Behind Business (BB) - Do you see yourself as an entrepreneur or as a businessman?
Felipe - Do you see yourself as an entrepreneur or as a businessman?
Certainly as an entrepreneur, although I think that I will have to become a businessman more and more. The concept of an entrepreneur is associated with the willingness to create new things, meaning that we can even be entrepreneurs inside the company (the intrapreneurs), inside our house or in any other place, whereas the concept of being a businessman is much more associated to a manager of a company. Of course that, when the goes by, entrepreneurs naturally converge to become businessman/businesswoman alongside with the startup growth.
Have you ever had the entrepreneurial spirit or do you think you have developed it?
Being an entrepreneur is like being creative. There are people born with a higher predisposition to become entrepreneurs, but I think everyone can learn to become it, with more or less effort. In my case, I was inspired by people in my family, friends and friends of my family - my father for example, and my godfather, they all were, in some way, my inspiration. Furthermore, since I worked towards the technological area since my background is in computer engineering, I started experimenting in the early days of the college, beginning some projects there, such as the college’s computer graphics group... so it seems like it was a natural path for me.
Have you always been working on your own projects?
When I finished my master in engineering, I worked for others, for companies, for a while. Then, I started a project, but it did not go well, so I went back to work for others. But, at this time, I was already having a short-term perspective about that job; I just wanted to gain experience and money, and then, when the opportunity appears, I planned to do my own stuff, to create my own new solutions. So, as you can tell, in my case I became an entrepreneur because I was being inspired by people close to me and because I was studying at the engineering college, where I had space to create and experiment, and spare time to spend on those experiences.
Who inspires you?
I've never been the type of person that has idols. However, I can say that, on the one hand, I get inspiration from people that are close to me, one being my father. I have, on the other hand, sources of inspiration from personalities outside the business world, people who have fought for ideals more significant than themselves, such as Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama or Gandhi; people that are more focused on the being rather than on the having, are the ones that inspire me the most..
"People that are more focused on the being rather than on the having, are the ones that inspire me the most."
What were your most significant difficulties as an entrepreneur?
When I started my first project which was a portal/website for people interested in websites and/or web applications development, and who wanted to get and give back feedback on the usability of those websites, we made all the mistakes that a real newbie makes. We fell in love with our own idea to start with, and we only thought about the business model six months after we started developing it. As there was not a plan on how to make it a profitable business, the team began to slit when the individual job proposals began to arrive at every single team member. There is a famous sentence that says "Any project or startup without a business model is not a startup, it's a hobby." Naturally, when people started having other professional activities, the project died. Afterwards, I made an extensive analysis of why it had failed, and one of the main conclusions was the lack of experience.
And then you came back with another project?
I reflected a lot about the reasons why the project had failed. In the meantime, I've decided to organise a conference, called Boom, which was supposed to be small, with the idea of bringing together people from my course who had set up companies with the objective of sharing mistakes, failures, experiences and successes. Unexpectedly, the tickets were sold out! I made the decision to postpone the event for one month so that I could get a bigger room with the university. I ended up getting the main auditorium of the Porto’s engineering school. The event was such a success that out of the 13 speakers, I received a job proposal from 3 of them! Because of that lucky sequence of events, nowadays I say to everyone that if you want to be invited for a job, the best you can do is to organise a successful event and inviting the desired employers - if the event goes well, there is a high probability of receiving a job offer. And that's how I started working at UPTEC. Even having other options, like consulting, I preferred to start working at UPTEC.
Was joining UPTEC a big step in your career?
Yes, I learned a lot. Actually, mistakes are excellent to learn, but it is always better to learn from others' mistakes. I was exposed to many things, I learned, and I taught; it was very enriching. Spending five years in that environment, an essential time for entrepreneurship in Portugal, to see the number of startups incubated to grow exponentially... It was an enriching experience. During that period, I understood and supported the ecosystem, had to reach out to investors, had to be a mentor, and so on. Then, I left UPTEC to focus on Infraspeak. A year later, I was working together with four other entrepreneurs to start Founders Founders.
Then Infraspeak starts from there.
Yes, I partnered with Luis and we started working on the project that would become Infraspeak. It was a great challenge. The initial steps are the most complicated because it is necessary to first understand the market needs.
So if it were not for the Talks 2.0 event, you would not have made it to UPTEC, and you would not have founded Infraspeak.
