Interview: Christophe Primault, Co-Founder, CloudWork and GetApp
Christophe Primault is co-founder of Barcelona-based GetApp, the largest independent marketplace for cloud-based enterprise apps worldwide, and of CloudWork, a pioneer in the integration of cloud-based enterprise apps that help small businesses increase their productivity and efficiency.
Prior to co-founding GetApp and CloudWork, Christophe was CEO of Barcelona-based Kinamik, a global provider of data centric security solutions, from 2006-2009. Previously, he was CEO of Fluiditi Ltd in London for two years, after having served as VP of Global Marketing with NCR Corp.
Christophe sat down recently with BCN Tech Talk in the GetApp/CloudWork offices in central Barcelona to give his impressions of the city’s development as a tech and innovation hub and where Barcelona’s tech scene may be headed in the future.
How has Barcelona changed, in terms of its growth as a technology and innovation hub, since you first arrived here?
I moved to Barcelona in 2003. I was actually working in the UK with another company, commuting to Barcelona every weekend. Then in 2006, I joined Kinamik, a company backed by Nauta Capital, and in 2009 left to start GetApp, which is also funded by Nauta.
I actually don’t think things have dramatically changed since 2003. There is a lot of activity, there are just more startups and early stage companies. The tech scene in Barcelona is mainly consumer web oriented, what is changing is the number of mobile startups in the last couple of years.
What’s missing in the technology value chain here?
One thing that is missing is serious investment – I don’t think there are many serious VCs in Spain. That said, you hear some entrepreneurs blaming that as the reason local startups are not developing, saying it’s a lack of capital. I actually think that’s completely wrong. If you’re with the right startup with the right team, you’re going to find capital, wherever you are based.
There are currently a lot more early-stage startups here, but not many that are really making it. There was more early-stage investment prior to Spain’s economic crisis, but for many of these companies that is drying up. As a result, it’s becoming extremely difficult to get early-stage funding for a company started up in BCN.
Another thing that’s missing here is a change in mindset. Processes and mindset have not changed, they’ve remained much the same as before. There’s a huge difference with Silicon Valley, for example, where there’s more transparency and openness. As a result, the tech scene here has grown horizontally, but there’s no integrated project: How can we build synergies? How can people come together to do something important here to put on a common voice to present to the world?
The change here needs to come from entrepreneurs themselves, from the bottom up, from the distinct actors in the value chain. But, I don’t see a sign of that happening in a big way. If I’m being optimistic about Barcelona and Catalunya, I’d say that yes, there is a history of entrepreneurship here, so we can expect a stronger tech entrepreneurship movement in the future, but I don’t really see it happening right now. What is interesting is the “foreign legion” of BCN-based entrepreneurs seem to be more active. We’re seeing this with the numerous meetup initiatives or recently the interest from TechCrunch and TheNextWeb in the Barcelona tech scene.
Where do you see the technology startup scene trending in Barcelona?
The two trends in the startup scene here are still much the same: First, there’s web, web and web! Mostly copycats, actually very good at copying Anglo-Saxon initiatives and having success in their markets, but not really innovative companies. And then, there’s a pretty good mobile scene, from what I understand, though that’s not the area I work in.
It’s ironic, because there are some very interesting companies that have been founded here, for example Scytl, which is the world leader in election management software. But, you rarely hear them discussed locally. And, while most of the global tech news these days is all about big data, cloud-based solutions and SaaS, here there’s very little discussion of cloud-based services and solutions here.
The news headlines in Spain and abroad focus on the “doom and gloom” of Spain’s economic news … What’s the economic reality for startups, early stage and growth tech companies here? Is it all that bad?
Those companies that strictly operate in the national market in Spain do have problems. But, for companies like ours, which has no clients in Spain, or for companies that have few clients locally, the economic crisis doesn’t affect us much at all. On the contrary, it actually gives us access to talent in the international market because Barcelona is a very attractive place to live and work. In some ways, the crisis has lowered the cost of our labor and of maintaining an office.
It can also be a positive in terms of attracting other startups to Barcelona, because talent is attracted to the city and the lifestyle. That said, it’s not easy to hire someone who is not European here in Barcelona — it’s even more difficult now because of the unemployment situation in Spain. There are foreign students at business schools like ESADE who want to stay on here and work. That does represent a good talent pool and an opportunity for companies looking to get people at a far more reasonable cost than you can in London or Silicon Valley, unfortunately the local authorities do not make it easy for us to hire this talent.
Barcelona is a major events tech events hub, Mobile World Congress most notable among the events that occur here. Is that a positive for the local tech scene?
I don’t think Mobile World Congress distorts or contributes to the local tech scene, either way. And, I wouldn’t put it that way … I don’t think Barcelona is really a tech event hub, it’s more a business events hub. For the city to be a real tech events hub, there would need to be more input from the local tech scene in the industry events that take place here.
The technology events hosted here are more private, contained tech events that don’t really mingle with the local tech scene. Mobile World Congress may prove to be the exception, but I am not sure to which extent it has a negative or positive impact locally. On the other hand, it does bring positive recognition to Barcelona and puts us on the radar of the global mobile industry. But, does it really translate into positives that impact the local tech scene year-round?
What’s the local “talent” like in terms of hiring for a startup technology company? Is there a sizable and qualified native talent pool here?
The engineers coming out of local universities have pretty good education and good training. That said, they’re not entrepreneur-style engineers, but tend to be academic-style engineers. Their skills are very good, but finding people with good skills who are also willing to push to the limit, who want to take risks and are hard working … that’s not so easy to find.
Part of the problem is that their English is lacking, which means there aren’t many who have left Barcelona to go abroad and work, gotten experience and brought it back to Barcelona.
You need someone in your team who has an understanding of what’s coming next, who’s always trying things, testing things. There are plenty of opportunities for engineers to advance like that in startups. You don’t want everyone in your organization like that, but you need to have someone in your team to help move the team forward and this “hacker” style is difficult to find here. The same could be said for marketing profiles.
Why Barcelona for GetApp & CloudWork? What’s the advantage of having your cloud-based services platforms based here?
Barcelona was a very good choice personally and from a business perspective, as well, but if you want to start and run a business from Barcelona you do have to be aware of the pitfalls I’ve mentioned.
There is also a perception among international investors that if you’re in Barcelona, you’re just here because of the lifestyle – nice place to go to the beach, but not much work gets done! I’ve not only heard this from other companies, but I’ve actually heard it myself!
It’s important to change that perception. What will make it change? Take a few stellar companies that have been built here, showcase them, share their stories to the world … that could be a very positive thing for Barcelona.
Barcelona is competing with London, Berlin and other tech and innovation hubs for the title of ‘Silicon Valley of Europe’ … what are its chances of eclipsing those other cities?
Competing with other cities for the title of ‘Silicon Valley of Europe’ … that’s far in the future. You don’t see nearly the level of creativity here that you see in Berlin, for example. Yet, there has probably been more investment poured into technology here in the past decade than in Berlin, so why the difference? Why is Berlin today the third-largest tech hub in Europe after London and Paris?
Barcelona is a great place to build a business and you can be successful here. I’ve seen a lot of initiatives and a good dose of goodwill. But I don’t see the real willingness to come together and act as one community as you’ve seen in Berlin. That’s been holding us back. So I would say that the potential is there but it is not being exploited yet.