Flying the flag for UK startups - We meet Cristiana Camisotti, Co-Founder of Silicon Milkroundabout

16 June 2014

Silicon Milkroundabout runs regular events designed to match talented people with the thousands of jobs on offer at UK tech start-ups. Their 7th event which was held recently in May 2014 in East London saw 1000’s of jobs available in some of London’s coolest and brightest tech start-ups.

Co-Founder Cristiana Camisotti came originally from a product design background (Central St. Martins), before heading up branding and visual design at one of the UK’s largest recruitment agencies. In recent years she has established herself as one of the most innovative and exciting big-event producers working in the UK.

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(Cristiana pictured: front row, 2nd from left)

So take us back to the start of your career - what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?

My parents are shopkeepers and my brother runs his own business so I’ve always seen starting my own business as a tangible and exciting career path. During my University years I wanted to design functional products that had a great chance of making it to market. I designed a drinks bottle so that a drink couldn’t be spiked. I was pretty bullish and set up meetings with major drinks manufacturers, learning about NDA’s and patents along the way. I got so close to getting it made by a major drinks manufacturer.

It gave me the belief that ‘Yes, I can do this.  I’m young, but with real self-belief I can bring my dreams to fruition.’ So, I designed other products, restaurants and interiors and eventually brought a product to market.

Then I started working for a female entrepreneur who really believed in me.  I went from being a single designer to running a design department covering eighteen brands with thirteen acquisitions in two years. One of my roles involved running all the events for the company and that gave me the events bug so I then decided to leave and set up my own events company. 

Talk us through the launch of Silicon Milkroundabout?

3 years ago there were only a handful of companies working out of the warehouses of Shoreditch, nothing like the mass growth and volume of start-ups now working from the coffee shops, tech hubs, Incubators and spaces in Tech City and in tech hubs across the UK.

My co-founders Pete Smith and Ian Hogarth from Songkick, were trying to attract the best tech talent and kept losing out to corporates and agencies. In a pub Pete or Ian, they can never decide who came up with it, said ‘let’s create our own jobs fair’. Going out to all our friends in the start-up community everyone got on board within weeks and were promoting it to their own networks. After all great people know great people!

Five weeks in the planning, chaos and the birth of our mascot Morris the Milkcarton, SMR 1.0 was launched... and we made some real noise at the Bar Music Hall in Shoreditch.

Developers were queuing round the block. Lots of free beer, conversations and connections later and our 25 start-ups had made lots of hires! It had worked and the candidates loved it too - being able to speak with peers and founders directly and learn about the potential role and the culture of the company.

Stepping back, on our own we were start-ups with a single quiet voice, together as a community we had a real chance at shouting louder and promoting the category of jobs which is ‘working for a start-up’.

You must have had a number of challenges along the way. What was the biggest one you faced?

Scaling from a small event in a pub to the Old Truman Brewery and expanding our reach from the original 300 talented developers to now a 14,000 strong community of talented developers, product managers, marketers and designers. Our past attendees are our biggest ambassadors and spread the word to their talented friends about the event.

We are a bootstrapped start-up, without any external funding, using any profits from our last events to fund the next one. Cash flow is tough, but any start-up founder will rightly tell you that!

Our events are bi-annual with an incredibly intense two month period running up to the big weekend. Our team get ill, work around the clock relentlessly but we love it although it is exhausting! Our team spirit is amazing and we are like a little family.

The biggest challenge at the event is being in charge of 3000 people, they are our responsibility - we have a crèche at our event, a free bar, free coffee, art installations. In real time anything can go wrong so the challenge is to perform perfectly and for it to run like a slick operation with a million moving parts. Our team are world-class at this, I’m so proud of them, they ‘make’ the event with their fun attitude and quick thinking!

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Speaking of how the tech space has expanded in recent years, what’s your perspective on the market and the potential for you and your peers?

You only need to spend a day at one of the many tech hubs popping up around the country to get a glimpse of the excitement, energy and passion of these early stage companies.

