Skyscanner, that most elusive of British techs, a unicorn, has been sold, is this a triumph of British entrepreneurism, or yet another example of a British company selling out before it can conquer the world?
When Evan Spiegel, co-founder of Snapchat found himself mulling over a $3 billion offer from Facebook to buy the social media business he had helped create, he, along with is partner Bobby Murphy, said no.
When the Chinese company Ctrip offered to buy The Edinburgh tech firm Skyscanner for £1.4 billion, CEO and joint founder, Gareth Williams said yes.
And can you blame him? Be honest now, would you have said no?
It’s not only Mr Williams and his co-founders, Barry Smith and Bonamy Grimes who have done well out of the deal, reports suggest that many of the 800-strong workforce will do well too, creating a lot more millionaires walking the streets of Edinburgh.
In his Autumn Statement, the chancellor Philip Hammond said: “I am taking a first step to tackle the longstanding problem of our fastest growing technology firms being snapped up by bigger companies, rather than growing to scale.”
He announced a £400 million injection into venture capital firms.
So, that’s £1.4 billion offered for Skyscanner versus £400 million to try and stop the trend for British companies being bought out by larger firms.
Then again, maybe Mr Hammond was thinking smaller, what can he do to try and persuade companies to turn down deals of that size?
There’s another point.
So what. Skyscanner may have been sold to a Chinese firm, but why, oh why, would Ctrip want to breakup what is clearly working? And working is what Skyscanner’s operation in Edinburgh is doing.
Edinburgh is a beautiful city, and, as its recent scoop as entrepreneurial city of the year award as part of the Great British Technology Entrepreneur Awards testifies, an entrepreneurial city. With four universities, this is a city packed with computer engineering talent.
And if the deal creates a hundred or so millionaires, many of whom may want to reinvest some of their money into techs, then that won’t do any harm.
There is a new culture of entrepreneurism in the UK, and while some national newspapers, whose idea of a budding entrepreneur is someone who appears on the Apprentice, have a good laugh at the idea of a UK tech selling out days after Mr Hammond’s words on this matter, it does mean foreign money flooding into the UK. And whether the deal was helped by the cheap pound or not, to create techs that truly strut the global stage, you first need to create thriving hubs of entrepreneurial and technical endeavour. This takes time, and maybe the first step needs the first crop of UK techs that have arisen from this new culture to act as a magnet for money, creating investment and investors, and more entrepreneurs looking to have a go.