Poblenou — How an urban renewal project fosters innovation

The triangle between ocean front, the Ciutadela park and Diagonal street — the district of Poble Nou — is now synonymous of innovation, famous for its startups and incubators and specked with universities. How did the once industrial project transform into a technological model and what impact does this have on the social relationships? We move in this area every day, shape it through using its services, setting up our own companies and bringing international talent yet few are the times that we wonder about its history. Let’s take a look at Poblenou’s [email protected] and the transformation it has gone through.


If you are currently in Barcelona you can learn more about this topic in a visual way by visiting the photographic archives of the city until mid May (Archivo Fotográfico de Barcelona) to discover Darius Koehli’s view on the neighborhood and its transformation.

History of Poblenou

In the time of the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century Poblenou was a place of industry with many factories dedicated to textile production and later with the settling of food and metallurgical industries. Between 1861 and the early 20th century the textile production continuously expanded and branched out to further specialize. Until 1939 the industries in Poblenou consolidated including the first car factories, which further grew in the coming two decades.

In the 1960s the industrial growth came to a halt and factories were relocated or dismantled. The abandonment of the Poblenou area and the general need to transform the city of Barcelona to stay relevant, led the government to introduce the first of many following restructuring plans.

With a move from an industrial to a more tertiary sector, Poblenou became more and more abandoned until the year 1992, which brought the Olympic Games. The 1992 Olympic Games initiated a process of metamorphosis in the city that turned it into a clear paradigm of urban change and international exposure where political will plays a determining role (Pareja-Eastaway, 2009). The Games also gained Barcelona a place on the map. With international recognition the city now called for further improvement of infrastructure and new developments: The Ronda de Dalt and the Ronda Litoral were built, the train lines were lead underground and the street grid started / envisioned by Cerdà (already in 1859!) was consolidated. Poble Nou was as such now placed in a new center, connected to the rest of Barcelona and embedded in the infrastructure.

In the following years a new model of cities within a city (poly-centric city) emerged. Today the Vila Olimpica, the area around Diagonal Mar and the Forum building tell the story of the construction for this sport event. Recently artists, young professionals and students — an especially young population rejuvenating the neighborhood — started moving into the old industrial plants and slowly converting the wide open spaces into lofts, shops and galleries. Nowadays you will also find architecture, art and design schools or studios in these spaces.

Urban planning for transformation

The transformation of the area began as a government initiative aimed to transform the historic but rundown industrial Poble Nou neighborhood into a technology and knowledge-driven economic powerhouse. In 2000 the new urban plan, soon known as [email protected] altered from the industrial zoning denominator 22a, came into effect. A mixed model of urban planning, both focussed on social cohesion and economic development divided the area up into five different centers: Information and Computer Technology (ICT), Bio-Medical, Design, Energy, and Media. These five clusters were defined with the aim of concentrating economic activity with growth potential. Through this the aim is to “facilitate collaboration, capture talent and develop a sustainable business ecosystem”.

The plan included:

  • 4000 units of subsidized housing
  • Creation of green areas
  • Facilities for the productive fabric like the Media Tic building or the business incubator Almogàvers Business Factory
  • Facilities for public life like schools or community centers
  • Redevelopment of streets

The City Council put it all in motion by moving public companies and university to the district so as to support the clustering. Nowadays you can find the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Universitat de Barcelona, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and BAU of the Universitat de Vic all in close proximity. Through their joint work with the district office they offer collaborations with local companies like internship boards and a database of companies accessible for graduate students. Furthermore in the research cluster, the company Telefonica has set up their Research & Development facilities in the area and the big biomedical research park cannot be overlooked. The city of Barcelona also gave support to the social structure by promoting diverse collectives as it is the case for Hangar, La Escosesa and La Central del Circ — who are all privately managed organizations dedicated to the arts residing in municipally-owned buildings. Similarly Poblenou Urban District is a nonprofit association that aims to establish the neighborhood as entrepreneurial epicenter in Barcelona organizing activities and events like the Walk the Barrio open night.

in 2008 an additional support to businesses wanting to install themselves in the district was launched by the city: [email protected] PLUS. Similarly Barcelona Activa, the city’s local development agency — with its Do it in Barcelona program — also played a strong role in supporting and promoting entrepreneurship and business incubators. Even though the planning of redevelopment and transformation has been severely delayed by the 2008 financial crisis the changes are visible to the eye and notable for all businesses in the district. Since the introduction of the renovation plans, on average 545 new businesses have been set up in the area.

Technological hub today

We at itnig aren’t the only ones to love the area of Poblenou and to have set up shop here. Like us about 400 other startups have decided to move their offices here. Barcelona attracts young people for its climate, for comparably lower costs of living and for its location in close proximity to the sea, the mountain as well as other European cities. Actually, the foreign population from the EU-28 is over-represented in this area, as compared to the whole of Barcelona.

