Accelerating in Barcelona: The Story of Portuguese Startup HiJiffy [Interview]

They say that chatbots are the future – but the future of chatbots is being determined right now by innovative companies who are applying more and more new uses to this state-of-the-art technology. The three co-founders of HiJiffy, a young startup hailing from Portugal, created a bot called Jiffy to serve as a “messenger concierge” that takes bookings, deals with check-in and check-out processes and provides guests with recommendations through a hotel’s Facebook Messenger. The team of three started their company in Lisbon, and moved on to grow in Europe’s first growth acceleration program for tech startups, NUMA Barcelona. We managed to catch them at 4YFN last week, and asked HiJiffy co-founder Tiago Araújo about their story, their impressions of the Barcelona startup scene, and their plans for the future as a startup that’s now on an unstoppable roll.

The three Co-Founders of HiJiffy, a Portuguese startup in the NUMA Barcelona growth acceleration program
Pedro Gonçalves, José Mendonça and Tiago Araújo, co-founders of HiJiffy

Tell me about HiJiffy as a team. Where does your story begin?

My co-founders and I used to work for a digital marketing agency in Lisbon, that’s where we met. We were managing different teams within the same company. We came up with the idea of doing a project together, and we were so keen on making it happen that we decided to quit our jobs and put all our efforts into HiJiffy. We saw an opportunity within the hospitality industry that we wanted to take advantage of, and it seemed like the right moment.

And where did it go from there?

After having worked on our prototype for four to six months, we applied to an acceleration program in Lisbon called Lisbon Challenge, within Beta-i, one of the biggest accelerators in Portugal. Coming from the corporate world, we basically had no idea what startups were at the time. We had a lot to learn about this sector – in fact, we are still learning – and there were several key factors essential to building a startup that we didn’t understand yet. We spent a few amazing months in this acceleration program, and they gave us a solid base to kick-start our company, in terms of setting goals, finding investment opportunities, creating a business model, road maps and so on. We then finally arrived at a prototype that we were happy with, and we got our first sale in Portugal. This was six months ago.

So how did you end up in NUMA Barcelona?

Since we already had a functional prototype that was working perfectly well for our first client, we decided to seek help with growing our company, especially in terms of sales. NUMA’s program seemed like a great choice, because it’s structured for growth. We’ve been working with them here in Barcelona since November, and it has been truly amazing.

What are some of the highlights of your time with NUMA?

During the program, we had the amazing opportunity to attend an event series that NUMA called “Founders Stories”. We had the chance to meet people on a weekly basis who have already founded, grown or sold startups. We grabbed a beer, sat down, and they talked about their stories. One of them was a co-founder of Typeform, who was absolutely great, very accessible and easy to talk to.

How do you see the ecosystem in Barcelona as opposed to the one in Lisbon?

There are countless great startups based in Barcelona, and along with the city itself, they are attracting lots of talented people, including foreigners. Something that we have yet to accomplish in Lisbon – I believe that it will happen in the next five to ten years – is to attract top-level people. Another opportunity that NUMA gave us was meeting the former Director of Growth of Twitter, who worked with us for several weeks as a mentor, and then decided to invest in our company. Massive events like this one [4YFN] are also a great opportunity to access these amazing people. For example, I just pitched to the VP of Innovation of Samsung! The Web Summit in Lisbon, which is already a massive international tech event, also has this potential.

Product of HiJiffy, a Portuguese chatbot startup in the NUMA Barcelona growth acceleration program

What are the downsides of living in Barcelona at the moment in your opinion?

One of the things that Barcelona needs to be careful with, and the City Hall is already taking action with regards to this, is that rent prices are climbing because of Airbnb. The city needs to figure out a way for people who live in Barcelona and the sharing economy to coexist. The same is happening is Lisbon too, but on a smaller scale, and it’s really difficult to remain flexible in this situation.

What are your plans for the near future?

We’re going back home to Lisbon to get an office and build a team, but we will be flying back and forth. We have investors and clients in Barcelona, and I also see a huge potential for new clients here. Our goal is to establish ourselves in New York by the summer, because about 40% of our potential customers are there. Our headquarters will be in Lisbon: it’s a fantastic place to be, it’s really affordable (if you have a salary of 1500-2000 euros, you’ll be completely comfortable there, you can easily rent an apartment alone, with no roommates). The ecosystem has been growing stronger since around five years ago, and there are some amazing startups there too.

Logo of HiJiffy, a Portuguese chatbot startup in the NUMA Barcelona growth acceleration program

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