"99% of start-ups actually fail, so you have to think that you are most likely going to fail"

"99% of start-ups actually fail, so you have to think that y...

Esade Entrepreneurship Institute

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eWorks is the Esade venture creation program; it provides a series of activities and services designed to foster and support new venture creation by Esade students and recent graduates.

The Esade Doers podcast series, led by eWorks manager Davide Rovera, focus on entrepreneurs from the eWorks Community who present their startups and share experiences, learnings, sources of inspiration and tips with fellow entrepreneurs.

Today, we can learn from David and Marc Rovira, Esade graduates who founded Polaroo, a service app for B2Bs, enabling full end-to-end management and payment control.

TRANSCRIPT:

Davide: Welcome to Esade Doers, a podcast about entrepreneurs and innovators. Our guests today are David and Marc Rovira, cofounders of Polaroo and brothers, as well.

So, hi, Marc. Hi, David. Thanks for joining and thanks for taking the time to be on the podcast today.

David: Thank you for having us; it’s our pleasure.

Marc: Thank you.

Davide: Now, before jumping a little bit more into detail about your story, which will be a core part of the podcast, I always like to start with a quick intro about your company. So, can you tell us, in a 30-second pitch style, what is Polaroo? What does it do?

Marc: It’s a service app for B2Bs, enabling full end-to-end management and payment control. What does this mean? We centralize every service, every bill, every SaaS, in one single platform for every property the company has. We reduce the costs of each of the services, because we do bundling, bulk-buying, so we help you find the best deal so you don’t overpay on each of the services. And we do bundle payments, which means we gather all your payments at different times of the year and we put them into one single payment every single month, so you have financial stability as it progresses.

Davide: Moving forward then… To me, one core question, that our public as well wants to know about is: what is the story behind this? You’re brothers, you built the company together. You, as well, studied different things, Business Law and Engineering. What made you choose to become entrepreneurs? Have you always thought about being entrepreneurs? And then we’ll hear a little bit more about how you actually decided to start Polaroo. We can take turns for this as there are two of you. So, David, if you want to start.

David: Yes, absolutely. I think it’s something that we’ve always had inside of us. We’ve always been those kinds of people that want to get things done; we didn’t like others to do them for us. And we were already 15-16 and we were organizing events, private events, parties, for up to 300 people. We were making money out of that. And we were paying our expenses or our wants that we wanted at that age. So, it was something that was always fun to us. Then, growing up, it’s something that we always had in our minds. But, obviously, in our household, we always wanted to achieve more and get more done. Marc became an aerospace engineer, and I became an international business lawyer. But that didn’t stop us from having that fire inside of us. At some point, we wanted to do something together. But, as life is, you tend to get in a hamster wheel; you start going to your respective fields. And, at some point, something makes you make a decision, and either you make it or you don’t. And, in our case, Marc went to his boss, and he said: “You know what? I’m going to do my own thing; I’m going to start my own company.” He left his job. He came to me on Monday and told me: “You want to do it with me? You want to do what we always said we were going to do?” And I said: “You know what? What’s the worst thing that can happen? Let’s go”.

And like 24 hours later we were sitting down in our parents’ garage just with a blank piece of paper saying: “Let’s get it done.” And it’s been an amazing rollercoaster. It’s never easy, but I would not change a thing. I think that, once you become an entrepreneur, you’re always an entrepreneur. And it’s something that is not easy; it’s not for everyone. But, if you have that fire inside of you, you have that thing telling “you can do it”, just find someone who is going to go all the way with you and go head first.

Davide: Okay. Thanks. Marc, what about you?

Marc: I wouldn’t put it in any other different words, what David said is 100% right. For me, the trigger was David, who was in an avalanche and was buried under the snow for like 10 minutes; he passed out. And that Saturday when he came home, he was like, “Hey, I almost died this weekend, because I was under an avalanche.” And I think that is what triggered me on Monday to tell him, “Hey, I’m leaving my job and I’m starting this.” Because I could see that, in an instant, everything can go out. And I was like, “Well, my brother could have died, and I would have been just going to my job.” I loved my job, it was amazing. I had great colleagues, one of which is currently one of our cofounders, Sergio. But I think that spark really triggered me and I realized what David said: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” The worst thing that could happen is you start a start-up, you fail. 99% of start-ups actually fail, so you have to go in with the mentality that you are most likely going to fail. And that’s absolutely fine. But the journey of learning, the journey of what is going to happen, of how you’re going deal with the struggle and the emotional rollercoaster, is the most important thing.

You have to be willing to sacrifice and be willing to go head-first on that. And it’s not easy; not everyone can become an entrepreneur. I’m not saying it’s better or worse; it’s absolutely fine to have a 9-to-5 job. It’s much easier, rollercoaster-wise. But you have to have it in you.

For David and I that also translates into sports. We have been doing companies since we were 15, 17, 16, but we’ve also been doing very hard-core sports together. We’ve done triathlons, we’ve done Iron Mans, we’ve done obstacle courses. And it’s an emotional rollercoaster to train and to sacrifice your body. You’re training for that specific race. Not everyone likes to do it, and it’s really, really hard. And having someone there with you in the best moments, but also in the worst moments, that’s what really made us want to start something together. Because it’s not about what you know technically, and I think that’s one of the biggest learnings that I have learned as an entrepreneur. It’s the team. Knowing who you have with you for the rest of the journey, no matter what you do. That’s for me the most fundamental element. And I’m fortunate that I have Sergio and David as cofoundes of Polaroo.

