Case study: Startups from Sweden, Portugal, France: "Partnerships are key"

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

- 8 best advice for expanding to Spain.

In May 2018, we asked 3 international startups from Sweden, Portugal and France who already have made the expansion journey about their insights when taking their business to Spain. Here are their 8 best pieces of advice to make it a smoother journey. Quick tip: Patience is required!

Local presence is a must

The potential of the Travel and Hotel e-Commerce sectors was the main reason for Doinn, housekeeping services for short-term vacation rentals hosts, to expand their online platform from Portugal to Spain, says Noelia Novella, CEO & Founder.

Until now she has run the company from Portugal but to strengthen your local network and meet in person you need to be in the country she says:

“It is too hard to develop the business without a local presence, so I’m moving to Spain.”

People and Passion come before Productivity

Marc Miralda, COO, TechBuddy, comparing with Sweden where the startup was founded, emphasizes that especially partnerships with corporations take time, affecting the expansion cost.

Noelia Novella adds another important metric and unexpected observation that Spanish managers do not always take into account the price of their own time.

As with all stereotypes they tend to hold some truths and although what is said about the Spanish work ethic is somewhat confirmed by the interviewees, there are cultural reasons to take into account before forming your opinion.

The average full-time working week is just over 40 hours, from 9am and can go on until as late as 8pm, with long lunch breaks between 2pm and 4–5pm. Work talk starts after coffee, and lunch is considered a time to relax, not the working lunch you may be used to.

“Most people warned me about productivity being lower than in France. For me this factor shows in how Spanish people are so passionate, even in business relationships”, says Clément Destoumieux, CEO and founder of medmesafe, genetics analysis from home.

He continues:

“The way to make business is very casual in comparison to other countries and in my opinion, people are more important than processes for the Spaniards.”

“Business people are super friendly and willing to help”, comments Noelia Novella.

The people before process motto is paired with the importance of meeting someone in person, not just talking on the phone, as confirmed by Marc Miralda:

“When it comes to negotiations with potential partners it is really important to meet physically. I guess Spanish people just like to be close to each other, to be with other people.”

He adds that the Spanish collective culture has also provided some indirect competition:

“Everyone here has a tech savvy friend or relative they can ask for help, which is different from Sweden. Although more people are now willing to pay to save time to solve a specific problem."

Speaking Spanish helps

In terms of getting by with only English it is getting easier and most people are willing to help you and go the extra mile to understand you, regardless of your language, as commented by Clément Destoumieux:

“The English level is not that bad, I think their level is enough to work and Spanish are very open and friendly people that will do everything for communication to work out.”

However, like everywhere else in the world speaking the local language will always give you an advantage, especially in the corporate world, according to Marc Miralda:

“In the startup world you can manage with only English but in the corporate world Spanish is a must. Many times my counterpart does not speak English at all and to have a translator would slow things down and effect the flow in a negative way.“

17 autonomous regions

There are cross regional differences in policies and rules for the 17 regions in Spain. As recommended by Clément Destoumieux:

“You have to work at a province or regional level as the country is not centralized.”

As for further opportunities when being based in Spain, “It means an open window for the Latin America market”, he adds.

In summary, the proverbial red thread can be found both in the infamous and tedious red tape as well as in the equally famous, scarlet red and passionate heart of the Spaniards.

You need to come here armored with lots of patience and willingness to embrace the slower pace. I suggest using the waiting time to increase your knowledge about the Spanish culture by talking to people in person, getting to know them more intimately than on just a “business acquaintances” level.

8 best advice for an international startup expanding into Spain:

1. Find a local person to adapt and adjust the business.

2. Find local partners for setting up and providing local contacts.

3. Get visibility in the startup community, be really active there!

4. Respect the culture and the specificities of the country.

5. Spain has to be understood as a union of 17 different regions.

6. Ask the market about their real needs.

7. Hire a local person.

8. Translate everything to Spanish.

Crafted by Caroline Lagergren

What do you need to know about Spain's startup ecosystem? Get this 70 pages, data-rich* report for clarity! (€20): REPORT: Spain's startup ecosystem and digital economy * Packed with names you will want to contact. ;)

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