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Pepe Agell: Don’t go to Silicon Valley without a penny in your pocket

During his visit to Barcelona Tech City, Chartboost’s VP of Corporate Strategy shared some tips and advice for entrepreneurs thinking about creating an international company

Co-founder of Chartboost
Pepe Agell

09/11/2017 – Por Toñi Herrero

Fresh out of university, Pepe Agell and his girlfriend Maria Alegre moved to Silicon Valley to learn what they could from entrepreneurs there who had made it to the top of their league. After working for a local company, Alegre teamed up with American business partner Sean Fannan to create Chartboost and Agell joined the company as VP of Corporate Strategy three months later. In practically no time at all, investment funds like Xg Ventures and Sequoia became backers of their fledgling start-up.

From Sillicon Valley

That was five years ago. Today Maria Alegre is Agell’s wife, the mother of two young sons and the CEO of Chartboost. Her start-up is now a successful company with 150 employees and offices in San Francisco, Amsterdam and Tokyo.

Chartboost helps video game developers monetise the mobile games they create. It provides a platform that links developers and helps them achieve the two most fundamental goals of entrepreneurs everywhere: attracting users and making money. “Once you have traffic, the next challenge is helping them to monetise their product”. A clear and direct mission.

Ten essential tips

Chartboost works with small studios as well as video game giants like Rovio, Zynga and King. In terms of traffic, it reaches approximately a billion unique mobile users a month. The company, which featured 150,000 games on its platform by 2015, made its first acquisition last year: the American influencer marketing platform Roostr.

During a recent visit to Barcelona Tech City, Agell spoke about his experience in Silicon Valley with the confidence that only comes with proven success, sharing what he had learned there and offering ten essential tips bound to be useful to anyone about to undertake an entrepreneurial venture.

PPepe Agell speaking at Pier01 (Barcelona Tech City)

Don’t go to Silicon Valley just for the money

You’re better off arriving with some money behind you and a proven concept. Having a good product isn’t enough. Securing investors shouldn’t be your only motive for going to the U.S. Determining whether there is a market there for your idea is just as important.

Move, shake and integrate

American investors want the founders of a start-up to take up residence there. It’s important to adapt your mindset and try to integrate rather than seeking refuge in an expat ghetto. Needless to say, you need to be fluent enough in English to negotiate as well chat about how you spent the weekend.

Think internationally and globally

Your project has to have international appeal. Successful companies are companies bent on coming up with solutions to global problems. This means you’ve got to rack up some international experience: speaking English and viewing the world from a broader perspective is fundamental.

Chartboost’s main offices

Where are your clients?

Pay attention to who your first clients are. Maybe they’re not located in the city you live in but rather scattered all over the world and you need to find channels for communicating effectively with them. The challenge is to define and reach your market.

Be local as well as global

It’s important to establish some kind of physical, scalable presence where your clients are. We consciously decided to locate our European headquarters in Amsterdam, where we have 18 people from 15 different countries servicing clients throughout the continent.

Recruit slowly and terminate unnecessary or unsatisfactory employees quickly

Nothing is worse than realising that you’ve hired more people than you need. When someone doesn’t fit in, you should terminate his or her contract as soon as possible.

One team, one culture

You’ve got to define company values because not everyone, regardless of how great they are, is going to subscribe to your particular vision. An axiom worth remembering: what isn’t written down doesn’t exist, so it helps to create strong ties between all your offices.

Satisfied clients attract new ones

There is no better publicity than a satisfied client who says positive things about your products. We must therefore take good care of our clients and transform them into ambassadors that form part of our sales forces.

Branding entails more than marketing

Develop a corporate brand, but don’t forget to give it a local identity as well. Network, participate in local events and mingle with the right people. Work with your employees to create a corporate culture that reflects your values.

Crazy ideas: set up a food truck at events and challenge developers to install an SDK in the time it takes them to eat a hamburger.

Don’t wait. Take the leap and enjoy the ride

There is no perfect time to create a company, open a new office or build a new team. Even though the ideal moment may not have arrived, it’s worth taking the leap. Entrepreneurship has been mythologized: it looks cool but is actually very difficult. That said, the least you can do is make a good time out of the experience and surround yourself with people you can enjoy it with.

Bonus track

Why not Barcelona?

Unfinished business: Pepe Agell would have liked to locate Chartboost’s European headquarters in Barcelona, but the company ended up choosing Amsterdam instead. “Our European office serves as an efficient base camp for participating in events and visiting clients located throughout Europe”.

Other factors that tipped the scale in favour of Amsterdam were the number of people there that spoke English and other major European languages fluently and its transportation connections to a wide range of points across the continent. “Dutch authorities also went out of their way to convince us to locate there and have treated us very well”, he added.

He nevertheless confesses, “My dream is for Barcelona to become the preferred hub for companies seeking to establish a presence in Europe. All of us, from entrepreneurs and schools to investors need to work towards this goal. Everyone at Chartboost would be delighted to act as ambassadors for Barcelona and help promote the idea”.

Agell is certain that Barcelona has what it takes to become the main sector hub in Europe.

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