Davide: So, there was a very strong, almost potentially -or actual- life-altering event that happened to one of you that triggered a decision later on and made you think, “Okay, now we want to change our lifestyle.” So, kind of building something versus working for somebody else. Did you already have the idea about what you wanted to build? Or was it more like, “Okay, we want to do something; let’s figure out what we should do”?

David: There are two ways you can build a company. One day you can sit down and you say, “Alright, let’s find something that we can do and now we can improve on,” and then the research starts, or it can be something that you’ve lived yourself, that you’ve experienced, that you’ve had in the back of your mind for a while and that you’ve started to look into and to develop. That’s what’s happened to us. Marc and I have grown in different countries, we’ve been changing all the time. Marc and his girlfriend, who is now his wife, have changed of apartment at least 7 times. And it was something that he had already started structuring, he had already started speaking to me and Sergio about. And it was something that we already had.

But the thing is, it’s unfair to a lot of people to say that sometimes you just get up and you decide to become an entrepreneur in the sense that you get out of your comfort zone or your daily routine. As Marc said, the fact that I was buried under an avalanche was a super intense experience. I do not recommend it to anybody; you’re buried alive, and it’s no fun. It’s super tough for the body, super tough for the mind. But you have to not give up; it’s part of the experience of snowboarding in high altitudes. And Marc made the decision 24 hours later of saying “Life’s too short to not do what really drives you,”. You know, you can fail at what you’re doing. You might as well fail at what you really love, and for us that was getting something done together, with all the uncertainties.

And, I think we didn’t start from scratch in the sense that we didn’t know what we wanted to do. We knew there was a pain that existed. We knew that there was something that we could focus on, even though it was super challenging. And, basically, we started with what Marc already had in his mind, in the fact that we had already spoken about it for quite some time. But we never really made that decision. So, for some people that are listening and are thinking “I have to make the decision”: for us it was easy to make because it was “Either you do it now or what does it have to happen for you to make the decision?” And for us, it was the avalanche, but for other people it can just be “Go for it” What’s the worst thing that can happen? You have another line on your CV and you have another experience. But it’s not easy, and you’re going to go through tough times. And Marc, if you want to jump in, please, go ahead.

Marc: No, that’s perfect,

Davide: Fantastic. Fortunately, everything went well, which we all are relieved about. But, about the entrepreneurship journey: the key that you’re mentioning is this triggering event and saying, “Hey, you know, just start.” And then, you figured out what to do a bit later, didn’t you? Let’s talk about that in terms of the specific project, in terms of Polaroo. So, you mentioned that this came from you living in different countries and also Marc moving a lot. What was the initial problem you decided to focus on and how did that evolve later on into what Polaroo is today? Because the journey is also rather long.

Marc: Yes, long and hard. I think it started basically when I was living in the UK. I lived in different apartments with my flatmates, and it was just a pain in the ass to literally get all your recurrent expenses; as a person managing it, it was just hard. There was internet, and, within internet, there are a hundred companies; there’s gas, electricity, water, insurance. You start to see, when you leave your parents’ umbrella and you start to live on your own, that there are so many things you have to deal with besides your life and your focus. And that part for me was just frustrating; it's a mess. And then, the business side of me was like, “Hey, it’s a massive market, there’s a lot of money managing recurrent expenses, and large players are not doing a good job, because it’s hard. And you have to deal with each of them individually.” That was back in 2009. Four years later, I graduated from aerospace engineering, I started a Master’s at Esade, and then my brain started to see the world from an entrepreneurship point of view. So, my engineering brain started to analyse problems, not from an engineering standpoint like, “How is this made?”, but as problems. And for me it’s exactly the same. There’s a big problem; you have to break it down into little pieces and then solve it.

So, I used that frustration of dealing with recurrent expenses as a consumer and I thought, “There is a potential solution, because there is no one doing it, to be the bridge between the consumer and all those recurrent expenses.” And then, I started to realize that it’s not just water, gas, electricity and internet; it’s insurances, all the type of insurances. It’s your Spotify, it’s your Netflix, it’s your subscriptions. And, then, in parallel, the world is moving into the subscription economy. Every single company, every single industry is moving into this subscription economy. Because it’s better, because it refines things much more, the lifecycle is better, the lifetime value of clients is great... So, there are a lot of reasons why you should move into the subscription economy, that’s a no-brainer.

So, I realized, “Hey, this amount of stuff you have to deal with is going to get even bigger, and there is no bridge.” What is happening in specific industries like house insurance, is that some companies, some start-ups, some unicorns, have gotten one of the verticals and have digitalized in. There’s a company that does house insurance completely digital through internet. That’s amazing. There are some energy companies that have become 100% digital. That’s great, but, as a consumer, I still have to deal with a lot of these. I don’t care if I have 15 and they’re all digital; I still have to deal with 15. And that’s where we started to realize even more that our solution makes even more sense.

We started solving this for customers directly, for people. But, organically, we started to see some other people had several accounts, and we were managing like 4, 5, 6 times more money for that person. So, we started to dig deep and we realized that people were using this for their business. As an instance, we had one guy using this for his house, so we could his see data and financial cashflow, but then we also saw that he had four other homes that were consuming much more. So, our algorithm said something was wrong. We checked, and he was using it for his business. So, organically we started to see businesses using our software much more than people. Why? And that’s a learning. It’s because, as a person, you pay water, gas, etc. You have this pain, but you don’t have a trigger every month to manage your money because you’re busy living your life. Obviously, some people do the budgeting; some people look at their balance every month in the bank. But you pay water and electricity and, if you don’t check it, you don’t realize. But, as a business, every single month you have to do the accounting; you can’t avoid it. You have the obligation to do that. So, you have to be on top of your expenses. You must solve that problem every single month. So, businesses started using us, and this this year, after pivoting, we started to see that businesses are really using it. Really paying attention to what our users are doing has been great for us. We’re really proud of that, of having the ability to really listen to the customer.

