How the Barcelona Startup Scene Has Changed in the 5 Years Since I Started My Business
The local startup community is still small, but growing.
My first conversation with my now co-founder Robert Muñoz was about toilets.
At the time, I was working on my first venture -- a design studio called Fat-Man-Collective -- and Muñoz was running his own web design studio. We met while working on a project we did together for Spanish toilet company Roca. And that project ultimately sparked the idea for where we are today.
We were tasked with creating a lead-gen form for Roca's flagship store -- one that would capture people's attention and collect email addresses.
But, forms in their basic format are lifeless and tedious to complete. So while we didn't know it at the time, we made a decision that would change our lives forever: We decided to build our own form from scratch. That's how Typeform was born.
From burnt out to new beginning
If this fateful meeting sounds like a bit of a fluke, that's because it was. While Barcelona is growing in terms of meetups and entrepreneur groups, at the time we had no connection to the startup community in the city. We were just two guys running small service agencies.
In fact, not so long before that I was working as a designer in Bogota, Colombia. I'd started doing design work to pay the bills after calling it quits on my music career. But, as with many deadline-driven creative jobs, I got burnt out. I needed a change of scene. Barcelona seemed exotic, so I thought, why not go there? If I'm being honest, it was because I'd seen a cooking program that took place in Barcelona. So obviously, the natural next step was to up sticks and move there.
But, while I had no idea at the time, it turns out that Barcelona is also a great place to start a SaaS company.
The business benefits of Barcelona
On a practical level, starting up in Barcelona has been fairly cost efficient. Office space is relatively cheap, especially compared to other startup hubs like London, Boston and Silicon Valley. This allows us to scale at a faster pace.
And while Muñoz and I didn't establish ourselves in the startup community overnight, the general excitement around entrepreneurship means there's a strong ecosystem. Thirty-four percent of all Spain's startups are located in Barcelona.
That's not to say the local startup scene isn't still relatively small. If you work at one of these companies, you'll likely be rubbing elbows with people that you've worked with before somewhere else. This gives the place a special energy: Everyone is always talking to each other, connecting for coffee breaks and organizing meetups. It's a very collaborative environment, as opposed to a competitive community. Of course we all want to be successful, but there's a unique sense that we're all trying to raise the profile of the Barcelona startup community as a whole -- which benefits us all.
Not only that, but Barcelona offers a great quality of life in one of the most desirable locations in Europe -- which has been a big factor in attracting varied talent. To be honest, a city along a beach sells itself.
But, it's not all sunshine, all the time -- there have been challenges too.
Scaling outside of Silicon Valley
While we've now reached a comfortable spot in terms of our size, we did struggle to raise capital locally here early on. The kind of products investors in Spain were used to seeing were pretty narrow, often related to classified advertising. At the time, they didn't see the opportunity in what we were offering: a more conversational approach to data collection.
Investors focused heavily on the fact that we didn't have startup experience. But, I can happily say that we've proved many of those early doubters wrong. The fact that we ended up having to raise money from outside Spain -- $500,000 in our first round -- says something about the local VC ecosystem at the time.
Don't get me wrong, the startup ecosystem in Barcelona has been flourishing lately. Since our raise five years ago, I've seen a more diverse range of startups appearing on the scene, backed by local VCs. But, it's not going to be the next Silicon Valley -- yet.
And that's OK. Because the overall makeup of the startup scene here, as well as the ability to tap into and outsource top talent, has put the city at a great advantage among other European cities.
At the end of the day, where you choose to start and scale your company doesn't matter nearly as much as the problem you've targeted and the team you've assembled. That said, we're excited to see what's next for Barcelona, and I'm lucky to be in a position to help usher in that next wave.