In the Poblenou area you will find big companies like Edreams, Skyscanner, VICE Media but also those that have grown up to be big like Typeform, with their now close to 200 employees in their beautifully designed Bac de Roda offices. Close to the long-standing Encants markets, the new Design hub with a dedicated museum, the art promotion agency FAD and library and other public facilities has been erected.

For our startups as well, our strategic position in [email protected] has been an important part of attracting international talent. Barcelona itself attracts a lot of foreigners and is a good argument to move and of top of that [email protected] makes an even stronger case. Even outside of the city, the three letters of the district are easily recognized and associated with entrepreneurship, research and technology.

Where to go and what to do here today?

BAU School of Design

Part of the University of Vic the BAU Center for Design the design school offers pioneering courses in all kinds of design disciplines as for you as a passer-by interesting student exhibitions.

Codeworks

Codeworks is a coding bootcamp. Over three months selected students are immersed in an intensive, fully English-taught JavaScript course aimed at immediate application in the workplace after graduation. If you are just visiting the area, their events and conferences might be interesting for you.

La Escosesa

La Escosesa is a resident for artists offering different work spaces, halls and promotional help on a self-managed basis. If you are working, living or just visiting the area La Escosesa is well worth a stop!

itnig

Last but not least you have our very own space, itnig. More than an office or co-working space we see ourselves as an open ecosystem with events dedicated to learning, an open podcast to share ideas and a space ready to accommodate fellow entrepreneurs.

Buildings that withstood the test of time

The technology may be new in Poblenou but the area itself has been inhabited and used for a long time. To get a feeling for the past and observe the changes this area has undergone stroll through the streets holding your head up high. In the perpendicular passages on the west of Rambla del Poblenou you will come across factories turned into beautiful lofts and you will get a glimpse of the towers and smokestacks of the old Can Gili Vell factory. Similarly the once chemical factory ‘Valls, Teixidor i Jordana’ and Can Ricart merit a stop on your way through the district.

Can Ricart, a former factory measuring about 4 blocks of Eixample and waiting for its revitalization and incorporation into the Universitat de Barcelona campus dedicated to lifelong learning. Close by in the Poblenou park you will also come across the history museum (Museu de historia de Barcelona — MUI IBA) http://ajuntament.barcelona.cat/museuhistoria/ca), which features many more such examples of the development of the area.

Coffee shops to soak in the new urban atmosphere

Nomad Roaster’s

One of Barcelona’s biggests roasteries offers their doors to curious. With the intense scent of freshly ground coffee beans spilling out on the street you cannot resist .

Espai Joliu

Do you like plants and coffee equally? This is the place for you. After a small narrow entrance you will be surprised by the room opening up and the delicious cakes amidst this small urban jungle.

Skye Coffee

A coffee truck inside a big industrial hall and scattered chairs all around. Come here for a good coffee and an interesting place to contemplate or work.

Republic Cafe

A bit farther away from the main startup ongoings, on the southern end of Rambla del Poblenou you will find Republic Cafe with a cozy interior and a traditional terrace right on the Rambla itself.

Shopping & Strolling

For a more urban flair a stroll down Rambla del Poblenou is your first address. This avenue framed by trees winds down from Diagonal to the beach of Marbella and is a great point to soak in the more residential air of the neighborhood. Come here on a Saturday morning to buy fresh produce and artisanal products, have a coffee on one of the terraces observing people walking by or listening to one of the many street musicians, join the crowds of after work beer drinkers or venture out early in the morning like many of the local residents getting some exercise before heading to the office.

Metric based business decisions

Every week we take half an hour to talk just about any topic that crossed our minds during the last days and create a podcast for you (Listen to it in Spanish here and subscribe to our feed). We call it an Open Mic Podcast as we want to invite different people to participate, new ideas to take form and to shed light on various experiences and perspectives on business development.

You will hear Bernat, CEO at itnig, César, Product Director at Factorial and Jordi, CEO at Factorial discussing different topics with guests from our start-up ecosystem in Barcelona. This week Pau Ramon, CTO at Factorial, joins us.

This podcast #16 is special in the sense that we have three Factorial team members with us and will be able to learn more about how they measure and make use of metrics in their business decisions.

Pau and Jordi started working on Factorial a bit over a year ago but the idea was already formed a while earlier, while talking over a beer with Bernat. At this time they were working at Redbooth and thought it to be a good moment for change, to start something new, to create a team and to have sense of ownership that they no longer felt at Redbooth.

Pau Ramon has been working in tech for over 10 years, he studied multimedia and then dove right into web. Fascinated by internet companies, he started helping a Barcelona company that was creating a social network for models. He was working alone at the time, had to start creating a team — Almost by accident he became CTO. Through this experience he learned a lot and decided to continue in this direction.

