With lots of excitement we are about to open a new Research and Development office in Lisbon, Portugal. Many people have asked us: “Why Portugal?” The simple answer is that we found a seemingly untapped pool of talented people, who we discovered through a rather long process which started at Ux Lisbon in May earlier this year.
Personally, I have strong connections to Portugal. My late father wrote the best selling book , The First Global Village, on the history of Portugal, having lived in Sintra, just outside Lisbon, for nearly a decade. But I have only been to Portugal once in the last ten years, coming back to Portugal for a conferance on usability. Ux Lisbon started us considering Portugal for a R&D base. The conference delegates where about 1/3rd Portuguese, and the other 2/3rds from the rest of the world, and the people we meet there persuaded us that Portugal was worth considering.
Pushing us further into making the move was André Marquet, who helps organise TEDxEdges. His passion was an important part in persuading us to set up our R&D base in Lisbon. Others helped too. The blog of André Ribeirinho of Adegga.com lists a line up of start ups in Lisbon, in particular, helped us to realise that we would be part of a buzzing start up community. Hopefully there will be more start ups joining André’s list, as Mário Valente of seedcapital is investing more into technology start ups in Portugal.
Most blog posts about Lisbon and start ups, joke about the similarities between San Francisco and Lisbon. If Lisbon looks like San Francisco then maybe Lisbon will follow in its foot steps to become a leading technology centre. The blog posts compare that San Francisco is on the West Coast of the US, Lisbon is on the West Coast of Europe. San Francisco has many steep hills, so does Lisbon. Both have a bridge designed by the same firm. And last but not least both have cute trams. Getting back to why Lisbon is start up friendly, M Clare Chung of Touch2Give, explaining why she set up in Lisbon when she could have set up her firm anywhere in the world, said
“I needed a European base with low operational costs, talented people and a high quality of life. Everyone speaks English, which is critical for an online global business. Portugal is also very technology oriented…”
The key for any business is its people. But it is not just about having the right people, it is having the right location for the right people. An advantage that Lisbon has is the weather, according to holiday-weather.com,
Lisbon is one of Europe’s mildest capital cities. Summer temperatures are warm and sometimes hot, while winters are mild and damp. Lisbon sees a lot of sunshine (over 3300 hours per year) and about 100 days of rain a year.
The idea of not being in damp northern Europe with its low hanging clouds is a plus. But it is not just the weather, commuting distances are short, too. Getting from our office in downtown Lisbon at rush hour to the Airport can be done in under 20 mins. Not to mention that you can get 100mbs broadband at home.
A story, that had been told to my brothers, and me since we where small, also helps explains my strong connections to Portugal: In the 1960′s my father, a journalist, was in the Congo covering the war after it’s independence from Belgium. The car he was driving had skidded off the road, and turned over. United Nation’s troops passed him by without stopping, but suddenly out of nowhere a bunch of Portuguese cigarette smugglers appeared. They dragged him out of the car into their car, then sped him across the border, and dropped him of at a hotel…
My rescuers bought me a large South African brandy at the bar, gave 500 Rothmans [cigarettes], checked my wallet to see I had enough cash, then left me, delivered back to my native culture, never to see them again. It was the first time I had met Portuguese knowingly – and my first encounter, not only with their extraordinary reaching-out to a stranger in need, but with their blend of bravado, honour, ingenuity and poise.
Extract from The First Global Village: How Portugal Changed the World, by Martin Page