Christopher has led multidisciplinary product teams for over a decade. Today at King, the makers of Candy Crush, his team is building the network-level experience for hundreds of millions of players using everything from native and web features to social media and push messaging. Previously, he led key strategic projects at innovative startups like Tuenti, Sclipo and Emagister.
Confession: I’m not a “methodology guy” by nature. Maybe it’s the chronic autodidact in me, the one who’s got enough gray in his beard to remember a time before you could get a Masters in UX or people spent their time discussing the V in MVP. Whatever the reason, I’m almost always skeptical of doing anything by the book.
Lately, however, people keep asking me about the “methodology” I use with my teams, the process we use to go all the way from ideation to a prioritized backlog. And, despite my process skepticism, I found myself wondering “do I have a process?”
After lots of soul searching during my long flights up North, it turns out the answer is “yes”: even this old skeptic has a set of steps he likes to use. Sure, the order may vary and, like my personal experience, it’s a strange combination of ideas taken from different sources and woven together over the years, each feature launched adding a stitch. Although I can’t guarantee this process will work for you or your product, I can tell you that it was developed the hard way, through trial and error, and that it works (most of the time) for me.Continue reading “A product methodology of one’s own”
This guest post was written by Alexandre Bastos, currently Product Consultant at ONTHEBUS innovation and co-founder of nomya. Prior to that, Alexandre founded and lead iQUBE research, an innovative aeronautical electronics company, acquired and integrated into CENTUM corporation as CENTUM Research & Technology.
On February 25, Galician president Alberto Nuñez Feijoo announced the final decision on the pre-commercial procurement process called Civil UAVs Initiative. INAER (Babcock group) and INDRA won the final round over aeronautical giants AIRBUS and BOEING with a joint offer of €75 million in private investment, combined withh a governmental contribution of €40 million.
Even with reasonable margin for opinion and criticism, the initiative led by GAIN innovation -which will be signed in the next few days- agency can already be considered as a big success for the regional Government. They were able to bring together some of the most important aeronautical companies in the world, in concurrence for a public funded research program designed to solve many of the existing challenges in using drones for government managed services. Moreover, they got a strong competence in the final tendering round with 4 extraordinaire bidding offers, which required increasing the public budget from €25 to €40 million.
We welcome another guest article from Iñaki Berenguer. This time he writes about the impact of one of the best universities in the world in the Spanish startup ecosystem.
This guest post was written by Iñaki Berenguer, currently the founder & CEO of CoverWallet. Prior to that, Iñaki founded and led Contactive and Pixable (both acquired), and worked at McKinsey, Microsoft and HP.
This summer, Nobel prize winnerPaul Krugman published anarticle in the New York Times about the dominance of MIT trained economists in global policy positions. He gave as examples, apart from himself,Ben Bernanke,Mario Draghi,Olivier Blanchard orMaurice Obstfeld, Chief Economists of the IMF, European Central Bank, or Federal Reserve. Morerecently, a new ranking puts MIT as the top ranked university worldwide. And this very week, MIT published astudy about the impact of the university in the creation of businesses, that in turn generate employment for 5 million people and enough income to be ranked as the 10th largest economy in the world in terms of GDP.
Guess post written by Javier Escribano (TouristEye, Selltag) with fundraising tips for first-time entrepreneurs.
(This post was written by Javier Escribano, former co-founder of TouristEye and Selltag, and originally published on Medium. Javier is currently seeking a VP of Product, CTO or PM role. You can check his LinkedIn profile or contact him if interested)
I have raised 3 rounds of seed investment (~700k€ in total), no Series A yet; so my advice is limited by that experience. However, it’s consistent with the experience of other founders with more experience I talked with.
The key learnings on this article are:
Plan your investment process with a board in Trello
Always find an intro
The pitch must be a conversation, not a monologue
Build three different decks, one for each stage of the process
Use Demo Days to strengthen the company brand
Plan your investment process with a board in Trello
I recommend you to have a Trello board for each round of investment. Add all the investors you want to talk to and then, move them through this funnel:
Discarded: Investors who have rejected you or you have discarded (they have invested in a competitor for example).
To contact later: Investors who are interested but need to see more months of data.
Intro to be found: You need to find someone who knows the investor.
We have an intro: You know someone who can make an intro.
1st contact: You have talked with them once.
2nd contact: You have talked with them twice or more.
Want to invest: Investors who want to invest.
You should add the main information of the investor in the description of each card (range of investments, total investment per company, companies invested, people you know who can make an intro). Each time you have an interaction with them, add a comment on the card with their feedback or your impressions. That way, your co-founders can see the evolution and you don’t need to keep forwarding emails.
Always find an intro
I’m sure you have already read this tip in many places, so consider it another reminder that it does work way better to have an intro than to send a cold email or call.
Sometimes is hard to find someone who knows the investor, but you can always find a way. Of course, you can use LinkedIn; although be careful because lots of connections are really poor links. Before asking someone to make you an intro, ask him/her how good do they know the investor. Not all intros are worth the same 😉
Another way is to meet someone who knows the investor; and the best people are probably the founders/CEOs of the companies he/has invested in. You should ask someone you know for an intro to that founder (a cold email/tweet may work too), ask him/her for advice on investment/roadmap over coffee and then ask him/her if he/she thinks his/her investor is a good match for you. If he/she thinks so, there you have a good intro!
The pitch must be a conversation, not a monologue
This is a typical mistake we do when we talk to investors. We try to communicate everything, assuring the investor we know everything about our business, we have a clear roadmap and we are the best team to achieve it.
However, it’s not the best way to convince an investor. You have to make him/her engage with you intellectually, you want him/her to ask you questions you know the answer, you want him/her to get into the problem you are solving really deeply so he/she keeps thinking about it for the next days.
If it’s a monologue, he/she will not remember. If you make him/her think about it and engage with the problem; you will in a better position to convince him/her. Take into account that when you are talking to an investor, your competitors aren’t the company competitors but other startups which are also raising and talking with him/her. The investor can only invest in a few per year, and he/she will end up comparing deals.
Build three different decks, one for each stage of the process
I recommend you to have 3 different decks:
This is the deck you will send over email to an investor to check if he/she is interested. It should have 10–12 slides, with key information about the team, problem, key parts of the solution and your metrics. Slides should be simple, with 1–3 phrases per slide; the investor will glance over them to see if it’s worth spending time on you.
There are investors who prefer to talk on the meeting instead of following the script of your deck; and there are others who prefer to follow the deck and then ask you questions.
In both cases you will need a deck with much more information that the Intro deck but removing the phrases you are going to say. Remember they should look at you 80% of the time, not to the slides.
If you follow the deck on the meeting, you shouldn’t show all the slides. Leave many of them at the end, specially the ones which dig deeply into a topic (user acquisition, patents, tech…). If the investor asks about it, you have the slide. You will earn two points: one for being brief on the pitch and another for having the information prepared.
After meeting deck
Investors will ask you for the Meeting deck. You can’t send it because it doesn’t have the key phrases you said. You need to add those key phrases into the deck and reorganize it a bit so it follows a logical order (no just-in-case slides at the end).
Extra: Demo Day deck
This deck is like the Meeting deck but with just the slides you are going to pitch. You may need to remove text from it to make sure everyone looks at you 80% of the time (if people read the slide instead of listening to you, you have failed as a presenter).
