Interview: Jochen Doppelhammer, Founder & CEO, yuilop
Jochen Doppelhammer is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of yuilop, a Barcelona-based free communication service provider, delivering integrated free calling to any phone number and text messaging (SMS) and real-time multimedia chat via a mobile app that is compatible with all major mobile platforms and devices.
Currently available in more than 40 countries and for more than110 destinations, yuilop won the award for “Best Mobile App” in the The Next Web Spanish Startup Awards 2013 competition, held in Barcelona in early-February.
In the runup to Mobile World Congress 2013, Jochen agreed to field a few questions from Barcelona Tech Talk about the tech and mobile scene in Barcelona, as well as the significance of Mobile World Congress for the local tech community and what it’s like for a mobile pure-play startup with global reach and ambitions to be based in Barcelona.
Prior to 2006, your background was fairly traditional corporate business and telecoms – Accenture, T-Mobile International, etc — why the move to Barcelona and why the shift into startups?
Beyond my “corporate” CV, I’ve always been involved from early on in a variety of entrepreneurial activities, small things, less commercial in the very early computer days — C64 and the first PCs, for example, mainly related to my father’s business. At the end of 1999, I left Accenture and started my first company with some colleagues, but we got blown away when the dot-com bubble burst.
After T-Mobile International, I had the opportunity to leave with a small package and by then I was really tired of the corporate politics and inability to do anything within corporations. I came to Barcelona more for private reasons, a kind of compromise between personal life and career, and I did a few more entrepreneurial projects here until the right opportunity came along.
How has Barcelona changed, for better or worse, as a hub for technology and innovation since you arrived here?
Barcelona had a great vibe in the early 2000s, from 2001 through 2003. It was still benefiting from the post-Olympics boom, the city was thriving and there were lots of new opportunities and development, with people arriving in the city.
Barcelona Activa [the municipal enterprise development agency and startup incubator] has been around since very early days, promoting Barcelona mainly to corporate companies and attracting them to Barcelona. For small companies, it has always been quite difficult, but things have improved a bit since then and local institutions do try to help, even though starting up a company remains complicated within the larger scheme of things.
During the last few years, there have been some big startup success stories and now BCN has its successful “grown-ups” [successful startups], some of which have even already had there exits, which creates a climate for potential new spin-offs in the near future.
So, is there a real transformation going on in the startup scene here? And, if so, what’s fueling it?
There are many different actors, some more local and Catalan and many others international, who are trying to push Barcelona forward and get it onto the map as an international technology hub. The city council is also establishing a new initiative around an e-Commerce Cluster that they aim to create and build the Barcelona tech scene around.
In addition, there are some professional VCs around — including Nauta Capital, Active Venture Partners and others — that can help startups get to the next level. Plus, there are Business Angels and even some of the Spanish banks that have their VC arm, as well as startup incubators like Creative HotHouse, which is also organizing the TecTec event this week, that can help people get started. So in that sense, yes, Barcelona’s tech startup scene is becoming more professional and mature.
It appears the technology startup scene in Barcelona is now trending toward mobile… why do you think that is happening and do you think it’s sustainable?
Many companies and startups are launching mobile apps, but it’s still very early days. In terms of mobile pure plays, Yuilop is definitely one of the leaders in mobile. There are quite a few smaller mobile startups all around Barcelona and Spain, so there is clearly something going on.
What’s the missing link or links in the technology value chain here?
Some of the Universities are getting involved in incubation and fostering more entrepreneurial activities, not just business schools, but also some of the tech faculties. But, if there is a missing link, it’s probably bringing all the many different activities within the city together and making the connections within the eco-system stronger.
I think communication is a key factor and within communication it’s also language. As long as some events and initiatives are still purely in the Catalan language, it excludes a lot of the international crowd. Even if people do adapt and learn the language, it’s still at another level to be able to really participate in such events. As Berlin shows, the language in international technology and the Internet is English.
In addition, the link between corporations and the startup scene is still very weak. Telefónica I&D [research & development] is present in Barcelona and that will help a lot for the mobile space, as will Telefónica’s Wayra incubator. But startups need more big players around from different sectors and especially from technology and the Internet.
Despite Spain’s gloomy economic news, the tech and startup scene here is starting to get some attention from abroad … What’s causing the growth, even in the midst of an economic crisis?
The Internet enables people to choose the place where they want to work and live and there are many people who choose Barcelona. There is a lot of international influx of talent and entrepreneurs, who have just decided they want to live here. I have many international friends that decided to live in BCN and to run there business from here, even if their markets are global, in Asia, the Middle East, elsewhere in Europe or in Latin America. Sometimes it might feel a bit harder to compete and it requires some more effort, but the quality of live balances that out. Also young people more and more realize the opportunities that the technology & internet sector offers them … and young people like Barcelona.
Barcelona has really geared up for the annual Mobile World Congress … is MWC a big benefit to local tech companies? Or, a distraction that’ll leave the tech scene with a big vacuum (and hangover) once it’s over?
To have the Mobile World Congress in the city is a big opportunity. Perhaps not so much for many startups in terms of participating in the MWC itself, but there is an opportunity to meet a lot of people from within the mobile eco-system during a few days in one city. There are many networking events outside the actual MWC exhibition and conference site. Everybody in mobile will be in the city during MWC week and the main opportunity is in meeting with people.
What’s the local business and engineering “talent” like in terms of hiring for a startup technology company? Is there a sizable and qualified native talent pool here?
It’s already very competitive for highly qualified tech talent like in most places. We’re having more and more difficulty finding the right top talent in Barcelona. We’re actually hiring mostly from abroad — which is not always easy due to very difficult and lengthy work visa processes — or in other Spanish cities. We’re also looking for people who have very good English skills, which is a key criteria for us. And, more than a university degree, we’re looking for “hacker spirit.” For example, one of our best hackers actually studies social communications and marketing and he’s a hell of a hacker, the real thing.
Why Barcelona for Yuilop? Why Barcelona for any startup that is looking to expand into global markets?
Barcelona is still a very attractive place to find international, diverse talent. It’s also attractive to draw people from London or Berlin to move to Barcelona for the quality of life. For us, it’s very important to assemble multinational teams. We’re not focused on one market, so if you have an international focus Barcelona is a great place to startup.
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?
Barcelona needs to play its advantages and assets well, One of those advantages is the attraction of the city for talented individuals. In a world were physical location becomes less and less important to do business, the quality-of-life aspect is very important for people in making their decisions about where they want to work. The new generation has more of a free spirit and is not just following big corporations, but actually prefers different lifestyles, and, Barcelona has that to offer.