WITH the kind of passionate enthusiasm only a US entrepreneur could manage, Michael Fertik bounced into Liverpool and instantly became an ambassador for its technology scene.
Mr Fertik, founder of Reputation.com, visited the city last week to mark his company’s move into the UK market with the purchase of Liverpool-based Reputation 24/7.
With the Government promoting East London’s Tech City as a world-leading centre for digital excellence, Reputation.com could have been forgiven for following the international herd and opening a UK base in the South East.
But Mr Fertik insists, that would not be an “entrepreneurial” solution.
That, he said, is finding a regional city with a strong technology sector and a big talent pool – a city, in other words, such as Liverpool.
Liverpool and other regional cities are also, of course, cheaper than London. Wages are lower, as are accommodation costs.
Price, however, isn’t everything – and the seemingly ever-enthusiastic Mr Fertik says Liverpool’s universities and growing tech sector will help Reputation.com to grow as it beds in to the UK market.
Manchester, thanks in part to MediaCity and the Sharp Project, has positioned itself as the UK’s leading regional digital hub.
But Liverpool is already strong in some areas, particularly gaming and music. And its technology scene has attracted investment from the UK and overseas – Finnish web technology firm Hammerkit, for example, opened a Liverpool Science Park office in 2010.
And Mr Fertik’s words of praise for Liverpool will surely be music to the ears of those charged with attracting hi-tech investment.
Liverpool Vision says it has recently seen a rise in inquiries from tech firms considering Liverpool. Mr Fertik, to judge from his high-octane visit last week, will be happy to talk to those potential investors about why they should look beyond London when expanding into the UK.
Reputation.com specialises in helping people and companies to protect their privacy online. And too many tech entrepreneurs, he said, are fixated on London’s reputation as a tech hub to open their eyes to other opportunities.
“They cannot consider anywhere else,” he mused.
“You should have heard the hoots I got from my peers in London when I said I was coming to Liverpool.
“It’s obnoxious. It’s short-sighted. And it’s not entrepreneurial.
“It does not help to pay so much more per square foot. That’s not good for your company.
“To have sales and marketing in the UK, you have to have some sort of presence in London. But it doesn’t mean you cannot have the majority of operations elsewhere. And Surrey is not elsewhere.
“I might get invited to nicer parties in London, but that’s just simply not the point.”
Any business moving to the UK will need to tap into London’s vast market, and Mr Fertik says he loves working there.
“But there’s a point of view with some of the tech guys in London,” he added, “that unless you’re 50ft from a world-famous barista that does a great flat white coffee, it doesn’t count. But what happens when you get to seven guys and you can’t afford the rent?
“You get the same attitude in Silicon Valley. ‘Unless you’re in downtown Palo Alto’... it’s dumb, in my view.
“We’re here to make a profit. The more we make, the more guys we can hire. The more we spend on rent in, say, SW1, the less money we have to hire guys.”
When considering the Reputation 24/7 deal, Fertik and his team had to consider whether Liverpool was right for the business.
He said: “We did some research on the university, the population here, and the public and private sector investment that has been happening.
“We found a very good university, which seems to be the jewel in the crown of local higher education.
“In our experience, having a university is very helpful. With that comes a motivated workforce, and the ability to scale up from there.
“Everything comes from excellent colleagues. We already have some awesome talent.
“You also have a multi-national population. Maybe it’s a function of the great history of this place.
“That’s valuable in itself, but it also gives us good multi-lingual support for any future entry into Europe – and that is our plan.
“You have a well-motivated, wages competitive, reasonably permanent workforce.
“I’m bullish. I’m long on the British economy and I’m long on Liverpool. All the ingredients are here for long-term success.
“It’s good that other companies want to come here. We’re in Silicon Valley for a reason.
“I think,” he added with a smile, “we’ll call this the Silicon Pool.”
THE chairman of Hammerkit, meanwhile, says the company has gone from strength to strength since moving to Liverpool.
Howard Joseph said being in the city “has given Hammerkit the edge” as it develops the products it sells to the UK’s thriving PR market.
The company opened its office here in 2010 following a campaign by economic development agency Liverpool Vision to attract Finnish hi-tech investment to Liverpool.
Since arriving in the city it has focused on developing its CloudStore system, which allows PR and creative firms to show off and store their digital work online.
Hammerkit was given a further boost in January 2012 when it secured a funding package, worth a total of £1m, from the North West Fund for Venture Capital, the North West Fund for Digital & Creative, Finnish state-backed bodies Veraventure and Tekes.
CloudStore has now been taken to market and has already been sold to Edelman and Hill & Knowlton, two of the biggest PR firms in the world.
It is now working with other big UK PR firms after developing four “digital PR webinars” for the sector, and expects to grow still further this Mr Joseph, said: “Liverpool Science Park is full of young and growing companies and, in fact, the whole area, so close to the universities, has a real buzz to it.
“That is just the sort of environment a company like Hammerkit needs and our access to skilled people and similar companies, combined with the support of the North West Fund, makes Liverpool a natural home for us.”
Will Jones, sales executive at Hammerkit, added: “Liverpool is a hotbed of creative and digital talent.
“Networking events in the city have helped Hammerkit integrate into its surroundings.
“Events run by ACME and Kin have helped Hammerkit to meet their digital and creative peers in the area. It’s been a real eye-opener for everyone at the company.
“A lot of people we want to be talking to and doing business with are right on our doorstep.”
Kevin McManus, head of creative and digital at regeneration agency Liverpool Vision, said the city was attracting more interest from technology and creative firms.
He said: “We have in the last two months been involved in discussions with two or three tech companies who are seriously considering moving here.
“We’ve been showing them round properties and showing them the offer in the city.
“It’s positive that people are coming here and seeing some of the other companies that are active in the creative and digital community.”