It was not only due to the conference, as I believe everything is interconnected: if I had not failed in the first project, in my first attempt, I might not have made the event and had not had the opportunity to work at UPTEC. All the steps are interconnected and, therefore, everything is part of a path.
Is FoundersFounders an incubator or accelerator?
It is difficult to define but it is an incubator of scale-ups, companies already with the structure of sales, with a portfolio of clients, but we prefer to call it a community.
What was the bravest thing you ever did?
I think everyone who gets themselves into this entrepreneurial life is already courageous, especially when you already know what it implies. There is always a lot of risks involved. There are many associated uncertainties, but we always try to take the approach of only taking calculated risks. The beauty of entrepreneurship is that for all good practices and recommendation given, and that worked, there are always several examples of who did the opposite and ended up being successful.
Do you have a typical working day?
(shows his notebook written, scribbled, with bullet points of tasks, many of them already scratched) As you can see, I do not have that. My usual job these days is empowering people, giving them room to do their job well. So much of my time today is spent removing things out of the way, taking barriers out of employees path. When it comes to opening new markets and to define the strategy to tackle that market, that is another story. The only typical thing in my day is to be always changing the chip, going between topic to topic, either be thinking about the tomorrow’s presentation for the customer or launching a new functionality of the product or even discussing the new feature launch plan… So, constantly changing the chip and setting the work pace of the company - these are what I consider to be the only constants here. In Infraspeak we often say that "This has to be an orchestra: everyone is a specialist in their area, but the music must sound well together, in harmony."
How do you define success?
There are several types of success.. and we have already reached some of them. The first level would be to be able to become a reference company in the field, have a strong presence worldwide and the best outcome would be the success of our customers and the success of our team... We have a motto in the company which is "Be the source of a good life." My partner and I sold a “dream” to the first people who joined the company. We have this burden on our shoulders, and we must do our best to that dream, to which our team contributed immensely. Much of the success is to deliver the promises to the customers, employees and family - who have also done a lot to make all this happen. When reaching the end, someday, we would like to be able to feel that everything we went through was worth it, for all these people - this would be our most significant success. Then, there is the side effect of all this, the financial success. However, I see this part as a way to do other things, to be able, for example, to help more entrepreneurs, to invest in more companies and to help Founders Founders.
Of the various successes you have achieved, which one do you most appreciate now looking back?
There is one thing in the company I really appreciate, as I think it is a great achievement - the company’s culture. It was built over time with the sum of several small parts, such as the profile of the people we hired. For example, we have the culture of celebrating small victories; for every new customer, we celebrate as a team, in our beer wall, where we drink a craft beer. There are several little things that, added up, they totally make the difference. Then, there are the milestones, such as the first customer, obtaining a reference customer, the first customer in a new market, the first and second round of investment, and so on. There are always a series of small events that, all summed, they made what the company is today.
How do you manage uncertainty?
At manager level, it's relatively easy: it's doing projection exercises and preparing scenarios and making plans for each situation. The level of the person is already more complicated because there is no single theory behind it. I'd say it's trying to look at the positive side of things and keep going. As we walk, we will adapt ourselves and take calculated steps. The best way to manage uncertainty, which is constant at all levels in this life, is to be always on the move. And, of course, have the right team.
How do you see the world 20 years from now?
Any such exercise is pure futurism. I had a professor in the MBA who says that when making projections for the company, which are usually done for 3, 5 or 10 years, we need to put our focus on the ones that have already left, not on “the trains that haven't departed yet”. Following this reasoning, and “analysing the trains that have already departed", there will be many more technological and social issues. The world is going to face lots of challenges in terms of technology, for example in the electrical sector, which will undoubtedly grow, alongside with the area of autonomy and mobility, automation, both industrial and services, as well as the agriculture and food production (including the food in laboratory), towards higher efficiency. Now, concerning social issues, there will be many challenges: I foresee inequalities increasing - there will be fewer people with lots of resources and many more with less. This will be further affected by the arriving of artificial intelligence and automation. Thus, there is an increased risk of more social conflicts. It will be a dilemma: an exciting world due to technological developments, including in the employment field - with the so-called gig economy where people work for short-term projects instead of having long commitments, but a very unequal world it is not accompanied by changes and improvements at a social level. There may be significant social risks, but I tend to be positive, so I think that despite all this, of all the challenges, the world will continue to adapt. I, who had a daughter recently, hope she will still have a cool world to live in.