We can summarize them:
Use Demo Days to strengthen the company brand
Don’t think Demo Days or public pitches will bring you an investor just after the pitch. It doesn’t happen. The only place I’ve personally seen it was in a 500 Startup Demo Day in Silicon Valley, when a founder of another startup received a text just after finishing her pitch saying he wanted to close the round with $100k. But the truth is that she had already talked him over email. I’m sure there will cases, but they are just 0.01%.
What you need to do in those pitches is strengthen the company brand so investors and potential new employees remember your company later; andmake sure everyone who listen will agree that you seem to be a trustworthy and reliable CEO. If you do, they will be more predisposed to meet with you even if it’s a cold email or call.
Enjoy the show and have fun, but don’t worry too much. The best startups almost never were the best ones in Demo Days anyway.
Guest post by Rodrigo Martinez of Point Nine Capital describing 15 lessons from the top CTOs and startups in Spain.
Guest post: This post was written by Rodrigo Martinez, a Spanish early stage investor at Berlin-based VC firm Point Nine Capital.
For those who don’t know us, Point Nine Capital is an early stage investor based in Berlin. So far, we only have one investment in Spain – we invested in Typeform when they had 20,000 signups and no revenue.
At this stage, we know that the founders will face a steep learning curve. Our goal is to be their best partner and to provide close support. But we don’t have answers to all the questions, so connecting them with our portfolio and network is a key way we try to help them grow.
As I mentioned in a previous article, in Spain there are very promising developments. However, the ecosystem is still young and fragmented between Madrid and Barcelona. Probably because of that, there’s a lack of communication between the key players and the lessons learned are not spread quickly enough.
Business founders are still somehow connected, but the challenge for CTOs here is even higher.
Therefore, we decided to put together a meetup for the top startups and tech’s CTOs in Spain that we could reach out to. On Friday November 27, more than 80 CTOs and VPs at some of the most well-known startups in Spain joined us to discuss the lessons they are learning while building successful products and teams.
Here I will summarize some of the key messages, with the hope that these will also be helpful to other CTOs who could not join us – you can also follow some of them on Twitter.
5 tips to scale teams
Invest in people, that’s the answer to all problems: some common practices we heard of are to allow teams to spend time learning, to not forget about showing appreciation for jobs well done, to coach people, to always keep hiring in competitive roles, etc.
Define company values: that might sound like corporate bullshit to most engineers, but it helps to get to faster decision making and it allows you to be aligned on your decisions when you have a larger team.
Create a hiring brand: everybody mentioned that hiring tech talent is very hard. You need to make yourself attractive to developers – and the answers shouldn’t be only cash. The companies that struggled less to hire developers used their employees as their best ambassadors. We also learned that a hard hiring process attracted talented engineers at the early days of Tuenti.
Define the right incentives: when companies grow, the challenges to manage diversity will start to kick in. An employee in his 20s will probably be more focused on the upside (thus training, equity, etc are good tools to remunerate), while somebody in his 40s will look for balance (family time, cash to pay mortgage/schools, etc). On a not so positive note, it’s important to highlight that I couldn’t find a single female CTO to join us. There’s a big problem with diversity in our industry.
Good communication will only get more challenging: as the leader on the team, you need to make sure that you set processes to get fluent communication – 1 on 1s are mandatory, make sure you spend time with that.
Some other cool initiatives: a manager has every day a 9:30 coffee with a different employee. One year later, he has spoken several times and in private with all of his employees. Another company organized volunteer blindlunches, so people from different departments get to know how other areas work.
Bonus: Hire from tuenti, apparently that’s what everybody does.
5 tips to scale technology
Invest in people, that’s also the answer here.
“Tech is a team sport, no space for rock stars” – John Carbajal, CTOat @ Kantox.
Optimize for speed of development – don’t over-scale: solve problems as they appear, but invest early in monitoring -not only when issues happen- so it gets less messy to identify the sources of problems and to solve them.
Build vs buy: think about the cost of building AND maintaining a feature in terms of engineering hours. Focus only on what’s core for your product and don’t reinvent the wheel – ie. some people even outsourced database management.
Mobile is still very early: it’s hard to support all different platforms, versions, screen sizes, etc. You will have to make decisions on when to stop. There are also plenty of new challenges that you don’t have on the web – like doing proper QA in mobile is hard, due to the fact that virtualization doesn’t give you the same feeling; some people do QA in the elevator.
Bonus: build relationships with Apple, you might need them to release a new version under preasure.
5 tips to scale processes
Set the right priority: you have to choose if you accept growing fast AND breaking up things – you can’t be fast without breaking things.
Be lean, test a lot, measure and iterate: after customers ask for it, first do a basic MVP for them, then validate if the metrics prove the case. After that, in the next iteration, spend time building a more solid product. Also, remember to kill stuff you don’t use!
“MRR is THE metric, but hard to translate into developers’ priorities. We focus on customer engagement as a proxy” – Jordi Romero, CTO @ Redbooth
Understand who drives product, make sure they listen to customers: there’s no common answer if product should be inside or outside the tech organization, but it’s important to know how you get customers’ feedback in the product cycle – somebody has to speak with customers!
Make clear rules to prioritize jobs: bugs-first? when is a bug a top priority? when do you refactor? when is it done? or ‘done done’?
“When something is ‘done’ is different in different countries, learn about it! In some countries in Latam, you might need to add 4 days to get into the stage of ‘done’ in US,” – Joan Villalta, VP @ Scytl
Follow best practices in mature processes: allow one click test-and-deploy, test to make users happy, try to avoid developers messing directly with servers, etc.
I want to use the final words to thank everybody involved: the attendees were very engaged which enriched a lot of the conversations. There was a huge amount of talent in the panels, but no less sitting in the audience. Spanish investors were very helpful in introducing us to their CTOs; it’s hard to attract +80 CTOs without their help. Oh, and also without Caixa Capital Risc, AWS, Wayra and MWC we wouldn’t have had a venue, food and beers 🙂
Are Spanish traditional banks making life difficult for fintech startups and its clients on purpose? How are they doing this? Philippe Gelis responds to these questions.
This is a guest post written by Philippe Gelis, CEO and co-founder of fintech and FX startup Kantox.
Day after day, when I explain what we do at Kantox, people ask me, “Banks are your enemies, then?” and I always reply: “Are we their enemy?”. We don’t consider banks as enemies. However, without any doubt, Kantox came about as an alternative to the bad practices of the oligopoly of traditional banking and its clientele abuse.
There is a relationship of competition-collaboration that, given the latest twists of the big financial companies, looks increasingly moving in the direction of collaboration. Perhaps, it is yet another example of the saying, “if you can’t beat your enemy, then join them”.
When the fintech phenomenon arose, banks laughed at us. We were some crazy insignificant people, waving the flag of transparency and armed with technology, fighting back against an archaic sector, more powerful than most governments. When their customers, the same people who they had rewarded with hidden commissions and with a good dose of the status quo, began trusting and recommending us, only then did they start paying attention to us. They began by criticising our model and tried to discredit us, but the fintech wave had already begun.
Recently, a banker wrote to me, saying:
“I fully agree with the analysis that Kantox makes of the financial sector and its future trends, although I have to admit that I was wrong about Kantox in 2013, thinking that it was just a good idea with an irrelevant market share, if it even managed to last the first year. Actually, my prediction was that, in the best of scenarios, it would be an ant compared to the elephants of banking. However, you have transformed into a mouse that terrifies those elephants, and now you are ready to take the next step and transform into hunters who overcome banking elephants, thanks to technology and intelligence, despite a smaller size. I wish to participate in this revolutionary task and, maybe, this will lead us in some years to see a fintech bank.”
