Tuesday, December 15, 2009

State of High Tech in Barcelona

I've been spending the last two years trying to infiltrate the high-tech scene here in Barcelona. The sad thing is that it is pathetically small. Everyone knows everyone else because, well, there's not a whole lot of us.

Ironically, there's actually quite a bit of money available from the local venture capital, but they can't find anyone worthwhile to spend it on.

Local talent is very immature and senior leadership is few and far between.

For a vibrant high tech center, you really cannot build it from home grown talent. I've worked in Silicon Valley and the number of people that I met who were actually from that area was very small. Large multinationals (Google, MS, Intel, etc) are the magnets that can bring in enough talent to create a self-sustaining ecosystem.

Unfortunately, Catalunya's pissing match with the central government has created an environment that most multinationals don't want to deal with. The system of enchufe also means that your choice between Barcelona and Madrid is a matter of "taking sides", so Madrid is really the safe choice, since Madrid enchufe is really going to be what makes it happen, rather than those jokers in the Generalitat. Oh maybe they'll put a sales office in Barcelona for those juicy government deals. Other than that, they pretty much steer clear of Catalunya.

The fact is, if you set up your main office in Barcelona, you will not be able to recruit people from anywhere else in Spain. Whereas in Madrid, it's trivial to recruit from anywhere in Spain. In addition, Madrid is a gateway into South America, which provides incredible growth opportunities in the emerging markets. Catalunya tries to do its own thing, but mostly ends up confusing foreigners who don't understand the local politics. It's too bad, because Catalunya used to have great connections to South America (ie habaneras)

It's been sad for me to meet very talented people and then have to say goodbye to them after they get frustrated from the lack of seriousness here. My situation is weird enough that none of this bothers me too much, so I'm still here :)


Just to be clear, it's pretty easy to recruit young smart people from all around the world to Barcelona. It's one of the big plusses. However, trying to get high level experienced folks to move here is a nightmare, even from other parts of Spain. Remember, these people are not the desperate ones, but the people who could get a job anywhere they want.

The newsweek article "Silicon Envy" is a good description of the various failures around Europe to create the next silicon valley.


Tom said...

"The fact is, if you set up your main office in Barcelona, you will not be able to recruit people from anywhere else in Spain."

Sorry, but that's absolute rubbish. I work in that very industry in Barcelona and I'm regularly involved in recruitment processes. We recruit from all over the world and being from Madrid or Salamanca or Bilbao is not a disadvantage: we have valued team members from all those cities and many more around Spain and the rest of the world.

The main problem we encounter is that many Spaniards and Catalans seem pathologically driven to exaggerate their qualifications and skills, meaning that a lot of time is wasted at the interview stage by people who actually aren't suitable.

Tom said...

Surely that has to do with those people you're trying to recruit. I don't see what it has to do with Barcelona versus Madrid. If they don't want to move because of either (a) being comfy where they are or (b) some confused misconceptions about Catalonia, they don't sound like they're particularly free thinking, dynamic individuals.

santcugat said...

For people with kids, it's a very difficult choice to move here (in hindsight, I don't know what we were thinking :) ). There's the crappy educational system (originally I blamed it on the language, but a recent study suggests that it's just general all-around crappiness), incredibly high drug use, street crime, and backwards anti-smoking laws.

Incredibly low salaries here also mean a big exodus of local talent. Moving to another country for a 4x increase in pay is pretty tempting for most people.

Perhaps it's also a matter of me getting used to the lack of mobility for people in Europe. In the US, families wouldn't think much of dragging everyone across the country to some better job. Here people would be less likely to move even to the neighboring town.