Bye London! We Are Moving to Paris. So Long and Thanks For All the Fish (and Chips!)
By Jean Meyer| CEO & Founder @oncetheapp #TeamChocolatine
Once is a dating application that was launched in France at the end of 2015. With over 5 million downloads in 7 countries and 1 million encounters per day.
In less than 2 years, Once has become the leader of the romantic encounter on mobile in Europe. The startup now has over 30 employees working between London and Pfäffikon.
A Frenchman born in Paris, I grew up in Toulouse. The majority of my adult life and that of an entrepreneur has, however, been abroad. Whilst becoming an expatriate can sometimes be a lifestyle choice, the fact remains that life in France is good! However, at the time of founding Once with Guillaume Sempé and Guilhem Duché, staying in our country was not an option.
So why did London initially overshadow Paris ?
A startup is a team of professionals and talent motivated by a common project. But the success of a business depends on its ability to recruit, retain and re-invent all of its human capital.
For a startup, London had considerable advantages in terms of access to financial and human resources.
Our decision was motivated by three factors :
1. The possibility of recruiting international talent: Locating our offices in London instantly made us attractive in the eyes of Parisian or Berlin engineers, who are more attracted by the prospect of working in the heart of the City than by increasing their wages. With these talents, Once is now present in 7 countries and available in 7 languages.
2. The flexibility of the labor market (shorter notice period, simplified contracts, etc.).
3. Access to capital: The largest venture capital funds in the world all have offices in London (Accel, Index, Balderton, etc.).
However, if the Anglo-Saxon labor laws are known for their extreme flexibility and simplicity, we never considered them an instrument or pretext to fire personnel more easily.
Letting people go means failure. The purpose of a startup is certainly to recruit the best and even more importantly to retain them. To lay off a colleague will always be a failure.
We used the ease of the English labor laws to attract and poach staff more quickly but never to make redundancies. I remain convinced that an entrepreneur should only ever make redundancies if essential for the company’s economic survival. In any other case, he would have to put his recruitment process into question. From this point of view, the 4 to 8-month trial period written into French permanent contracts (Contrats à Durée Indéterminée) gives, in my opinion, sufficient flexibility.
So I think it’s fair to say that the English employment law infrastructure and the attractiveness of London allowed us to start faster and stronger. What we achieved in London, we could also have achieved in Paris, but it would have taken longer and come at a higher opportunity cost.
And then BREXIT happened…
Ok, although Brexit has not technically occurred yet, nor will its legislative consequences be applied until 2019 at the earliest, the indirect consequences of the referendum have already had a significant impact on our operations.
The uncertainty around the status of European citizens, the plummeting of Sterling and the inflationary risks of the British economy have deprived us of a lot of talent.
I have lost track of the number of developers, marketing managers or data scientists who refused to join us following the Brexit vote. Questions emerging around the British economy and the role of the UK in Europe cooled their interest, despite an interesting salary.
Soft or Hard Brexit? How much will it cost to sponsor a visa? What will be the cost of inflation and devaluation of the British Pound? Uncertainty is the worst enemy of the entrepreneur and the signal coming from the United Kingdom through the Brexit vote is absolutely disastrous.
Then Macron was elected…
In stark contrast, the election of the new president has sent a strong signal to French entrepreneurs. The government, through labor law reform, is responding directly to the fears of our investors and our board of directors, fears which represented the final hurdle to our return to France.
The contents of the presidential decrees, recently announced, reassured us of the move towards employment flexibility in France. Specifically, modifications to contractual termination rules, how industrial tribunals operate and changing policies around redundancy payments appear to offer a real safeguard in case of economic difficulties These measures protect startups and SMEs against abusive compensation claims that cause numerous bankruptcies every year and destroy jobs. My investors now understand that.
So yes, French employment tax costs are higher than in the UK, but it does not matter. Because the real cost to an entrepreneur is the opportunity cost. And the opportunities available in Paris are substantial, as it fast becomes one of the most attractive cities in the world for startups thanks to a hyperactive eco-system (La French Tech), startup visas, access to capital and its gateway to the European market.
For all that, thank you, London, but good-bye! So long, and thanks for all the fish!
Paris, here we come!