These days some of our competitors fear us, but some are sufficiently clever to build bridges and to try to redefine themselves, collaborating with fintech startups and creating a constructive ecossystem for both parties. The first beneficiaries of this strategy are customers.
Spanner in the works
A couple of years ago, some UK banks tried to halt the establishment of P2P lending companies in the country. They slowed down the administrative procedures to paralyse the credit procedure of their customers. Now, we are seeing the same thing in Spain. This is what we are facing:
Bundling of products: Traditional banks threaten their clients with cutting their credit if they use a fintech company for other services. For example, in some cases, they link export credit with currency exchange and won’t accept that the part related to the currency is conducted by a fintech company when they give them credit. Curiously, these threats never end up being carried out. I pause here for a brief legal point: bundling of products is illegal, so I invite all those companies that experience the same thing themselves to report it to consumer associations and the European Commission (we can help on that).
Discrediting fintech: The reasoning? They state that it is “risky” to work with a small company, which makes me ask myself if they also consider it “risky” to offer mortgages in foreign currencies to families who end up bankrupt, or shares (“preferentes”) to elderly people or those without any financial knowledge who end up losing all their savings.
Closing fintech company accounts: One Catalonian bank in particular once decided to close all the bank accounts of all the fintech companies that were their clients under the pretext that “their operations don’t fit with us”. Strange… I’ll let you guess what bank I am speaking about.
Refusing to transfer funds to fintech companies: At the time of exchanging currency, for example, the customer receives communication from the bank saying that “we cannot sendfunds to Kantox”. That is false, and a way of convincing customers who do not know how operations are conducted.
Using dumb excuses: Banks are also very good at making mistakes on purpose and using dumb excuses to justify them. Examples: “Sorry, I did not understand you wanted to use Kantox so I already exchanged your USD into EUR… (with a huge spread)”, “I forgot to send the funds to Kantox, I did not remember you said it was urgent…”. What I love the most about cases like this is when customers feel empowered and decide the switch to another bank or ask for a full refund.
In some cases, these practices are not decisions coming from the bank, but from personal or account managers of their branches, who decide individually –and surely motivated by commercial pressure– to be “clever” in the way that they make their clients “loyal”.
Moreover, we know that some banks have implemented systems to alert and detect transactions conducted by fintech companies. This is financial intelligence in the purest NSA form.
We know that some banks have implemented systems to alert and detect transactions conducted by fintech companies.
Its tempting to share with you the list of banks or their client victims of these practices, but I will attempt to contain myself… for now. However, internally we do keep a ranking of bad practices of those entities that treat their clients the worst – and they make our marketing better, I have to say.
It is gratifying to see that there are less and less customers who allow themselves to be swayed by their managers –yes, the same ones who for years have misled them with opaque and unfair commissions. The head of currency of a large Spanish bank once told me, over coffee in a Starbucks, that “customers don’t need to understand the products and their real cost”. Yet another reason to keep working as we do at Kantox.
We could share these bad practices with the Bank of Spain, consumer associations or the European Commission as well as the press –who try and insist that we reveal exact cases–, but I consider it more productive and motivating to show that not all banks are like that. At least in the rest of Europe.
Smart banking Vs Cosmetic banking
There are banks that embrace fintech. Arkea, in France, positions itself as the bank for fintech, providing them with the necessary banking services for their operations, like segregated accounts or payment system. They have converted this collaboration into part of their positioning. They invest in fintech companies like Pret d’Union. They buy others like Leetchi. They collaborate with Compte Nickel. This is a clear case of “smart banking”. Even more surprising, they do it in their local market without fear of cannibalizing themselves.
In contrast, we find those entities that set up fintech incubators or hackathons; venture capital funds to invest in fintech; and other marketing operations of what I refer to as “cosmetic banking”.
The headlines are more alluring than in the tabloids, but if they really do want to join the fintech bandwagon and have a future, these banks are going to have to reinvent themselves, change their DNA and be brave. Cosmetic surgery is a form of deceit that only satisfies someone for a few more years…
Pablo Mancía, co-founder of Delvy Law & Finance, explains why startups need to have shareholders’ agreement and what are the main clauses to be included.
This guest post was written by Pablo Mancía, co-founder of Delvy Law & Finance, a Barcelona-based law firm that aims to be a reference when it comes to cover the legal, financial and tax needs of disruptive technology startups and companies.
At the beginning of any startup, founders have great expectations about their business idea and often are convinced that it will be a great success. At this stage many founders forget that it is also important to apply prevention measures to solve complicated situations that may happen. This is why a shareholders’ agreement can assure the legal security of the startup and also help to prevent some situations that may put in danger the growth of the company.
But, what is a shareholders’ agreement?
A shareholders’ agreement is a private contract subscribed voluntarily between all shareholders of a company with the aim of regulating their relationships, rights and obligations, as well as the daily operations of the company.
Here in Spain shareholders’ agreements are not specifically regulated by any law. It has no formal requirements in order to exist or to be valid, it is not necessary to inscribe it at the company’s registry nor before any other public office. Nonetheless, usually the parties decide to have one in order to create a more formal and secure document to sign before a notary.
The content of shareholders’ agreements will depend on the type of project or company we are regulating. It can cover various issues, from day-to-day operations, organization processes, business activities and relationships between the shareholders.
It is important to note that shareholders’ agreements are independent contracts, which means that they are a different type of document that can co-exist with the articles of association of a company.
Why are they important?
A startup path is much like a roller coaster. The future is unknown and in most cases during the first two or three years of the company, many important changes may occur due to various reasons.
A shareholders’ agreement is important because you can use it to foresee certain aspects that can affect negatively the progress or growth of the company. Although it is true that a shareholders’ agreement won’t prevent a problem by itself, it will however regulate how this problem can be fixed and what actions will have to be taken to solve it.
Ultimately, the essence of the shareholders’ agreement is to set the rules for the parties involved in the company, be it founders or investors. The way to achieve this goal is to reach an agreement that will have to be included in a legal document that will be binding for all parties.
We have to keep in mind that it is not only important to set the rules, but also to include which obligations and rights will the parties be granted so the agreement is valid and enforceable. It is essential to receive advice by an expert lawyer on these matters.
Risks of not having a shareholders’ agreement
Not having a shareholders’ agreement would be like walking blindfolded, not knowing what can happen in specific situations which can have a negative effect on the company.
When entrepreneurs claims they don’t need a shareholders’ agreement because they will not have any problems, they ought to think about “what if situations”. Often these are circumstances that are not considered or thought of at the beginning of any venture. Some of these what if? questions might be:
What if a founder leaves the company?
What if a founder starts another similar project?
What if we need a new partner?
What if a founder is not dedicating enough time or finds another job?
What if a founder is not delivering what he/she was supposed to do?
What if there are disagreements between the shareholders?
What if there’s a deadlock situation?
For all of the above questions and for many others, the shareholders’ agreement should be used as a guide that would tell us how to act and what the consequences would be in these situations. Therefore, not having a shareholders’ agreement would increase the legal uncertainty for both the shareholders and the company itself.
Types of shareholders’ agreements
A shareholders’ agreement can be negotiated at any moment of the company, even when it’s just a project.
