Luxury Ride-Hailing Startup Picks London Over Moscow for New HQ

(Bloomberg) -- Luxury ride-hailing app Wheely has relocated its headquarters to London ahead of Britain’s departure from the European Union, the latest signal that London is continuing to pull in tech companies ahead of Brexit.

The move by the Russian-based company, which targets affluent and high net worth individuals, comes as Japan’s biggest telecommunications firm, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., is also said to be considering London for its new international headquarters.

Wheely Chief Executive Officer Anton Chirkunov said in an interview that his decision to relocate from Moscow was to help attract senior leadership talent ahead of a planned European expansion.

“When you try to hire executives, they all want to live in London,” Chirkunov said. “They’re either already in London or want to move there. They’re not going to want to move to Moscow or Zurich.”

The nine-year-old company has also raised $15 million in an investment round led by venture capital firm Concentric, which Chirkunov said would be used to grow the business and support expansion to Paris in the summer. It’s the first time the company has sought outside financing, having been funded so far by Chirkunov’s family, the CEO said.

Wheely is available in London, Moscow and St. Petersburg, and has about 3,000 chauffeurs across its network, it said in a statement Friday. It competes with Uber’s higher-end UberLux offering, with Mercedes S-Class vehicles as well as Mercedes-Maybach models in Russia.

Rival cities such as Paris and Dublin have been attempting to lure startups to set up shop away from London, while larger companies such as Honda Motor Co. and Panasonic Corp. have announced plans to scale back their British presence. In contrast, tech giants such as Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Snap Inc., and SoftBank Group Corp.’s ARM Holdings, have fiercely been competing for top talent in London and around top universities such as Cambridge.

A spokeswoman for Wheely said 12 employees are based in the company’s new offices, located on the ground floor of a co-working building in the city’s hedge fund district of Mayfair. She said the “at least” 25 people will be working in the office by the end of the year.

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