netzstrategen goes Barcelona

There are two reactions when I tell people we’re opening up an office in Barcelona – WOAH and WTF. I understand both. It is a great cultural and professional, digital hotspot on this planet. But it also is a big change for a small company like ours to add the operational complexity to the entire organisation. Why we are still doing I want to try and explain here.

First off, we are in great need of developers in all colours and forms. As our business model grows from purely business analytics, strategy consulting and organisational restructuring to providing the technical solutions we found that our ability to attract new clients caused a lot of friction with existing clients since their systems still need maintenance and have to be further developed. This kind of legacy business is quite new for consultants whose work (and revenue) with a client usually drops tremendously after a project is finished.

So we found ourselves in the situation of having way too much work for way too little people – which is not very satisfying for the client, the project manager nor the software developer involved in the job. And transferring a six digit annual budget to freelancers and partners isn’t a long term strategy for a company with our culture and strategy.

Clearly our first move was to look around our existing office in Karlsruhe for new people and with Timo, Daniel and Fabian we found three talented, motivated and super fun new strategians to strengthen our team in this regard. We also worked on our processes and technical strategies to enable project managers – today many technical requests and requirements can be solved directly by them.

But overall our measures to find more people to support us in this field weren’t very successful. Over all we may have had ten more applications in 2015 for our development openings. And most of them just weren’t a fit. Many developers we met in Karlsruhe wanted to work in a bigger team dev-team with less projects and clients and a more “ticket-based” daily work. Things we cannot offer nor promise. So at the end of the day we hit a wall here.

We also checked several cities in Germany. Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne – and also Leipzig and Halle. But formally there’s no better situation than in Karlsruhe: many companies are looking for the same kind of person offering similar work package with similar benefits. It would be even harder to differentiate there for us not having a name nor office where we could start events like our “Feierabend”.

Plus in most of those cities office rents are even higher than in Karlsruhe and the support of the chamber of commerce for founders or new companies equals zero – since they have so much demand.

Parallel to that I started talking to the chamber of commerce in Barcelona since my brother Nico moved his business there from Denmark in the beginning of 2015 as well. And once visiting him he got me in touch with Barcelona Activa – a subsidiary of the local Chamber of Commerce.

And the situation in Barcelona is quite different than in most of the German cities. 25% youth unemployment. An economy still plummeting struggling to get back on its feet. Many empty buildings – mostly former production facilities. While tourism keeps the city busy and afloat it decided to make the most out of the situation and market to international IT companies for a more sustainable growth through the digital industries.

There’s a huge district of the city called 22@ being remodelled and optimised for tech start- and grownups. And by offering incubators, networks, events and an excellent service for founding or settling companies from other countries they are building an environment that is quite attractive compared to the German alternatives we evaluated.

So we took the chance and ran ads in three online platforms/marketplaces for the job profiles we were looking for. And within four weeks we had over sixty applications in our inbox – way more than we were able to handle while being busy with our running projects. So we had to find efficient ways to work through the applications and evaluate the candidates which we did by integrating the “feed” into our project management tool and give the whole process a little more structure. We definitely didn’t live up to our standards here when it comes to applicant feedback – but improved our initial level of communication.

A great surprise was the amount of applications not only from Barcelona but also from other cities in Spain and actually thought Europe. People who just decided they wanted to live and work in Barcelona. Even applicants from Germany started talking to us about the possibility to work from down there.

On the other hand it was clear to us that we won’t start with a team of ten or more people since the culture and atmosphere within the team has to develop and the bridge to Germany has to grow both personally and professionally.

So we decided on two guys to start with and a few more to hire once we are up and running in BCN (which is the airport code of Barcelona and our internal abbreviation for the office). And we’ll start in a cool co-working spot in 22@ called “Valkyria” very similar to the former meatpacking district “Alter Schlachthof” we are located in Karlsruhe.

And yeah – we may be paying slightly lower taxes in Spain. And we also may be able to pay lower wages there compared to Germany (which we don’t). But those were not our drivers to start the (internally also debated) adventure netzstrategen BCN. We were looking for great people who want to make the digital world more feasible. Who want to build applications that make people’s lives better and help companies to find their way into and inside the digital age. And we feel like we found these people in the pool of applicants for our BCN office from all over Europe.

Personally I am excited for netzstrategen to become a more international company bringing in new ideas and thoughts from people with very different backgrounds and cultures – which always has been part of our DNA. And I am excited about a new level of professionalism we have to achieve in order to connect the offices and form one team.

And, at the end of the day, and especially from October to March, I prefer flying two hours south into the sun and to the beach instead of heading towards grey, cold, rainy, icy places up north 😃

See you in BCN.

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