We can identify three stages in which a shareholders’ agreement is necessary and important for a startup:
At the seed stage, the shareholders’ agreement will serve to regulate mainly the basic issues regarding the relationship between the founders, starting from their equity stakes, contributions, obligations and roles, their dedication to the company, vesting regulations, etc.
This type of shareholders’ agreement can be negotiated and sign between the founders even before the company is created.
At this stage the startup would usually have some time of existence, so a shareholders’ agreement can have the same goals stated above and others, for example when a new founder joins the company or early stage investors back the company. At this stage, two things might happen:
The company had already a shareholders’ agreement that will need to be modified because of the entrance of the new founder or investor.
The company had not a shareholders’ agreement so it will be necessary to regulate all the relationships between the parties, as well as include control or economic clauses for the investor.
At the growth stage, companies have usually already validated their business model and have found product/market fit, but are in need of an important cash injection to grow faster and reinforce its position.
At this stage, professional investors of VCs will take the lead in the negotiation of an investment agreement that will become the new shareholders’ agreement between all the parties involved in the operation.
Main clauses in a shareholders’ agreement
The clauses to incorporate in a shareholders’ agreement will depend on the specific context in which this document is elaborated; nonetheless, here are the main clauses divided by group:
General Clauses: As any agreement, it will have to include the purpose of the document, as well as to indicate the previous agreements made between the parties, indicating their roles, the duration of the contract, law and jurisdiction applicable.
Operational and organization clauses: in this group we can identify the clauses that regulate the legal structure of the company, appointment of directors and their limitations, the shareholders’ contributions, the roles and functions of each party, dedication, obligations and vesting.
Clauses regarding shareholders rights and obligations: here we should establish the decision making process, how the shareholders’ meeting will take place, how they will vote, and the compensation that the founders or key collaborators will receive. Also, agreements on how the future benefits of the companies will be treated or invested might also be included.
Protection clauses: we can identify some clauses of this nature, like founders’ commitments, vesting conditions, non-compete clauses, non disclosure agreements, etc. It is important to include here any clauses that would assure the enforceability of all of the above agreements, as well as foresee possible deadlock situations and how they are going to be solved.
Exit clauses: these clauses will regulate the economic terms of a future investment in the company or possible exit, drag and tag along clauses, buy out, etc.
It is strongly recommended to look for specialized advice regarding shareholders’ agreements. Everyone involved in the company needs to understand what they are agreeing to, so there can’t be any misunderstandings in the future. We invite everyone interested on this issue to investigate more about it, read blogs and listen to the previous experiences of seasoned entrepreneurs.
Guest post: In the same way that in the US they say that Stanford or MIT are good gateways into entrepreneurship, the same applies to consulting firms in Spain.
This guest post was written by Iñaki Berenguer, currently the founder & CEO of CoverWallet. Prior to that, Iñaki founded and led Contactive and Pixable (both acquired), and worked at McKinsey, Microsoft and HP.
In Spain, consulting firms like McKinsey or Boston Consulting Group (BCG) have traditionally been a significant source of talent for Spanish multinationals looking for executives. As an example, the current president of BBVA, the current CEO of Abengoa and the former CEO of Telefónica all worked for these firms.
What is not so obvious it is that, in Spain, both McKinsey and BCG have also been a great source of successful entrepreneurs. If you look at the list of startups that have created most value in recent years (this is a good list from Carlos Blanco), you’ll notice that former employees of McKinsey or BCG are behind many of these projects, despite the fact that these two companies only employ about 100 people in the country.
Startups such as idealista, peerTransfer, eDreams Toprural, Olapic, Acierto or Tuenti, were all founded by former consultants. In the picture above, I show some outstanding examples of entrepreneurs I know who worked for BCG or McKinsey before launching their own startups.
What differentiates the education and training provided by these firms?
Why do they seem to have such a significant impact in the Spanish startup ecosystem? Several skills.
The importance that is given to problem solving and showing drive and personal initiative; high level of detail in the planning and implementation of new initiatives; continuous learning; the pursuit of excellence, as well as professional ethics and values; the importance of surrounding yourself with multidisciplinary talent in order to deal with professional challenges; teamwork and leadership; the importance given to creating a big impact and to think ‘client first’; the culture of effort; quantitative analysis and data to make decisions, etc.
All of these skills are relevant both for large companies and for startups that are starting from scratch. With this post I intend to dismantle the myth that I’ve heard in several entrepreneurial circles, which says that consulting training adds little value to a startup. When BCG or McKinsey say their career sites that their internal culture “is a strong supporter of entrepreneurship and professional development”, they are not lying.
But in addition to training and the skills that one can acquire at such companies, there is also an extremely important aspect for any professional career, which are personal references and the ecosystem of ‘peers’.
The fact that when you get to McKinsey or BCG you are told about former colleagues that have become entrepreneurs and that have gone through similar experiences, it encourages you to do the same at a later point in your career. In addition, many of these peers often end up becoming important advisors or your first investors.
In my case, knowing the story of eDreams or Vueling helped me leave my job and launch my first startup. At Pixable we received financial support from several colleagues, and now it’s my turn to invest and help other startups from former consultants (Zero2Infinity, peerTransfer, Geoblink, Audicus, Blink, Cabify or Acierto).
In the same way that in the US they say that Stanford or MIT are good gateways into entrepreneurship, the same could be said about McKinsey, BCG and other consulting firms in Spain.
Suddenly, they heard someone screaming and running around the office. “I was with the commercial director and asked: what’s going on? She was in shock and she told me: ‘I’ve just seen Pep grabbing Alex by his neck and pushing him into the wall’“. Pep’s office has glass walls: in one of many meetings, Pep did not agree with Alexandre, his advisor, and he grabbed him. The rest of the company saw it. “They’re always running one after the other,” several workers recall. “Alex would leave the office and Pep would be running right behind him”.
The scene is neither new nor anecdotal. “We’ve had many arguments with shouts and blows, as in most startups,” says Pep. “People at Facebook also threw computers at each other”.
Pep Gómez is 23 and runs a company of 91 employees. The company’s headquarters are in Madrid, but Fever also has offices in London and New York City. Most employees and teams (sales, product, operations and marketing) are located in the Spanish capital. The product is Fever, an app that allows users to find interesting plans in a limited number of cities and to buy tickets, from dining out to movies, concerts or theater plays.
Founded in June 2011, Fever has raised more than $10 million from VCs and business angels: its $8 million Series B ranks amongst the top-10 in the country in 2015, and renowned Venture Capital firms such as Accel Partners or Fidelity have backed the startup.
Pep leaves his laptop on the table and asks for an iced tea before starting to talk. Fever’s history is long and complex: in four years, the company has gone through two capitals (Barcelona and then Madrid), opened two international offices, employed over 160 people and reached three million app downloads. It has attracted the attention of international investors, local ones (professional football players Guti and Sergio Ramos, Alejandro Sanz and the co-founder of idealista, Bernardo Hernandez) and a diverse pool of talented employees from companies like Tuenti or Google, as well as the the co-founders of Series Yonkis and people coming out of Stanford or MIT.
Despite starting the company just 4 years ago, Pep is just 23. He’s been lucky, he says, because he made mistakes and he’s had the opportunity to amend them. “There’s a ton of very good people trying this and who have not had the same level of luck. You screw up once and you never get another chance. I had it“. Pep feels lucky: starting a business in Spain is not easy, particularly at such a young age, and he’s got the funding and team to do it. “When nobody believed in me I had to look for opportunities on my own. If you see Fever’s first and last pitch, they barely have anything in common”, he says.
