At the close of his joint press conference with the European Union’s Michel Barnier following the first day of Article 50 negotiations in Brussels, Brexit Secretary David Davis invoked the words of Winston Churchill – or at least he thought he did.
“The pessimist,” said Mr Davis, “sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees possibility in every difficulty.”
Whether Churchill ever actually said that has since been disputed. But for Des Traynor, co-founder of communications startup Intercom, the sentiment remains pertinent.
Intercom is a messaging platform that connects businesses to customers through platforms such as live chat, SMS and email but, unlike most other services, it allows a conversation to pick up where it left off even after one of the participants has gone offline.
It has enjoyed rapid growth since its foundation in 2011 by Mr Traynor and three fellow Irishmen and now has a valuation of more than $500m (£390m) as well as a roster of 17,000 clients worldwide including Microsoft, Dropbox and Yahoo. Having already opened offices in Chicago and Dublin, Mr Traynor sees London as the ideal next step.
“We are always needing to develop our software, and London has a great talent pool for that,” he tells The Independent. “We are optimistic about our ability to tap into that.”
But the future of that talent pool is in doubt. Last week it was revealed that 40 per cent of workers in the UK’s tech industry are EU nationals and many fear that a hard Brexit, which prioritises limiting immigration over the UK’s continued membership of the single market, would cut off the sector’s lifeblood.
Mr Traynor is unperturbed.
“We’re keeping an eye on it, but I think common sense will prevail; the right thing will be done.
“Last week trade minister Greg Hands said that he wanted to make London’s tech sector a world leader. To achieve that you need migration to allow the right talent in. I would be very surprised if anything the Government does has the motive of limiting the tech sector.”
Mr Traynor points to French President Emmanuel Macron’s launching of a “French Tech Visa” as a potential route to follow. The policy aims to turn France into a “startup nation” by offering fast-track four-year residency permits to entrepreneurs and their families if they meet certain criteria.
Beyond Brexit, he believes there is no ceiling to Intercom’s growth. Intercom went from $1m accounting rate of return in 2013 to $50m in 2016, a rate only bettered by Slack among on-demand software startups. It has also raised $116m in investment, including initial funding from Twitter founder Biz Stone.
“We are always looking at ways to improve our product and think we can expand our UK team fairly rapidly,” says Mr Traynor.
“Whichever way you look at it, London still has massive appeal and I think it always will.”
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