He went to the West Coast of the US for a conference, missed the flight back on purpose and stayed looking to start something himself.

There he met Pablo whom we would later work with at Redbooth and that’s how we actually got started talking about metrics today.

“My role is not CEO, I like to do the product behind the business.”

At Redbooth I learned how to measure the success or failure of a business, to undo decisions that have been taken. I like to have one metric as indicator for the whole business and then segment it further based on funnel. We assign one metric to one function within the business or one person within the company. It’s important that marketing, product, sales, support…have their own metric and that they can see that the work they are doing are impacting the business positively. At Factorial for example, all metrics are always visible and every Friday we make a point of going through them together at our all-hands meeting.

“Metrics — a complex topic summarized in one number.”

When we started out building the product at Factorial and were not yet at the stage of customer acquisition, we took ‘activation’ of our companies as our main measure. It’s somewhat of a North Star — Something to guide you when you take a decision.

“I prefer an approximation to no orientation.”

To learn more about how they use metrics, what tool they use to measure and how they base their decisions on these numbers, listen to this week’s podcast here:

Podcast #16 with Pau Ramon

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How to start a business from scratch

Every week we take half an hour to talk just about any topic that crossed our minds during the last days and create a podcast for you (Listen to it in Spanish here and subscribe to our feed). We call it an Open Mic Podcast as we want to invite different people to participate, new ideas to take form and to shed light on various experiences and perspectives on business development.

Photo: Jonathan Velasquez

You will hear Bernat, CEO at itnig, César, Product Director at Factorial and Masumi, Content Media Strategist at itnig discussing different topics with guests from our startup ecosystem in Barcelona. This week Roger, Product Manager at Quipu and Jordi, Growth Hacker at Factorial join us.

Our podcast #14 starts with an inspiration: Cesar was listening to a talk of the founders of the Segment — a customer data platform — and how they started out with a completely different product and only later created what is now known as Segment.

“In the process of creating one product, the need for another product was born.”

Similar to Segment, Quipu was born out of the need to manage the administration for different projects. What first started out as a personal need was then transformed into a business (now known as Quipu) by Roger. In this week’s podcast we want to focus on exactly this: How to start a business from scratch.

How to bring a new product to market with a 0€ budget?

Jordi has experienced this very initial stage of every company many times and today he joins us to talk about how to reach customers with a new product and how to create the first traction with a marketing budget of 0€. Throughout the podcast we explore initial SEO strategies, influencer marketing, offline customer acquisition and crowdfunding as possible options to generate the first sales.

Influencer Marketing

Getting somebody to endorse your product, to present it and to vow for it in front of your target audience. Do you remember the craze around fidget spinners earlier in the spring of this year? It’s the perfect example of a product that went viral through youtube videos, social media shares and word of mouth. As far as we were able to find out, ‘nobody’ was behind it pushing the toy out in the world, yet it is a great inspiration for marketing departments of any physical product. Who wouldn’t want their product to sell itself and create such a hype?

Offline customer acquisition

Go out and meet possible customers. In the case of Quipu, Roger went to talk to small companies, individual freelancers or even accountants to better understand how they work and what they are dreaming of. Similarly to developing a MVP at the initial stage, going out to approach customers directly was an enriching experience and an important step in the growth of Quipu.

In the beginning of Camaloon, an e-Commerce for custom products, we tried different ways of acquiring customers from participating at events like Design Conferences or Comic Conventions in Spain and Italy, sponsoring artist groups or even being part of flash mobs. Looking back, now we laugh about those actions but at the time they were a good way of reaching a niche audience and getting first traction.

Crowdfunding

If you are developing a physical product, crowdfunding can be a smart way to receive funding and your first customers. It’s a way to market your product to a very specific audience and tap into the potential of established platforms and networks like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

You reach your first customers and you have the opportunity to establish a special bond with them, when your company grows.

Marketplaces & other eCommerces

With a physical product one of the more traditional ways of placing it in front of possible customers is using existing structures like other e-commerce stores or marketplaces. These could be self-service like Amazon or even more selected marketplaces that feature and sell your product for you.

No matter how you start out, Jordi cannot say enough how important measurement is:

“Measure from the start. Even though at the beginning you might be measuring very low numbers, you still need to know whether you are going in the right direction.”

If you are curious to find out more and listen to some of our examples, subscribe to our channel here and listen to the Podcast #14 right now.

Quipu's turning four — learnings and becoming a sales-driven SaaS company

Nearly the whole Quipu team — a great bunch of people!

For a startup every year is like little life, with new people, new features, new users and new challenges.

The fourth year for Quipu has been, according to co-founder and CEO Roger Dobaño, the craziest in terms of changes.

