There is always a moment in my daily life at itnig when a startup asks for a video. Sometimes it’s an ad, sometimes an event, sometimes it’s just a tutorial, but no matter what it is, it comes with the need of creating a sound that represents the company and can be played at the start of the video along with the appearance of their corporate logo.
This short sound must represent their essence, it has to have their DNA reflected somehow: a representation of their values, their culture or maybe even something related to their name or logo. It is mainly an artistic process that requires inspiration but in some cases the startup name and culture is geeky enough to allow some rational thinking into the music composition process. Last week I crafted the sound for our startup Factorial, inspired by the mathematical operation their name represents.
Assigning values to notes and choosing the first note
Putting a mathematical operation into sound requires a bit of imagination as well as a set of rules to get started. The first step was assigning values to notes. I decided to assign C4 the value 1. It is the middle key in a piano and also the middle C according to the International Pitch Notation so it seamed and appropriate value for that key.
Piano keys, notes and assigned values
Now we had to decide which factorial operation to represent. That is, choosing an x to which we would perform x! and represent it. Being the startup name Factorial and given that it starts with an F, it made sense to perform the operation on F4, the first F we would find after C4.
Performing the n! operation
Now that we had chosen to start at F4 we just had to assign notes to the operands in the operation and put them in the score.
4! = 4*3*2*1 = F4 E4 D4 C4
Now we had a simple downwards scale without much musical interest but how could we enrich the melody and still make it part of the factorial operation?
Making the middle operations sound too
As we manually start to calculate the factorial operation of a number and before we get the result, we obtain partial operands that are part of the process. How would the melody sound if we added those partcial numbers to the score?
The size of the partial operands makes the need to place them on a staff above obvius. Also because of the sequentiality of the operation we put the partial operands once we have been able to obtain the result, that is after the first note and while the second note is playing.
The first partial operand is obtained after multiplying F4 and E4 wich is the same as 4*3 which equals 12 that represents a G5 if we check the keyboard note to number assignation.
F4 * E4 * D4 = G5 * D4 = 12 * 2 = 24 = E7
If we keep calculating we obtain the note E7, which is the result of multiplying F4 * E4 * D4.
Finally, we obtain the same E7 after multiplying the previous result by C4, which has the value 1.
If you are curious to listen to how this mathematical representation of the factorial operation sounds like, play the video below.
The last 24 days I’ve been wandering around different cities in China. My plan was to not have a plan. For once I wanted to travel alone and spend some time in different cities combining casual sightseeing, meeting people and making friends as diverse as possible. I wanted to talk, listen to people’s stories, lives, woes, concerns and successes. I wanted to meet businesses and entrepreneurs as well, also some potential suppliers for Camaloon. I was in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Wuzhen, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Foshan, Shenzhen and finally Hong Kong.
My first realization was that I should have made this trip years ago. China takes a big part in our contemporary world, it has many resources and lots, lots of people. One cannot simply stay out of it and pretend to be globally oriented as I do!
Following you can read my personal impressions and experiences on my trip.
Communication, my biggest issue
Language has been my biggest issue. I don’t talk Chinese and I realized the learning curve is so steep, even for the most basic words and sentences. Still, I have not given up yet. Translation apps, such as Google Translate, Microsoft translate and others made my life easier.
Chinese has completely different phonetics, 5 or 6 tones (Mandarin/Cantonese), their language is based on the combination of abstract ideas, where order and context matters a lot. Their writing is made up of thousands of symbols people memorize and combine (well, since the simplification Mao Zedong made on 1952 there are “only” 8.500 more simple characters compared to traditional writing). They have lots of sublanguages (some people call them dialects) but they share one unique writing.
Chinese people now start to learn English at school when they are 3 years old and they take it very seriously, English schools and academies are a huge industry and I met many people making a living directly or indirectly from it. That makes the typical entrance for foreigners, as there is a big shortage of native teachers almost everywhere.
However, most people I found could not say a word in English, they either were too shy to try, some just ran away, others looked for colleagues around who finally couldn’t say anything either. I’m not talking about isolated cases but that was the story of most of my street encounters with random people in mainland China.
