Behind Business (BB) - Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur or a businessman?
José - I like to see myself more as an entrepreneur because what I really enjoy doing is to create, to build and to think about a business from the ground up, from the idea stage, the product, the distribution channels, how to reach the customer, and so on. These are all entrepreneurship phases. An entrepreneur will always have responsibilities in an already established organisation, where business is already at cruising speed. But if everything goes as expected, I will have to become a businessman with Noocity's growth.
How did you come up with a home garden?
There were several factors. Two other friends and I were in a stage of life in which we were planning to leave Porto. As a matter of fact, we were planning to stop living in the city of Porto and move to a more rural environment, in the countryside. We feel that connection to nature, to agriculture even; it has always been something that bonded us together. Actually, we were thinking of buying a piece of land and move there, but it has never been easy to make our life possible in these places; for instance, I already had a family, and we had to think as well about our children, their interaction with other children was an essential factor to consider... We concluded it would be complicated, that this change would be a significant rupture with the life that we had in Porto. However, at that time we had a workspace in the city centre of Porto where there was a small patio. We decided to start cultivating there, just for our own consumption, as a hobby, but it was then that we began to implement an automatic irrigation system (to avoid the need to water the plants every day...).
It was at that time your irrigation system started to be known?
The funny thing is that our friends who visited us, and even our customers, started to covet what we had begun to do, "Wow, what a cool idea! Very interesting! I would like to have one! "And they would ask," Don’t you want to come to my house to do this? " It was there that we saw that there were many people interested, people, who would like to have contact with nature, a small garden, a little space to cultivate at home. We realised, in fact, that there was a need and that there was a market. Joining our desire to have a connection with nature, our sense that life in the city needs this connection with nature and the need of the market, we decided to work on this idea of creating a company that could bring the countryside into the city.
But you might have met many difficulties at the beginning ... or not at all?
Of course, and I’d just changed the verb tense of the question to the present because there are still difficulties. In fact, it has been an incredible experience, immense learning, but not without problems. This is also what makes us learn, evolve! If we did not have difficulties, we couldn’t gain as much. Creating a company, developing a product that is entirely idealised and produced by us, designing the marketing strategy and implementing it, arrange human and financial resources, structure it all ... is a huge challenge!
"Business is people. (...) If you can develop your employees, know how to motivate them and how to deal with them, you do not have to be the most competent person in the world, and you will do a great job of leadership in the end. Human relationship skills are undoubtedly the most important."
How long ago has it started?
Four years ago. It took a long time to start, it was a very slow process, it was more like a side project. Officially, we launched the company when we started the crowdfunding campaign in Indiegogo in 2015. We developed the functional prototype but we needed financing, and we also had to validate if there were people interested in buying. This funding path worked very well - we sell a lot in a short time. In 2016 and 2017 we went to the market.
What was the most rewarding moment of this experience?
One of the key moments was, undoubtedly, the successful crowdfunding campaign. It was then that we received confirmation that there was acceptance by the public and that we were doing something interesting. It was undoubtedly one of the highlights and gave us a lot of energy.
During all your course, what was the most difficult decision you had to make?
In fact... they are all difficult. For instance, when we have two paths in the course, and we have to choose one over the other, without having tested the two, it is a tough decision. Let’s say, when we have to decide between breaking through new market A and the other new market B, we will never know what it would be like if we had decided to go for market B instead of A, which also sounded really interesting at the beginning and it could even provide better results. We cannot test all the options so we cannot foresee; there are no certainties, but we have to move forward with it.
Have you never regretted the path you took?
Yes, and I went back to fix it. I made a decision that turned out wrong and went back. I do not regret it because I learned on the way. We have to make a lot of mistakes.
What is the most positive and negative aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The most negative, in fact, is the personal demands that the project requires; requires a huge sacrifice, both personally and family wise. It is often difficult to reconcile. Then, the positive aspect (of being an entrepreneur) is to be doing something that you like and to work on what you believe in. There is freedom to work as you want, when you want, with whom you want, to follow the course you and your team have decided (I do not make the decisions all by myself, obviously). This, in the end, is very rewarding.
Can you describe a typical day at Noocity?
There is no such thing. Being the CEO, I always have the last call so the biggest responsibility is on me. My team often come to me for any problem that happens. However, I divide the week by days and each day is dedicated to a theme, be it marketing, sales, etc., and a day of the week, Friday, is the day the team gathers and make decisions. I wake up pretty early and set aside the first few hours of the day for the most critical tasks. I work well in the morning but in the afternoon... the concentration is no longer the same. Therefore, I dedicate myself to the most essential thing in the morning until noon. Until then nobody counts on me; they already know that I am focused, maybe even "exiled". In the afternoon I'm more available to the rest of the team.
What are the most important characteristics that a person has to be entrepreneurial?
It is, without a doubt, how to deal with people. It is what I try to develop in myself and what I am more aware of. Business is people. What I see as fundamental is the development of these skills in dealing with people. If you can develop your employees, know how to motivate them and how to deal with them, you do not have to be the most competent person in the world, and you will do a great job of leadership in the end. Human relationship skills are undoubtedly the most important.
If you have to write a book about your experience, what would be the title and the authors of the preface?
Hmm.... I think it would be something like "Learning" and I would ask some of my mentors to write the preface. Since I founded the company, I have tried to make an effort to always be in touch with those who have something to teach me. Sometimes I ask for their support, I share my doubts with them, and we discuss several issues. Some mentors have been with me since the beginning, and so we have gone through many challenges together during this course. I learned a lot from them, and therefore they would be the ones better prepared to write the preface.
How do you find the right people and how do you choose them?
This has been the most natural part because we have been meeting people along the way who joined the project afterwards, either because they have helped us in the past in a moment of need for some specific activities, or because there was strong empathy. Today the team only have people like that, who bumped into us. We never had the need to hire someone. Our growth regarding human resources has been purely organic.
How do you see the world in 10 years?
I am by nature an optimistic person so... I think that we are living in a moment where we face somewhat challenging issues as a society and as inhabitants of this planet. I am a quite strong believer in the human race and that we will meet a turning point and that we will be able to build a better world and more fair. 10 is not much but 30 to 40 years this will happen. I think we are reaching the bottom and so we must have a turning point as a society.
What does Noocity mean?
Nous in philosophy means mind, intellect, human thought. The first word used for Ecology was Noosphere, where Sphere means planet and Noo is derived from the Greek "Nous" which means mind, thought or collective intelligence - therefore, Noosphere meant what we do to our planet with our collective intelligence. Thus, we wanted to bring that word and meaning to the city, and from there NOOCITY was born.