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.

The hardships of recruiting developers

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.

Recording Podcast #17 at itnig

Today’s topic is about growing our team: How to recruit and convince new team members to join us in our endeavours to create and offer new products. For this Podcast #17 we have invited Gerard Clos, developer at Factorial. Together with Jordi Romero, Masumi Mutsuda, César Migueláñez and Bettina Gross we speak about how each found their way to itnig and how we are identifying, selecting and convincing new people from all disciplines to join us.

Gerard first heard about the project exactly to the day one year ago when Pau reached out to him by email with the subject line ‘Employee #1 in a new startup in Barcelona’. At that time, Gerard was working at another startup and after a few beers with Pau and Jordi, a mutual positive feeling and interesting technological challenges explained he decided to join Factorial as the first employee.

“In the beginning when hiring the first employees, the whole team was involved in the process.”

After asking for support of our direct network, old colleagues and friends at a certain point in time you can no longer rely on this group for finding new talent. So we had to take another approach. Now at itnig we work with a small Talent Acquisition team that collaborates directly with the team looking for a new hire to be able to combine well organized processes, a throughout selection and the technical knowledge.

How to be sure of technical knowledge?

Of course we spend a lot of our time in the interview and screening process talking about the actual work, about the topics that will be part of everyday work reality but through words alone oftentimes it is hard to judge a person’s skills. That’s why we like to use technical tests and see them as a big part in our recruitment processes — no matter the profile.

“The technical test should test what the candidate will be doing on an every day basis instead of looking for errors or possible gaps.”

The technical test is important and it is tricky to get it right. It needs a balance of difficulty — not too easy but also not to difficult making the test seem unrelated to real life problems. It’s a complex topic as a technical test can also be badly received. A candidate might even get the feeling you’re asking for free work so we try to make it very clear that this test will not be used for our work.

“Make the test so obviously unusable that this thought might not even occur. Create a parallel universe to your startup to test for skills without giving room to suspicion.”

However in the end, no matter the times you have met in person, talked over the phone or slack — as some companies might suggest — it is hard to understand another human being. We can always be wrong or change with time.

If you are curious to hear more about the topic and to hear Gerard’s full story, listen to our Podcast #17 in Spanish here:

Listen to it in Spanish here or

Subscribe to our feed.

The mechanics of growth with ex-Gmail product manager Itamar Gilad

Exponential growth is what most startups are searching for, and something most entrepreneurs never experience.

Itamar Gilad has spent seven years at Google managing products at Youtube and Gmail and have in both cases experienced what most entrepreneurs are dreaming about: seeing growth in the hundreds of millions of users that genuinely love your product (you’re probably one of them).

This is not an in-depth post on growth, so if you feel you got the basics covered, I suggest you book a private lesson with Itamar. But if that’s not you, please continue reading.

The one metric that matters

The first things Itamar suggests is that you pick one metric to grow.

One of the biggest mistakes companies does, is not choosing exactly what to grow. You have to find the one metric that matter.

Facebook uses MAU’s, Gmail has WAU’s, Whatsapp measures “sent messages”, Airbnb “nights booked”, etc. Find your own metric, and choose it wisely. But make sure that the metric you’re measuring is connected to how much value you’re providing to the users.

1st, 2nd and 3rd tier metrics

When you’ve found the one metric that matter to you and learned how to properly measure it, you should try to discover your KPI’s and your proxy metrics.

The KPI’s (2nd tier metric) include measuring CLV, MRR, CTR, etc. The 3rd tier metric is tougher because it’s very company specific.

As you probably can imagine, it’s a bit tough to ask a team of developers: improve monthly active users, you need to figure out what smaller things are driving growth for your product?

All successful companies have these pivotal moments when they discover a proxy metric that ends up driving much more growth than they anticipated.

The only way to find these magic elements is by deep diving into your product, into what you call a discovery phase, and when you find your product market fit, you hopefully know the most effective triggers to your growth.

Find and start your growth engine

So how does this loop of positive feedback from your users look like? And how do you start your growth engine?

First, you got (1.) retention: People that goes through your acquisition funnel, becoming active users and coming back for more. This means that people are finding value in your product.

