This month we get the chance to speak with entrepreneur and internet veteran Farhan Lalji.
Farhan started his career in online by accident when a friend emailed him a geocities page, from then on he was hooked. He left behind the glamourous world of health studies and Canada to work in the wonderful world of web in London. He started his career as a front end designer and developer before moving into product management and management consultancy. After completing his MBA at London Business School he joined Yahoo! where for three years he was European Marketing Operations Manager, managing display advertising campaigns across Europe. He left Yahoo! In April 2010 and is working on launching his own company later this year.
1. Tell us a bit about your new project. What made you say now is the time?
The projects really been going through some shifts, it started out as a display advertising platform but we’re exploring some new technologies for interacting and viewing ads. The idea is that display advertising is useful but really poor right now, someone needs to change it, why not us?
Professionally I felt I had learnt everything I needed to learn in my old role, and with new platforms (like the iPad) and mobile really gaining steam I thought it was the right time to start something.
There’s never a right time to jump. The decision was one bit professional and one bit personal. Yahoo! Had moved its European HQ to Switzerland and after two years there I felt like it was time to come back to London. We (me, my wife and our 9 month old daughter) were in a situation where we could take some time and have an adventure.
2. Recently there’s been a lot of commentary about how technically simple it has become to set up a start up. What once took 10 engineers is now doable by 1. As someone who just left an internet mega-brand, do you think the big companies will have trouble keeping employees given that the barrier to entry to online entrepreneurship seems to be falling?
The biggest barrier is still appetite for risk. Some people just have a higher risk tolerance than others. I know lots of engineers and product people who will never leave the comforts of a nice salary and a big brand no matter how easy it gets to start something. Sure the risk has gone down with lower capital costs but the opportunity cost of starting something is still there. Big companies will continue to recruit and retain people who care more about comfort and predictability.
Big companies need to worry about other big companies recruiting talent away before worrying about people leaving to be entrepreneurs. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! Ebay, Amazon, Apple all need to worry about talent going to competitors as well as companies I like to call “New Bigs”, companies like Facebook and Twitter.
3. Why set up your start-up in the UK? Especially in the current environment of higher taxes (VAT, capital gains, etc) and reduced government spending?
Here’s something controversial for you, I don’t mind paying taxes. Especially for things like education and health care. As someone who grew up with a single mom who worked very hard, I had to take on a huge debt to go to University and then graduate school so I appreciate everything the state does and if that means that I take a little bit less home so be it.
At the same time London is one of the most active entrepreneurship and digital centres so anytime you can get a mix like that you’d be mad not to take advantage of it.
The capital gains tax hits entrepreneurs and investors hard, but I do believe the government won’t take it higher than 40% which is what it was a couple of years ago. Hopefully, the government will include some breaks and exemptions for entrepreneurship.
Right now you have to be where your market is and where you can build a business, if you get to a point where you’re worrying about how much of your profits are being taken by taxation you’re going in the right direction. For me, the amount of connections, meetings, clients, advisors, investors you have in the UK and especially in London is phenomenal. People always talk about Silicon Valley and that’s great if you’re a tech company, but in places like London and New York you’re closer to the real world, where most people look at you funny when you say you “tweet”.
4. What do you think are the key trends online that will be change the landscape in the coming years?
I think there are two major areas that are already established but are going to become monsters in the next few years.
A bit obvious I’ll accept, but the impact of these trends is going to be really big in the next little while.
The trend of Mobile+social+location=fun will get bigger, better and more interactive. Check-ins plus status updates plus retail deals will have an impact on the take up of location based services and their wider adoption.
I also believe that touch technology is finally at the point where it can really change the way people interact with their device. Whether it’s the iPad, Android, or some other operating system, people will no longer be tied to a keyboard and mouse. I think what the Wii did to the gaming consoles is going to happen for computing and interaction in the next few years.
You can read more of Farhan’s thoughts on technology and business on his blog and by following him on twitter @farhanlalji.
Thanks Farhan, and best of luck. I know I’m not the only one who would welcome an improvement to display advertising technology.
past Nestoria interviews: Simon Wistow, Chris Osborne and Kevin Burke