Davide: So, you really started by addressing a consumer problem, because you saw utilities come in at different times of the month, so, the cashflow is a little bit difficult to forecast for a consumer. But then, later on, that turned, almost organically, into a more B2B product, which is great and probably also easier to scale later on. But, going back for a second to the beginning… Managing utilities, which pretty much all of us have done to a certain point in our lives, it’s a pain, as you mentioned. So, I assume It would also be a pain to integrate with them. So, how do you start a company without any experience in the sector? How do you start from your garage a company that helps people manage their utilities payment?

David: I’m going to answer this in a very different way. Being an aerospace engineer and a lawyer, one of the things that we do every day and that we have been taught and that we’ve been schooled to do and that is our expertise, is to solve problems. Lawyers solve problems that have to do with people having problems with other companies or other people. And, engineers, they solve problems from a technical perspective. Something’s not working, something needs to be fixed. We need to achieve something, and we need to do it through numbers. So, regardless of the fact that we were not from this industry, for us, it’s the same thing as I would get a case or Marc would get a very specific rocket-science problem. It’s how do you get together the best possible combinations to solve this problem.

And pretty much that is, I would say, nine months or over a year of being in our parents’ garage, literally learning about the whole structure, the whole industry not just one, but every single vertical. And that’s a learning curve. It takes longer because it’s way more difficult; having knowledge of this sector will always help you and it’s always better. But for us the way we see it is, “Look. We have a problem in front of us. How do we solve it?” We have two very different ways of thinking and approaching solutions. But the key is what keeps pushing you forward. A lot of people, when they think of success, they think it’s getting it right the first time. And success is failing 20 times and continuing to push forward on the 21st time. And I think it’s that resilience of continuing to push forward. And Marc, if you want to go into detail on the specifics…

Marc: I think what you mentioned, Davide, is absolutely right. But us not having prior experience was actually one of the benefits, I think, because we were not biased; we were not deviated from a specific industry. So, some things people that are experts in the energy industry see as challenges, we didn’t, not because we were smarter than them, not at all, but because we didn’t even know about them, or because we just, from a completely outsider perspective, thought, “No, you can just go this other way.” We’ve seen it a couple of times, when they were like, “Oh, we never thought of this”, because you are so into the energy sector that you forget about the experience from the financial standpoint. We take the challenges from a financial standpoint, not from the energy sector. So, energy specialists are really focused on something very specific, like cost-optimization. People want to know exactly what they’re consuming: three kilowatts, five kilowatts... In terms of the energy sector, people don’t care. People just want to turn on the light, turn off the light.

So, it allows you to really tackle the problem from a completely different perspective. But you always must have someone that knows a lot about that sector to really be able to tell you if the solution you have is correct or not. We’re engineers, so understanding the energy sector is really easy for us. But, the outsider perspective has been really key to try to solve the solution from a consumer standpoint. Consumer being B2C or consumer being B2B. We don’t care. At the end of the day, you have to deal with bills, which is a financial time management problem; it’s not an energy consumption question, measuring your electricity or your specific insurance or your specific internet bill.

Davide: Perfect. This is super interesting, and I think this approach is something that I’ve heard as well from other entrepreneurs. Sometimes there is this concept of “Oh, you need to need to know a lot about an industry to be able to build something.” By talking to other entrepreneurs, what I’ve heard many times is that you need to have a certain skillset and a certain approach in terms of how you frame the problem, and that your expertise in problem-solving and your prior careers, of course, help. But that coming at it from a fresh perspective, sometimes can really help build a solution that is not biased by prior constraints. Which is, I think, refreshing as well for the listeners in terms of, if you want to build something in an industry that’s rather complicated, like the energy and the utility sectors, you can do it, of course. There is a learning curve, as David was saying, and you need to learn about it and put the effort, take your time, but it’s doable.

And, then, fast-forward… So, you were in the garage, you started learning about it, you put together some initial MVP… All of these were, I’m assuming, bootstrapped at the beginning. Can you guide us a little bit through what happened from you being in a garage learning about the industry to where you are now, with a fast-growing fintech company?

Marc: Yes. I think we divided it into four stages. The first one is what you just mentioned, which is, “Hey, we’re bootstrapping in our garage, we’re trying to figure what the hell is going on, how do we manage it, doing it for ourselves.” We call it the learning phase. In this phase, I was calling a lot, dealing with things on the phone. I’m literally one of the people who have called more times to the different utilities. I think that specific work is great. And when I was speaking to David and his friends that are lawyers as well, he would always mention that whenever they had a case, they would sit down with experts from a specific industry to be able to solve the case, because, as a lawyer, you don’t know every single industry. So, when they had to solve a case for pharma, they would get specialists to learn about the sector.

Even as a consultant, since I did some consultancy work, you don’t know all the industries in the world, so, when you have a problem for a specific client, you have to sit down and understand it. For example, I once had to do a project for the cologne industry to understand how the cologne industry works. That learning phase for me is amazing. It’s one of the things I’m really fascinated about. If someone that is passionate tells you, teaches you something, I love that phase. That was phase number one, bootstrapping in the garage.

From then we thought, “What’s the best way to tackle our vision?” Our vision is what I told you at the beginning. And that’s been the same vision from day one to today, which is recurrent expenses and how we build a bridge to manage all your recurrent expenses. So, our first step, and that’s stage number two, was: “What MVP can we build to get us closer to that?” The first thing we did, was to create an MVP that manages only home utilities for B2C, so, water, gas, electricity and internet. That was our basic MVP. That was, “Okay, how are we going to solve this?” So, we created an MVP. It was an Excel, a really cool Excel, that would allow you to manage all your bills and understand how you’re paying, when you’re paying, what you’re consuming and then optimize your savings. We did it for friends.