However, people are open-minded, extremely hospitable, fun and have a great sense of humor. They are curious, and find interest in exchanging ideas and conversation with foreigners. Some locals who went abroad and came back complain that Chinese spoil foreigners too much (which differs from the discrimination they suffered when they lived in western countries).
In many aspects I felt closer to Chinese than to other European neighbors who are more rational, serious and formal.
Urbanization, world’s greatest migration
The greatest migration movement that has ever taken place in our planet is that of over 500 million Chinese relocating from the countryside to the metropolis since the early 80’s until today. As birth rate in the countryside keeps being substantially higher than in cities, this movement will keep on for long.
All these newcomers to the cities share similar characteristics: They start from scratch in a highly paced environment, with lots of expectations and pressure, very few friends or known people and they have the mandate to learn, build a great career, make money, find wife/husband and come back every Spring for the Chinese New Year to show progress to their families. Almost 200 million people move every Spring to their hometowns.
Europe has a long tradition of migrations, and yet the magnitude of people who ever moved in or out ranges around 100 times lower than that of China.
Most people I met, specially young ones, felt lonely and paradoxically developed even stronger ties to their far away parents with whom they chat on Wechat everyday. For this reason I believe family life far from being weakened, it might have strengthened.
Family and marriage are central
Family is probably the pillar in people’s life. Not a single person has not raised the issue of “what my parents want or say” even in our first conversations. The parents wills and desires are so strong in their children’s mind (even if they constantly complain about it) that sometimes can become overwhelming. For most young people I met, the top influencer was the mother, who generally is in charge of the child’s growth and education while the father spends more time out making money.
Parents will be taken care of by the child when they retire, so kids need to produce enough wealth on their careers and marriage. Either parents will eventually move to the cities, or their sons and daughters will return to their hometowns. Thus, marriage is key. It almost feels like the musical chairs, where everybody is looking for the perfect husband/wife (sometimes in purely economic sense) that will suit their parents.
This extremely materialistic approach (I hardly ever saw parents concerned about their children’s dreams or life vocation) probably comes from the very tough times that China experienced during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. In that time, where most kinds of businesses/trade were banned (among other things), many people actually starved to death. Some people told me the stories of how they were forced to eat tree roots to survive at that time.
Fortunately, that changed later on with Den Xiaoping’s reforms and it was the beginning of an aggressive planned capitalism that would transform society, first make people produce and save, and later push them to get trained and spend.
Officialism and collective influence
Compared to Europe, Chinese feel extremely comfortable with the establishment. They also follow patterns and trends like I’ve seen nowhere else. Except for the people in Hong Kong (who I found to be quite diverse), I could notice little differences between how people dressed, their styles, things they do and own, … Many people travel in groups, follow government rules, they get their info from the same censored media outlets and propaganda. And that’s ok. Most people do not have a VPN to access the outside world. Some don’t know about it, others say they don’t need it.
Me asking if they have ever thought of a different political or economical system for their country the unison answer is: no, why should they? When asking about controversial things being perpetuated by their government, most people either don’t know/believe them, or say that was long ago, or simply say that still makes the best option for them at the moment.
That is possibly one of the biggest differences with European civil society. To some extent people abandon individual ideas in pro of the collective. On the opposite side, European youth obsesses with indie, underground or bohemian movements all the time, as a trend itself.
Consumerism goes crazy
If there is one thing I observed Chinese like, that is buying. They have malls everywhere, shops, street food bars, tea shops, restaurants, KTVs (individual karaokes), all kinds of attractions. Most people I met never cook at home, instead they order food or eat out.
Some people have one or two cell phones (most of them are iPhone) from which they continuously buy lots of things in Taobao or Meituan. Sometimes as we were having a conversation, they would feel hungry and order fruit or anything online (it didn’t matter it was Saturday almost midnight) and a delivery man would show up after 30 minutes with the items they ordered. They delivered to us all kinds of things at all kinds of places at a record speed.
