Magazine article Management Today

Web Alley

Magazine article Management Today

Web Alley

Article excerpt

There is an area just north of the City - specifically Hoxton and Shoreditch - that is fast establishing itself as the hub of Britain's e-design industry. Rhymer Rigby reports on the companies and people who are shaping a British version of Silicon Alley

Friday lunchtime in London's Shoreditch - that means Aussie barbecue time at Deepend, where a huge grill splutters in the fashionably post-industrial alley between the young web company's converted Victorian buildings. The assembled twentysomethings (all with short hair, designer trainers and khakis) load their plates with tuna, sausages and bananas wrapped in bacon. Inside the offices, the setting is much the same: walls of chic bare brick, multicoloured iMacs and all manner of hipster flotsam - a decrepit scooter, chill-out beanbags, and, bizarrely, an antique aeroplane wing that the company's creative director 'found in a field near Cambridge'.

Nowadays, companies like Deepend, which designs web sites for the likes of Volkswagen, Hoover and the Cartoon Network, abound in the area just north of the City of London. This couple of square miles takes in hip 'n' happening Hoxton, traffic-choked Old Street, and still-a-touch-seamy Shoreditch.

Six years ago, it was a part of London that hardly registered on anyone's mental map. Formerly the haunt of a few artists and the odd courier company, today its bars feature in style magazines, and its cafes have become coffee shops serving lattes and macchiatos. The Lux cinema on Hoxton square has expanded to become a cinema and electronic arts centre and once-grotty East End boozers are busy reinventing themselves as gastropubs.

The influx of .COMpanies has been a major force behind this renaissance, and phrases such as 'Silicon Shoreditch' and 'Web Alley' are being bandied about. Indeed, some are already comparing the place to New York's high-tech hub known as 'Silicon Alley'. 'Certainly there are a lot of high-tech companies around - it's a honeycomb,' says Gary Lockton, the head of Deepend at the relatively elderly age of 29.

'It's nice and cheap, with good bars and restaurants, and it's only five minutes from Liverpool Street. It can be a bit rough and ready but we like that - and we've been careful not to do up our offices too much. That way it feels a bit more energetic.'

The area, continues Lockton, reeling off the names of half a dozen high-tech companies within five minutes' walk, has become a spawning ground for small, independent digital new media companies. Though, he adds, as companies grow and get snapped up by acquisitive ad agencies or Americans, there is something of a drift towards glitzier, pricier Soho. 'But there you need big money. Here, you get your mates to do it.'

Finbar Hawkins, another yet-to-turn-30, runs Bomb, the business behind such web sites as Channel 4's. 'I moved here because it was very cheap and I knew the area from years ago. And yes, the "ditcherati" are here. [That's Shoreditch for digerati.] There are a lot of other companies like us and you do meet people in the street who share ideas and knowledge. Because it's almost all small businesses, there's always interest in what everyone else is doing.'

The atmosphere, he says, is one of 'co-opertition' rather than cut-throat competition. And this sense of community is furthered by the area being, in estate-agent speak, very 'work-live' - meaning that people tend to live, work and socialise all in one area. …

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