york-minster
Business Management

Yorkshire offers a northern home to tech's finest

Yorkshire is often depicted in clichéd terms by the English. Locals are often seen as parsimonious, working class, rustic, obsessed by minority sports, dialect speaking, strong tea drinking, and eating unique foodstuffs like Yorkshire pudding or Pomfret cakes. Obstinacy of character is often detected too, as is the notion that Yorkshire people would be incredulous that a sane person would want to live anywhere else… or that anywhere else even exists. Those clichés come from Yorkshire people themselves and from outside too but they are only clichés. Most sensible people recognise Yorkshire for what it is: a large and scenic area, studded with fine towns and cities.

The ‘white rose county’, named after the War of the Roses that settled royal succession and created an ongoing rivalry with neighbouring Lancashire, is today adding another identity: home to leading tech companies.

I spoke to two companies happy to have made Yorkshire home.

 

FinancialForce.com

Jeremy Roche is CEO of FinancialForce.com, a web-based financial management service provider with close links to Salesforce.com, which sprang from a company with Yorkshire roots. Headquartered in San Francisco, FinancialForce has about two-thirds of its 300 UK staff based in Harrogate, the historic market town known for its antique ships, tea parlours and for crime writer’s Agatha Christie’s disappearance. 

“We started out with Yorkshire and San Francisco as our two key locations and when we looked at how we wanted to build out R&D and our commercial base it had enormous attractions, particularly in trying to attract talent, and for a technology that was just emerging.

“Harrogate was unique: a bit quirky, an aspirational place people want to live. We call it Silicon Dale. It’s a new company and we wanted people with deep skills. We have the catchment area: Leeds, the universities, closeness to York - even Manchester, although I wouldn’t fancy the commute. It has become more and more attractive and it’s been judged [by property website Rightmove] the happiest place to live in the UK and third happiest in the world.

“When we started out we decided it would be attractive to be right in the middle of big cities or places that aren’t your typical places so, for example in the US, Manchester, New Hampshire rather than Boston.

“We have no issues in recruiting and we have 200-plus people in Harrogate out of 300 in the UK with video links between offices. Physical location is less important than it was historically. We’re a mobile business and we’re near an airport and high-speed trains.

“Americans have two views of the UK: London and the countryside. Many of them never get to see a place like the Yorkshire Dales. Visitors like drinking English beer and tea.”

 

Anaplan

Michael Gould is CTO and co-founder of Anaplan, a nine-year-old business planning software company that has raised over $240m in funding. He came to Yorkshire while working for a company called Adaytum, later acquired by Cognos, which in turn was later acquired by IBM.

“We built the platform for Anaplan locally but it was somewhat of a historical accident. It’s where I was living and working and I didn’t see a reason to move. I needed direct personal contact with developers at that early stage [and] it’s terribly important you have people you know and you trust. Our enterprise architecture team is based in San Francisco but our core technology has to be a tight team that work closely together and it is here.

“Like others we do look around but we think very carefully about what we build and where. We’re building a team in Paris working on extensions and looking at outsourcing to Rumania for less core development. There are certain types of work you can do in a remote context but in some cases there’s nothing like being able to scribble on a whiteboard.

“I’m from the south of England but I love it here. A lot of the enterprise software companies in the past had some key parts of their development teams based here in Manchester or York. Perhaps they were smaller teams but they were often working on some of the tough challenges at the heart of a product.

“There are some challenges to being here but there are some big pluses too. Broadband is not bad. We have very good recruitment agencies and we probably work a bit harder to find the candidates. But it’s a great place to bring people to. We’re in an old brick warehouse; it’s a fantastic location inside the city walls and some people jump at the chance to move out of London.

“We have very high retention rates and you don’t feel you have a huge number of companies breathing down your neck. There are great communications links by rail and by road. Leeds/Bradford airport is nearby so it’s not like people are cut off.”

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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