Goodbye USA! This is what I learned


After 18 months back in the UK, I decided my motivation batteries needed a bit of recharging. It didn’t take me long to decide on the USA, the home of enthusiasm and tech startups.

I’ve just spent a month living in Boston, MA. During the last four weeks I was lucky enough to attend some incredible lectures at Harvard and MIT, got to listen to world-leading thinkers on business and politics and chewed over hours of strategy with my good friend, and fellow startup founder, Xenia Menzies (keep an eye out, she’s a rising star!).

I also took the opportunity to visit San Francisco for the first time, where I worked on-site at a client’s office on their release day, and I jumped on the train to New York, where I met another client at their amazing office for vegetarian meatballs (the mind boggles).

I want to share with you my biggest take aways from the month and hope they serve as a reminder to me in future.

Celebrate those who try

Of all the people I met, whether at a startup or just in general conversation, they were all enthusiastic about those who try, even if they fail. They applaud those who take risks and they never lament or patronise when someone fails.

Don’t be afraid to ask

People don’t mind calling in favours. Us Brits always feel like we’re intruding or don’t want to bother others with our requests. I almost see a correlation with the Germans here, if an American wants something, they’ll ask for it. And why not? There will almost always be a time when it will be repaid.

Simplicity is always best

Bureaucracy almost doesn’t exist in the US (though I’m sure they’d disagree). Every service had ‘an easy option’. Getting a sim card, there were contracts but there were also simple all-inclusive, one-time-only pre-paid sims.

My gym too. Alongside the annual memberships were hey-you’re-only-in-town-for-one-month memberships too. No ‘sign up and cancel later’, no ’30 day notice period’ like i had on my monthly gym membership in the UK. Sure, it was slightly more expensive, but convenience has a value. In fact, everything in the US has a value.

Everything has a value

That’s right. Perhaps this is the biggest difference between the US and Europe. Everything has a value. You want sides with that main course? Pay for them. You want your luggage taken to your room? Give me a few dollars.

Nothing is bundled. I always feel like we’re taken for a ride in the UK. “Free PlayStation with your mobile phone contract!” Break down your monthly costs, that PlayStation is not free. The American way lets those who use a service, pay for it and the rest of us get the cheapest deal.

Big up your position

Finally, stay humble but do not allow modesty to become confusing. I’ve met many small business owners in the UK who shy away from even the official term “Managing Director”. In fact, I myslef find it difficult to say anything other than “I kinda work for myself”. Americans assume this means you’re unemployed or freelance. If you are director of a Ltd company, especially if you are an employer, then you are CEO or, at the very least, a Founder.

In the past I’ve lambasted those who use the term CEO when they only manage a handful of people, but now I realise that’s due to a cultural difference in the use of the term.

CEO is the word for Managing Director in the UK. So if you’re looking for investment from Americans, or dealing with other American companies, they will probably want to deal with the CEO.

I would love to hear your thoughts…
  1. Paul says:

    Cool insight Rob ! You must tell me how you managed to get to go to MIT lectures !

    I found that in the US it’s a lot easier to strike up a conversation with others, easier than in Germany anyway. Of course there are platforms to do this like at conferences, where it’s a ‘networking event’ but still I think it’s somehow easier in the US.


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