“Bye London. We are moving to Paris. So Long and thanks for all the fish and chips.”
That was the goodbye message of the CEO of dating app Once, a French startup that has just relocated from London to Paris as a result of the Brexit referendum.
French born Jean Meyer set up the dating app Once along with compatriots Guillaume Sempé and Guilhem Duché in Brittany in early 2015.
Back then they felt they had no choice but to leave France and move to London.
“Staying in our country was not an option,” Meyer (pictured below) writes.
London's wages and flexibility of the labour market (short notice periods, simplified contracts) made it easy for his company to attract international talent. They also had greater access to venture capital funds than they would have done in Paris.
Essentially the company was able to grow far quicker and on a much firmer footing in London than if they had stayed in Paris, Meyer says.
The Once app has been downloaded five million times and the company described itself as the “leader of the romantic encounter on mobile in Europe.”
Then came the shock Brexit referendum result of June 2016 when a majority of UK voters opted to leave the EU. While the signing of the Brexit divorce papers still feels far off (if it actually happens at all) the impact of the referendum on the startup was immediate.
“After the Brexit referendum we soon found it a lot harder to grow as a company,” Once's deputy chief marketing officer Eva Peris (seen in pic below) tells The Local.
“A startup is an idea and what drives it is the people. You can't grow as a company if you can't get the right people in.”
The ability to recruit international talent, once London's strong point, suddenly became more problematic.
“I have lost track of the number of developers, marketing managers or data scientists who refused to join us following the Brexit vote,” writes CEO Meyer. “Uncertainty is the worst enemy of the entrepreneur and the signal coming from the United Kingdom through the Brexit vote is absolutely disastrous.”
Peris said: “People were really worried about what would happen in the future. They began to think about whether it was really worth going to London at all.
“The perception of London had changed. People started to feel as though it was a city where you couldn't settle down. People already there began to think, maybe it's time to go home.”
“The level of the pound also dropped massively so the salaries were no longer that interesting to potential recruits.
“We didn't move to Paris because we wanted to. We were comfortable in London and moving is expensive. We did it for the business,” she said.
(The team at Once including deputy chief marketing officer Eva Peris front row third from left.)
While life in London was becoming more and more uncertain on a personal and business level, over in Paris the election of former investment banker Emmanuel Macron was considered positive news for entrepreneurs.
Macron's victory, although not greeted warmly by those on the far left or far right, was welcomed by businesses because he had promised to act quickly to free up France's labour market and lower taxes for companies.
His pro-business labour reforms were recently signed into law with minimal fuss, essentially making it easier to hire and fire people.
For Once, whose founders along with many of the staff are French, Macron's victory opened up an obvious escape route from London.
“We didn't know what laws Macron would introduce but we knew he favoured entrepreneurs so it certainly boosted confidence and was a signal to us, as a startup that we could continue growing in Paris, said Peris.
And the return has been smooth sailing.
“We've had a huge welcome here and it's been easy to hire people. I'm extremely positive and surprised by the atmosphere in Paris. Everything feels made for startups here now,” she said.
“We originally chose London because it was easy for startups but now I feel that's the case in Paris,” said Peris.
While Once's CEO Meyer admits that French employment tax costs are still higher than in the UK, the real benefit of Paris is “opportunity”.
“The opportunities available in Paris are substantial, as it fast becomes one of the most attractive cities in the world for startups,” he said.
“And then London, it's really average”
But in his parting letter to London Meyer also explained a few other reasons why he was happy to leave London, suggesting the Big Smoke is hardly the greatest city in the world anyway.
“I've lived in San Francisco, New York, Berlin and Paris and I've never really understood the attraction of London for Europeans,” he writes.
“Apart from London Bridge and Westminster Abbey the architecture is hit and miss. The city looks more like a Ken Loach movie or is lost in hipster clichés.
“It's expensive, really expensive, more expensive than New York and twice as expensive as Paris,” he adds.
“And the pubs and the Metro close at midnight, the weather lives up to its reputation and in winter it's night at 3pm.”
It would be slightly unfair to blame the dark nights and pub closing times on Brexit, but it's possible the EU referendum result has reversed the longstanding trend that saw French entrepreneurs head across the Channel.
How many more will follow Once?