The Challenges of transformation from a CEO’s point of view

Last week we spoke about how product designers start a new project and deal with past baggage and today we want to further explore this with Juan Rodriguez, CEO at Camaloon, who joined the startup after it has been running for 5 years.

At itnig every Friday we sit down to talk with interesting people whom we meet throughout the week and we make a podcast (in Spanish) out of our conversations. You can listen to it on iTunes, subscribe to our channel on Youtube or enjoy it through iVoox.

For this Podcast #20 Bernat Farrero, CEO at itnig, Jordi Romero, CEO at Factorial, César Migueláñez, Product Director at Factorial, Masumi Mutsuda, Media at itnig and Juan Rodríguez, CEO at Camaloon came together to talk about the challenges a CEO faces while joining an existing company.

How do you as CEO plan changes in an already existing company?

Firstly, it is necessary to evaluate if there is even the need to make a change or if instead the company can continue as such? In our case Camaloon had a very strong and positive company culture from the get-go but it has been lost a bit on the way. So when I started I aimed to revive this initial startup culture.

Camaloon is a company based on technology, we want to grow differentiating ourselves from our competitors through the product. This means that we are always looking for tech talent who can bring the differentiating factor to the company.

When I started in the spring of last year, the company culture had gone a little bit of track, we were focussing on other areas and when I joined, my challenge lay in bringing us back on track.

When you decide to enter a new company at the most important decision making role in an already working company, how do you understand how the dynamics work? How do you decide the way to go? How do you develop what needs to change?

You observe the synergies in the teams, the dynamics. Is there a good communication between teams?

Of course there are many approaches but I believe in the end you base yourself on intuition, you have only a short window to make a change.

I would say it’s a mix of data analysis, observation and intuition. You try to provoke change observe where the road blocks lay, you have to move quickly as if you don’t make any changes in the first two months it will be hard to overcome the inertia moving forward.

When entering a new company and pushing for strategic transformation I think it’s important to:

  • Make decisions quickly
  • Fix strategic north
  • Focus people (feel secure, perform better)
  • Maintain the same message continuously

How was your first day at Camaloon?

First I arrived somewhat incognito, I sat down next to our admin department and asked for data. Everyone thought I was a tax auditor or investor, nobody talked to me and everyone was very polite. Then, on my first real day as a CEO I sat down between marketing and technology director. I started talking to everybody in the office and in our production plant.

Was there anything surprising?

All I knew about Camaloon before starting came from Bernat and he is an entrepreneur so when I started I was surprised to see that there was no startup culture. It was a very corporate and traditional company, with many departments and a deep structure.

And for you, Bernat, how were the first months of not being Camaloon’s CEO? Was it hard to hand over your control?

Yes and No. It was hard as I had worked daily with the Camaloon team, had a strong relationship and Camalooners came running to me even after Juan started. As first reaction I had the instinct of jumping in as always. But it was also easy to hand over control to Juan as he was 100% aligned in strategy and I realized his way of attacking the problems not only seemed right but I also saw he had the capacity to implement them. I had no doubt.

And indeed, Camaloon is growing. We are adding new products, entering new segments and going all in for technology. We are looking for great talent and great growth opportunity for team members, actually we are looking for Sales, Marketing & Tech professionals of all areas: itnig.net/jobs

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.

Getting to know our future teams

As it’s probably the case with most startups, the biggest brake in our growth is the difficulty in finding the right talent. It’s hard to find smart, motivated and ambitious people who are a good fit at the right time.

In this post I am trying to reflect on what we have done so far, why we have failed and what we could do in the future. If you are reading this and are interested in working with us, I hope it gives you insights into how we think and what is a good way of connecting with us. Originally these ideas were shared between our teams while going through different interview process — sharing our learnings and failures.

It’ s a work in progress. With every interview and new person we meet we are learning and adding new thoughts to this reflection.

At itnig we have an internal HR team focussed on growing the different startup teams. With the exception of Camaloon who counts with their own HR team, I am thus in contact with each startup to understand their current and future needs. In this way, we have the advantage of being able to join efforts between startups and to find a the right fit for a candidate — it’s like a puzzle but with multiple places that connect to each piece. As the teams are working mostly on technological solutions we are looking for talented developers, product owners and designers as well as sales and marketing passionates.

Being one of the biggest stoppers in our growth means that we give the process of recruitment a high importance — a lot of what we do evolves around it and we have thought long and thoroughly about how to design a process of finding and connecting with the person in question which we try to transmit through all teams in our organization. Just as in the beginning of our startup journey the first new team members were old friends, colleagues and friends of friends, now as we scale up we have to find new ways of connecting with promising new developers, marketers, sales professionals.

When we call or invite a candidate for an interview we are most interested in finding out about the person and not so much in talking about us. Our first goal is setting the stage for an interesting conversation, giving all our attention to the person and bringing her or him to talk. Setting the right tone for an interesting conversation begins even before you lock eyes or shake hands — it’s in the preparation. To us it’s important to inform the candidate beforehand whom she or he will be meeting, what to expect of the conversation and how to continue in getting to know each other. It’s a long process of mutual discovery which can take months — a lot of times we won’t match the first time but keep in touch with talented people for the future.