Then you got (2.) referrals: People that like your product so much that they’ll recommend it to other people in their network. This, word of mouth, is very powerful.

The third one is (3.) revenue: Everything from subscriptions to in-product purchases, etc. That you can sell to your users. The important factor here is that each user generates more revenue than what it costs to get that person through the acquisition funnel.

The only good way to start this engine and get it to run fast is by producing a product that instantly gives value to your users.

Itamar Gilad has worked with products at Gmail, Youtube, Microsoft and several other tech companies.

A fourth part of the virtues loop is something very few companies manage to really utilize, which is (4.) learning: While the engine is running, you use data from your users and your qualitative insights to learn how people go through the funnel, and how to optimize it to make more people slide through your funnel in a better way.

Template for growth

  • Choose one metric that matters to you and your team — let it be your north star.
  • Identify proxy metrics and build a growth model
  • Picture right growth engines (like above: retention+referrals+revenue)
  • Optimize for your OMTM with research and experiments
  • Focus on (demonstrable) value to user

REMEMBER: This was a brief rundown of Itamar’s talk, full talk here.


Continue reading startup stories?

https://blog.itnig.net/how-a-small-group-of-in-house-product-designers-killed-cabifys-corporate-brand-and-made-it-purple-cb5c5ddf0fb0

How to develop truly conversational bots

Have you ever had a pleasant conversation with a bot? Chances are high that you have, as chatbots are getting smarter and better at helping us deal with the products we’re dealing with everyday.

Barcelona startup Caravelo is at the moment developing six chatbots for some of the biggest airlines in the world. The chatbots they build help millions of travelers to book and reschedule flights, provide customer service, act as personal concierges and much more.

Even though all their bots use NLU (natural language understanding), they’re not building their own solution, but are using existing NLU solutions to cope with all the different languages airlines need to speak with their customer, according to co-founder JoseLuis Vilar:

“If we would try to build an NLU solution for all the languages our client’s needs, we would be dead.”

Not replacing apps

Caravelo says beyond the hype, that the bots they’re building are not replacing apps, they just doing the same things very differently in terms of UX and UI, but also in terms of use cases.

“We won’t build bots for everything, only where it’s natural to have one.”

After being live with several chatbots for nearly 3 months, collecting thousands of interactions, they’ve already learned a lot of valuable lessons, the biggest being not ask the same questions over and over again.

According to the startup the distance between success and failure is quite short, so you need to get things right the first time around. And according to Vilar, even though the risk for failure is high, the reward for the customer when things go right is much higher.

Repeating answers is the worst a bot can do to a customer according to Caravelo.

Work on building a solid knowledge base

After tracking their bots conversations the latest months, Caravelo has found that 20 percent of the inventory of intents (Q&A’s) makes up around 80 percent of the total value. So you need to focus on that part first, building a really strong inventory to start all conversations, the right username and contact, pictures, etc.

The next 15 percent of value is based on the inventory of questions and answer (intents) where you need to build a solid knowledge base for your specific industry. In Caravelo’s case, they’ve built a database of 1000 FAQ’s related to the airline and travel industry, and this is based on interactions the airlines have had with their customers over the years.

The last five percent of value are from the questions a bot cannot answer, and the idea is this is the place where we get the human take-over, and a customer service agent will serve any remaining problem.

The three different categories of value provided to the customer, either by a bot or a human.

Key learnings

The most important learning Caravelo has done the last months is to avoid user loops, like shown in the pictures above. There are few things as annoying for a user to go through the same questions over and over again.

So far Caravelo’s solution to bugs like this one has been to build a small fix where the bot only can ask the same question a certain amount of times.

Caravelo co-founder and CIO JoseLuis Vilar.

Another key learning is to use, but not abuse the NLU (natural language understanding). So for example, today they have some answers that go through the back-end from their database, and some answers that go through the NLU, but they classify the easy answers, like affirmations, to not go through the NLU.

Just as with any product, the on-boarding of the user is crucial to keep people talking to the bots. In the case of chatbots, you need to tell them what you’ll be doing for them, and give the user clear options.