Fast pace, multitasking and brute force
The pace is so fast that you would not believe it until you experience it. People walk everywhere in huge crowds, almost not leaving free space or a slow lane in the street or subway. Almost all the people are eating or using the phone while walking, so they expect the flow to be continuous. You always feel pushed (sometimes literally) by the person behind you to move faster and never ever stop. I guess I was a turtle for my Chinese friends who would always ask me to go “quickly!”.
The idea of letting people out from places before getting in seems an abnormality. I’ve seen real battles by old ladies trying to get out from the train by pushing bellies around them. The streets and roads in Beijing and Shanghai are the most chaotic (and funny at the same time) thing I’ve seen. People drive in all directions on any road: eScooters (200€ electric scooters most people own), bikes (mostly from the super cheap OFO and Mobike app services), rickshaws, cars, buses, pedestrians, they all share and meet at the same space. Everybody (ab)uses the horn by default, not expecting anything from it, just as part of their driving. I saw a few crashes, but as none was serious, no one even stopped, they continued driving like nothing happened. I drove an eScooter a few days in Beijing and I felt inside a videogame. Great fun.
When you pay attention to what people actually do on their phones, you see they do all sorts of things (at once!). People watch TV (mostly shows or films), play videogames, chat with many people (sometimes work related), buy things online, all at the same time at a record speed. They do that while commuting (sometimes driving a bike or motorbike), while eating and sometimes while talking to you (something I came to hate). I felt an old guy asking people to focus on one thing.
While I was observing people, I was thinking of how this very idea of multitasking portraits China’s society. They are capable of doing so many things (sometimes at once). It makes sense to think that sometimes, statistically, some things will make a lot of sense. So many people doing so many things must trigger some sort of combinatorial darwinism that will produce the right things, sometimes new things. I came to realize that this iterative process (programmers call it brute force) is in fact a viable process for innovation.
Economy and business enablement
If the official numbers are right we are in front of a highly populated (1,4B people) economy that grows at a 7% YoY (compared to the 1,6% of the US or 2,3% of EU).
Traditionally China comes from many centuries of a real autarchy (autonomous economy). They were able to produce all goods they needed in their vast and varied territory. It looks as if today 4 decades after their industrial revolution, they created enough middle class consumers so as to build their own huge internal consumer market again, which timely combined with a great consumerism appetite. Even in tourism, I could see how most visitors in all attractions and monuments were Chinese internal tourists.
Labor that used to be cheap and deregulated, it is now more expensive (around 500–600€ typical blue collar salary + 100–200€ insurance) and more closely regulated and controlled. Industrial production was once virtually free, and now is regulated and closely controlled by the government, leading to the closedown of many factories for environmental damage.
I could see so many government related job positions that seem to belong to a sort of country wide Keynesian policy. I found lots of people doing jobs of little importance (if not completely irrelevant). Such as traffic control, passport and security control, crowd organizers, door control everywhere and ticket offices at parks and all kinds of public spaces, etc.
I believe the main issues preventing more businesses from developing and foreign investment are legal uncertainty, kafkian bureaucracy, government opacity and corruption. Most foreign people who started companies there told me that the only chance to succeed is by having a partner who has ties with the government.
As I attended some entrepreneurship events, I could see a widely developing venture capital scene, corporate accelerators, venture builders, startup hubs and many entrepreneurs executing fast and strongly committed to get shit done.
Massively efficient infrastructure
I was surprised by how good most infrastructure works in China.
Even if it comes at the cost of privacy, you can always feel secure. Police is available everywhere, there are security cameras all over, even at the beach!
Public transportation is very modern, trains and buses come at very high frequency, the price is super cheap and the service is close to excellent.
Hospitals open 24 hours 7 days a week, you can book and even ask questions online.
Public toilets are available everywhere, they are clean and almost always have soap (but no tissues, you are supposed to bring it always with you).
Lots of taxis are available at a very low cost, sometimes even free (it was the case of some days in Shanghai). Competition is fierce and Didi (China’s Uber) lowered prices of the overall market. Everybody can drive a Didi, therefore everybody can afford taking it.
