Barcelona at the Centre of the Startup World: 4YFN 2018 Recap

4YFN, the annual startup conference held parallel to the Mobile World Congress came and went like winter in Barcelona, hitting with full force and disappearing before we had a chance to fully appreciate it. Now that everyone has cooled off a bit, we look back on the past few days as an infinite source of inspiration, lots of fun and a great chance to make new connections. This year’s conference was bigger, busier and slightly more overwhelming than the fourth edition. One thing’s for sure: for three days, Barcelona was at the centre of the startup world. This is a non-comprehensive and very subjective recap, with lots of photos!

Before we get into reminiscing about our favorite moments and reveal what we’ve managed to take away from the talks, we’re going to let the photos of the Exhibition Area, the wonderland with all the startup stands, speak for themselves.

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And now, about the programme…

Leading by example – success stories of Barcelona startups

This year’s conference put a special emphasis on showcasing the success stories of local heroes. On Day One, we were treated to interviews with the founders of two amazing Barcelona startups, Typeform and HolaLuz.

The co-founders of Typeform, Robert Muñoz and David Okuniev hit the stage wearing the jeans-sneakers-hoody combo obligatory for young startup founders. The timing was perfect to bring them together on stage with investor Guzmán Díaz (Index Ventures): they’ve just undergone a massive product rebuild and a period of rapid growth. Having gone from 30 to around 190 people in just three years, they’re now at a point where they’re starting to feel the changes that come with growing past the Dunbar Number – as Okuniev put it –, which is the maximum number of people with whom you can still maintain a meaningful relationship and have each other’s backs. 

For now, Typeform’s entire team is based in Barcelona, but Muñoz says they’re feeling “the pull of the market in the US”, which is where a large chunk of their clients are based. According to him, it’s best not to decentralize your business if it’s not a must, but each company has different needs.

Robert Muñoz and David Okuniev, Typeform

Typeform, which Okuniev referred to as “an inherently viral product”, owes 50% of its users to virality. Right now, they’re in the middle of defining a new roadmap, and their hope is that 500,000 active users will be building typeforms within the next two years.

 

“You need a strong product vision before you define a product roadmap.” – David Okuniev, Co-Founder & Co-CEO at Typeform

 

Carlota Pi Amorós is a true local heroine. It was a delight to see her on stage. She talked about what makes Barcelona-based HolaLuz, a 100% green electricity startup stand out. “I don’t like to be compared with utilities, because it’s an easy game to win. I’d rather be compared with other companies that are disrupting the industry,” she said.

Carlota Pi Amorós, HolaLuz

She also shared her views on the evolution of the Barcelona startup ecosystem, which “has seen several important exits since 7 years ago when HolaLuz was founded, which really helps build the ecosystem”. According to her, what the Barcelona needs to work on is “dreaming big, and believing that it’s possible to do whatever we want to do.”

 

“We are not just here to be the local heroes, we’re here to really change the world.” – Carlota Pi Amorós, Co-Founder at HolaLuz

 

What else is blockchain?

The State of the Crypto session on Day One was definitely not meant to be an introduction – the panel dove right into discussing the role of tokens, ICO’s and future trends of the blockchain market. I’ll admit for me it was hard to keep up at times, but the session did provide loads of interesting insight into the crypto world from the investors’ point of view.

One of the main conclusions was that there’s so much more to blockchain than cryptocurrencies, with speaker Richard Muirhead of Fabric Ventures saying “What we’re looking for is scalable decentralized networks within which a software token has a role – not necessarily the historical role of a currency. There are lots of examples of non-currency uses of blockchain and tokens, and those are precisely the businesses that we’re looking to invest in.” The hall was full to the brim, confirming the massive interest (or hype?) that blockchain is attracting these days.

 

“The amazing thing that has been created here is a platform for permission-less experimentation.”Richard Muirhead, Founder & Partner at Fabric Ventures

 

Lessons on how to thrive as a woman in tech, and empowering women in the tech space

Day Two was all about Women4Tech. Three sessions and an exhilarating startup competition to demonstrate that there are women – and men – who are tirelessly fighting for the empowerment of women in the tech space, across industries and borders.

