With Prime Minister Theresa May about to fire the starting gun on Brexit talks, business leaders across the UK are focusing on what the outcome will mean for them.
Depending on which survey you read, they are either battening down the hatches and planning cutbacks in anticipation of a downturn, or as is the case of these startup founders, they see Brexit as an exciting opportunity that will only strengthen the UK and their business.
A capital hotbed of entrepreneurial talent
While many of the big corporates and VC firms are running for the Brexit hills, startups like London-based Iron Group, which works in the digital subscription services arena, are sticking with their vision of London as a global business powerhouse and a hotbed for entrepreneurial talent.
What makes their stance interesting is that the company was originally founded at the other end of the Channel Tunnel. “You might expect us to stamp our feet and move our operations back to France,” says co-founder and managing partner Benjamin Trochu. “But we are not going to for one very simple reason; London remains Europe’s tech hub. Yes, we will see the likes of Amsterdam and Berlin attempt to woo tech companies away from the capital, but they will soon learn that the stiff upper lip mentality has never been stronger.”
He describes the UK’s entrepreneurial spirit as legendary, citing the global successes of Richard Branson and James Dyson, and sees no reason for this to change.
“London remains a great tech hub full of innovation and exciting early stage companies,” he says. “As such, we need to be committed to boosting investment to help budding entrepreneurs kick-start their ventures. The future is bright and I can’t wait to see what happens next.”
Business as usual
Entrepreneur Alister Esam refused to buy into the doom and gloom surrounding Brexit at the time of the referendum, and still doesn’t buy into it today. In fact the CEO of tech firm eShare is considerably upbeat about the future.
“When we leave the EU the UK will have a GDP of nearly 25% of the EU, and it’s hard to take seriously any worries about us not having a trade agreement,” he says. “The UK remains a great country for technology and business overall and the EU will undoubtedly want to trade with us. We will be the most EU-aligned of non-EU countries, so we will trade with the EU more than any other non-EU country in the world.”
Given that his company was launched just before the 2008 financial crisis and not only survived, but thrived in spite of the turmoil, Esam’s optimism is justified.
“I would argue that those conditions were far more impactful to a business than whatever Brexit may throw at us,” he says. “A well run business will always be a well run business, and I’m a believer in standing or falling on the strength of a company’s products or services, and how well it is managed and run. So for us it is business as usual; we continue to recruit and we continue to expand.”
Tapping into smarter consumer spending
The team at independent online mobile retailer UNSHACKLED.com are also retaining a positive outlook as they aim to benefit from the uncertainty as people look to shop smart and tighten the purse strings.
CEO and founder John Whittle said: “As a business, we have no major concerns over Article 50 being invoked. If people start to tighten their purses and seek out the best deals as Brexit looms we will benefit. When there is economic uncertainty, people don’t want to make long-term commitments and savvy customers will start to look harder at what they’re buying. Because we can save customers hundreds of pounds simply by buying their phone and SIM separately instead of tying themselves into a more costly bundled contract, we aim to meet this need.”
Ready and waiting for Brexit
Captify, an ad-tech startup that specialises in ‘search retargeting’ was in the unique position of being able to use its own technology, which analyses 30 billion online searches a month, to measure the sentiment of the entire nation through search trends.
“We actually knew that Brexit was likely to happen and also that, as a result, the pound would crash, says cofounder Adam Ludwin. “As an international company with five offices around the world, this was crucial in us preparing for exposure to currency fluctuations and helped us to avoid difficulties around the issue that other companies faced.”
Having prepared well for Brexit, the business has experienced much less disruption than initially anticipated.
“In fact, it has helped us to expand faster into the US market and really spread our risk,” says Ludwin. “Also, as a technology company we’re not constrained or affected by export difficulties that British manufacturers may face.”
Reaping the financial rewards
Like many UK companies, branding and print wear specialist Custom Planet has already seen a rise in costs across the board on all clothing due to the fall in the pound against the Euro.
Co-founder and managing director John Armstrong says: “We know little about what the impact of Brexit will be, but the one thing that we know for sure right now is that the pound has fallen against the euro and doesn’t look like it will be rallying anytime soon. This has impacted our business planning going forward as suddenly we have become a much more viable option for European countries to buy products from ourselves.”
Custom Planet is now actively looking to increase exports, particularly to their current export markets of Republic of Ireland and France. “Although prices of the base materials have risen, our costs on embroidery and print have not,” says Armstrong. “Overall our prices are currently cheaper for the EU market than they were before Brexit.”