Bikes are available everywhere by two main companies: Mobike and OFO. They are so affordable and convenient that they replaced most people’s own bikes.
Internet and the great (fire)wall
There are two state owned competing telcom companies operating in China since 1994. Their coverage is so massive and good that I hardly ever lost my signal anywhere. I paid 15€/month for unlimited everything and high-speed internet connection, and it delivered as promised.
However, China’s Internet should be called an intranet (no matter how big) instead. All traffic is carefully controlled by the government and highly censored. The Internet as we know it doesn’t exist. I could not access any Google service (from Gmail, Maps, Google Translate), Slack, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Whatsapp had a terrible performance and no images or video, I couldn’t access most of global or Spanish newspapers, … at least without a decent VPN (which slowed down the connection, and continuously self-disconnected). I used Nord VPN.
Most people I saw of all ages used iPhones to connect to the Internet. That’s probably why China is the biggest market for Apple phone sales (though many people told me that it would decline as Huawei, Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi and other Chinese manufacturers were getting much better). I also realized that iPhone’s price was even higher than in Spain, making it a big investment for the lower Chinese purchasing power. China has the biggest Internet connected population, 730 million people. Following are India (460M users), and US (290M users).
Baidu is what most people use for search, maps and most of Google equivalent services. It only works in Chinese, so I could not make much use of it.
Tencent’s Wechat is the answer to Whatsapp and Facebook combined, but it has many more features. For example, Wechat is used to pay for all kinds of things. Most people don’t carry cash anymore, as they can use Wechat absolutely everywhere. A street tyre fixer, a parking controller, or even a beggar have QR codes you can scan to pay them. I saw how grandmas sent Wechat money to their grandsons. Every time I started counting my cash to pay in a restaurant my friends had already split the bill, paid and were waiting for me outside… But Wechat is also replacing email, as they feel more comfortable with instant synchronous answers. Most businesses (sales or customer service) will give you their Wechat contact to communicate with them. Interestingly, Wechat has its own application store of HTML based “mini-programs” that can access user IDs and Payment solutions. I used Meituan and OFO inside Wechat.
What Tencent is to social, Alibaba is to b2b and b2c ecommerce. Taobao, Tmall.com, Alibaba.com are widely used to buy things online (along with JD.com and a few others).
Alipay is Alibaba’s electronic bank solution similar to Wechat’s. Both Tencent and Alibaba filed for bank licenses some years ago and are already operating as full-scale banks in the whole country. They offer b2c and b2b loans and have developed their own social reputation scoring systems that the government is considering to officialize as public reputation systems (yes, scary).
They say China’s Internet is oligopolistic and concentrated in few mega-apps mainly the BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent) conglomerates, and only recently being matched by the second group TMD (Toutiao, Meituan-Dianping and Didi Chuxing). Toutiao is the most popular news site in China, Meituan is the leader for last mile delivery services and food discovery, and Didi is the leader in mobility. All these companies are constantly innovating, copying western products and services, and buying companies that add up to their offering and their huge customer base.
Most entrepreneurs I talked to were in some way digging into big data, machine learning and all applications of artificial intelligence. As the number of connected users is so huge and such few services accumulate so much user data and trends, combined with some relaxed privacy laws, I bet there is no better greenfield for AI experimentation in the world. I’m excited and afraid in equal parts of what can be accomplished by China on this field.
Hong Kong is the western backdoor
After centuries of positive trade balance for China against western countries (as they had enough resources and goods and had little interest in foreign products), the British started exporting Indian grown opium to China creating millions of addicts and serious consequences for China’s economy. When the emperor stopped British ships from trading opium and banned it, Great Britain, and later France, declared war to China. They totally smashed their unsophisticated armies, killed many and destroyed historical enclaves. That resulted in a humiliating treaty that would give unequal trade rights to the British and others and would grant the island of Hong Kong to the British empire forever. It wasn’t until 1997 that the colony was given back to China on the condition that its system would remain unchanged for the 50 years to come. Hence ‘One Country, Two Systems’.
