Mark Bembridge, CEO of artificial intelligence contextual marketing company Smartology, is concerned about a shrinking talent pool but relieved his firm won’t have any issues with GDPR post Brexit
Will Brexit have an impact on Smartology?
That’s an interesting question. We are a software company, so we don’t have physical goods that we have to move across borders, which is a godsend for us, but 50% of my staff here in London, of which there are about 30, are from the EU. I have staff from Hungary and Ireland and Germany and Austria and so on and so forth. So, we have a rather nervous 50% of our workforce because they are somewhat in the dark as to where we all are. No one has left yet and they are very committed to the company, but it is a constant worry for me running the business. We have tabled sponsoring people to stay and if there are any costs associated with any working visas or whatever else may transpire that they need to have in place then we will obviously cover the costs of that.
And, it’s not only our current staff that I worry about, it’s also our potential to hire in the future. I worry that a lot of the people with the skills we need will stop coming to the UK because people are opposed to the position that the country has taken and they worry about not being part of the EU if they move here to work here. If I have a smaller pool from which to hire, I will have to compete as an early stage technology company against banks and Amazons, etc. That makes my life quite complicated because I require that expertise.
Have you found any positives from Brexit?
Everyone has their own opinion and I totally respect that, but I am very opposed to Brexit on every level. I think that we are walking into a very uncertain period and we seem to have done that voluntarily, which I can’t quite wrap my head around. The irony for me, however, is that last year 65% of my revenue came from the US, so I made a lot of money last year without lifting a finger based on the pound falling. The pound falling commercially helps me rather than hinders me, but this still doesn’t outweigh my concerns on staffing.
Do you store any data in Europe which could cause issues in a no-deal Brexit with GDPR?
Thankfully we don’t. One of the big advantages of what we do and one of our big USPs is that, unlike nearly everybody else in our world of digital advertising, we have a cookie-free solution. We target content, as opposed to users based on cookies. We use machine learning to read the world’s news. We work with pretty much every major news organisation at the top end of the market from Bloomberg to the Financial Times, the BBC, etc. etc., and, on the other side of the coin, what we do is read the thought leadership that brands produce – brands these days have in many ways become publishers, every week they are producing editorials, videos, podcasts, etc. about what they are doing.
Our system automatically injects the most relevant piece of content from a brand alongside the most contextually relevant article in the news. All I am doing is matching a piece of content to a piece of content, I process zero user data. I have no need or inclination to know anything about the user.