LONDON – Hundreds of the biggest names in European tech gathered with politicians and wealthy investors on the lawns of the Soho Farmhouse Private Member Club in rural England at one of the first major tech events in over a year.
Attendees at Thursday’s annual Founders Forum event included former UK Prime Minister David Cameron (who lives off the road), former Treasury Secretary George Osborne, and former and current UK Technology Ministers: Ed Vaizey and Oliver Dowden, respectively.
Google’s Matt Brittin and Sales forces Zahra Bahrololoumi, the European bosses of the Silicon Valley heavyweights, appeared as well as the general manager of TikTok in Europe, Rich Waterworth, who previously headed marketing for YouTube on the continent.
Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Zoom co-founder Eric Yuan beamed in for video interviews from the US, while DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman reappeared after leaving the company under controversial circumstances to join Google to connect. Also in attendance was Mike Lynch, who is fighting against extradition to the United States on charges of fraud after he sold his software start-up Autonomy to HP for over $ 11 billion. Palantir co-founder and CEO Alex Karp was due to attend but was forced to cancel after the UK postponed the date for the lockdown to be fully relaxed.
“Everyone I want to meet in Europe is here,” says a quote from Schmidt on the event’s website. “Founders Forum has emerged as the focal point for technology in Europe.”
The founders and CEOs of apps like Monzo, Wise (formerly TransferWise), Citymapper and many others also came to network and hear lectures on everything from existential risks that threaten to destroy humanity on the face of the earth for recruiting top talent in artificial intelligence.
Elsewhere, billions of dollar venture capitalists – such as Sequoia, Index Ventures, Atomico and Balderton – were represented, as were some of the UK’s most active angel investors.
For many, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was the first in-person tech event they could attend in over a year.
Throughout the day, people kept saying how “weird” it was to be there while poking each other with their fists and elbows. Everyone had to register for a Covid-19 test and a negative result in an app developed by Wise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus before they could participate.
The “Davos of Technology”
Lastminute.com co-founder Brent Hoberman.
The Founders Forum is called “something like the Davos of technology” by The Guardian newspaper and is hosted by serial entrepreneur and investor Brent Hoberman.
The former Eton and Oxford student, co-founder of Lastminute.com and the recently listed Made.com, is known for having one of the most impressive networks in the European tech scene. Many of his friends and investors are invited to the founder forum every year.
The organizers describe it as a private network of the world’s leading entrepreneurs, CEOs and investors from technology, media and digital.
Past guests have included Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, former Apple design director Jony Ive, broadcaster David Attenborough and former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. Prince William, a member of the British royal family, was also there.
Usually held at the five-star Hotel Grove, this year the Founders Forum will be held for the first time at the Soho Farmhouse. Aston Martins, Maseratis, Range Rovers and Teslas could be seen in the parking lot on the day of the event.
“Hosting an event there is crazy money,” a Soho House member who owns the Soho Farmhouse told CNBC, asking to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the discussion.
For some, one of the highlights of the day was seeing British jet suit inventor Richard Browning soaring a few feet above the ground.
After the daily feeding, the guests were pampered with grilled lobster, strawberries and cream in the evening. On the way home, they were given goodie bags with products from Cowshed and Charlotte Tilbury.
Timothy Armoo, CEO of Fanbytes, a company that helps brands promote through social video, told CNBC he enjoyed the event.
“The quality of the discussions remained very high, which was very gratifying,” he said.
“As this is the first major event in a while, there is a risk that it will become more of a ‘catch-up’ session for friends, but it wasn’t at all. Meaningful connections have been made and that is what you are looking for when you go to these events. I also really admired the way they handled the rules of social distancing. The people were respectful and the preparation for the tests was very comforting. “
Correction: This report was updated to delete a false notice that Nicola Mendelsohn from Facebook was present.