers, in some respects there’s a two-way sell going on. Someone keen on working for a company talking about themselves and their background. You always get that company talking to that person saying we are a great place to work, you will be rewarded here. All that kind of stuff.

Silicon Milkroundabout

What sets Silicon Milkroundabout apart from you average career fair or roadshow, what makes this so special?

I think its new, we hope to make this a really established event. So its no longer a curiosity its just a fixture on the calendar. But I think for now the feedback I consistently get from everybody that turns up, I did not realise there was this diversity of teams, technologies opportunities in tech city, startup land, London startup. There’s something going on here great funding, great teams, really great product people, great engineers working on these companies and if you didn’t know this was an option turning up here today is a real eye opener to people.

How did you measure the success of the last event and this one and how do you plan to make the event more successful in the future?

[Pete Smith] So we did a survey of the companies and found out about 40 hires were made out of the last one out of attendances of around 400, so we are getting 10% of attendees turning up and getting new jobs. Which is pretty phenomenal. I don’t know how that compares to other events but I suspect it’s extremely high. This event we go through a lot of logistical issues; this venue is a bigger undertaking than jut putting it up in a bar like last time but we’ve done them now and I think we are probably going to come back to this venue twice a year. We can grow it out elsewhere in the venue if we need to expand but I think for now we’re just going to see how many companies we can sign up next time cause it sounds like in terms of software engineers looking for startups enough people will turn up every time we run one of these.

Silicon Milkroundabout

Attendees and exhibitors sticking around at the end of Silicon Milkroundabout after a busy day on Sunday

Thanks very much for the interview – anything you would like to add?

[Pete Smith] Sign up if you haven’t because we will be running two events a year from now on.

As a side note – The Next Web recently posted this infographic – put together by Adzuna, a job ads search engine.They pulled together some UK tech job stats during the build up to the event on Sunday.

What do you think? Is Silicon Milkroundabout the key to success which will allow London to start competing with Silicon Valley – and is working for a Startup a real alternative to working for a ‘large company’ or a bank? Is the London tech scene the start of a significant culture change or is it just part of a short lived ‘.com bubble 2′? Share your views and contribute to the discussion in the comments below…