By Rachael Annabelle | 24 Aug 2022
An iconic home, costume parties, dog walks, tons of learnings and phenomenal humans
Last august, i left Google and took a bet on my startup. I bought a one way ticket and moved to London in an attempt to launch and scale my product. My life has been full speed ever since and so I never actually took the time to write about how this experience went. As I write this, I’m lying on my grassy patio, soaking up the summer sun in New York City. A long overdue reflection from my time in London, but better late than never.
For context, I was building Gullie — a relocation lifestyle assistant enabling anyone to move effortlessly and make that city feel like home, by integrating them into the community 10x faster. While the product has evolved over the last year, I thought to document this segment of my journey, and leave that part of the story for another time.
I took the first few weeks to familiarize myself with the city. I walked through every neighborhood from Shepherd’s Bush to Bank, talked to strangers, ate some british food and checked out some cute spots. I also moved into a beautiful home, the water tower, with some of the most inspiring, brilliant and fun housemates I’ve had in my life — two Australians, one Italian and one from the UK.
In my 9 months there, I joined an accelerator program, dropped out of the program, made my first big hire, raised an angel round, got detained 13 hours at Stansted airport, got my startup casted in a show, got harassed, fired an employee for the first time, threw a launch party (and many other parties), made tons of friends, spoke to many investors and even more founders, caught covid and fell sick (and maybe fell in love, hehe).
Most of my friends thought I was crazy for leaving my job and throwing myself into a new city while building a new startup. At the peak of covid (for London). Looking back retrospectively, it was quite the move — then again I’ve grown so much I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
My rationale for picking London was simple — it’s the most international city, and would have been perfect for testing a consumer social app. I’ve also spent time working in the SEA and US markets, and wanted to gain some perspective on EMEA.
Here are my observations of the city.
It’s the most international city, and great for global work
London was the city where I met the most ethnically mixed groups of people (in comparison to the other cities I’ve lived in — NYC, Singapore and Melbourne). While there are many foreigners in many big cities, London felt more diverse — socially, and economically as well. About a third are foreign born, and the businesses are also pretty international. In terms of remote work — London sits in the middle of the US and Asia timezone, which worked great for me considering I had often had calls with both sides.
Differing investment mandates & risk appetites — UK investors are more risk averse than in Asia, but less than the US
Having worked in both the VC and startup scene in Singapore and NYC before, I realised that London sits right in between. Rejections are normal from investors, but many of the UK ones chose to put their money elsewhere since my startup was incorporated in the US. UK investors could receive initial income tax relief of 50 per cent on investments up to £100,000 per tax year — if the money went to a startup based in the UK. For that reason, I see why they tend to have a preference towards the local startups.
From what I have seen (definitely not enough!) investment mandates in Asia tend to be market focused, while in US it tended to be product focused (and scales globally).
This difference risk appetite applies to both the investors, founders and operators I met there.
Coffee for breakfast and lunch, and beers from 4pm till late — that’s all they need. Food is for mortals.
I personally hate beer (and pubs). That culture is huge in London though, and people would be crackin a cold one by 4pm, or even at 10am after a morning workout.
In London, most people ended up asking me for beers instead of coffee, even to discuss work related things. I guess it was also easier to find a pub round the corner instead of a cafe. Not exactly my thing, but it’s a big culture there and I respect that.
Boozy brunch at 2pm though? I’ll take that.
Humans are plants — we need sunlight, love and water (maybe tequila shots too)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a thing — aka feeling depressed because of the weather. This can be caused by changes in the circadian rhythm, serotonin and melatonin levels. I met friends who ended up having vitamins of sorts prescribed to them because they got depressed during winter, but especially so in London where it’s often wet and gloomy.
That said, London is truly beautiful when you get the sun, blue skies, and flowers in full bloom. Also when you have crazy friends who plan the best parties. We hosted so many insane parties — fire breathers, drag queens and costumes included, where I met some of the most interesting people in my life.
It’s painfully lonely
Like many other big cities, many of the people in London are transient. They pass through for a couple years to push their career, and don’t have much time to engage in small talk. Adult friendships are also (unfortunately) based on convenience. If I lived at one end of London, it would be a lot less likely for me to travel over an hour to the other side to meet up with friends, especially with busy schedules. That said, I was blessed to have the most lively and sweet housemates to live with that made me less lonely, and great friends I met while I was there.
TLDR — I probably wouldn’t move back to London, but it was a great stepping stone in life.
My goal was to test a product in London to see how viable it was. Here’s a snippet of our launch party in March.
I will probably do another brain dump at some point to summarize how my startup progressed. At the moment, I’m still working very hard on it, and will be focusing on our US launch coming up this fall (ps. keep your eyes peeled for our parties if you’re in NYC, LA or SF!)
I decided to head back to New York where I used to work because of the people, a more vibrant startup ecosystem, more sunlight because I am a plant, and chaotic energy (that I thrive off, hehe). I’m also pretty impatient and love how things can be done almost instantly — the pharmacy a block away, and whole foods two, ubers that come in a minute instead of 10, people walking faster and getting stuff done quickly. Also just high energy, big thinkers and full of vibes in general.
But of course, here’s a shoutout to the wonderful people (especially those who flew into London), who made the Gullie party such an outstanding success.
I moved out of London this April, but I’ll be back again at some point in summer to see my friends and sit in the parks with my buddies. It has been a phenomenal 9 months there.
So until then, thank you London, and hello New York City. xx
This article was first published on Medium.
Rachael is a ex-Googler, automotive photographer and now founder of Gullie. Born and raised in Singapore, but lived in other cities like Melbourne, New York & London. She is the founder of Gullie, a social platform that engages and scales communities by increasing accessibility to members. They’ve hosted parties in Mexico City, Bali and London, and will be launching in the US in fall 2022.