Stage number three took place when investors told us, and we realized as well, that we had to take this a step further; as it’s not only water, gas, electricity and internet, as we said; it’s everything else from a financial standpoint. It’s not only utilities. There’s all the learning when you speak to investors, that don’t understand your vision versus what you are doing right now and think that what you’re doing right now is your vision. And it’s like, “No, my vision is here, but I’m doing this now to get there.” That’s a lot of learning from our side. So, we said, “Hey, let’s move one step further. Let’s try to tackle the problem so that investors and clients see that we’re a financial company that manages all your recurrent expenses, not just home utilities.”

And, at the beginning of last year, it was when we adapted or evolved the product. That was phase number three, moving into the B2C field, managing all your finances. We connect your bank and we manage all your recurrent expenses. And I think last year and at the beginning of this year, personally -and I think David and Sergio as well as founders-, have had one of the biggest learnings I’ve ever had as an entrepreneur in my life. Which is when you realize two things that are happening at the same time. One: you have to identify a problem. I know Davide Rovera has a specific problem. I know it because I’ve seen it, I’ve analysed it; I understand Davide better than anyone in the world. But the second one, that we didn’t realize throughout the first three stages of our development in Polaroo, is: Is Davide aware of such a problem? Because, if Davide has a problem but he’s not aware of it, I have two jobs to do at the same time. One is that I have to make sure he is aware of the problem that he has, and, two, I then have to sell him my solution. So, I have to do two things at the same time. And the first one, which is making sure that David is aware of his problem, is exhausting. It’s expensive and it’s complicated. And that’s why we, as B2C, were growing a specific way, but, organically, B2B started to explode. Why? Because, if we translate the thing to things to the B2B world, the clients have very similar problems than B2C, managing all their bills, but they are aware.

Going back to what I said five minutes ago, they are aware because they have to deal with bills every single month. Automatically, you eliminate half or three-quarters of all your effort to really make sure that, if you have a problem because you don’t know what you’re spending, and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, I didn’t even know.” They are like, “Yes, I know exactly what you’re talking about; I have to deal with all my bills every single month.“ Automatically, that is so cool, because you start to have so much positive feedback from clients, and your conversation is now about your solution and how your solution is going to make their lives better, rather than your conversation being like, “Oh no. I don’t have this problem” or “Well, I have this problem, but just on Tuesdays.” The conversation just switches, something so basic, and that was so cool. That’s why, organically, and that’s stage number four, where we are right now, is when we pivoted. We pivoted, and said, “Okay, let’s grab everything we’ve done for B2C and try with the minimum effort to adapt it to B2B.” And so, for the past months, we’ve been starting to see the same similar growth we were getting with B2B when we were investing money online. And now it’s 100% organic, zero-pay marketing. Our growth is just going great with zero marketing, just word of mouth, companies referring you to others, telling us on the phone that it’s so much easier. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be like this forever, obviously not. It’s not 100% sustainable, but you start to see a market fit, you’re starting to see companies coming to you like, “Yes, yes, of course, I have this problem.” But it’s not just Davide with his house; It’s “Guys, I have this problem. I have 500 flats that I’m managing, short-term rentals.”

That guy can automatically give you 500 flats. You’re tripling, quadrupling, doubling, whatever, your amount of clients with just one phone call with one specific person. I think it’s very important to be stubborn; but if you’re humble and you listen to your clients, you’re always constructively criticizing what you’re doing. I really believe in what we’re doing, but I’m always paying attention to what the client is saying exactly: Is he just criticizing our solution because he doesn’t like it? Or is there something very important that he didn’t say? And that’s phase four where we are right now.

David: And I think… Just to add to Marc, this is what Elon Musk said, and it’s one of our biggest mistakes, that is, wishful thinking. When you don’t realize, and what you think people want because you’ve seen the problem, and you’re seeing that they have that pain, you don’t realize that they are not aware of it. And you are there, pushing and pushing and pushing and trying to shove it down their throats, and you don’t realize, “Hey, you know, sometimes you just need to realize what’s going on around you and not just right in front of you.” And I think that was a learning for us.

Davide: Fantastic. And, I think this, also… It’s really pointing towards spread of market, as you mentioned. So, when you… All of a sudden need to stop pushing people into explaining to them that they do have a problem even though they do have it, and, rather, they come to you, because they feel it, that’s a much better position for a company, and that is proving as well your product market fit.

And, I think, one core thing… You mentioned a couple of things, Marc, that I’d like to highlight a bit. One is, as well, from the beginning. You mentioned your initial... So, first of all, you took your time for a learning phase, which is extremely important, again, leveraging the prior career experience of both of you.

The other point was when you mentioned the MVP, right? You said it was an advanced Excel file. So, having it too fancy… which I think is great. I think it’s impressive as well to set the expectations, not in terms of the entrepreneurs. But, when people think about an MVP, this is, of course, a very hot topic, but, sometimes, especially people that have never tried, they imagine something very complex, whereas it really is the minimum viable thing you can build, And, in your case, this was complicated, but an Excel file that helped manage it overall, if I understand correctly, expanding, the recurrent payments and optimizing all of it.