“And yet, I still managed to get people to trust me.”
Castellon, September 2009: a successful event
“I met Pep in the summer of 2009,” says Bernardo Hernández in a Skype call from New York. “I got an email inviting me to give a talk at the University of Castellón and I accepted”.
Iniciador was one of the first events for entrepreneurs in Spain. It started in March 2007 in Madrid, continued in Barcelona in 2008 and in 2009 it had expanded to 20 more cities. On May 25 of that year, Iniciador’s first edition was being led by Rodolfo Carpintier. For the second, the organizers wanted Bernardo, then head of marketing at Google. As co-founder of idealista, 11870 and the first investor in Tuenti, Bernardo is one of the most respected internet figures in Spain.
“Everything was being managed by a guy called Pep Gomez” he explains. “I came to Valencia by AVE (Spain’s fast trains) and I was hoping to find a man of at least 35 years old. But what I found was a boy that was just 17. ‘¿Pep Gomez?‘ Yes, it’s me‘. I do not know if I said it or only thought about it, ‘Where’s your father?’. And he said ‘No, no, it’s just me!’. ‘Are you the one who has sent me all those emails?’ ‘Yes!’“.
Pep was born in 1992 in Castellon. He was a good student, although he admits he was the “typical kid who always bothered others” and by the time he reached high school, when he “found what he was studying interesting”, he changed. His parents own a hotel in a rural area of Spain and they always paid special attention to his education. He studied English and classical music until age 12 and he then devoted himself to jazz. Music is one of his great passions and the one that introduced him to the world of the internet: with his first Macbook, in 2007, he started a music podcast.
“I spent many hours working on it and the results were good. I learned that there were other podcasts out there because we’d mention each other on air”, he explains. “Since I had a blog, I went to the ‘Evento Blog’ (one of the first internet and blog-centric events in Spain). It was amazing and I kept in touch with the people that I met there“. In 2008 he launched a blog network and participated in the coordination of Campus Party, at the time the biggest LAN party in the country.
“I became interested by the figure of the entrepreneur: a guy who starts something, makes money and does what he likes. I’ve always seen my father as someone who does not believe that to be happy you need money. And that’s ok, but you can have a hard time if you don’t have money. I thought: I’m seeing people building projects, selling them and not having to worry about money anymore”, he recalls. “You sacrifice a few years of your life and then you have enough in the bank to not have to worry about searching for a job”.
Infected with the entrepreneurial spirit and with two other organizers, Pep started running Iniciador in Castellon. They found sponsors, the support of the City and the University Jaume I and Bernardo as their first guest. The September 25, 2009 edition was held in Castellon and more than 1,000 people attended. It was a success that many remember in the Mediterranean Spanish city.
“It was unbelievable,” Bernardo remembers. “The city major was there, Alberto Fabra (Pep’s cousin) who would then go on to become president of the Comunidad de Valencia was also an attendee. I thought ‘what this guy has done is incredible’. I stayed for the night, we had a few drinks and I told him: why don’t you come to San Francisco?“
In San Francisco Bernardo led StepOne Ventures, an organisation that gave scholarships to talented Spanish engineers and offered them jobs at startups in the city and in New York. The program is called Youth with a Future (Jóvenes con Futuro) and Bernardo needed someone to help him, so he asked Pep if he’d like to receive one of the scholarships. After finishing high school and the day right after he passed is university entry exams, Pep flew to the US.
San Francisco, June 2010: I don’t want to go to college
“I had a big house and I invited him to stay. He worked and learned a lot”, Bernardo says. “In the middle of the summer, he decided to stay and started considering applying to Stanford or Berkeley to study computer science. It was too late to enter, so he thought about waiting a year and reapplying then“.
Pep called his parents to tell them. Worried, they talked to Bernardo, who seemed as someone they could trust. In this conversation, he told them that staying in the US was a good choice for Pep.
“I told them that I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but that I knew going back to Spain was not in my plans. The chances of learning a lot in the US were unmatchable”, Pep adds. “I told Bernardo about my plans and he said I needed to go to college. He could give me a job for one year, but after that I should go back to school. I didn’t want to. Right then Peter Thiel launched 20 under 20, a program that gives $100,000 to 20 young kids so that they skip college. I thought: If Peter Thiel says that going to school is not necessary…”
“One day he said: I don’t want to study, I want to build a company”
StepOne connected Pep to many Silicon Valley workers and companies. He bought an iPhone, he moved into an apartment with an Uber employee and started paying increasing attention to the world of apps. “I saw that many people were building all kinds of monopolies on mobile, from different industries. It was a new business that few people knew about, but it was going to be huge”.
“He was very curious and started making lots of contacts,” says Bernardo. “And one day he said: I don’t want to study. I want to start a company”.
Hurricane Party was SXSW 2011’s most popular app. It was used to view, create and share events, to know where the best parties were around town. Hurricane Party burned $100,000 from investors and had to shut down: its founders, originally from Austin, explained their failures in public, built Forecast (a new app to share plans with friends) and again ran out of money and had to close shop.
But Pep and Bernardo liked the idea of seeing on your phone, on a map, where people were and where they would go. “I worked in Google Local and Maps and found it interesting,” says Bernardo. “Pep had some ideas and I suggested to take over Planetaki, a Tumblr-like product we were about to close, or to try to replicate Hurricane model. He chose the latter. At that meeting we selected the name of the company“.
“At first it was called Kzemos, but a designer suggested the name Fever”, says Pep. Pep moved from San Francisco to Barcelona, opened its first office and raised a small amount of capital from FFF. “I had savings and my colleagues had some money they’d made at Series Yonkis, but I owned most of the company because it was my idea and I had built it. We raised €100,000 (Bernardo was our first investor) and we worked with some freelancers for a few months”.
On August 24 Pep was named president of the company. In September, he announced on Twitter that he was traveling to Madrid to recruit engineers. His pitch was attractive: it had the backing of Bernardo, the participation of Series Yonkis’ founders (one of the most visited sites in Spain) and Fever, like Tuenti, could be a hit among young people. The first team was, according to sources close to the company, one of the best in the country: Oriol Blanc had built ING Direct’s app, Javier Soto, now at Twitter, minube’s (which was selected by Apple as the app of the year in Spain), Israel Ferrer, also a Twitter engineer nowadays, was a talented Android developer and Pablo Lopez, the company’s CTO, came from Tuenti.
With the money they had, an office and a good team, the next step was to build the app.
“There was never a concrete plan about when to launch the app”, an employee recalls. “We had December 15 as the date for the beta. The version we had could be used, but they changed their minds“. Fever had a hard time defining itself: first it served as a way to see how many people were in clubs and later it focused on sharing photos. They tried to replicate Banjo (an app to find people and activities around you) and even Badoo (dating).
“Pep did not have a clear product vision”, says another former employee. “He wanted a company that would push him into a select group of young successful entrepreneurs and did not care what kind of app would take him there. We knew it was an app to make plans, but it was unclear if it was to chat, invite people to drinks, or to upload photos or share your location. Launch dates were always pushed back in order to change the app“. As there was no product yet but the company needed to create excitement amongst potential users, in January the sent a press release about Series Yonkis: Jordi and David officially announced that they had sold their stake in the company and joined Fever.
