Comment: Why Silicon Valley is setting up shop in Edinburgh

For my Silicon Valley company, this has been the summer of Scotland. In late July, we announced the opening of our first international office. Not in London or Paris or Frankfurt, but right here in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh has what it takes to support our goal to grow to more than 100 staff, says Estes of UserTesting. Picture: Contributed
Edinburgh has what it takes to support our goal to grow to more than 100 staff, says Estes of UserTesting. Picture: Contributed

And, coincidentally, when one of Europe’s top conferences - Turing Fest – takes place in Scotland’s capital this week, I have the privilege of speaking about one of the most important topics in business today: integrating customer empathy into the product creation process.

So why did UserTesting choose Auld Reekie for its European headquarters? Mostly for compelling business reasons, though another factor was some interesting personal connections that our CEO, Andy MacMillan, has with Edinburgh.

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First, the business factors. Our 12-year-old, San Francisco-based company, whose human insights platform helps companies create better customer experiences, decided we wanted to be closer to our customers in the UK and across Europe. More than 10 per cent of UserTesting’s growing customer base of 1,200 customers is in Europe, with 60 percent of those in the UK.

We could have picked any city. Naturally, we had been aware of Edinburgh’s buzz as a rising tech hub – for example, the 2018 Tech Nation report that proclaimed it the best place in the UK for tech companies to scale up and do business in. We knew about the city’s reputation as a magnet for millennials – a crucial tech talent pool. We understood that it’s cheaper to operate out of Edinburgh than in a saturated, high-cost market like London.

Digging deeper, we also were blown away by the world-class tech talent coming out of Edinburgh’s universities and the strong commitment that the UK and Scottish governments have shown in infrastructure and tech investment, such as the City Region Deal, the University of Edinburgh’s Bayes Centre for data science and artificial intelligence, Heriot-Watt University’s GRID research centre, and the BioQuarter.

All of this showed that Edinburgh has what it takes to support our ambitious goals to grow from nine employees in the city to 30 by the end of this year, and to more than 100 within a few years. The new office is led by our new European regional vice president, Edinburgh’s Bruce Hunter, a 20-year software industry veteran.

And the CEO’s personal connections I mentioned earlier? Several links that Andy MacMillan already had to Scotland made Edinburgh even more of a natural choice for UserTesting. Andy’s father is a Scottish immigrant to the US. As a young woman, Andy’s grandmother worked as a maid for Sir Alexander Walker II. His grandfather was a caddie at Royal Troon. And Andy earned his MBA from the University of Edinburgh in 2003.

Edinburgh was simply a perfect match.

As chief insights officer I help lead UserTesting’s efforts to help businesses better see, hear and understand customers so they can deliver the best experiences possible across a range of digital touchpoints.

My talk at Turing Fest will offer practical advice on how companies can integrate human empathy into the design and development of their products at every stage.

This is important because how well businesses cultivate memorably positive emotional connections with customers defines their success in today’s world where consumers have so many choices and can switch brand loyalty with a tap on their phone or a mouse click.

Numerous studies have shown that customer experience leaders – those that understand they’re offering not just a product but an experience – outperform competitors. In fact, I’d argue that the ability to deliver a delightful experience is no longer a mere differentiator, businesses must think of it as the very foundation of everything it does.

I’m very much looking forward to my visit… and to all the wonderful things in store for UserTesting in Edinburgh.

- Janelle Estes, chief insights officer at UserTesting and a speaker at Turing Fest in Edinburgh