What does it mean to interview at itnig?

These are a few ground rules we set ourselves:

  • We aim to give a brief introduction to situate the person: Who are you? Why are we here? — We try to find things in common just with the goal to establish a good ground for conversation
  • We are curious to learn about the candidate so we’ll try to let you speak
  • We ask open questions, it’s probably also what we encounter in our day to day lives
  • We try to remember that even though we can talk all we want about values, what really transmits them is our behavior (humility, curiosity, sense of humor, respect while treating other people, full attention to the candidate instead of computers or phones…)
  • As general traits for next team members we look for intelligence, flexibility, drive, ambition and a hands-on resolutive person — with the idea that this person can replace us and take over any part in our companies

Before the interview process

Before we reach out to potential candidates we want to be sure we are all on the same boat and aligned in what we are looking for in a person. We try to stick to these ideas in all the recruitment processes we do.

  • We want to establish a clear idea of technical / professional skills
  • We try to define what personality traits are important to succeed in this position (curiosity, team player, communication, organized..)
  • We agree on the frame of the process in terms of timings, people involved, steps of interviews and if we want to involve extras like written or technical tests, simulations (like role-plays), team get-togethers, cross-references, past work to check…
  • We aim to set our expectations for the future of this role, how the team will evolve, what we imagine to change in the next few months before reaching out to candidates
  • We strive to work out the big picture and convey what we think is the most interesting and appealing in this specific position

Only if we as an already existing team are clear and aligned on what we are looking for while talking to new people can we present a coherent picture and come to a conclusion.

Who we are as a company — What is in it for the candidate?

Other than talking about our individual company history, current daily work for this position and the vision and outlook for the future we think it’s also interesting to give a general overview of itnig and what this means for the development of the individual and the organization as a whole.

At itnig this means:

  • Technological base
  • Innovative products in their respective industries
  • Hard working, effort, do-it attitude & focus on execution
  • Ecosystem with shared open office space & events
  • Sharing of knowledge between different startups

We see itnig as a space open to learn and to grow, an honest and transparent environment with its feet on the ground, where we value effort, learn from our mistakes by trying and are focussed on the execution.

What is important to know?

In general, when I get together with a candidate for any of the positions, I am curious to learn about past experiences and educational background, to understand his/her current situation, expectations for the future, other interests and motivation for our particular startup.

  1. Reason for leaving current job. A straight question will probably get a superficial answer, so I try to look for details. Is the company / position in danger? Did the person disagree with team or company strategy? Is he/she doing a good job?
  2. Plans for future. I try to find out what the person is looking for in his/her future. What does he/she want to learn? How does the person imagine to work? What can we offer to the personal growth of the person?
  3. Personal life and extracurricular activities. A lot of the times what a person does in his/her ‘spare time’ says much more about him/her than the actual job. What are the causes they care about? Any hobbies? Sports? I try to find out what makes them tick, what moves them and where they see their most value.
  4. Motivation or interest in working with us. I ask the person why she/he is here. What are their expectations? What do they know about us? What is most exciting for them in our job offer or company? Ask how they chose which company to apply to, what they are looking for and whom we are competing against. I think it’s important to leave a lot of space for questions from the candidate.

How can we find out about personality?

After the technical and professional capacities of the person in question are clear to me, I am curious to find out more about him or her in terms of personality, values, hobbies and ambitions for the future. As this is a tricky part, we’ve tried to come up with some questions. These are also questions I ask myself and often stumble with the answer 😉

  • What are the qualities you appreciate most in your co-workers?
  • What traits make a person likeable?
  • What’s the most interesting you have learned this year?
  • What changes have you made in working with others to be more effective at work?
  • What extracurricular activities did you do in college?
  • Side projects?
  • Can you describe a time when your work was criticized?
  • Have you ever misjudged someone?
  • What are you especially good at compared to others?
  • What’s the one accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?
  • What do you think is the most important aspect or ability of your craft?
  • What do you want to learn in this year?
  • How do you inform yourself of changes in your industry?
  • What publications do you read?
  • What are you looking for in a company?
  • In what kind of work environment do you prefer to work?

I want to enjoy the conversation, make a friend, be curious!

In the end, there are no right or wrong answers but it’s a way of discovering more about the other person. What are their values? What is important to them and where do they compromise? Other than the professional talent, it’s also important for me to see somebody we are looking forward to meeting every day and spending the day together, solving problems and sometimes getting stuck on hard ones together.

What motivates us?

This reflection is not only important to do with the candidate, but also with ourselves. I as person on the other side of the table am conveying the same messages and am being just as scrutinised as the candidates.

I would say that as an organization as a whole this is what makes us come to the office every morning:

  • Being part of a successful business and seeing its growth
  • Challenging ourselves and exploring something new
  • Advancing alongside just as talented people whom we admire
  • Seeing our impact and knowing the mission of the organization
  • Tackling a difficult problem

For you as a candidate I imagine that this might be a very important part in the interview process: To be able to see the team you hopefully look forward to working with. It’s probably one of the biggest motivation being surrounded by smart people and doing things together.

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.

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

RSS Feed