Today HK is a melting pot of people from every part of the world and a majority of Cantonese Chinese. Fast, dynamic, open, free of entry without Visa, free access to uncensored Internet, most ordered public spaces, British right hand side lanes and car wheels. Mainland Chinese and Hongkongers regard each other with disdain. Hongkongers consider themselves more educated and open. Mainland Chinese historically consider them as sellouts, traitors or foreigner collaborators. HK is a tax heaven, financial capital in Asia, and also the center of operations for many companies who trade with China mainland, specially in the neighbor area of Guangdong, where the most important Chinese business trade show takes place: the Canton fair. You can cross the border with China on foot, through a bridge. I could see that many people does it everyday for work.
In HK many people speak English, many foreigners live there and it is the first time I see such amount of luxurious cars everywhere in the street. So many Tesla cars! A guy told me that around 15% of the inhabitants are millionaires. Of course the rest resign to live in the smallest apartments I’ve ever seen: smaller spaces than a parking spot where they’ve got kitchen, toilet and a room that sometimes share with different people.
Most things are very expensive, specially compared to China mainland. Transport is very efficient, some people never see sunlight as both their work and home buildings have direct access to subway. The subway card called Octopus also allows you to access and pay in most places from restaurants to supermarkets. An intricate net of tunnels and bridges allows you to cross the city without ever stepping a foot on the ground. Public and private spaces mix together: You go up some stairs to take a bridge, that later becomes a corridor, then it brings you to a bank hall, then a mall, then a roof park. It makes a very strange concept of urban space, that can become a challenge for orientation for people like me.
Conclusion and last thoughts
A country that has planned to lead the world and is committed to do so with an army of 1,4B productive workers (before blue collar and now highly trained) and consumers who are extremely pressured to learn and innovate, Europeans should feel called to work harder, to differentiate and join forces with them. We need more critical, strategic and creative thinking so as to compete and use more efficiently our smaller resources.
As competition gets more and more fierce, only powerful brands and very innovative concepts stand some chance against the oligopolistic conglomerates of the Chinese market. They have solutions (online products and services) for virtually everything: from cloud infrastructure, financial and human resources management, printing, mobility, … you name it.
We should waste no time and start placing China in our roadmaps!
In this edition, Podcast #32, Jordi Romero talk to Nacho Gonzalez Barros, who is typically introduced as serial entrepreneur, together with Juan Rodriguez, CEO at Camaloon and César Migueláñez, Product Director at Factorial. Nacho will share his story and experiences of launching and growing different businesses with us. Listen to our podcast on Youtube, iTunes or iVoox.
Nacho, what is your story?
I started in 1995 with one of the first ISP in Spain, called Intercom. I was 19 at that time and it was there that I saw how to start something. I got hooked and dropped out of my telecommunication studies. During this time at Intercom I was also very involved in the hiring process and really loved the part of finding talent. In this time about 100 selection processes went through me at the Intercom Group. This is where in 1997 I saw the opportunity to create Infojobs. We started with a technical co-founder and a business founder.
Actually we have had Albert Feliu and Javier Llorente as guests on our podcast as well!
Ah nice! Yeah, we’re all from the same family.
We spent a lot of years creating a company. Nowadays there is a lot of literature, but when we started out we had to learn as we went along. Infojobs went really well but that was just the start for me. When we sold Infojobs, I saw a new opportunity, the partners at Intercom trusted me and I set out to create Neurona, something like the Spanish LinkedIn, which I later sold to Xing, the German LinkedIn. Next I worked on Niumba, a web of apartments which was sold to Tripadivsor.
These three were the positive experiences but I have created a lot of failures.
There was Lincara — a social media platform focussed solely on the Spanish market. It was a disaster. Tuenti came along and we were not the best at executing. I was unfocused. We copied Friendster’s model but then Facebook came a long. Take a look at myspace and what happened when Facebook came along.
When you start, while trying the MVP, you can do other things but once you have traction you have to be all in, completely focused on the business.
