Thursday, 7 February 2008

The Route to 10 Downing Street

The route to Number 10 Downing Street is never straight. It can take some interesting detours. In my case, my journey to No. 10 this evening took me via online dating on TV and a brush with Silicon Valley.

About a month ago I received an invitation to visit Number 10 for a reception hosted by the PM, Gordon Brown. This came about as a result of the educational charity work that I am involved in. Today was the big day and I have to admit to being quite excited (yes, sad I know) as I have never been to Number 10 before. Besides I thought it might be a chance to make some good contacts for my BIG project.

However, first things first. My first stop of the day was to spend the morning with an ITV crew filming a piece for next week's "Tonight with Trevor McDonald". It's going to be a two-part special shining a spotlight on the new wave of identity fraud taking place on online dating sites. Think you've hooked up online with a Beyonce look-a-like model , my flirty, fifty year old friend? Think again, mate, and prepare to have your wallet emptied by a 17 year old youth with acne! Garlik has done research in this area so I was providing some expert commentary. My bit took about 2 hours to shoot but I suspect that when it's broadcast on Monday and Friday evening next week, I will be on the screen for 2 or 3 minutes at most!

Then off to the London offices of one of Silicon Valley's premier venture capital firms to tell them about Garlik. "Why?" I hear you ask when we have two major VCs on board already. Well, a golden rule of being a start up guy is that you are ALWAYS pitching. Anyone you meet. Any opportunity. You just keep selling your company. Remember: A-B-C. Always Be Selling (actually that's A-B-S, but that doesn't make sense so...).

I find that it's a good strategy to take potential future investors on the journey with you. So, you tell someone "this is what we are going to do over the next year". Then you do it and tell them "this is what we did, and this is what we are going to do next". You do that too. When you finally get round to asking them to invest, you've built up a track record. They know you do what you say you are going to do. That's a good place to start the real investment dialogue from. So whenever I get the opportunity to tell potential future investors about Garlik, I grab it. Plus these particular guys are plugged in to the heart of Silicon Valley - they know everyone - and you never know what opportunities might come out of that sort of conversation.

Finally it's time to head off to Downing Street. Lined up with the other guests next to the big black gates that guard Downing Street these days. Show your invite and photo id. Go through scanning and searching (and this is just to get in to the street, nowhere near the house yet). Go past the big boys with the machine guns, smile nervously and try not to look too foreign and shifty, immediately causing one to look shifty!

Now we're on the Street itself. It's quite odd. One minute you are on noisy Whitehall, with tourists and taxis everywhere and then you are on this quiet, quaint cul de sac with surprisingly small front doors, number 10, number 11. It makes you wonder what visiting Heads of State make of it, compared to The White House, say. Very English. Understated. I quite liked it.

The door to Number 10 was open so in we went, showed our invites again and left our coats and bags downstairs, piled up in the hall. It's a grand house but it really felt like visiting someone's big, London house rather than the Official Residence of a Head of State. Ok, the pictures of all the past Prime Ministers as you go up stairs are pretty impressive and there seems to be an aweful lot of house behind that modest front door. I think Number 10 is a tardis.

The education chaps were out in force to mingle with us. Lord Adonis, the driving force behind the Academies programme, Ed Balls, the education minister and so on. The other guests were a mix of charity folk, sucessful businessmen and a cluster of wealthy hedge fund guys some of whom I knew from my time at Goldmans. Then the PM appeared in our midst. I say appeared because even though we were all keeping an eye out for him, I didn't see him come in. He just seemed to "be there". Perhaps they have trap doors in Number 10 and he can pop up out of the ground?

Gordon (as I like to call him :-) did a good job of working the room, smiling, shaking hands, pretending to know people and so on. Then he gave a short and quite jolly speech. He told an amusing anecdote about Field Marshall Montgomery. I knew it was amusing because I heard him tell exactly the same anecdote at a lunch event in Davos a couple of weeks ago! He NEEDS to get himself a new jokes-meister.

A little more networking later (I bumped in to a couple of really great contacts) and I decide it's time to leave. I glide out of Number 10, nodding at the doorman as if he was an old friend, tipping my hat to the big boys with the big toys at the front gate and, hey presto, I reappear in the real world, back down to earth on the streets of London. Now, where's my bus pass gone......?

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