“Barcelona should learn that we need to speed up when it comes to business, because we’re too slow,” said Startup Grind Barcelona Director Àlex Rodríguez Bacardit when we asked him about the next event he was organizing in the city. Weeks later, when the Barcelona – San Francisco Summit finally took place in the Vertex building of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, that statement made an appearance once again.
This time, the argument came from Typeform’s David Okuniev, one of the guests scheduled for sessions that dealt with different subjects regarding entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley, Barcelona and Europe in general. His talk, Silicon Valley UX from Barcelona, was about Typeform’s journey as a startup (four years ago it was hard to get investors) and its present state (US $35 million raised recently).
Typeform is one of Barcelona’s success stories. It has consistently increased both the investments it receives and, as a result, its valuation as well. Before this massive investment, the company was valued at $70 million, with its founding claiming that number has inevitably gone up now, even though the exact figure wasn’t disclosed. By now, Typeform has raised more than $52 million in total, and its estimated valuation might give it a space among other local juggernauts like Wallapop.
Another guest that day was Marek Fodor, chairman at Kantox, the London-Barcelona-based fintech company, and co-founder at Atrápalo, the Spanish platform that offers coupon discounts on different products. “I’m one of those guys who did not see Typeform at first,” was one of the first things he admitted after Okuniev had left the stage. He also talked about London’s advantages, like more capital available and what he called “very sophisticated regulations” for operating a business like Kantox.
Indeed, London still represents a more attractive destination for entrepreneurs, at least by default. In contrast to its relatively friendly system for new businesses, Spain can be a more difficult terrain thanks to higher taxes and a tedious bureaucracy that can slow down development quite a bit. Still, Kantox has found a home in Barcelona as well, and things have been going pretty OK for the company.
Ironically, Fodor dislikes the word “startup”, arguing that it’s now synonym for a certain kind of company and way of operating that he doesn’t want Kantox to be associated with (in short, rapid growth coupled with losses, opportunities but uncertainty as well). “Just focus on the business”, he said. An important suggestion, since he also went on about the challenge of working with banks, which didn’t play nice with Kantox’s disruptive, more efficient and transparent model, clearly perceiving it as a threat.
According to the company, banks tried to discredit it by calling it “unreliable”, threatened clients to block their credits if they used Kantox, and they also messed with transactions made to the service on purpose, with the intention of “proving” that “unreliable” claim to their clients.
While talks with seasoned entrepreneurs were the main course, that wasn’t the whole story. Just as in the real field, where we hear the stories of Typeform, Kantox, Glovo or Walapop, there are also dozens of other stories that we don’t hear about much. The entrepreneurs, the new startups still yet to find a break. They got a chance to present themselves too.
“It’s a very good environment,” admitted Orlando Marin. He was there with his startup, Trendvice, which consisted of an app that offered fashion recommendations for dressing. In short, users can send pics of something they’re thinking of wearing or even buying, and receive feedback. The idea is to offer more organic suggestions, instead of relying on the established companies, which usually set what’s “trendy” according to their interests.
Fashion startups aren’t a novelty, in Europe or even in Barcelona. The city has seen interesting projects like Whimed and Pickerin. Globally, other companies have found varying degrees success, some of them capitalizing on the “lean wardrobe” concept that has gained popularity. In his case, Marin believes that collaborating with influencers and focusing on specific cities will differentiate the app.
Another startup from the selected bunch was Moodbytes, which presented itself as a company specialized in 3D food. Founder Marcio Barradas explained to us the basic concept: taking local ingredients and turning them into a mash compatible with 3D printers to serve them in different forms and shapes, and then cook in any way desired. The idea, in the long term, is to have self-serving machines that make quality, just-made food.
And indeed, the landscape of startups in the city is interesting. Barcelona ranked as the fifth Startup Hub in Europe, according to EU-Startups out of a list of 15 cities. Also, according to Startup Genome’s Barcelona Startup Ecosystem Report, the city is now home to more than a thousand startups, and its ecosystem is estimated to be valued at US $6.4 billion. Finally, venture exits—IPOs and acquisitions—have grown 4x in the past four years.
As Europe gains momentum and the startup/tech industry develops, comparisons with Silicon Valley are going to become more and more common. London remains the undisputed center for European startups thanks to the explanations expressed above; but other cities are gaining traction, and Barcelona has found its way into that lot.
In short, it still has a long road ahead, but if it plays its cards well, somehow attracting more capital and introducing friendlier policies for entrepreneurs, it has the potential to really pick up. There is, undeniably, a special charm to the Catalan capital, and the data about its growth is favorable. There are a lot of local success stories, and there are even more rising projects growing and appearing every new day.
Coming back at the beginning to Mr. Okuniev, he did criticize Barcelona for its laid back attitude. However, he also had a few positive things to say. First, he admitted it was an attractive city for foreigners (because of that weather-beach factor), so hiring talent from outside can be relatively easy compared to other places. And secondly, it is cheaper than London. “Three times cheaper,” actually.