In a rare and exclusive interview with myself, I reveal how Barcelona is evolving into a dynamic tech hub, why Spanish people drink beer for breakfast and also unveil the truth about my Hollywood romance with Jessica Biel. There shall be no more secrets shrouded in the dark…
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO LIVE AND WORK IN BARCELONA?
Barcelona is like an estranged girlfriend to me. We have always had an on-and-off kind of relationship, just the way I like it. I can’t remember what initial perception I had of Spain, but when I first came here in 2004 from dismal old England I was totally drawn to the enigmatic lifestyle and had a huge yearning to investigate. I had traveled somewhat before Spain but this was my first “big move” to another country and I damn well loved it.
I primarily came here with the intention of learning the language, getting some international work experience and sampling some of the local delights but then quickly fell into the entrepreneurial side of things. I worked for a few small non-tech startups over the next years and started to see the scene really manifesting in front of me.
After a stint of international work and travel, I came back to Barcelona at the beginning of 2010, motivated by a love for the county and with a goal of creating something new. During these audacious 4 years that I’d been on the run, the entrepreneurial scene had matured into beast, buzzing with new ideas and now had startups coming out of the woodwork. This was the time when Groupon and e-commerce clones were popping up all over the place; opportunities were ripe for the picking.
In my humble opinion, Barcelona is one of the most dynamic and vibrant cities in the world and somewhere I feel at home (and that fine sir is hard for me to say).
WHY BARCELONA? WHY NOT LONDON, BERLIN OR THE US?
I don’t really think it makes much sense to compare these cities as ultimately the choice of the entrepreneur is based on countless variables.
Nethertheless, Barcelona possesses some fantastic qualities such as an amazing climate, a cosmopolitan environment, beautiful architecture, 7 city beaches and that’s not even touching the business side of things.
From a business perspective, Barcelona has an active government openly supportive of entrepreneurialism, some of the best business schools in the world, highly skilled and affordable workforce, innovative systems, high mobile penetration whilst also being a great testing ground before international expansion.
We are already seeing a transition in the educational sector with support from business schools such as IESE who are helping foster entrepreneurialism in youngsters so I expect to see the sector “evolving” in the years to come.
WHAT’S IT LIKE SETTING UP A COMPANY HERE?
Wow you really got me with that one Stewart! How do I say this without sounding negative? It really depends what route you take. The government, through some of its initiatives such as Barcelona Activa, has implemented programs to speed up the process of opening companies to spur entrepreneurial activity. This program in particular helps with the agility, cost and “pain” of the operation.
Opening a company without any professional assistance can’t be described as anything but an expensive and painstaking experience. I understand that the government is working to simplify this process, but compared with the ease in which one can set up a company in England, Germany, France or the US, it doesn’t help Spain’s promotion as an attractive location for startups. Luckily, you can get the right people to help you and it makes life a lot easier.
WHAT IS THE STARTUP SCENE LIKE?
The scene has evolved drastically in the last 5 years but some will say it’s still in its infancy and unlikely to reach the heights of Berlin or London. Whatever the pessimists may say, I think Barcelona is on the correct route to making a big impact in the European entrepreneurial scene. SeedTable ranks the city of Barcelona as the 30th most active startup city worldwide and 4th in Europe (behind London #3, Berlin #13, and Paris #16 respectively), not bad I say.
I’m personally witnessing the daily emergence of new incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, innovative startups, daily events for entrepreneurs and investors, active angel networks that are helping fledgling startups get off the ground running. We don’t have a Silicon Valley within Barcelona, but instead startups are located throughout the entire city. This helps to create a more united feeling of entrepreneurialism in the city that will hopefully help drive change within the educational systems. As I mentioned above, there is a wealth of skilled and hard working talent that are motivated to push their products internationally.
From an investor standpoint, there isn’t a deficiency of early-stage capital although when it comes to raising your Series A, things get slightly more complex. Spain has renowned VC firms such as Nauta Capital, BCN Highgrowth, and Active VP who are involved in the community however I don’t think the entrepreneurs would complain if there were a little more competition in this space. Startups in Spain are sometimes faced with the Catch 22 of trying to raise funding from international VC’s who unfortunately, due to bad press and a distorted vision of the reality here, don’t want to touch Spain with a bargepole.
ANY HOT STARTUPS TO KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR?
My my, Mr. Masters, are you trying to get some insider information out of me? I’ve seen a lot of great startups present in the last year so it would be difficult to name them all but here are a few to keep an eye on: Icebergs, visual organization for creative minds, Marfeel, create touch publications with an immersive feel, and Kantox, a low cost solution to exchange foreign currencies.
WHAT COOL EVENTS WOULD YOU RECOMMEND ATTENDING?
Barcelona is the place to be for events. Every day there is some kind of event kicking off for entrepreneurs. Whether it’s First Tuesday, Last Thursdays, Wild Wednesdays, Angel networks or Meetups (all with free beer of course), there will be something going on where you can meet fellow entrepreneurs and investors. I’ve heard numerous success stories of people meeting co-founders or successfully meeting investors and raising cash at these types of events.
On the other hand, you also have your fair share of “bigger” although less frequent events such as Tech Crunch Mobile, Mobile World Congress, TNW Events, Biz Barcelona, Lean Camp, Seedcamp, Startupbootcamp, with more and more larger events coming every year.
WHAT ARE YOUR TOP PLACES TO “RELAX” AFTER A TOUGH DAY IN THE OFFICE?
Well given that I’m a grandpa now and don’t tend to partake in nighttime activities as often, I’ll recommend a few places I hit up occasionally when I feel young and when I think the hangover will only last 1 day.
Ocaña: Ocana has a bit of everything– a cafe, bar, restaurant and downstairs club that manages to keep all of the old world underground city feel whilst still feeling modern and chic.
Bar Mut: A bar with an upscale-bodega feel where cocktails are still crafted (rather than poured) and where you can move into the late hours very easily.
Thanks for the amazing interview Stewart! Your fans will be delighted (fans scream).
Photo: Pedro Kok on Flickr