Web Startups Reboot ‘London 2.0’

LONDON — SOME of the web’s most innovative developers might want to check the temperature when they arrive for the Future of Web Apps conference this week — in tech circles, this city is getting hot again.

During the dot-com boom, London was the place to be after San Francisco and New York. A rash of startups and new-media agencies made London one of the net’s epicenters, turning low-rent neighborhoods like the East End into hot spots full of trendy live/work lofts.

The crash leveled expectations, but three years later, London is swinging again. Some are calling it “London 2.0.”

“It is happening again, there is a real buzz,” said Sam Sethi, ex-editor of TechCrunch UK, who now blogs about European web startups at Vecosys.

The Future of Web Apps conference, with talks by Digg founder Kevin Rose and TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington, is one sign that the city is back.

“London is up there with San Francisco and up there or ahead of Boston — it’s got to be one of the three best cities in the world to get a company funded and have investors,” said Saul Klein, a partner at London-based Index Ventures, which has funded the likes of Skype and Netvibes.

Klein puts it down to the city’s talent pool, which has always been strong, and a cluster of battle-scarred entrepreneurs having another go.

“There is now a lot more money and there are a lot more ideas; we’re definitely getting more approaches than we would have done two or three years ago,” Klein said. “There are a lot of receptive investors now in London and a lot of smart developers saying, ‘Actually, I can do that.'”

Londoners’ calendars are once again full of networking events, parties and meetups.

The setting is traditionally a London pub and, in the case of events like Beers & Innovations, appropriate liquid lubrication is on tap.

The three-day Future of Web Apps in Kensington, which will host a Wednesday debate on whether European web startups have caught up with Silicon Valley, is hearing manifestos on development topics including, appropriately, “Why and how it’s easier than ever before to build a web business and compete with anyone.”

There’s a focus on leveraging internet standards in innovative ways, and a growing support network by participants themselves using tools like wikis.

But Sethi cautioned that Europe would not rival the United States until it got a couple of “big wins,” like a YouTube-like billion-dollar banker. He warned lack of faith in long-term homegrown prospects was causing a brain drain, but said he is optimistic that music-recommendation site Last.fm can demonstrate that Brits need not prove their credentials in California.

“If Last.fm would have started in Silicon Valley, it would already be very derivative and bland like most of the projects coming from (that) part of the world,” said Martin Stiksel, co-founder of the social music service. “It’s great to be here.”

Last.fm is growing fast; it lists 65 million tracks and is based in London 1.0’s fashionable Hoxton heartland.

“There are still lots of ‘renegade media nodes’ and professional trendies walking the streets of Shoreditch, but a more realistic attitude has gotten hold of the true movers and shakers,” said Stiksel.