Another example was Amigosfree, free dating site like plenty of fish. It’s the startup that had the most traction but we were missing a full time CEO. Dating creates recurrency, it’s a very attractive sector. And being free when Match and Meetic were paid was also a great advantage but here again the execution failed, I was doing too many things at the same time.
Now I am working on Mailtrack and it’s going very well — it’s a plugin for Gmail that adds a double check when your email has been read in Gmail. When somebody opens your email you are notified that the email has been read. We have 50 thousand customers with recurrent payments and are among the 100 extensions on the Chrome Appstore.
You’ve been working on Mailtrack for 5 years now. How does a product like yours evolve?
You put a pixel in the body of the email but technologically it’s incredibly complicated to create a product inside one of Google’s Apps. It seems really simple but technologically there is a lot of complexity behind it.
When you send an email with Mailtrack you add the statement ‘Sent with Mailtrack’ to the email. What part of growth comes from this virality?
About 45% of our growth is thanks to this virality.
Word of mouth is also important for us. There is a Wow effect upon seeing Mailtrack at work. Even people who are really into technology are surprised by this. It’s a very precise functionality nobody had worked on before.
In your past experiences there are either exits or companies that are closing. Mailtrack is going well but you haven’t sold yet. What is your plan?
The natural evolution is selling the company but we are not actively looking to sell, we are creating revenue. We have 2 million users and recurrent revenue — the most natural is that there is a CRM company in the US who sees this as a feature to their product. Not only valued by revenue and EBITDA but by the potential.
I don’t think of my company as my baby, I am a bit addicted to change.
Yes, so it seems. It seems like every 4 or 5 years you have a new idea.
I am really enjoying working on Mailtrack but the normal thing is that there will be somebody much better than me at scaling the company. I am much stronger at starting things and bringing them to revenues.
Do you do an autoscreening of your ideas?
Every time I am more rational and more of a realist when thinking about starting a project. Not obsessing about the solution but about the problem. Understanding the market, possible customers, talking to them. When I see that there is something that I need, that’s where I start with a project.
Yes, Infojobs was exactly this. I was a recruiter and I was going through 1000 of CVs so I really understood the problem other recruiters had. Now I am starting something related to hiring. I know the problem by heart. I see the problem and can visualize the solution.
I think before even starting to create a MVP you should go out talking to people to see if what you are thinking of is a ‘Must-Have’ or a ‘Nice to have’.
Fall in love with a problem before doing anything.
I think it’s important to recruit people close to you, early adopters, for a brain storming session about this problem and you really need to have a clear business models. There needs to be a clear business and you need to see that there is a space for you out there.
How are you going to start it?
Very cautiously as there is a lot of uncertainty. I am not going to raise capital but set out to better understand the market. Going from company to company to understand how they work, how they do recruitment and see if this solution could fit with their work style.
Listen to our podcast to learn more about Nacho’s plans for the future, how he sees the founder personality and what he thinks about the process of scaling a company. Learn more in this Podcast in Spanish on our Youtube channel, listen to it on iTunes or enjoy it through iVoox and subscribe to our newsletter to stay always up to date.
At itnig we strive to host the best talent in Europe. Our startups have attracted skilled and high performing professionals who enjoy working in a place they call home. With growing teams a new space became soon necessary and thus expanded to an additional floor in our same building.
Our new office space has been engineered with the experience of many years of startup hosting and designed for open startups that have different needs at every stage of their development. With a mix of working area, quiet meeting rooms and phone booths and many square meters destined to exchange, relax and fun itnig’s new floor is a great addition to Barcelona’s @22 district.
If you are interested in knowing the whole story of our new space keep on reading! In this article we will take a look at how we came to need more space, how we found the place and how we financed it.
All our startups are growing at such a rapid pace that is seems like every week we are welcoming a new team member and giving him or her a tour of the office.
We had been using the same 600sqm office for the past six years and we had to add to the space two times using available offices on the same floor. It wasn’t bad but not enough if we wanted to keep growing, and we will. So two years ago we started with the search of a new office where we could fit nicely today and in a future, to work concentratedly in the office, to invite people for meetings and conferences and to take calls without disturbing each other.
