LONDON — The founder of British/Portuguese luxury e-commerce business Farfetch, which raised $US397 million on Thursday, says he is 100% committed to keeping operations in the UK but is concerned about hiring post-Brexit.
José Neves told Business Insider: “Personally, and this is a personal opinion, not a company view, Brexit is negative. It will create problems for businesses. In our case, our biggest concern is talent.
“We have a big percentage of our team who are from the European Union and other countries. That’s what makes London such a great city. Brexit was definitely a move towards more controls in terms of immigration. That will affect the ability to attract talent. This is something that I think the government should really keep in mind.”
London-headquartered Farfetch is an e-commerce platform that pulls together luxury boutiques from around the world, letting the global elite virtually shop at over 700 shops in locations such as London, New York, and Paris. While it might not sound like a tech business, the behind the scenes logistics required to link all the boutiques to Farfetch’s website and ensure it runs smoothly requires a fair amount of tech muscle.
Neves’ views chime with the wider UK tech community, which is concerned that Brexit will hurt business growth due to a shortage of home-grown science and technology talent. The UK risks a tech job shortfall of 800,000 jobs by 2020, according to research by policy group Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec), and applications from the EU for UK tech jobs have already declined by 50% according to jobs site Hired.
Neves, who is Portuguese, added: “At the moment it’s a psychological issue because nothing’s changed. The UK is still a full member of the EU. Our team, everyone is convinced that whoever is here and working, it’s stable and going to continue.
“I think it’s much more of a future thing. What will London look like in 10 years? I remember what London looked like in 1996 when I first came to live here. It wasn’t the cosmopolitan, vibrant, amazing city it is today. What the UK has achieved as an economy and London as a city is amazing and it’s thanks to strong integration with Europe and with the world.”
Taavet Hinrikus, the cofounder of UK tech unicorn TransferWise, said at a conference in April that he would not set up his business in the UK today if he were starting again because of the uncertainty caused by Brexit. Hinrikus said access to talent was one of his biggest concerns.
Neves agrees, saying: “If we starting from scratch, it would definitely be a consideration for sure, just because of the talent piece.”
What the UK has achieved as an economy and London as a city is amazing and it’s thanks to strong integration with Europe and with the world
He said that countries like Ireland and Germany would likely benefit from Brexit, with more startups choosing to base themselves in these EU countries rather than the UK.
But he adds: “We remain committed to London, we love London. Our life can be made more difficult, more easy, we don’t know. But London will always be home for us, and Portugal. This company started with offices in both countries from day one.”
Farfetch has 1,600 staff globally across 11 offices. Neves says that number is likely to rise to 2,000 by the end of the year as the $US397 million investment helps fuel growth across the Asia-Pacific region. The investment came from Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com.
“We are growing very fast in Asia, not just China,” Neves said. “In China, we have had a very successful business for the past two years. We saw, and to be honest JD.com too, the opportunity to double down because quite clearly we have the proposition for the Chinese customer which works.”
Neves wouldn’t comment on who approached who in deal talks, how long the investment took, and Farfetch’s valuation. The company was reportedly valued at $US1.5 billion in its last funding round in 2016.