Marc: Yes, and I think one thing that we’ve read from, if you go online on Paul Graham, one of the founders of Y Combinator, what I think he said in one of his posts is to do things that don’t scale. I think that makes a lot of sense. But don’t expect the things that don’t scale to scale. It’s not going to scale; you are doing something that doesn’t scale, and that’s absolutely fine. But that really allows you to see if people want your product or not. If people want your product, it doesn’t matter if it’s going to be ugly or not ugly. They are going to use it because they like it. If you, even then, make it amazing, it’s going to be great. But even just in the beginning, just make sure you have something that solves the problem in a simple, easy way, and that’s just your MVP. To do that, the way we like to think about it, is how you’re solving a situation versus what you’re actually doing. We are solving the idea, the problem of connecting utility providers, to recurrent expenses. What exactly is the solution you do? It could be an Excel or an amazing app that has artificial intelligence. There are many what’s, there are many ways to solve the main problem. Find the one that is the cheapest, the quickest and the easiest to build and to test. The problem is the same. Just because you’re doing an app that has artificial intelligence and connects to your back-end, versus me having an Excel doing it manually, we’re solving the same exact problem. One is much more fancy, much more scalable, bla-bla-bla, but it’s going to take you ages compared to my Excel.

The good thing about the Excel we built was that it allowed us to have it in one day, go to the street, find someone, get it, iterate, fine it better… Obviously, you’ll have some problems, of course. You, from the outside, though, the client was seeing a Ferrari; from the inside, there was nothing. There were just two pieces of wood and there was a little guy pedalling. Obviously, he didn’t see that it was an Excel or the client wasn’t aware it was an Excel. He understood why we were doing it. So, you really have to understand who you’re going to target, and who you’re going to do the MVP with. But it’s “solve the problem.”

Another example is a feature. To put it similarly, a metaphor. If you’re trying to test a feature on your product, specifically, for example, updating your bills automatically every single month, okay? The fact that the client sees the app that every single month the app is automatically putting all the invoices from all the services on the platform, automatically, that has nothing to do with the fact that it’s actually automatic or it’s not automatic. You could have ten guys manually going to every single service, downloading the PDFs and putting them into the platform. The client believes it’s automatic, so the feature is there. How you’re doing that out of the back-office, that has nothing to do with it. Sometimes when we, when we get it wrong is we mix both things, and we think all of the features mean it’s automatic, so we have to do it automatically. No. What the client thinks versus what’s happening behind the curtain is just like a magic trick, just pretend. Why? Because you want to test the functionality. If it works, then you’ll see how to scale it. If it doesn’t work, done. Delete it. And that was something that we go back to the MVP, and we look at the MVP. It’s so cool. Even today, when we look at the Excel again, because we still have it there, instead of you, the MVP. Me, myself, Eloy, David… All of you that have worked through the Excel, it’s like, “Wow, it was so powerful.” Because it’s exactly what we’re doing right now. The only difference is the back-office is where it’s happening. The front-end is much better now, but the core is the same.

Davide: Right, so there is this extremely important element, of kind of keeping separated what is, as you mentioned, the solution that you’re providing the customers, or to the users, versus how you’re actually delivering that. As long as the user, which may or may not be the customer in that case you split it on the platform, but whoever is using the tool and thinks that the feature is there, then you can have, as you mentioned, a concierge model early on, which doesn’t scale, but it's quick and easy to implement and to pivot, so, you can have somebody delivering it. This is extremely important as a mindset, as a framework to later build a scalable product, because not building early on allows you to save the time and money to then be able to push the accelerator later on and really, really get it.

I mean, we could go on forever, but there is one thing I want to really hear from you, which is related to the team. You mentioned it earlier on, and I think it’s interesting, that you’re brothers. You’ve done business together in the past, you’ve been doing projects, now you’re running companies. One initial quick question: How many people are now in the company?

David: Right now, directly working full time with us, it’s 15. We did not go crazy on the numbers. Obviously, people who are collaborating with us directly, that’s over 20 different people, between lawyers and designers or whatnot. But, yeah, that’s where we are right now.

Davide: Okay. So, It’s been the two of you and the third cofounder as well joined, and you have been running this. I think there is, very often, this comment in the entrepreneurship world not to start companies with spouses or family or close family. Whereas you’ve been now showing that, at least from what I perceive from the outside, everything is going smoothly. I assume there might have been some downs along the road, but what’s your feedback now about running a company with your sibling?

David: I think it’s a tricky question, because Marc and I, we’re siblings, we’re brothers. But he didn’t say this. We’ve been partners all our lives. We’ve gone through the worst and through the best, we’ve changed school eight times, we were constantly changing. We had nobody; we had ourselves. And the commitment that you have to put on the trust between ourselves and knowing that I can be on the ledge of a cliff, and I know I’m not going to fall because I have him next to me, and he’s going to grab me. I think that trust has to be absolute, dealt with respect, you know? There is a ton of respect. I know that he thinks different than I do. There are no egos; egos are left behind. And it’s not something that, you know… It’s something that’s built up throughout our lives. And it’s been taking us in this direction.

So, it’s been easy for us to be able to handle this relationship of not having egos, of understanding that we think differently, of understanding that different point of views make an idea better. And knowing, you know, that, at the end of the day, we have the same vision and the same drive, and we want to keep pushing forward. And if you’re able to do that, with your brother or whoever you have next to you, eventually you will succeed. Again, it’s not about scoring a goal; it’s about generating occasions, kicking the ball, because if you shoot 100 times at the goal, you’ll end up scoring. It’s not about doing it right the first time; it’s continuing to do it after the 21st time, you know? And I think that’s something that we have proven to ourselves, doing crazy races, long-ass obstacle course races, and we’ve done a lot in our lives. So I think, for us, it would be unfair to compare it to other types of siblings, because every relationship and every house is different, and we haven’t had a life of comfort in the sense of having someone else and having good friends… It was us. So, either you deal with him or you’re going to have to deal with him every time, 24 hours a day, you know?