At itnig one of the most important parts is being able to share what we are doing, what we are learning or struggling with — we see our strength in the collective of different startups and different people. As such, we could not imagine having to split up just because we did no longer fit in one space or having to miss out on the external inputs we are receiving through our co-working area.
I, Meritxell Viladomat, itnig’s office manager was in charge of the search of the new office. We went out on many safaris though Poblenou to find a suitable space, I rang up countless of administrators and owners…until finding out about a company leaving in our same building. We were not the only ones interested and soon enough, two interesting parties started teaming up like allies to bet us out of it (and actually try to rent the same space to us ..). It was time to move quickly! What used to be the showroom and office of an apparel company was being sold. After going downstairs to visit the space several times we decided to go for it and scrambled to get the downpayment together. From the reservation of the space we now had three months to gather the whole sum.
Like a round of finance for one of our startups, we split the value of the office up into different parts and set out to find our investors. Surprisingly — or not? — it was rather easy to convince them of the value of our new office. When before we struggled to have our pitches heard, this time while talking about a building, a physical good, everybody we spoke to was interested.
Every time we pitched, we succeeded. Real estate, no risk, tangible and easily imaginable. That’s what our investors heard.
In only two months we were able to bring more than a million € to the table and so to finance our own floor in a Poblenou building. It was the first time, we wrote our business plan with clear certainties.
We see our office space as a company itself with a clear business plan with income streams and many expenses that needs to be profitable. Like our startups, it’s an investment for the long run — we are thinking ahead many years from now. Not only our startups contribute to the working space we also have a coworking space with more interesting people to learn from and exchange ideas with.
We think startups have 2 missions: To make a great product that satisfies needs and to sell it for a profit. At itnig we allow our startups to focus on this, instead of wasting time and effort on utility bills, reception services and other headaches. Renting an office and all the services apart is quite more expensive and time-consuming than renting in a shared space where there is already a team being in charge of all the office related tasks.
“Itnig puts the infrastructure and each startup or co-working user contributes their share.”
I am an architect and so planning the re-structuring, getting quotes and negotiating with the contractors came handy to me. Besides a little part that was used as a showroom, the new floor was pretty empty and in its original state. The few walls that were there did not serve us so we tore down everything. A white canvas. A fresh start.
A complicated thing that most external interior designers and architects face is that they do not know the customer. It takes some time and visits for them to get to know what their customer really want and why. All this discovery of needs for the space was already done in our case as I have been in the itnig team for already two years in charge of the office management. I spent two years getting to know the teams and what they think of the office through the Confort office polls that were sent repeatedly every 3 months. If you are curious about the poll answers, showers, free coffee and a terrace were the more demanded features, which at the end, we managed to include in the new offices.
We wanted an open space but at the same time every startup needs to have their closed space to work. The floor we chose had big windows in all its perimeter so we wanted to have the working areas with the natural light and the meeting rooms, bathrooms and kitchen in the middle without direct access to natural light. I went through different proposals still without knowing if we would finally be able to get the money and buy the floor. We thought about a floorplan with a circular design around the meeting room and services nucleus that at the same time would allow us to divide the floorplan into 5 different independent offices in case we would not be able to fill it with our startups.
We didn’t realise how poor our budget was until we started asking different contractors for quotes. As in very project it’s very important to find the right partners whom you can work well with and trust.
All in all the new space is 1.300 square meters big of which 490 square meters are dedicated to common areas: meeting rooms, chill out areas, terrace…
In this relation alone you can see how important exchange is for us here at itnig. For us working means learning, growing and challenging ourselves but also our businesses and we believe that this is best done in company. Each startup has their own corner, their own space to work from, and we come together to compare and contrast. Even though each of us faces a different market, the general logics of customer acquisition, retention and product development are the same and sometimes a new perspective gives unexpected input to push us to the next level.
In itnig’s Podcast #31 Jordi Romero, CEO at Factorial speaks with Antonio García Martínez about his past experiences designing ad-targeting products at Facebook and his perspective on the current Cambridge Analytica controversy. Listen to our podcast on Youtube, iTunes or iVoox.