The lack of vision discouraged the team and until May of the following year the app was not launched. Many employees had already left by then. “I had a good time there and I would have stayed, but I wasn’t sure what we were doing”, a former employee said. “The problem is not that the team was disjointed, but that they could not put up with Pep. It was difficult to work alongside him. He was 19, had never had a job or boss, and was unstable and aggressive”, says another employee.
“In March 2012 we started working seriously to launch the app”, says Pep. They also looked for more capital. After raising money from FFF, they received a €1 million seed investment from several investors.
Madrid, July 2012: back to the beginning
Although the first version of Fever was published on the App Store on May 26 2012, the company’s team would explode soon after: in July several employees (two of them do not include Fever on their LinkedIn profiles and thus don’t appear in the graph below) left, including Jordi and David.
“The amount of work that I put at stake, versus the amount of work expected of Jordi and David, was not the same. They didn’t have as much interest in the project and we parted ways. We launched the product, but the atmosphere at the company suffered and it was not the same”, Pep recalls. “We moved to Madrid. It was a bad summer and I went through a brutal depression. It was my dream and I was seeing that in the end…“
Fever at that time was an app to make plans, but also something similar to Happn or Wibbi -the app created by the son of Spain’s former prime minister José María Aznar- which allowed users to see people around you and start chatting to them. In this talk by Pep in 2012 at EBE there are screenshots of it. Due to the app being rushed and having several bugs, the company decided to withdraw the app from Apple’s App Store between July 2 and August 24.
Starting in August, the product got rebuilt. “The CTO left,” says Matias Surdi, a backend engineer that worked at Fever between August 2012 and January 2013 and who then went to Microsoft. “We kept what the previous team had created. The platform was built in Ruby and it was difficult to take over a project in a programming language in which we had no experience. My position was: either give us six months to learn or we’ll make it from the ground up“. Pep took the second option and Fever was rebuilt in python. Meanwhile, other workers were busy creating a local database of Madrid.
That team also ended up leaving. “Everyone went through the same process”, a former employee remembers. “The atmosphere at the company was very good, but people got tired of seeing that there was no vision and that things changed very quickly”.
Graph: Employee turnover in Fever
(The length of the bars indicate the length of employee’s tenure at Fever. Graph created using Graphext)
“There was so much bad legacy at the company that it didn’t work out”, Pep says. “When you start a company it’s difficult to do well from the beginning.” Did such a high employee turnover affect the image of the company? “I think so, but facts prove things. We changed, we fixed it and we created a team that works. In February 2013 we raised more capital and we had a product to launch. Our first version of Fever, huh? First new Fever“.
Madrid, summer 2013: we are a serious company
The spring served for three things: to introduce new members to the project, to raise another million euros and to publish a redesigned version of the app.
Alexandre Perez Casares has a degree in industrial engineering and won the National Prize of Industrial Engineering. He graduated, joined consulting firm McKinsey and won a scholarship to go to Harvard to do a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) combined with an MBA at Stanford. There he collaborated with Blink, a Spanish app similar to Hotel Tonight app that ended up being acquired by Groupon, and met Bernardo. Bernardo introduced him to Pep. Alexandre, who was in London working on a mutual fund, joined Fever as an advisor.
By then Fever had spent almost all the capital it had raised and needed more. With the help of Alexandre’s contacts in the finance world and Borja de la Rica -the nephew of Endesa’s president- as an investor, Fever received another million euros.
“Investors saw the product and said: we’ll give you more. 95% of our first investors gave us more money. It’s an interesting fact”, Pep says.
Although between April and July 2013 the app disappeared from the iPhone App Store, on March 25 of that year the company released its first Android app: the company had a product, capital and a team. Those in charge of mapping Madrid’s bars and clubs moved to the content team. Jaime de la Torre (today at Airbnb) also joined the company as chief operating officer, helping Pep, Alexandre and Borja de la Rica in the management of the company. “One of my jobs”, he says, “was to hire and structure the teams and departments”.
That summer Bernardo also participated in the day-to-day operations of the company: he’d left Google in May and he traveled to Madrid to help in the redesigning the product and the new office located near Madrid’s famous Puerta de Alcalá.
“Pep went from Barcelona to Madrid with all the burden and he deserves all merit. But he has no experience, he likes taking shortcuts and it’s not easy for him to have a long-term vision about things. He doesn’t know how to build teams or to motivate people that are older than him”, Bernardo notes.
“The product was bad, so in those three months I brought in a team of designers [Adrian Mato and Danny Saltarén], built the basis of the current app and established a senior management team. I pretty much went through the same stuff with Zaryn [Dentzel] in Tuenti: as chairman of the board, I have an important job as a mentor. Pep is very good and has my same entrepreneurial nature. But for these young people to grow up I can’t be present all the time. We considered the possibility of me being president and him CEO, but in the end it would end up being me who would manage the company and that would limit his development as an entrepreneur. These are roads that he has to discover alone“. On August 7, Bernardo announced that he was returning to San Francisco to lead the product team at Flickr under Marissa Mayer’s leadership.
Gradually, Fever grew. It already was an app for making plans with a marketplace model: a platform that connects supply (plans) with demand (people) and charges a fee per transaction (when a user purchases a plan). The company sought businesses that would include their local events in the app and people who wanted to buy them. Depending on the business, they charged a fee or not.
“We were looking for trendy bars and clubs and we offered them to put their events in the app. Most said yes”, Jaime remembers. To acquire users the company had the idea of putting together private events: they’d hold concerts in the office and invited influencers and users. “These were secret, difficult to access and had a big impact.”
“To attend you had to download the app. It was rudimentary but it worked. All user acquisition came from word of mouth. Bernardo insisted on this“, says Pep. “We had about 30,000 users and, since October, everything started growing”.
New York, October 2013: New Market
On October 24 2013 Fever opened in New York. Angel Caride (formerly of Google) and Clark Winter, a contact of Bernardo, started working in the company’s NYC office. Jaime coordinated everything from Madrid. Borja disassociated itself from day-to-day operations (he’s still an investor) and Alexandre continued to work hand in hand with Pep.
The app’s launch in the Big Apple was not a success: until then it had been manually acquiring users and this model couldn’t be replicated in NYC. Madrid continued growing at healthy rates.
“The company grew and needed someone to provide the right metrics to investors”, says Sergio Aguado, who joined in October 2013.The more plans and users, the more data to measure. Sergio organised the company’s metrics: acquisition, behaviour and recurrence. Also the cost per customer (CAC) and lifetime value (LTV).In most companies, there’s a healthy business when LTV is greater than CAC: that is, when a customer generates more income than what it costs to acquire him or her. Over time, these metrics were refined.
“I saw a job for the same position I had, which was surprising. There was a reason: they wanted a data magician“, Sergio explains. “The term they liked to use was ‘sophisticated data’. They needed a statistician that knew how to sell data, because VCs and investors required someone more experienced. At the time, that figure was easier to find in the US than in Spain”.
In March 2014 Fever published a version of the app built by the designers Bernardo recommended. “The task that we had given to the team was: we have enough cash to survive for 6 months. Nobody is going to give us any more. You have to make a better product to improve the data and figures we have“, Pep adds. “We launched it and we focused a lot on marketing it”.
Sergio left Fever that month. Like most employees, he was making €300 a month while on probation period [depending on the person, the salary and length of the probation could go from one month to one year] and the offer he received was not what he expected. “800 euros. I said it was insufficient and I was offered 1,000 until the company raised a Series A. They used the ‘until we raise a Series A’ all the time. I’d been hearing that since October and I got burnt. I did like my job and the team, though“.
