We asked the founder of $3 billion unicorn MessageBird about Europe's exploding tech scene, remote work under COVID-19, and the firm's long rumored IPO
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"I don't think I've ever actually talked about this publicly," laughs Robert Vis, founder of cloud communications firm MessageBird, down the phone. Asked about his upbringing, the Netherlands native reveals how he spent his late teenage years working up an online video platform with the support of some close friends. "People would come over and we'd record them then upload their videos to the site ... We had a bunch of shows," he says. "I had actual employees and everything, but it basically fell apart when the dotcom bubble burst." Luckily, Vis' more recent efforts have been more a little more prosperous. A veteran of Y-Combinator's renowned talent scouting program, his customer service messaging platform recently announced a $200 million funding round — at a $3 billion valuation — after being backed by the likes of Accel, Atomico, and Spark Capital. Founded in 2011, MessageBird counts itself among an impressive cohort of tech firms to have emerged from the Netherlands, alongside the likes of Ayden, Booking.com, and Picnic. Almost a decade in, the firm employs 400 people across 10 locations – including the US, Germany, and Singapore – and counts Facebook and Uber among its biggest clients. Praising the elite accelerator as "the school you don't want to leave", Vis outlined his rationale for traveling across the pond to seek investment. "I thought I could either go to the US and start kicking doors down on my own, or I could take a shortcut, get a big name like YC behind me and then leverage their network. "It really opened my eyes in terms of growth and just how big a company can get," he adds. "We were growing 100% year-on-year, and one of the partners said to me: 'When Airbnb was your size, they were growing at 400%. Get back to work.'" Four years later, does Vis still think startups on the continent should rely on the US to scale? "Europe has always had amazing talent, but it's usually snatched up by the US very quickly. I don't think that's the case anymore, there's a lot more capital closer to home. I mean, Amsterdam alone has four of Europe's biggest tech companies," he laughs. "Sorry, that's my nationalistic side coming out." Proud as he might be of Dutch innovation, Vis says the COVID-19 pandemic has upended MessageBird's recruitment strategy, leading to a remote "work from anywhere" policy. "It's funny because, if you'd asked me six months, I would have said the total opposite," he says. "But I've done a total 180. Now I'm really revolting against the idea of a centralized 'HQ'. You wanna work from the beach every day? If you can get the job done, go for it!" Finally, we asked Vis about rumors the firm plans to float on the public markets in 2021, which he appeared to all but confirm in an interview with Bloomberg earlier this year. "One thing I've learned is: if you mention an IPO once, it's going to come up in every single interview you do from then on," he sighed. "I said we wanted to operate at the highest level of financial integrity and compliance, and an IPO is kind of the holy grail in that sense. He added: "I think an IPO should have a goal, like, an IPO is not a goal in and of itself. A lot of the time, it's just a way to make accessing capital a lot easier. "But the private markets have clearly been good to us."Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: What it takes to become a backup dancer for Beyoncé
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