Opinion

North or South? Why an Australasian firm chose Newcastle over London for UK hub

10 min read

04 December 2015

London is often the UK city grabbing all of the headlines, but as George Osborne pushes his Northern Powerhouse scheme, he'll likely be pleased to hear that an entrepreneur from New Zealand set his sights on Newcastle ahead of the UK capital for his company's debut on British soil.

As I watched the New Zealand All Blacks win over Tonga at St James’ Park in the early stages of their victorious World Cup campaign a friend jokingly asked me if I’d chosen Newcastle for our first office outside New Zealand so I had an excuse to watch this game.

Whilst I’d love to say that it was as simple as that, and we certainly intend to use Newcastle as the basis for our success in the same way the ABs did, the decision was a little more considered.

Firstly, a bit about us to set the scene for what we were looking for. Tidy is a firm that started in 2010 and develops cloud-based software products, TidyWork, TidyStock and TidyBuild. 

We provide project management, workflow and inventory control software specifically for the architectural, engineering consultancy, manufacturing, construction and creative agencies industries. 

And we are based in the North Island of New Zealand, where the majority of our 15 staff are based.

As we have grown we have won a vast number of users of our software across Australasia, the US, South Africa and the UK. That’s all good – great, in fact – but many of those users are a long way from New Zealand. Customer support and service is essential to our business and it is pretty tough to do that well when you are in opposite time zones to your clients.

To offer 24-hour support for our global customers we need teams located where we can cover all time zones. We also wanted to build customer trust by demonstrating that we were committed to their region.

From experience I know that winning new business, building quality relationships with integration partners and other software application developers has to be done face to face.

The UK was the obvious choice to achieve our objectives but the question was: where in the UK?

There were five main things I was looking for – great talent, great sport and culture, great transport and, above all, affordable for our company and staff. Newcastle soon ticked all the boxes.

Newcastle is home to top universities along with a rich variety of sporting and cultural offerings, which is so important. We’ve got plans to grow from the two people we now have based in Newcastle to more than 20 over the next few years.

I wanted to locate the office in a place where people would be happy to live and work and happily relocate to if required. Newcastle and the surrounding region has natural beauty and culture in spades, it’s vibrant and friendly.

Sports, arts, music, architecture, history, restaurants as well as beautiful countryside and coastline – and it’s so easy to get around compared to the south east. It’s got all the convenience of London, only things are closer – including its international airport.

Culture was also important in terms of the wider support for business. I found this to be second to none in Newcastle.

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The likes of Invest Newcastle, which went above and beyond, not only showing us office space options and helping us recruit, but also introducing us to key contacts in the city to help establish us in the tech community.

Newcastle City Council’s backing and tight bond with business didn’t go unnoticed when considering where to locate.

The fact that Newcastle is a centre of excellence for Building Information Management and RIBA Enterprise has its UK base in the city added to the appeal as these are both very important to two of our key markets.

We chose to open our office at The Core, a year-old smart building with Ultra-Fast Broadband, located on Newcastle’s landmark location for science and technology businesses, Newcastle Science Central.

Newcastle Science Central is home to The Cloud Innovation Centre, housed within The Core, a co-locating space helping to foster partnerships between researchers, industry and the public sector – a natural fit for companies within the sector.

However, this wasn’t the only option. There are also great office spaces provided by the likes of Hoults Yard and Campus North. Then there are organisations such as TechCityNorth, Dynamo North East, Ignite, NorthStar Ventures and Sunderland Software City (despite its name it supports tech businesses across the region) which are all committed to growing the IT sector and economy in the region.

Between them they invest in digital infrastructure, provide accelerator programmes, co-working space, investment and support for entrepreneurs and technology startups.

There are nearly 3,000 creative and digital businesses employing something like 27,000 people across the North East and of course FTSE 100 technology business The Sage Group is also based in Newcastle.

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When all of this is combined with the five universities and the various colleges in the area it adds up to a buzzing technology, creative and digital ecosystem. 

Of course, for our company this is massively important from the point of view of talent. It gives us access to excellent people now and the reassurance that great talent is being nurtured and developed for the future.

A key factor has of course been cost. Not just of real estate (about a third cheaper than London) and salaries, but also the cost of living. There is no doubt all of these are better in Newcastle than many other areas.

It’s important that my people are able to afford where they live without impacting their quality of life and, of course, still being a startup firm we don’t have the insane salary budgets needed to support staff in the globally most expensive cities.

Finally, a big thing for me was the strength of the transport links. Newcastle has a fantastic and reliable train service to and from London, which is set to improve further during the next two years with upgrades by Virgin Trains to the most modern stock.

Of course, with the Kings Cross development at the other end of the line and soon Google’s and Xero’s offices there, it will be like going from one tech hub straight into another.

Newcastle International Airport is quick and easy to get to and from the city and Emirates, which we prefer to use, is the main international carrier there for the routes we take.

We need to get between Australasia and the UK and Emirates offer A380 flights between these locations. This is good not just for Tidy but also for the other Australasian companies, including Spotlight Reporting and Panalitix, which have also chosen Newcastle as a base.

Some people seem surprised I didn’t decide on London, or somewhere like Manchester. But that’s looking at it the wrong way round. It’s not that they would have been a bad location, it’s just that Newcastle is such a fantastic location. 

It’s a diamond of the North. Some think of it as unpolished but then I find they have never visited let alone have dug deeper. 

When you look up close Newcastle is, in fact, perfectly cut!

Kevin Mann is the CEO of Tidy – you can follow the company on Twitter at @TidyWork

Image: Shutterstock