We’ve almost built an entire new engineering and design team and we’ve also built a totally new marketing team. On top of that we’ve moving over to being a sales-driven SaaS startup, not only focusing on product.

Last year when Quipu turned three years old, Roger wrote a post on working in a startup and how every year feels like a dog year, an opinion he still holds:

Every year still feels like seven, but we’re growing up to be a mature software company, and that means a new set of changes.

The radical team change

Over the last four years Quipu has slowly but steadily been growing their team as their business grew year over year.

A small development team of a few people where each team members did a little bit of everything, has grown to a full scale team, with several team members dedicated to the back-end, front-enders, a product designer and an architect.

Co-founder and CTO Albert Bellonch puts it like this:

We’ve gone from a startup that more than anything prioritized shipping product and going super-fast, to a more established tech company, where we can use more time and resources on dedicated parts of the product.

Even though the seven person development team is growing to know each-other better, Albert is happy to be able to spend more time talking with each developer:

Before I was coding every day, but now I’ve got time to talk to each team-member, how they’re doing and how they develop themselves professionally. I think that’s super important the faster we grow.

CEO Roger believes there ‘s a clear reason why they’re so happy with the new team:

In the interviews we didn’t only test their code, but more importantly, we tested their ability to think deeply about hard problems.

The reason why we chose to do these tests is that we’ve learned that you can be fast, but if you don’t think properly about the challenges you face, you’ll have many long-term problems.

Also a new sales-team has been built from scratch, with their own sales manager in place to lead the new department.

Until recently Roger was the person leading the sales effort, but being in charge of both the sales and the company as a whole becomes challenging as the company grows:

We always had a competitive advantage with our product, but our sales effort has been too slow too long, and we needed to change that.

The last months Quipu has built a four-member team of energetic sales people to bring their “friendly accounting” software to the world (and they’re looking for more energetic people)

The issues of growing up

The first years of a startup’s life it’s easy to motivate people. The team is excited to be working on something new, something that’s changing the status quo, just like Quipu’s doing in the B2B finance vertical.

But something changes when the team grows and the startup becomes more established, according to Roger:

The phase we’re in right now is one of the most demanding periods for our company. And just as our company has grown the last years, so has our team, and the relation you have with them is not as “familiar” as it used to be. Keep building a strong company culture is as important as understanding that people have lives outside our little tech bubble. I think that’s essential in continuing to grow what’s one of Barcelona’s best teams.

2017 has also been the year of international expansion and the first customers in France has now started using the Quipu product under the new name Zyfro.

Our new marketing and sales team consists of several French people, the first feedback from customers has been good, and we’re eager to see how the rest of the French market responds to the product.

He adds:

That everyone can do business on the internet is the biggest lie I’ve heard. Even though the barriers are low, like any business in order to grow fast you need a notorious product, money and relevant mission.

Quipu has a goal of raising their series A-round sometime at the start of 2018.

The lean methodology doesn’t apply to branding — it’s a journey

Branding is no longer about creating a name and a logo, it’s about combining product and magic, according to Marc Lite, CEO and co-founder of Firma, Barcelona’s most famous branding studio.

Marc has helped clients such as PepsiCo, Unilever and Esade, as well as local startups such as Badi and Bandit find their voice.

The following steps are what Marc thinks all companies need to go through, to begin the journey of building a strong, long-lasting brand.

However, before you invest anything in branding, make sure your product or service does three things:

  1. Works perfectly technically.
  2. Creating value for your users.
  3. And that the user interface and experience is very good.

Your brand is not LEAN

Marc Lite — CEO and co-founder of Firma.

The main goal of you creating a brand for your startups is to clearly define a positioning statement that communicates through all the brand touchpoints.

This communication needs to be presented in a coherent and consistent way to your audiences.

Many small startups are used to rapidly changing environments. Being agile and lean means iterating and changing a lot to make your product better, and for working with technology and product development this mindset is great. For brands however, staying the same is better.

Take a look at the strongest brands in the world (Coca Cola, Apple, Orange..), can you remember they ever doing a major change to their logo or color? Of course not, it would be a disaster.

Even though you see your own brand every day, remember that most of your users don’t, and suddenly changing would weaken your brand a lot.

But before you start producing your coherent content, you need to take a sharp look at your company and ask yourself these questions about your brand identity:

Is it ownable? Can we own the segment or the market?

Are we relevant? Does our target audience find us interesting?

Is it different? Do we stand out from our competitors?

Are we durable? Are we positioned to last over time?

If you want to ALL the insights from Marc at Firma, check out the video at the top.

Or read this:

https://blog.itnig.net/first-rule-of-talking-to-vcs-show-metrics-that-support-the-story-you-re-telling-3d31160db889