The tech space is heralded by the government as a source of economic strength in the UK economy. Kids are going to be taught how to code in schools from September and in parallel kids will be taught the importance of technology and in harnessing its power. Technology runs through the veins of anything they might want to achieve in the future - their dreams and aspirations, whether they want to be an astronaut (that’s what I wanted to do as a kid!) or a fashion designer with a web presence, it’s important to get excited about how technology is a part of their dream and ambition.

More start-ups and more attention will result in more hubs, communities, meet up groups and a continued uprising of entrepreneurial spirit. This will trickle down and enthuse the next generation of talent.

People are also becoming more start-up savvy, more open to the opportunity to work in small agile teams where you can be heard and have a real impact on the shape of the product. We’ll see more designers, product managers and developers moving from Corporates to join an early, mid or late stage start-up.

Given that you’re at the heart of the community, what do you think of the UK as a source of tech talent?

We have a rich history of tech entrepreneurs starting with Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing and Tim Berners Lee. The UK has a wealth of tech talent, they just not all working currently in start-ups! It is now really desirable to have a job in a tech start-up (company culture, valuing employees, fair terms, fun, creative, equity etc.)

I think there are various natural geographic ‘hubs’ where start-up ‘ecosystems’ and communities naturally gather sharing knowledge and resources. It is a truly wonderful community to work within as there is a huge amount of open-mindedness, willingness to give things a go, learn and iterate fast and we believe firmly in share economy and if we can help others we will. Look at the growth of Croydon Tech City.

More investment in infrastructure would make it easier to achieve the same rate of success, in a broader variety of places. Government backed/subsidised new hubs and more mainstream publicity would help too.

I believe if we linked up our communities and shared our resources we could look to become a second Silicon Valley. This would mean the co-operation and collaboration of tech hubs and communities throughout the UK and Europe and beyond in places like Tel Aviv. Like the early Milkroundabout, if we all stand together we’ll have a stronger voice and be a better-rounded proposition to anyone who is thinking about working for a start-up or carving a career for themselves in the industry.

So you’re the expert at helping others, but what's your secret to attracting the talent you need for your own business?

Remaining open to people I meet whether at our events, at a party, in life. I love having interviews in interesting environments, relevant to the role, for instance meeting with a potential team members for a design role in an art gallery. Throughout my career I’ve hired lots of great people and there is an energy when meeting someone at Milkroundabout where you just think ‘Yes, I like this person, there’s something here, they’d fit right in’. It’s not tangible; it’s a gut feeling... We often say that ‘one 2 minute face to face conversation says much more than a piece of paper ever could’.

Just to get into Milkroundabout, you’ve got to be good and relevant because we vet you. We have thousands of applicants, we vet down to 3,000 and only they get lucky tickets. We create an environment for invited candidates to feel disarmed, leave their limiting self-beliefs and fears on Brick Lane and feel encouraged and excited to have amazing career defining conversations as soon as they enter through the Silicon Milkroundabout doors.

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Are we doing enough in the UK to encourage start-ups?

I recently had the honour of speaking with Helen Clark and she told me ‘how can you innovate with only half the workforce’.  I think having Joanna Shields as the 2012-2013 face of Tech City was inspired. It really influenced a great deal of women to look to the industry.

So what is next for Silicon Milkroundabout?

We are continually experimenting with new ways to showcase our start-ups - we’ve launched the Start-up Selfie Videos where teams have 90 seconds in one take to tell the candidates all about the role and their ultimate company mission. They film them on their mobile phone, we showcase them and the videos get 1000’s of views before the event.

We have exciting experiments we are beta testing both online and offline. We believe passionately that we need a direct line to connect up other tech hubs across the UK, Europe, Israel and beyond.

Ultimately we’re on a mission to make the ‘messy job of finding a job’ a truly exciting and efficient experience using tech and events. We are busy creating an online and offline experience worthy of a growing talented and diverse audience.

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What bit of advice would give to someone who is starting up their business now?

Never give in, never give up. Try, test, get it wrong, learn fast and move on. Try to achieve balance and time out to let your brain rest.

But overall... think big and then work out the baby steps to get there and believe me you always do eventually!

Very wise words Cristiana – I’m sure that will help our readers almost as much as your work to help them find the right team!

Silicon Milkroundabout 8.0 is on 15-16th November back at the Old Truman Brewery

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