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Amid Brexit, British app scores $22.5 million round

Velocity app.
Source: Velocity

Zia Yusuf was put in a position that few entrepreneurs would find enviable: raising a funding round for his London start-up in the midst of fallout from the British vote to leave the European Union.

But his company, Velocity, announced a $22.5 million funding round on Monday. The restaurant booking app, founded in London and based there and in New York, will use the new funds for additional features and to expand to 29 cities worldwide by 2020.

"We're really excited about scale of this round," co-founder and co-CEO Yusuf said. "Our round did [take place] over the course of the actual [Brexit] vote. The interesting thing is, we didn't see any real significant impact. One reason is that the appetite from the investing community for our product and our team was high. We're very happy with the level of demand we got."

In late June, Britain voted to leave the European Union, sending Dow futures down as much as 700 points. The British pound sterling tumbled to a 1985 low against the dollar.

That provided a challenging backdrop for Velocity, which caters to high-end restaurants and night life. But Yusuf said Velocity's round, led by DIG Investments, the technology investment arm of HMP Group, with a credit facility from Barclays, did not see an incremental adverse impact.

Co-founder and Co-CEO of Velocity Zia Yusuf attends ChefDance Park City 2016 Presented By Velocity - Night 3 on January 24, 2016 in Park City, Utah.
Jerod Harris | Getty Images

The Brexit vote was expected to dampen an already muted private equity and venture capital landscape in the U.K., which saw activity slow to the lowest levels since late 2009 in the first quarter of 2016, according to the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association. Fifteen percent of private equity and venture capital investments in the U.K. comes from the European Union, the trade group estimates.

Worse yet for an app that lists Michelin-star-level dining, high-net worth individuals were expected to clamp down on luxury spending, according to international wealth consultancy WealthInsight.

Co-founder and co-CEO Alex Macdonald said that even if luxury goods have lost their luster in recent years, affluent consumers are still spending on upscale experiences. Velocity focuses on millennials, who are known to prioritize activities like traveling, Yusuf said.

"The thing that sets us apart is we put our customers' time first. Insiders curate the coolest restaurants," Yusuf said. "The other point is that we already are international. People love the idea of the platform that you can use in multiple cities."

Unlike Yelp, which delivers a wide swath of results and sponsored listings, Velocity focuses on just a high-demand restaurants, Yusuf said. Velocity has offices and staff in every city it operates in, where staff personally visit restaurants and assess food, service and atmosphere.

"A lot of time and effort is spent maintaining the integrity of that network," Yusuf said.

Velocity makes money from restaurant partners, who pay for the audience and for software that facilitates reservations and payment — giving them an alternative to incumbents like OpenTable. On the consumer end, that means the user can go from reservation to payment without leaving the app.

Much is left to be decided as Brexit unfolds, with almost every option expected to adversely affect businesses, jobs and trade, according to the UK finance ministry. But Yusuf said he's confident.

"As entrepreneurs, the U.K., especially London, remains one of the most innovative countries and cities in the world," Yusuf said. "Really world class talent, and in that sense, I don't see how a great deal has changed [since Brexit]. We'll have to see the terms of the actual exit, but we will continue to get talent and innovate quickly."

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that DIG Investments, the technology investment arm of HMP Group, invested in Velocity, and to clarify that Alex Macdonald and Zia Yusuf are both co-founders and co-CEOs of the company.