Marc: If I’m not mistaken, the founders of Stripe, the biggest fintech in the world, and the biggest growing Y combinator.

Davide: Yes, they‘re brothers, as well, yes.

David: They’re brothers, the Stripe leads are brothers; Serena and Venus Williams they’re brothers, or siblings, sisters. There are 3 founders in a really growing financial start-up in the US; they’re 3 brothers, 3 siblings. So, I think from my point of view…

Marc: Life brothers, you know.

David: I think, something that I see, that I wasn’t aware of but now I am, it’s that David and I not only share work. I would understand or it would make more sense, I guess, that if David and I were just together when we work and then, when we stop working, he has his life, I have my life, we don’t speak, we only share one single point, one single connection… If that day is good, then the connection is good; if that day is bad, then the connection is bad. David and I, except my wife, we share everything else. We share my dogs, we share my kid, we share our hobbies, we share so many things in life, that if just one of them has a horrible day, and I am literally shouting at David for one specific reason and he has one opinion, I have another… We have other connections and then we go play with my kid. And that connection is so strong that we forget that that day we were just shouting at each other. And then that night we go and have dinner together. And then that evening we prepare Christmas for our parents together.

So, having multiple connections, one can go wrong, but you have other connections to really support that. So, it reduces the stress level. If you and I, David, just see each other one specific time and that day is wrong, pfffft. But having multiple connections… Just the same with Sergio, Sergio our cofounder. We don’t just share work; we share so many other hobbies as well. So, that really helps that your connection is not only stronger, but it has other columns to support the whole relationship.

Davide: Okay, so a really extremely strong bond, between you that goes way beyond work, as you mentioned. So, in a way, should the company fail, which of course we hope doesn’t, but that will be, you know, one more adventure, in a way, and then you’ll figure out what to do next.

Okay, one final question before we go to the quick round of questions at the end. What’s the name? What about “Polaroo”? What’s the story behind that?

David: When you’re starting a company, you are always thinking, “What name should I call it?” And you think, “It doesn’t matter”, right? You start building up, and we changed the name twice. But it got to a point where, in the beginning, when we started, our name was Bluebird. And Bluebird… When you go up in the mountains there’s a type of big thunderstorm, not thunderstorm, like, a snowstorm. And, in the morning you wake up, and you go to the mountain, and it’s an absolutely stunning day, a sunny day, and there’s a lot of powder, like, lots of snow, fresh snow. It’s called a ‘bluebird day’; it’s amazing. So, for us, it was the analogy that the industry sucks; the whole service system sucks, the utility world sucks, but you’re going to wake up in the morning, and you’re going to be with us, and it’s going to be a beautiful day.

And so, we started with Bluebird. To make a long story, short, Bluebird is registered in every single country, every single city, town, and even households, everywhere in the world. So it wasn’t going to work. So, we ended up moving forward. Long story, short, because we were in our garage, in our parents’ garage, it was super cold, it was quite cold. So, my older brother, he’s a designer, he’s also a shareholder with us. He’s helped us with the creative part, and he came to the garage and, on the door, he drew an igloo, you know, because it was super cold. And, every time we went to the office, to the garage, we said, “We’re not going to the garage, we’re going to the igloo.” And “igloo” in English has two O’s at the end. And so, one day, we were sitting there and we were thinking, “We need to change the name, we need to do something.” And nothing popped up, and suddenly we were there talking. He said, “You know what? Why don’t we mix polar from the Arctic, you know, the polar, and Polaroo?” Because, at the end of the day, you’re in the Arctic and it’s super cold. You go to your igloo and you feel at home, you feel safe. And that was, more or less, the analogy with Bluebird as well.

So, we ended up having Polaroo as the name, and we ended up leaving the bird from Bluebird, and with a combination, it came to be that. So, it’s basically where we started, our garage, and our first logo, the bird, and that’s how it all went in. And sometimes it’s something that you don’t think about it; it’s just a natural evolution of where you come from and where you’re going.

Davide: Absolutely. Fascinating story, as well. So, the iconic kind of start in a garage, and then, it being cold, can trigger a lot of things that brought the name. I think a great name that’s easy to remember. I think everybody can click, so it has all the characteristics: It’s easy to spell, easy to remember… So it works amazingly.

For the sake of time, I have to move forward. So, I like to close all the interviews, all the meetups, with a series of quick questions, so, quick question, quick answer. Some are more personal, so if you want, both of you can answer. Some are more about the company, so it’s up to you how you want to tackle them.

The first one is a little bit about inspiration. So, entrepreneurs are not only about doing but, as well, about absorbing information. So, one core thing I like to ask everybody is what book are you currently reading?

David: In my case it’s a different type of book. It’s called “Dance first, think later.” It’s 618 rules to live by. And it’s basically a book where you can literally find 618 quotes. I think it’s super powerful, because quotes are short, and they can help, develop your mindset sometimes. Right now I’m going to take the book, I’m going to open it in the middle; it doesn’t matter what page. The first quote I’m going to read is rule number 293: “Ever notice how ‘What the hell?’ is always a right answer?,” Marilyn Monroe. It seems stupid, but then you have… I’ll show you; you have… The whole book is full of just quotes. Amazing people. And even though you’re not reading it like a novel, or you are not reading something full on, there are some amazing learnings, you know, compressed into something that you can remember. And it’s an idea, and ideas move the world. And, if you can really, you know, keep those that are close to you, you can really move mountains.

Davide: Amazing. Marc, what about you? If you have time to read.