After a doctorate in Physics, I started working at Goldman Sachs as Quant Analyst in 2005. It was the time of the financial crisis in the US, an economic apocalypse. I thought the only thing that might survive after this crisis is the technological sector.
So I became a Research Scientist in an online advertisement company, a niche in the tech sector. There I got to know my co-founders, we applied to YCombinator and went through their Bootcamp as a startup. During this time, all problems that can occur happened to us. After 10 months Twitter bought us in a so called Acqui-Hire, when they buy a company but what they are really after is the talent and to get the founders and employees on board. After a bit of drama I went to Facebook.
At Facebook, my role was that of a Product Manager of ad-targeting products. At this time, in 2011, the whole team at Facebook were 20–25 engineers and 5–6 Product Designers. We all fit in a meeting room. However, Facebook had about 1 billion users and even with almost non existing business or monetization model the revenue was high. It was the time Facebook would transition from a startup with a crude business model to what it is today.
I was involved in product development for things such as the Custom audiences. With the IPO Facebook went public and started to turn its focus towards monetization models. These two years of developing products are what makes Facebook money now.
What is going on with Facebook now in terms of privacy?
The Cambridge Analytica crisis comes from the Facebook platform. You probably all remember the time when you could login on Spotify through your Facebook account and would receive some kind of spam to your Facebook profile. Facebook decided to take this step of creating a platform to make an integral product that could span and connect different sites. However, this was not a good product, a fail, as in the long run nobody was using the Facebook platform. As a user, you would use Facebook to log in, some of your personal data are shared with the product you are logging in to and this data might be used.
There really is not much Facebook can do to regulate the data flow and what happens with this information once it leaves the Walled Garden of Facebook. And that’s basically what happened as researchers at Cambridge University created a psychographic model, an app which by asking questions tries to make a psychological assessment of you as a person. They were creating a five dimensional graph based on the big 5 personality traits (Ocean — openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism) and projecting the user’s personality in five dimensions.
Through a model they then correlate this with your political views, eg. pro Trump, pro immigration.. and combine your psychological profile and political stand with Facebook’s ad platform to be able to find a person on Facebook and specifically target advertisement to the believed preferences.
Obviously the story has some James Bond badness, researcher, an almost hidden secretive company, financing Breitbart, Bannon’s involvement as editor — It’s a compilation of different elements that makes this story.
If the problem was that Cambridge Analytica breached the terms of service of Facebook, why did Mark Zuckerberg hide?
This is a bit curious. I think it’s simply because Mark Zuckerberg is not the most social person, he’ll do a Q&A internally and answer all kind of questions but externally he seldomly shows his face.
The problem is the perception, not so much the actual impact it had in the elections but the perception of it.
What about Fake news?
I think fake news is a real problem but it’s hard because there is no obvious solution. Compared to ad content, organic content is much harder to control. People are used to having a Feed of content optimized to their likes by default. In the US a lot of media consumption happens through Social Media, that’s hard to change. Two months ago, Facebook made a change to the Feed, giving journalistic content less importance and in a way bringing the old Facebook- between friends- back again.
This reminds me of the last podcast in which we spoke about cultural fit. You once told me about the employee handbook, the little red book that you received at facebook. Can you tell us a bit about it?
In my book, Chaos Monkey I talk about it a bit. During the interviewing cycles, somebody will always ‘there is no cultural fit’ and this can be some hidden part of racism, sexism…it might mean ‘the candidate is not like me’. T
In regards to the Little Red Book, it was born in 2012 out of Facebook’s fear of converting into an old, structured company. Worried that they would not be able to keep the agility and aggressiveness of a startup, the Little Red Culture Book was one way of fighting against the corporate ageing that might creep upon us as an organization.
On the last page for example it reads:
If we don’t create the thing that replaces Facebook, someone else will.
That’s the tone of the Little Red Book, I still have one copy actually.
If you want to find out more about it, we recommend to read Antonio’s book with many more anecdotes from his time as Product Manager at Facebook: Get the book here and listen to the whole podcast on Youtube.