Global Observer

The SpotBros do entrepreneurship, Spanish style

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MADRID -- Start-up SpotBros talk about their more secure application to stay in touch, as well as the challenges of being entrepreneurs in Spain.

MADRID--With the highest unemployment rate in 16 years, why on earth would six friends quit their solid jobs to start their own company? If you ask SpotBros, it was now or never.

"I don't have to pay for a house. I don't have a girlfriend. I don't have a car. I don't have that kind of responsibilities that (I would) in seven, eight, ten years. I think we have to try it," says one of the SpotBros partners Fernando Calvo. "It's a good experience, and I think, if this goes well, if this works, we will work and we will be happy. If this doesn't work, we will be also happy because we will learn so much. Many people think if you have tried to do a business and you fail you are a loser, but I am not loser."

The guys were working in tech and business roles, for companies such as Accenture and Sony, when they decided--when Spanish unemployment was only around 22 percent--to quit their jobs and start their own app company.

"We all had our good jobs in Spain.  That's why my mother said I was crazy," Calvo says.

After quitting their jobs, the 27- and 28-year-olds pulled money and passed the basket round to family and friends to pay for housing, food and servers. Since October, four of the six-man team have been living and working together 20 hours a day, seven days a week to make their start-up SpotBros a reality.

What exactly is SpotBros? It's an application for your Android and soon your iPhone that allows you to connect and chat with friends in the moment, "on the Spot," with more security than other popular brands.

Users can Shout--"a loud speaker you have in your pocket to ask for help, to ask for suggestions from local people" of yummy restaurants, good shopping and other hot Spots around the neighborhood they're in at that moment. It's designed for travelers and first-comers to a new place, who could be checking in to find the best tapas near Plaza Mayor. It also appeals to locals, like hipsters in Malasaña, who like to talk about their favorite places or who are wandering around on a warm night trying to figure out a new place to try. They shout a question and people who are there right then, or folks who've been there before and maintain their "Spotty" interest can reply.

"To detect this Spot, you need to be in the geographical area in that spot, but once you are in (the Spot) you can stay in," Calvo says.

Also it has the typical chat functions like WhatsApp. The difference is the security level is much higher. All conversations are encrypted by AES 256 BITS technology, so no one can read anything written without being already connected to a Spot or a friend being accepted.

"Those who are sending (messages via) WhatsApp are not encrypted--IT folks can read" what they write, Calvo says. Also many WhatsApp users, at least in Spain, complain that strangers can contact them by just plugging in random phone numbers. There's a definite market for this inexpensive form of communication, as the Spanish cell phone giants Vodaphone, Movistar and Orange have all reported millions of euros in losses on SMS fees that they blame WhatsApp for. WhatsApp typically costs subscribers a euro a year, while SpotBros promises to always be free.

Calvo also says SpotBros is more secure because there will be nothing like a "timeline"--"Everything you can send will be removed from the server in 30 days."

Last month, they launched the beta and there have been 13,000 downloads so far. The SpotBros beta is currently available to Androids, and they are working on the release of the iPhone app, maybe in two months. They started a month ago in Spain, and then they released the technology about two weeks ago to Venezuela, Columbia, Mexico, Peru, Uraguay, Paraguay, Chile and Argentina. The app is available in Spanish, English, French and Portuguese. Calvo also says that they would be opening the SpotBros beta to other countries in another couple weeks, but he wasn't sure which ones.

But is quitting your jobs to develop a free smartphone application profitable?

"We quit our jobs because we think we have a nice idea for an app people will love," Calvo says. "Right now, we earn nothing."

In fact, they don't exactly have a plan for making a profit yet. "In the future, maybe the users can interact with businesses. It's a new communication channel between these kinds of business and the users," Calvo says. He suggested the possibility of companies--music groups, stores, restaurants--also joining. "If the user wants, he can follow 'Zara Spot,' and they can send you the new catalog." He did say this possibility would be very far off in the future.

"Right now we work twenty hours a day to improve the app (in order to) have people like the app. We want to have many users and to see how people like it," Calvo says. "We have many things to improve and many suggestions from the users. I want to imagine this is the normal thing for a start-up."

SpotBros is truly a team "bro" effort with six owners--Alvaro Marcos, Gorka Rodriguez, Alejandro Lopez, Tristan Velasco, Igor Zabala, and Calvo--from Madrid, Bilbao and Australia, along with collaborators Xabier Udaondo, Borja Lopez, Sergio Cires and the lonely female Marta Gimeno. However, only four or five people live in the Madrid house they all work in and out of.

"For the moment, it's OK," Calvo says, "but the good thing and the bad thing in having the office in the living room is that you have to work all day.  Now it's what we have to do, so it's not a problem. Right now, it's an opportunity."

He says the lack of support is one of the many challenges of starting a start-up in Spain, and that the government and culture need to support entrepreneurship more.

"The initial steps have been hard. I think Spanish people have ideas and want to make them (a reality,) but I think the facilities to take the step and to make the idea is the thing we have to improve in Spain. It's difficult to make the bureaucracy and papers--many steps to create an enterprise," Calvo says.  "The hard thing is to take the idea into practice. It's hard to find a team of friends that are very good at what they do. It's hard to convince people to leave everything and come to do the business."

Calvo says that he thinks in the United States there is a different environment around entrepreneurship, in which universities support it and it is normal to go out on your own.

"Here, in Spain, it's like you are a crazy person," he says.

The SpotBros have the work ethic and each other, and they will keep going.

Photo/Video: SpotBros

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Jennifer Riggins

Correspondent (Barcelona)

Jennifer Riggins is the content manager and community builder for two SaaS Quote Roller and PandaDoc, as well as she teaches sales, English, and public speaking for Spanish small business. She holds a degree from William Paterson University. She is based in Spain. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure