Spain’s most international actor, Antonio Banderas, caused quite a stir on a chat-show last year when he unleashed a broadside at the lack of ambition of Spanish youth and the ‘typical vice’ of envying other people’s success. He praised the capacity for sacrifice seen in the USA, and despaired at the results of a poll carried out by a university in Andalucía, in which three-quarters of students aspired to be civil servants. “It’s about working hard and having big dreams…you don’t make a country great when 75% of people want to be civil servants, but when people take chances… like in the USA, where the young have aspirations and want to be in charge of their own lives.”
That may be a little hard on the young of a country where successive Governments have done little or nothing to encourage any real spirit of enterprise. And should Banderas have paid a visit to Salon MiEmpresa, the Madrid business fair for entrepreneurs held in February, he may have been pleasantly surprised. Around 15,000 current or aspiring entrepreneurs filled the different auditoriums to soak up advice from more than 300 speakers, network among themselves or seek help from mentors.
None of the speakers offered an easy path to success and riches. Self-sacrifice is a given: one speaker asked how many of the audience had set up a company, and how many of those had been at least a year without drawing a salary – about the same number of hands were raised each time.
The subjects were wide-ranging; self-improvement featured large, with talks on mindfulness, time management, motivation or attitude change. We learned to boost our sales through email marketing, storytelling, emotional advertising or using the social networks. We were advised how to seduce investors (not literally), negotiate with our bank, or raise money through crowdfunding; or how to understand industrial property, attract top tech talent, and start exporting.
For an overview of the local start-up scene, nothing better than the round table debates featuring well-known Investors, founders or observers. Here are some of the things Madrid Metropolitan learned.
Spain has good entrepreneurs and talent – but could do with more. Hiring great employees and keeping them is a challenge. While Spanish start-ups still look relatively cheap and attract foreign investors, Spain needs established companies to buy and integrate start-ups, allowing money invested to feed back into the system. For those companies, buying new ideas will usually be a cheaper way of keeping ahead of the pack than developing them in-house.
Budding entrepreneurs shouldn’t get fixated on the need for a big idea. It’s a good start, but the most important thing is to get the right team in place. Whatever idea you do have, it should solve a problem for your potential customers. And remember that Innovation does not necessarily mean high tech – putting a new spin on a traditional business can be innovative too, and just as profitable.
One renowned entrepreneur and investor warned that separating from a business partner is much more painful than splitting with a spouse. Look for partners with similar values but different and complimentary skillsets, he advised, and get in place a robust partner agreement.
How much of this kind of advice had been received by Gïk, one of the most unusual start-ups present, is unknown. Its young team, all in their twenties, came up with the idea of making a bright blue wine. Having sought out the most traditional and close-minded industry they could find, they decided to shake it up – for the hell of it. None of them knew anything about wine-making. Spain has banned them from calling it wine (even though it clearly is), but they still sold more than 100,000 bottles of the stuff in their first year. “We are Gïk and we will change the world”, says their website. No lack of ambition there, then.
By Roger Pike, WH Advisers – Helping International businesses understand Spain