To attract the attention of new investors, on May 7 2014 the company announced the three million it had already raised as if it was new capital and the launch of the app in New York. Several international media outlets (Business Insider, Techcrunch and Wall Street Journal) published it.Thereafter, Fever focused on filling up the app with plans and users to grow and reach a real Series A.
Spain, April 2014: stewardesses, growth
“We did everything”, says a former employee. “We gave away vouchers for daily menus at restaurants, we had hostesses at bars offering users to download the app. We needed to show investors that we knew how to get a low CAC“.
The summer of 2014 was the summer of the Fever hostesses in Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona. “We had an army of 150 in Madrid and 100 in Valencia,” he continues. For €12.5 per hour and €1 per download, they had to get people to download the app: in return they’d give out sunglasses or €5 discount vouchers.
Every hostess had a code to count her downloads (some would publish the code to get more) and get paid: although two consulted hostesses recognize that the hourly rate is higher than the industry standard, delays in payments and trouble collecting commission made them angry. Several employees rebelled and went to the office to complain, and were reassured that the money came from the US and that it would take a few days to arrive. With an additional cash contribution from investors, the company was able to pay them.
Hostesses were able to achieve many downloads. There were also ads on TV (fire paid and then through media for equity deals with Atresmedia) and ads in Madrid’s subway, where they managed to pay one euro per download.
But hostesses are expensive, ads don’t generate as many downloads (they only amplify the impact of other marketing actions) and the head of marketing left the company, forcing Fever to focus on online advertising.
The growth hacker job posting called the attention of Miriam Muros, who had previously worked at Tuenti and had launched her own startup.She decided to give it a shot. “They wanted to raise a Series A as fast as possible and needed 40% increases across all metrics”, she says. “They gave me complete freedom to achieve that”.
What were Fever’s techniques? In addition to coupons for users (if you invited a friend you’d each get €5), Miriam always talks about Tinder’s script, a clever hack. “We used to match all users and, when there was mutual interest, we’d send notifications suggesting “let’s do something together: why don’t you download Fever and choose a free plan?”.
Then they invested in Facebook ads. “Pep met Francisco Hein, who at the time worked at Happn, and he explained to us his techniques”. Happn is an app to flirt with people that you’ve crossed paths with, and in six months it grew so much that it raised €8 million from VCs. Part of the success was due to Francisco’s work, who is an expert in using Facebook’s advertising tools and network. He’d end up joining Fever in January.
“We saw a tremendous opportunity. The more money we were spending, the more users we had. If we were able to optimise this, we’d achieve a very low CAC”, Miriam recalls. “I focused on reengagement, which meant getting existing users to make free plans and to come back to the app”.
With emails, contests and striking notifications -one example: On December 28 (April Fools in Spain) they sent a “you’ve won a trip to New York!” message to users, who would then click on the notification to find out that it was a prank and all users got was a voucher- Miriam and Icíar Mestre, who was the head of operations, increased user retention significantly.
That was on users’ side, but the company also had to get bars, clubs and businesses on board. “The idea was to increase the supply side of things as much as possible, so that investors would see that there were many people willing to collaborate with us”, a former employee says. Depending on the nature of the partner or business, Fever charges a 10 to 25 per cent commission (although at the beginning it didn’t use to charge anything at all). There are restaurants, cultural activities and tickets to movies. Despite the fact that beauty and health-related plans have associated a higher commission than restaurants (and that’s why there are so many on Groupon-like sites), Pep insists that Fever is not Groupon (you don’t join because of the discount, but to discover new plans) and that’s why there are so few in the app.
“There was a rush to acquire new users”, says another former employee. “They just wanted me for that, like interns, and his answer in an email -‘focus on acquisition and forget all the nonsense’- was the last thing I needed”. Six months later, he left.
Sales jobs at Fever were based on results and that’s why many would end up departing. “A girl that worked in the sales department was not acquiring new partners and wasn’t commissioning either. We sat down with her and we told her: this is not working and you have two weeks to fix it. She left. Do you think in those cases the company is firing her or is she leaving because she wants to?”, Pep asks himself. “That person wasn’t worth it. You set objectives and goals and these were not being met”.
The other main reason many left Fever were the type of internships the company offered and low salaries. “You join as an intern and, if they think you’re valid, they let you stay with a very low salary”, says another former sales employee. “Then they set goals and you have to fight to get paid. A new manager joined and he needed to win the attention of the executives, so he set impossible goals and people were burned. In the end, everybody leaves this company”.
In the engineering team, which had very high turnover in 2012, there are no longer “such big problems”, says Ismael Esteban, ex-Tuenti and now Fever’s CTO. “We have very talented people in the team. I think the main problem was that the talent was excessive at an early stage. Managing engineers is complicated, but we are improving. They treat us very well: it’s not that they treat us better than the rest, but the budget per employee in the team is higher“. The fact that engineers’ salary is higher other positions is common in the industry. “It’s not a bad place to work. You have to work hard, but the Fever I saw when I joined was not the one that most people talked about”, says Alejandro Perezpayá, who started as an intern developer. Are there differences between engineering and marketing? “I think so. They realized that they have to take better care of us“.
The company’s marketing actions took effect: downloads increased (from 300 to 3,000 daily on iOS), the app maintained its position in the rankings and it continued to have high user retention.
London, March 2015
In March 2015 Fever closed its series A round, led by 14W along with other notable Venture Capital firms such as Accel Partners and Fidelity Growth Capital; the two firms have also invested in Wallapop, the Barcelona-based mobile marketplace app.
Accel’s Sonali of Rycker, who led the investment in both companies, declined to be interviewed.
What do investors look for in this type of deals? Virality and retention. The more people come back, the higher LTV is; as marketing optimisation improves, the lower CAC becomes and also the time it takes for a business to start rolling. As in most startups there’s very little historic data, so most metrics are based in estimates.
But we, journalists and users, don’t get to see companies financials and databases. However, investors do. Fever declined to share any metrics citing privacy and confidentiality reasons, like most startups. The company says that it’ll start monetising this year, that CAC and retention levels are good and that the time it’ll take them to be profitable in each city is shortening. As Pep says, “if a company raises a new round it’s because it’s doing well”.
Fever has raised more than €10 million in venture funding from Accel Partners, Fidelity and other top-tier VCs
The third key point is scalability: to repeat the strategy in other cities. With everything learned during the previous years, Fever launched in London in April 2015. Nacho Bachiller, who had finished his engineering degree at MIT and then worked at McKinsey, coordinated the launch. “I learned what went right and wrong in New York,” he says. He managed to sign bars and businesses from a specific London location, Shoreditch, and achieved 2,000 daily downloads; although those numbers decreased to 300 soon after. “The launch was efficient and we grew fast. Investors want to see that we can replicate the model outside of Spain“.
This will be one of the keys in Fever’s next round of funding. “We know that it works here and also abroad. London is a good example”.
Nacho is the current director of international expansion, Francisco is in charge of marketing, Pep is CEO and Alexandre still serves as an advisor. Yohannes leads the product department out of New York and Ismael is currently Fever’s CTO. Icíar is still head of operations, Jaime and Miriam left in in 2014 and 2015, respectively. She’s one of the members of the management team who was been at Fever the longest: one year.
