Last night on the way back from this weekends launch48 I spent a bit of time thinking about Mike Butcher's tweet from earlier that evening:
"Name 10 *big* tech companies to come out of Europe. Let's see: Skype, Nokia, SAP... er, help me out here..."
After spinning through a few in my head I came to the same conclusion as he did following a few responses. That most of them are b2b.
There are the big enterprisey giants like SAP and Sage, and then there are the industry specialized ones. There's no shortage of big chip manufacturers (STMicroelectronics, ARM, CSR, Wolfson Microelectronics) and in the financial sector you can't throw a stone without hitting a British tech company (Reuters, ICAP and Markit all have billion dollar+ revenues from their technology arms). The open source sector also seems to have flourished in Europe (Canonical, MySQL AB, Trolltech). Yet apart from Canoncial, none are consumer facing, and none have large consumer brands.
However after much needed sleep I realized that there are indeed large European consumer tech companies, but we miss them because they're either so ingrained into our lives we don't think of them as tech companies or because they're so large we don't even associate them with a particular country.
Both IMDB (now owned by Amazon) and Gumtree (now owned by eBay) were originally British start-ups that built global consumer brands which fall into the later category.
There are in-fact entire sectors which are European dominated. In the gaming (in both the video and gambling sense of the word) and telecoms sectors there's no shortage of hugely successful companies.
European gaming companies like Rockstar Games, Media Molecule, Lionhead Studios, Rare, Codemasters, Crytek, Criterion, Rebellion, Traveller's Tales and Eurocom (and many more) have produced a significant percentage of the best selling computer games of the last decade. Big online players such as Playfish and King.com are also European.
And when it comes to online gambling, pretty much every major gambling site in the world from Betfair to PKR.com is British, and those few that aren't are mostly European.
The European telecoms sector has produced Vodafone, O2, Orange, T-Mobile, Skype, Nokia, and Ericsson all globe trotting European giants.
Europe may still be well behind the Valley in producing large tech companies, but maybe not as far behind as some people think.