Susanne Birgersdotter, Milky Way Cap

Susanne Birgersdotter, entrepreneur and investor shared her story of all the double standards and unfairness she’s had to deal with as a female entrepreneur who founded two tech companies. She’s not a techie, and she’s had to face serious scrutiny, especially from investors, for not being developer and still daring to found a tech startup – while men are never questioned for doing the same! “They saw me as someone who lacked skills, because I wasn’t from the tech world. When a man builds a company in an area that he knows nothing about, he’s considered brave,” she said. She was excluded from drinks after board meetings, “where the real decisions were made”, and criticized for every little mistake she made in situations where men would be “considered go-getters”.

So how did she keep going? She worked harder, pushed harder, and became braver. Her advice: be confident, be brave, really believe in yourself and your idea!

 

“Get out of your comfort zone and get into the kickass zone! And remember that it’s OK if you fail.” – Susanne Birgersdotter, Partner at Milky Way Cap

 

Next up within the Women4Tech programme, Aline Santos, EVP for Global Marketing and Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Unilever gave a talk about empowering women to succeed in startups and made a powerful promise on behalf of Unilever that in the next 5 years, they would put enormous effort into funding female-led companies.

“The digital gender gap is growing. Every year, progress is actually slowing down. We need to take action now!” – was Santos’s call to action.

Aline Santos, Executive Vice President for Global Marketing and Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Unilever giving a Women4Tech keynote speech at 4YFN 2018 Barcelona
Aline Santos, Unilever

Her speech was followed by an encouraging panel discussion about Diversity as a Driver of Innovation, which was, unfortunately, so very short for the incredible lineup of speakers. I felt like the panel ended with the audience hungry for more from the likes of Doreen Bogdan-Martin (ITU) and Nimma Bakshi (PwC), who only had a chance to say a few sentences each about the global impact of their work.

Right after the panel, the audience had the chance to witness an emotional pitch competition for diversity, the Hack_D_Gap Global Challenge. All of the young founders pitching were incredibly passionate and inspiring, and the room quickly filled with excitement as they explained the projects that they’ve dedicated their lives to. Congrats to Wisar for taking home the prize!

 

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Intelligent houses, a cinema in your home and everything in between

Day three started off with a speech by Max Amordeluso (Amazon), about how AI, Machine Learning and Voice control are changing the way we interact with technology. The futuristic tone was maintained in the next session discussing business challenges in artificial intelligence startups. We were super happy to see Hutoma and Catchoom representing Barcelona AI startups.

 

“Today there is a whole generation growing up assuming that you can, and you will always be able to talk to your house.” – Max Amordeluso, EU Lead Evangelist Alexa at Amazon

 

To round off the day, we attended an interview session with yet another local hero, Jacinto Roca, CEO at Rakuten TV, who shared his memories of how he managed to bag the first round of investment for his startup, how he defined an exit strategy from the beginning and how he eventually sold the company. He also clarified how Rakuten TV is aiming to differentiate itself from the likes of Netflix by focusing on minimizing the time between the date when a movie appears on the big screen and when it’s released for audiences to watch at home.

 

“Competing against Hollywood from Barcelona is a very risky project.” – Jacinto Roca, CEO at Rakuten TV

 

All in all, we left 4YFN feeling inspired, exhausted, slightly dizzy and a bit reluctant to return to our quiet office.

And let’s not forget that in this post, we only mentioned a few of all the sessions we attended, covering a small fraction of what went on at 4YFN. We didn’t even get to all the startup pitches, the Digital Health Summit, the Meet the Press event, the networking activities… It’d be impossible to list it all.

What were the highlights of 4YFN 2018 for you? Which session did you enjoy the most and which startups blew you away? Let us know, and check out the rest of the photos we took to remember this year’s superb conference!