“It’s one of the best teams that I have worked with, but I did not agree with certain things”, Miriam summarizes. “The year I was there we had three different people in operations and most of them left because of the management team. At times I’d ask myself: who’s left Fever this week?”.
As it’s always been the case for the company, most employees leave after a short period of time: those in the lower ranks for salary and type of work reasons, those in the middle due to management reasons and those at the top because they work close to Pep. The engineering team is a world’s apart when it comes to salary and how they’re treated.
“There are big differences between departments. You can’t write to Pep, you have to ask Esther for permission (his secretary). My relationship with them is non-existent”, says a person who has been an intern for a year. “I had a good time because it’s a job that I love, but at the same time…”, says one former employee. “They see a lot of employees as rat labs that can be replaced at any time. And they say so openly: watch it, because I might hire someone for half of what you cost me”.
“Some people say: I’m not here because of him, but because of the team”, adds another employee. Two often-repeated comments are that “Fever deserves a better CEO” or that “managing him is in itself a full time job”. If many stay at Fever it’s because they trust the company’s product and enjoy being around their colleagues.
At the top is Pep. He’s young and has made quite a bit of money, but those who know him say that he still has a lot to learn. And four years later he just doesn’t.
Most former employees interviewed left unhappy, mostly because of his management style. His sexist comments (asking employees to dress “like sluts” to be on photos, telling them that their peers “want to fuck them” or insisting on “getting boobs, more tits” in promotional material) and the humiliation of his workers (calling his interns “monkeys” or attacking middle management) have been mentioned as many times in the preparation of this article as the scenes of demoralised workers following meetings or talks with him. Many people remember Raquel’s farewell, a photographer who left the office crying while Pep, in front of everyone, screamed: “Do you think that these people are not happy? Do you really think these people are unhappy?“
Chueca, September 2015
Pep stopped making media appearances when he noticed that he’d became someone who he was not: the young entrepreneur who says he has build a company and tells people how to do it, but in reality he hasn’t yet. The Spanish press at one point called him ‘the Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs of Castellón’. “I tried to get away from that. It’s nice because people pay attention to you, but it’s harmful for the company”.
Pep was interviewed twice for this article: on June 8, along with Alexandre in the company’s office at the Puerta de Alcala, and on September 1, alone, in the neighbourhood of Chueca. His future is to grow with Fever, build a business and go public: create the monopoly he first saw when he was in San Francisco when he was 19. “We want to change the way people decide make offline plans”, he says.
About his employees, he says that only six people have left the company on bad terms. And what if investors see their inexperience as CEO and replace him with an adult? “They will not. The company works very well and investors are happy with the team’s structure“.
You’d do that if you don’t believe in the person who’s managing the company. I don’t think that would happen in a company backed by Accel Partners, because they invest in entrepreneurs. It could happen, but given our current results, I find it hard to believe.
In what sense you’re the best?
I love being around people. Marketing, for example. I lead product and now we’re launching some cool features. Finance is complex. I love talking to people, being with them, listening to their problems, helping them and finding the right talent. Getting enough talent and money to be able to achieve our objectives.
What has been your biggest mistake?
The first few years of the company. Knowing what I know now I would have done many things differently. I would not have made those mistakes. But right now nobody wants to leave the company. Nobody. Nobody. You can call anyone. Nobody wants to leave. Nobody. And that’s because there’s potential, we’re building something big.
This article is based on more than 29 interviews that were done over the past three months, including employees, former employees, investors and advisors.
Google bought Panoramio.com in May of 2007, but no one knows, because we never made it public until today, that a year before we finally joined Google they tried to buy us and we declined the offer. On that day we said no to Google and we prayed that our decision would not come back to haunt us.
October 2006. We had been exchanging lots of phone calls and emails with Google, discussing the terms of our potential acquihire. When they first approached us, I thought to myself that we should reject the offer and continue doing what we were doing at Panoramio. I had no desire to have a boss and I wasn’t sure how my non-technical profile could fit in with Google.
Back then we didn’t even realize that we were in the middle of an acquihire, a type of startup acquisition where what is of interest to the company is not the product, but the team. Google’s initial proposition was mostly a job offer that implied the closing of Panoramio and a compensation/bonus that we would have to negotiate with them.
I wasn’t in favour of accepting the offer, but it was worth discussing the size of the bonus with Google. Before moving forward, they wanted to get to know us (and the product) better. If it were an acquisition there would have been a due diligence process, but since this was mostly an acquihire, they were just interested in interviewing the team. Joaquín Cuenca, my co-founder, flew to Mountain View and did 5 interviews in a single day. He passed Google’s filter. I’ve known him since our high school days and I knew he would.
We had launched Panoramio exactly a year ago and the project was growing nicely. The site had 50,000 user-generated photos; a small but interesting number. Thanks to many volunteers the site had been translated into several languages (German, Italian, French, Catalan, Swedish and Hungarian) and Jose Florido, who had just joined the team, had created a beautiful homepage. Everything was going smoothly and our community of users loved the site. Cuenca’s crazy idea from a few months back that consisted in geopositioning photos on a map had people hooked.
We were thrilled with our project, but Google’s offer meant that we would have to shut it down. On one side it was kind of depressing but… how could we say no to Google? It was the golden age of the search engine, when we all really believed in their ‘don’t be evil’ mantra. Many would have loved to work at Google.
In reality, by the time they showed interest in Panoramio we had been collaborating with Google for a few months. Google Earth’s founder, John Hanke, had invited us to the Where 2.0 conference in Silicon Valley and to Google’s offices to meet the team. Google had put a link to Panoramio bringing us a lot of traffic and they had even offered their servers. They were extremely polite to us. It was a very good relationship and we didn’t want to spoil it.
However, after starting to talk about the size of the acquisition it became quite clear that it was just an acquihire. We didn’t like it. The first thing we tried to do was to position the deal as a pure acquisition, but this wasn’t easy. We were 29, from a small village in Alicante, Spain, and with very little negotiating and English skills, talking on the phone to a demanding and tough person like Anil Hansjee. Although we barely understood most financial aspects we were discussing over the phone, we were able to make progress and increase the value of the offer.
In the meantime, the process had forced us to thoroughly review the evolution of Panoramio’s metrics. Photo uploads were doubling every three to four months. In August 2006 users uploaded 35,000 images; in October 55,000. With Adsense we were not making enough money to pay a full salary -around €700/month-, but with our growth rates we thought that in a year we could reach the €1,000 level for each of us. The site was growing and in a short amount of time we were going to be able to work full time on it. However, it wasn’t this that made us think twice about Google’s offer and reject it.
What opened our eyes was the fact that we realized Panoramio’s real value wasn’t in its metrics, product or community. Panoramio’s value was in our heads and in what we had learned in the year since we had started developing it. With that knowledge we were sure we could turn it into a big project. However, the reality was that Google would have never value Panoramio from our subjective point of view, so we decided to back off from the deal. We told them: “We have decided to keep working on Panoramio”. And they nicely replied: “Wow, a real entrepreneur – hats off to you”.
They didn’t take our reaction the wrong way. Few weeks later, in December 2006, they fully integrated Panoramio into Google Earth, which caused all of our metrics to grow by 30X in just one day. Panoramio was Google Earth’s most popular layer for quite some time.
That integration was the main cause behind a real acquisition process that started in March 2007 and ended two months later. 19 months since the launch of the project until its acquisition by Google. The most thrilling time of our lives.