Why Lisbon is the perfect place for a startup
Choosing the right place to locate a startup satellite office in Europe is key to happy workforce says Cloudflare CTO John Graham-Cumming.
By Chris Graeme
Good weather, a stable political climate, a highly-qualified labour force and immigrant friendly environment all make Lisbon a good place to startup a company satellite office says Cloudflare CTO John Graham-Cumming at a Zoom webinar organised by the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce (BPCC) and company set-up consultants Bridge In.
The effects of Brexit have been felt for a long time according to the Cloudflare CTO who was the first employee out of London to help build the cloud and internet security startup’s Lisbon office.
The decision to open a satellite engineering office — the firm employs around 300 staff — was, he says, partly down to Brexit and partly down to the company’s rapid growth.
Graham-Cumming says that after the referendum, and before any laws were changed, there was a change in people’s attitude towards working in London or elsewhere in the UK, with many Europeans saying they wanted to work for Cloudflare, but not in the UK.
“Now we are in the end game, where the rules are actually coming into play, and there is still some uncertainty about what will happen about the post-Brexit agreement, and if there will even be an agreement with the EU, and what it will look like,” he says adding that the uncertainty, like in 2016, creates difficulties for businesses.”
Graham-Cumming points out that businesses like certainty and that the uncertainty around the Brexit agreement and the seemingly rocky transition of power following the US elections are spooking business.
As to startups, he says one creates the startup where you have the right team of people on the ground who are going to work on setting it up.
“Startups are hard to set up. You have to know where you core team is. The question is whether you would uproot your team and move it to another country. If you do, you need to consider what the talent pool is in that other country,” he says.
“From an immigration perspective is it easy to bring other people in, and what access do you have in terms of money and fund raising?”
The Cloudflare CTO says that over the past 10 years London, Berlin and Paris have all been big funding centres popular with startups, and to a certain extent, Lisbon is too.
Graham-Cumming says he loves living in Lisbon, because it is a lovely place to live. “I came from London where everyday is pretty much grey, I lived in Silicon Valley and in terms of optimism, you get this partly from the weather,” he explains.
Apart from the weather, certain other factors about Lisbon also weighed in on the decision by Cloudflare to open an office in the Portuguese capital.
“We did a big search process of countries from Estonia to Iceland and 44 cities where we could have possibly put our engineering office, says the CTO, who adds that the company has client-focused offices in Paris and Munich.
“We wanted a technical, engineering and security operation office, and we were looking for a number of characteristics: talented, well-qualified local university leavers, an ecosystem with companies training people in these locations in high-tech areas, and a place that people would want to move to.
“There are many cities in Europe that are cheap to live, but do not have that attraction quality to make people want to move there, which Lisbon has,” says Graham-Cumming.
“Lisbon is low-cost and offers high lifestyle quality, and when you are talking about a battle for talent at the high-tech level, you need to think about those aspects and if the staff are going to be happy living in the location,” he stresses.
Graham-Cumming says there were other factors too that made Lisbon attractive, such as a stable political scene, the country is very welcome to immigrants, and the locals are very friendly when it comes to everyday personal contact.
“Cloudflare has gone from a startup with 30 people just over a year ago, to 63 people in Lisbon, with a real mixture of locally hired people and staff brought in to Portugal. The immigration policy is attractive, plus the time zone is the same with the UK and 8 hours time difference from San Francisco,” he explains.
This, Graham-Cumming says, is a “really big deal”. “The company could have opened up an office in Barcelona, but there was political instability there at the time, plus there was one hour’s time difference which makes things difficult when overlapping work days. Lisbon has all the right ingredients,” he says.
And why did Graham-Cumming move? “I’d been in London for several years and had also worked around the world. One factor was going to another culture and leaning a foreign language, the other was the ‘bootstrap’ phenomena,” meaning setting up a branch company in startup speak.
“I had bootstrapped the London office from 0 to 300 and now we’re bootstrapping again which is really exciting,” concludes the CTO of Cloudflare, John Graham-Cumming.
About Bridge In: https://www.startuplisboa.com/portfolio-startups/bridge-in
Cloudflare offers corporate security and networking in the cloud, secure, fast, reliable and cost-effective network services, integrated with leading identity management and endpoint security providers. Today it is one of the biggest networks operating on the Internet. People use Cloudflare services for the purpose of increasing the security and performance of their web sites and services. Its CEO is Matthew Price.