Marc: I always try to read like three books at the same time. One is very sort of start-up, one, called ”Blitzscaling,” the last one I read from one of our shareholders directly. He recommended it, and I recommend it. “Blitzscaling“ is amazing. There is one that really helps you work with your mind which is called “The inner game of golf.” It’s not because it has to do with golf, but the way your mind works. That’s really good as well. And the third one is just a novel by Juan Jurado, which is “El rey blanco”, that I really recommend. It’s amazing to read the story. So, I try to read three types of books at the same time.

Davide: Wow. We need to do another podcast on how you manage time, but that’s… That would be a separate episode.

David: He’s an engineer; they make time. I’m telling you.

Davide: I’m an engineer myself but I don’t have that much time, so I need to learn more.

David: That’s why I do the quotes; it’s just like, more life.

Davide: Getting, you know, other people’s wisdom, which can help. Changing the topic, a bit, what is a start-up that you think is extremely interesting right now, other than Polaroo, of course?

David: We‘re seeing a lot of movement in the investment world in terms of crypto and other things. I think something that people might have not heard, and, maybe, it is a start-up, it’s called Masterworks. And it’s just interesting, curious. It has enabled the common folk, you know, the common person, to have access to fine-art investing. That means these guys maybe buy, you know, a 24-million-dollar piece of art from Warhol and then they create a company that’s holding the painting, and they share, they divide the shares of the company into as many investors that want to invest in that art piece. Maybe you just invest 5K or 10K or one million, you know? It depends on the piece. And then you hold that, and, obviously, this type of art paintings, you know, after 15 or 10 years or 8 years, they have returns on investment of 40%. And it’s something that is super solid, and sometimes, when the world is a bit chaotic, a lot of people want to, you know, diversify their portfolio if they’re investing, not just going crazy in crypto or crazy, you know, in the stock market because you don’t know what’s going to happen. Or some people like to do this. And I decided it was interesting to see how they got something that is inaccessible to the consumer and made it accessible. It’s just something that popped into my mind.

Davide Absolutely. And investing in art has always been one of the core areas for large investors, family business offices, etc., but very difficult for day-to-day consumers. So, democratizing that kind of access is very interesting.

Marc, what do you think?

Marc: Yes, I have three friends that I really love, and they’re doing great things. One is called Uri Tintore, building “Belvo”, just literally exploding in Latin America. So, all my congratulations to them. The second one is by Jorge Lluch, called “Abacum,” financial planning for F&P. And the third one is a friend of mine from Chile, Antonio Correa, called Chipax which is something similar to what we’re doing at Polaroo, but in Latin America, and now they’re moving in to Mexico, if I’m not mistaken. And it’s also doing quite great, they are all three Y combinator entrepreneurs. So, they are amazing entrepreneurs. And I know them personally, so, I know their businesses and they’re doing really well.

Davide: Okay, great. You actually mentioned a little bit about this, but if you had to give suggestions to somebody who wanted to start a company today, what is a trend or an industry or an area that you think would be extremely interesting to look into for new entrepreneurs?

David: That’s not an easy question. Looking at where we are right now and the whole movement, what I’ve seen with friends who sell their companies and are now getting into new companies, a lot of them are seeing that there is an absolute, game-changing mindset or hype in the world of NFTs, non-fungible tokens. And, at the end of the day, you know, it’s a unit of data, and there is so much going on in this world and people are feeling sceptical, that if there is a time to look into it, and try to see what type of business you can build around NFTs, you know, maybe the time is now. But, obviously, there are so many things that you can get in to, and this is just one of them.

Marc: I completely agree. Like, there are hypes… I remember the first start-up I built, it was during the IoT hype, then there was the hype of IoT investors, they moved into fintech, then they moved into cryptos, then they moved into other things. I think you can either find something people are hyped about and then try to do it. You have to really need the hype with your solution versus finding something that people have a pain. It doesn’t matter what industry it is. If you have something that someone has a pain, because you lived it or because you know they have a pain, then you solved it, it doesn’t matter if there is or there is no hype. People are going to want to invest in it, because there is a hype and people want it. What we said at the beginning, I think, David, which is a problem that people have, and a problem that people are aware of and are looking actively for a solution. If you give them your pill, they’re going to buy your pill and take your pill and take your pill out of your hands because they need to solve that problem, regardless of industry.

Davide: Yes, and David, you as well, with your personal study that we were discussing at the beginning, you kind of demonstrated that it’s possible to build something, you know, in an industry even without any prior expertise in the industry, just by learning and by tackling it with the right mindset.

David: I don’t think the Wright brothers flew before they flew.

Davide: Yes… Nobody did.

David: Elon Musk, he had no background in aerospace or the automotive industry and he got it done. At the end of the day, if you have the resources, you have the drive, and you surround yourself with a team that can get it done, you know, anything is possible.

Davide: Absolutely. And I mean, this is, as well, one core mindset of successful entrepreneurs. So, the fact that you approach problems, this way, many times, it’s already putting yourself one step ahead of somebody that’s really maybe just looking at it from a purely maybe financial return point of view, versus actually trying to solve a problem, and then, kind of, money follows in a way. Talking about management then and mindset, as well, is there any advice that you oftentimes give but do not follow yourselves?

Marc: I think it’s a very hard question, but in my case, because I know it’s a… I don’t want to say the flaw that I have, but I think it’s something I definitely have to improve… I know the right path, so I really work every day towards that path. When you’re an entrepreneur, it’s even harder. It’s focus. I think it’s over… Or it’s under-understood. When good entrepreneurs, when you listen to good entrepreneurs, not because I am, but when I listen to good entrepreneurs, they tell you to focus, simplify, focus, focus, focus, focus. You think, “Okay, I’m doing ten things; I’ll do nine.” No, that’s not it. Focus means go from 10 to 1, from 1 to 0.00001, like, simplify, simplify. Focus on just one very basic thing. In order to do that, it's not about getting all the things you have to do and determine which are the best and which are not. No, no, no. It’s about determining which are the best things you have to do and choosing one. Which means that you’re leaving behind four other great things that bring a lot of value. And you’re deliberately throwing those things away in the trash. I think, for me, in the beginning I was like, “No, these things don’t add value, these things do. So, I’m going to focus on the things that do.” That’s not focus.

