Why there’s no UK Facebook

Nick Britton, editorial director for SmallBusiness.co.uk's parent company, argues that it is unfair to blame Britain for failing to produce enough world-beating companies.

If there is one thing I’m tired of hearing, it’s Brits bemoaning the fact the UK has not produced a Google, Amazon or Facebook.

But there’s one thing worse than that, and that’s Americans putting the boot in us for our lack of ambition.

Last week, Twitter’s founder Jack Dorsey remarked that Brits, and Europeans generally, lack the hunger and drive of Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs. He is reported as saying, ‘There’s a huge barrier to entry because there’s not a large ambition to take risks. There’s a fear of making mistakes in public.’

But we don’t need Americans to belittle us, because we do it very well on our own. David Richards, chairman and chief executive of WANdisco, penned an article in City AM recently which bore the headline, ‘There’ll be no UK Zuckerberg while we fear all failure‘.

Just to give you a flavour of it, it contained sentiments like, ‘In Britain, we’re stifled by snobbery, a fear of failure and too many rules.’

Now I’m not saying there isn’t a grain of truth in this. But to beat ourselves up about failing to produce a Facebook is just plain silly.

For one thing, the US is five times the size of the UK in terms of population. It is also a very homogenous market where everyone speaks the same language and if you are successful, it is easy to expand quickly. Facebook is a case in point, which before conquering the world spread its tentacles over various elite universities – Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Yale and so on. In contrast, the UK is on the edge of Europe and the cultural and linguistic barriers are much more significant.

Secondly, the UK has produced brilliant, world-beating companies. Companies like ARM Holdings, whose chips are used in computers around the world; Dyson, which redefined the vacuum cleaner; the Virgin Group, run by perhaps the most recognisable entrepreneur in the world; and JCB, known for the quality of its products everywhere from Japan to Jamaica.

All right, we can still beat ourselves up for messing up penalty shootouts, but please, no more writing off UK entrepreneurs because we didn’t create Google.

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