The last take-away the Caravelo team has learned over the course of using bots in real life, is to not take too much advantage of bot trainers (external services), as they’re not building a natural language understanding themselves, and it’s easy to get too dependent on them.

To get the full value of Caravelo’s learnings, take a look at the video at the top.


If you want to learn more, take a look at our latest podcast about the European VC industry:

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

Learning the Design to Code process

Even if you’e not a designer and never used design software before, you can still release products that do the job and are well designed.

The following steps I’ll guide you through can be divided into three parts:

  • Planning
  • Designing
  • Coding

It’s far from a complete UX process, but it will allow you to take your own design and make it come alive.

1. Plan it

In your initial phase of planning you need to know your goal, and what you want to achieve with your project.

When you know for what purpose you’e building your app or your product for, you need to know who’s using it.

You should think of your audience in three different ways.

>Who: Demographics, age, gender, profession, etc.

>Where: In what setting they will use your product in.

>What: The kind of device they’re using your product on.

Take this information and let it influence your decision as you design.

The next step is to do at basic flowchart, in other words see how the user goes through your product, step by step, instead of just hard-coding it.

When you make a flowchart you avoid making mistakes that forces you to go back and do big changes. An example of a flowchart I’ve used in Quipu is pictured under to give you a rough idea, but if you want to dig into it — here’s a video explaining the process using Sketch.

It’s extremely important to have a thorough plan for whatever product you’re designing. It will save you time and effort for sure.

The last part of the planning, is to define a functional definition of each page in your product. It’s a document that will be your documentation or knowledge base about what each screen does, what it shows, and what routes and actions are possible to take from there.

So if you’re building an app, you should have a page with the following information for each interface:

Name of the view (or the module) –> The purpose of the page –> Full information –> Partial information –> List information –> Routes/actions.

If you did your flowchart correctly, the documentation will be heavily dependent on that Flow Chart.

2. Design it

The most important thing as a fresh designer or working on a project you’ve coded yourself, is to use established patterns.

There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel again.

A place where you can find questions and answers for most issues are ux.stackexchange.com. It’s similar to stackoverflow.com, just for design, and we know how important that is to most designers, so don’t be afraid to seek inspiration and help from more experienced people.

Then start on your wire-framing. Translate your flow and functional definition to a low-fidelity screen that contain everything but the design finish. In other words, focus on getting all the routes, actions, buttons and content right before making it look nice.

One of the most important thing of the design process, is to design it like you would code it. I recommend using Sketch, but use whatever software you’re comfortable with, like Illustrator or Photoshop.

Design as you would code it simply means using non-filled transparent containers to imitate containers and wrappers. Also use naming conventions for layers and groups just as you would use while coding your components.

The last thing I want to mention in terms of design, is to use Atomic Design principles which is a way of designing interfaces that extends to what we’ve been covering in the “Design as you would code it” part above.

It talks about structuring your design, and define it into atoms (colors, fonts, shapes) and form molecules by using them (buttons, inputs, lists etc..), to finally do organisms. An organism then becomes a template For example, A navigation bar that has a menu, a search bar and a logo (few molecules).

Foto: http://bradfrost.com/blog/post/atomic-web-design/

3. Code it

As a designer I will not teach code, most of you probably are more talented coders than I am, so I’ll just mention the software you should use to help you get all the CSS styles you will ever need.

Zeplin.io is a software that takes Sketch Designs, exports CSS styles and gives you all the sizes, margins, paddings, borders you need in order to translate your design to code and not loose the quality and level of detail you worked so hard on.

Zeplin.io is in my opinion the best way to translate design to code.

If you followed the atomic design, and designing as you would code it, then this process is simple, quick and with minimum errors.

I can honestly say that in Quipu where I do the design, this is the most time-saving tool I’ve ever come across. It drastically reduced both cost and time spent on getting the looks of our apps and website translated to all browsers.

Also read:

https://blog.itnig.net/why-ux-ui-designs-should-be-aimed-at-zombies-1968d72b0472


This post was written by media manager at itnig, Sindre Hopland, based on the presentation by lead designer at Quipu, Kamil Jura.