Focusing is, obviously, that you are going to throw away the things that don’t have value. And from the things that do, you are only choosing one, so, you’re throwing, and that’s the hard part, you’re throwing away four great things, four things that bring value. And you, as a team, and that’s fine if I do it for myself, but when I have to convince David, when David has to convince me, or we have to speak to Sergio and the other 13, 14 people on the team, we decide what amazing thing we are throwing away. And that is the hardest thing that I think I’m trying to do every single thing. And that really obviously has to do with focus. It has to do with throwing away ideas, but it has to do with prioritizing. And prioritizing is not making a 1-2-3-4-5-6 list; it’s doing a “1” list, and everything else doesn’t matter. Focus on one thing only. And, I think for me, that’s the hardest thing that I try to work on every single day. And that’s translated to my personal life. I really live it with my wife what you were saying. My time is not amazing, so I really try to choose what’s the best thing to do in a specific moment to really add maximum value as I can.

David: In my case I’m going to look at the other side of the coin. And, even though what Marc says is absolutely true, you know, if you get one good thing done a day, like a massive thing, you’re going to feel that you’re getting things done and you’re getting to move forward. If you are just trying to deal with 100 things, your focus is nowhere, and you’re not going to move forward. But, looking at the other side of the coin, I would say that a part of what an entrepreneur is, is not disconnecting. And I think that’s one of the hardest things to do. You have to be able to rest. You have to be able to focus on your health, on your life. And you need to be able to do these things because there are two types of cultures: Cultures that have taught us that resting way before we get to the exhaustion point is something good, because you will deliver better. And then there are cultures where you have to be at the edge of physically being able to withstand the pain, to be able to actually be able to then rest a little bit.

But if you get to that point, you’re so exhausted that you break down. And you’re not only going backwards on delivering but you actually get into a phase where you’re really not moving forward. And I think that’s super tough as an entrepreneur, or anybody. To be able to say, if you don’t have that resting period, if you don’t give yourself the ability to take care of yourself, to go to the gym or to just run a little bit, or to be with your spouse or whoever, it’s going to be tough. For short sprints, it’s okay; we all do it. It’s something that I tell people and it’s hard to follow. It’s super tough. You’re always thinking about it, thinking about it, and it has an impact, and it can have a bad impact. So keep that it in mind.

Davide: Great advice and super. As you mentioned, as well, it applies to everybody, to entrepreneurs. But, of course, most entrepreneurs in high-risk ventures are under a lot of stress, so this sometimes can be… It can kind of cloud judgement and make it more difficult to remember these sorts of things.

Okay, we’ve come to the end. Very last question. We’ve kept the best for the end. While building Polaroo, so, we’ll try to narrow down the scope a little bit, what has been your biggest mistake?

David: To keep it short, I would say what we mentioned before, and it’s wishful thinking. It’s being so passionate and having such a clear view on what the problem is that you don’t realize that people are not aware that they have a problem. And this could apply in many different cases to many different entrepreneurs or people who are starting something new, that you have to be able to focus on what the end goal is, agreed? You have to be able to keep pushing forward and take all the hits, agreed? But you have to be fast in identifying when something is telling you that you need to iterate or you need to change and you have to be fast about it. You can’t spend seven months developing something without being able to be on the streets speaking to clients. Because if, after seven months, they don’t want it or they don’t understand it, you’ve thrown away seven months. You have learned a lot, you’ve moved forward, but I think, to keep it short, wishful thinking is something that we’ve all suffered from, and sometimes you need to be able to understand that, you know, sometimes you need to change the details to get to where you really want to go.

Marc: I agree. As I said, there are always two different options. I completely agree with David. There is the one for me, or the one that I think and it’s also important, which is ask for help, ask for help more often. It doesn’t matter from whom like, “Hey, if you’ve done this, can you help me?” Just sit down with other people because you’re sharing the idea. Maybe they won’t help you. But just the fact that you’re expressing your problems, it helps you ‘tangibilize’ what your problem is. And, actually, most of the time you’re going to get to the solution by yourself. But it’s just the fact that you ask for help, someone external, not David or Sergio, my cofounder, someone external, you David, whoever I find, and then if you have investors, and your investors, your friends, your colleagues the other entrepreneurs, just ask for help, ask for help. Don’t feel like, “Oh, if I ask for help, I’m going to be dumb.” It doesn’t matter. Yes, you’re going to be dumb, and you’re going to be dumb all the way. But always, always, always ask for help or just share what you have in mind, so, people can give you a completely different point of view. And that’s, I think, something that we haven’t done that often and we should. And we are obviously right now doing it much more.

Davide: Thank you very much to both of you. This has been extremely insightful, and, I would say energizing, as well, to hear your positive approach, I would say a very, very healthy approach, to entrepreneurship as well, to, you know, to your personal, and professional relationships. So, really, really honestly, a big thanks for taking the time as well, as you were talking about focus, to be with us, to share your thoughts. And all the best from my side, to both of you, moving forward. I hope everything goes amazingly well, and we can talk again once you’ve built your unicorn or not. We know that you will happy either way, which I think is the really positive message that comes out in the end. So, thank you very much. Let’s talk soon. And to the listeners, we’ll see you very soon.

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