“When I first met Robbie, I don’t think he even realised he would become this famous,” she said. And from her handbag a dog barked. Hello Robbie.
I’d been getting on with business and staying out of trouble in my favourite Old Street coffee shop when I meet the Maltese Terrier.
Robbie’s business partner is Mahny Djahanguiri and she is the world’s leading authority on “Doga Yoga”. Mahny and Robbie have been featured in newspapers, magazines and TV shows around the world. So they’re a bit famous. And definitely more famous than Robbie first imagined when he was a young pup.
As I’ve described previously, such Silicon Roundabout coffee shops as these are like the London Underground. You operate in your own bubble, fight for your elbow space, mind your own business and get on with it.
This suits me fine. I’m taking a mini sabbatical from working in, with, for or even near boot-strapped startups. As much as it’s exciting and meaningful it’s also all-consuming and exhausting and I’ve only recently exited one in a process unlike anything else except that scene from Interstellar where Cooper rides the cosmic wormhole to the fifth dimension and realises he’s back where he started.
But here’s the flaw in such sabbaticals if you live and work in this neighbourhood: Once you’ve been through a few accelerator programs as a co-founder, mentor or elite-scavenger-of pizza-and-beer you see an awful lot of familiar faces. It’s hard not to bump into people you know from one startup or another and you get talking and before you know it the dormant virus of startup excitement re-awakens. If you don’t stomp on the buzz right there, you’re making introductions, then you’re pitching in, and suddenly you’re in another team. At midnight you stagger home with the milk lamenting like David Byrne: “Well, how did I get here?”
I welcome the winter. Turned up collars, pulled down hats, near permanent darkness; It’s easier to walk the streets without inhaling a startup conversation that catalyses the bug. I mean, Summer is hell. Startup ideas float in the light breeze of enthusiasm like a thick pollen cloud. Winter, you’ve got a chance. You just have to be disciplined; Don’t give the startup contagion a chink of light. This is why I’m fiercely protective of the isolationist tendency of what I call working-coffee-shops and remain determinedly plugged in to my own space once the steaming bowl of psycho-coffee arrives.
But damn, when your neighbour’s handbag starts barking and the conversation turns to doga yoga then all of a sudden the game’s up and there goes your iron willpower. Curiosity takes over. You let your guard down.
And we get to talking about books we’re writing and this, it seems, is our shared interest which is just dandy because it’s safe. Dumbass. I should have known better. Because of course it turns out that Mahny and Robbie have come to East London to seize the digital potential of Doga Yoga. Sure, Doga Yoga might have its spiritual home in West London but disruptive digital business-models come from this side of town and so here they are.
And like everything in this startup scene the idea swiftly does the dance of the seven veils and reveals that it’s fascinating. It’s one thing to consider Robbie doing a show-and-bark in a yoga studio. But Robbie on Youtube, the App Store and LinkedIn is, well, it could be big business. The familiar pattern starts. Business models unfurl in the imagination and then they unravel but only to be replaced by two or three more.
Brian Eno, he of Roxy Music, coined the word “scenius”. His point was that creativity springs not only from folklore’s lone genius but also from the social sharing of ideas, passion and interest. And here Silicon Roundabout shows its hand. It’s got the critical mass of entrepreneurs, experience and enthusiasm to provoke the serendipitous clash of ideas that spits out a better idea. And increasingly our “scenius” has the money, mentors, and know-how to turn these new ideas into businesses. This is a tipping point.
The next trick is to perpetuate the growth and success. To do this the roundabout must remain open to outsiders rather as well as stereotypical startup founders. It’s precisely those outsiders who come with yoga mats or arrive on four legs or who in any other way do not fit the model who are most catalytic. They keep driving innovation and create new businesses.
That’s why it’s great to see Mahny and Robbie here. But as more people flock to the area there’s one downside and it’s very personal; You really can’t help bumping into people with ideas and passion and ambition. I try very hard not to and it still happens. So if you ever find yourself subscribed to a video channel of Robbie the Maltese Terrier performing trance dances then it just may be the product of the Old Street scenius.
March 2015 column for British Airways Business Life magazine
Posted by Richard Newton | 0 comments