MacMillan offers an insight into UserTesting - Nick Freer

In July 2019, our agency supported San Francisco-based tech group UserTesting around the launch of its European headquarters in Edinburgh, and then the follow-on Scottish Enterprise grant to support the development of the company’s R&D function here. Our strategic media relations support was a nice feather in the cap in terms of getting to work with the CEO and in-house PR team on what was the first Silicon Valley tech company to set up shop here.

While I remember the large amount of prep we carried out got somewhat in the way of our summer vacation that year, it was the kind of press announcement that doesn’t come along every day of the week so, as a PR adviser, you always want to be in the thick of it. We advised on similar announcements, with Deliveroo, also in 2019, and then with Trustpilot the following year, and it is something of a sweet spot in terms of our strengths and capabilities as an agency.

When tech companies from outside Scotland land here, journalists always want to know about the level of ambition around growing a team here. It’s pretty much the first question reporters ask, after the general opener, “why Scotland”?

UserTesting made its first hire in Scotland in April 2019. Fast forward three years, and Andy MacMillan-led UserTesting now has around 150 people in its European division. That makes it the company’s largest office outside its Atlanta base, and even bigger than its San Francisco HQ.

Startup Grind Scotland's Nick Murray interviewing UserTesting CEO Andy MacMillan in Edinburgh last week

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If you ever get the opportunity, a visit to UserTesting’s Exchange Plaza office in Edinburgh is an eye-opener. Scrawled above the bar area is a blue neon sign, “UserTasting”, with free-flowing beer taps serving ethical lagers and ales by Brewgooder, rows of ergonomically arranged desks, and breakout office rooms named after Scottish islands. Very Silicon Valley, with a Scottish touch.

Putting the bells and whistles to one side, what could be most impactful for Scotland is the precedent that UserTesting has set. CEO MacMillan recalls how when he made a case to his US venture capital firm backers for launching in Scotland, it didn’t take long to convince them of the rationale, including access to talent, living standards, and proximity to the company’s customer base.

While MacMillan says he was already espousing the strengths of having operations in Scotland to VCs stateside, his appointment as a trade envoy for the Scottish Government earlier this year has added a bit more formality to Andy banging the drum for our tech ecosystem.

Effectively, UserTesting provides a case study for VC-backed tech companies setting up here. Particularly, when the allure of being based in Silicon Valley is on the wane. While we talk about building unicorns like Skyscanner and FanDuel from scratch here, unicorns from the US growing operational bases here can only help to take our ecosystem to the next level. That, you would think, should also help to take our tech ecosystem to the tipping point outlined in the Logan Report.

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Nick Freer Picture by Stewart Attwood

Separately, we are working on another interesting tech inward investment story which is currently in the wings, so watch this space.

Nick Freer is the founding director of strategic corporate communications agency the Freer Consultancy

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