The children of Noelia Novella and Nuno Rodrigues were beginning to crawl when they both decided to go around the world, in 2013. “Back then we lived in Lisbon. I had one start-up related to resumes and my husband was a telecommunications consultant. Being parents of two such small children – they are 22 months apart – it seemed boring to us to have to go from home to the park”. Assuming they couldn’t jump out of a suite room to another—organizing children’s meals was incompatible with staying in hotels—they chose to go from one Airbnb to another, from country to country. Completed the vital journey, they brought in the suitcase a business idea Until now, it has been powerfully resistant: they developed a technology that made it possible to hire a professional cleaning service for the owners of tourist apartments.
They did not want to mediate with freelancers, so they had to convince cleaning companies that normally worked for hotels: they were consolidated SMEs but with few ideas of what technology could offer them. Many were terrified of the possibility of doing 20 services in as many different houses and scheduling schedules with different owners. “Years later we are still here”, Noelia smiles on the other side of the screen. She does not forget the miseries of the road. Six years after founding Doinn, when they were about to start making money from the commissions they charge for each service, the pandemic broke out and tourist reservations (and with them the demand for cleaning) sank. It was shortly after the company entered one of the Google for Startups programs at its Madrid campus. In these two terrible years for their sector they have managed to overcome by shooting up the number of cities in which they are present (they went from a few dozen to 600 in several countries) and maintaining a turnover of close to one million euros in 2021. This year they cross their fingers for that everything returns to normal and they reach their goal of reaching 2.5 million revenues.
Sofía Benjumea, director of Google for Startups in Europe, says that her example is not strange. “We are supporting those businesses that have the greatest ability to survive, adapt and continue to grow. We do not have the data for last year closed, but in 2020 the start-ups in our community were able to raise 64 million euros of financing, create nearly 1,000 jobs and almost half increased their income.
Two types of sectors
Now that the Google campus in Madrid is about to reopen after two years working remotely due to the coronavirus, the entrepreneurship center of the almighty North American technology recapitulates. “During this time we have focused on two types of sectors: those that were being damaged the most by the pandemic —because they could help the rest of the industry, which was also suffering, by providing innovation and technology— and those that were growing the most, such as health, e-commerce or the companies that were helping SMEs to digitize”. Google claims to do this work without expecting a tangible return, although it does measure it in its own popularity. “If our products help the start-ups we host, they will use them; Yes No No. If we have helped them with our programs they will speak well of Google, otherwise they won’t”, explains Benjumea.
Another of those resistant cells was Laconicum. Founded by María Martínez and Anabel Vázquez, its online cosmetics sales were not looking good after the confinement and the freezing of social gatherings. “On the other hand, the distribution of personal care and daily use products grew. In addition, we had been in electronic commerce for many years and that was an advantage for not suffering so much”. What started out almost like entertainment in 2012 —they only invested 3,000 euros, did not raise capital in any financing round and did not have a business plan until years after starting— is now a company that invoices 2.5 million euros and sends each year about 40,000 orders. His next step will be to sell in France, the mecca of cosmetics. “We did everything contrary to what business schools recommend, but it has been working for us,” smiles Anabel Vázquez.
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
SMEs almost always know what they need, but they are not very technologically savvy. This is what the Sevillian consultant Gonzalo Román took advantage of to launch another project that is resistant to these times. He thought that technology had to adapt to any company, no matter how small, and brought together all the essential functionalities of the applications that companies normally use (for communication such as WhatsApp or Slack, programs to manage workflows, intelligence, collaborative data or document management type Google Docs) in a single program provided by his company, baptized as Zinkee. From the No-code philosophy, that makes it easy for anyone to create an application without programming knowledge, they already have 20 employees and are growing rapidly with a payment model by installments.
The founders of the Nuna mental health platform, another of the companies that passed through the campus, also benefited collaterally from the pandemic. “We were trying to understand why most people who need or even consider therapy don’t really take the plunge for the first session or drop out early. We did extensive research and found that the top two reasons, among others, were to answer a few questions (do I need help? If so, who do I talk to?) and affordability,” says Vignesh Anand, co-founder and top manager. Half a thousand autonomous psychotherapists from Spain, Argentina and Peru have set up their digital practice with this platform. They have reached 6,000 clients and hope to skyrocket the number of therapists this year. There have also been failures on campus —several projects have closed—, but what most worries entrepreneurs is not that. It is not losing your mentality of resistance and illusion. “Otherwise we wouldn’t have made it this far.”