Interview: Ric Ferraro, Global Business Development Manager, Catchoom
Ric Ferraro is Business Development Director at Golden Gekko.* Headquartered in Barcelona, @GoldenGekko has grown since its founding in 2005 to become a leading global provider of mobile solutions, delivering more than 1,500+ mobile sites and apps over the past seven years.
He sat down recently with BCN Tech Talk to discuss Barcelona’s evolution and future as a European hub for tech and innovation.
* UPDATE: Since this post was originally published, Ric has joined Barcelona-based startup Catchoom, a provider of flexible, cloud-based visual recognition technology for developers, ISVs and integrators, as Global Business Development Manager. Congratulations, Ric!
Barcelona has changed dramatically in recent years. What do you see as the key elements in that transformation?
There’s been a lot of improvement in Barcelona to facilitate the startup environment, a lot of support from public institutions and there’s now a fairly decent network of incubators on university campuses.
It’s also a good place to attract talent for a startup. When I interview people from outside, they already want to live and work in Barcelona. They’re attracted to the lifestyle here. It’s a more desirable location than other European cities. On that basis, I’d say if you were to choose where to set up a startup, Barcelona is the place.
Barcelona is now a major tech events hub. What kind of impact has that had on the tech scene here?
When I talk to people from elsewhere, they associate Barcelona most with Mobile World Congress. They know it’s based in Barcelona and is having a positive impact especially for the startup culture. More entrepreneurs are looking at Barcelona and increasingly startups are setting up here, especially mobile startups.
As head of Biz Dev for a global content publisher, you deal with developers of apps and content a lot … is there a strong and sizeable native developer talent pool here?
There’s a local talent shortage, but you’ll find good talent here if you look hard. One of the challenges is to get developers who speak good English. There’d be a big improvement if the school curriculum made English compulsory. At the university level, there are some good business schools and engineering programs, but there’s a long way to go to getting the overall educational infrastructure in place.
Barcelona is competing with other European cities as a tech and innovation hub … how does it stack up?
In terms of location, Barcelona is a great hub for European transport. We have the port and airport connections are great, but internationally we need to get better air connections to the U.S., that’s more challenging.
London, for example, has great energy and scale which Barcelona still doesn’t have. One of the things that could help change that would be more VC investors. Once we get local VC funds focused on mobile pure plays we’ll begin to see a rapid transformation.
Among VCs here, there’s still a perception that mobile is very risky. VC funds will invest in PC-based startups relatively easily — they’re more familiar, more comfortable with desktop-based technologies. But in London, as recently as 2008 they were also still wary of investing in mobile pure plays. That changed in London and it will change in Spain.
What’s lacking? What’s missing in the value chain or the tech culture here?
There are a lot of challenges. One is the bureaucracy, it’s very out-dated and there are still obstacles to creating an LLC, the process still tends to be very long. That’s why there’s this whole system of “gestores” in place, to deal with the bureaucracy.
The entire attitude to risk needs to change, as well. It’s a risk-averse culture and if you fail at something you can be branded as a failure. Entrepreneurs thrive on risk-taking and intelligent gambles and they need to know that when they fail they won’t be singled out as ‘black sheep’ for the rest of their lives.
In terms of talent, there’s a relatively low level of mobility of people, gaining experience by moving from one job to another or one city to another. People tend to stay put here. One way to change that might be for people to get experience in large companies outside of Spain and bring that knowledge and experience back here. But, getting them to return once they have that experience is another story …
How do you see Barcelona’s tech scene going forward, what kinds of changes do you see as necessary?
To help stimulate innovation and growth here, there’s a lot that could be done in terms of e-Government initiatives, digitalization of government services, an area in which local government seems to be hanging back. I’d like to see government take a leap straight to mobile — most people have smartphones and there’s a relatively high smartphone penetration here. So, it would make sense to focus on that area.
There’s also room for startups linked to industry verticals and e-government initiatives and incubator programs could help to stimulate that. There are extensive medical centers and infrastructure and large conferences associated with health care and medicine take place here. There’s a lot of health knowledge and there really is room for a health care incubator.
Another sector could be textiles and clothing, even room for a tourism and travel-related incubator – mobile is perfect for travel and tourism, the hospitality sector. Getting these industry sectors to understand how they can mobilize their services through mobile apps is the challenge. An e-government push to mobilize e-government services could lead the way and show how that can be done.