MADRID, SPAIN. As part of a new series of interviews with expats in Madrid, MADbudget looks into the trials and tribulations foreigners can experience when coming to the Spanish capital.

This week, we start with Pierre-Alban Waters, founder of Moving2Madrid and President of Guiripreneurs.

Spain is not exactly known as providing an environment that is ideal for start-ups and entrepreneurs. What difficulties did you experience when founding your business, Moving2Madrid?

Pierre-Alban Waters

Pierre-Alban Waters

Pierre-Alban Waters: Getting my first customers was the hardest challenge. Apparently, most people complain about external things: financing, legal steps. The red tape is so easy compared to the key challenge of any entrepreneurs: get clients and be profitable within the first months.

You are also the President of Guiripreneurs, an NGO for and by international entrepreneurs. What advice, – financial, legal or otherwise,- can you give to international entrepreneurs looking to start a business in Spain? For example, do you recommend being an autónomo or S.L.? How much capital does one need to start a business in Spain?

Again, this is not important. If you have a profitable business, you will find the way. If you have no clients, forget it. So my main advice is to learn the customer discovery method, read “Running Lean“, and listen to your segment. In a nutshell: test by selling & save 6 months living costs before jumping ship.

What advantages and disadvantages do international entrepreneurs face over local entrepreneurs in Spain?

We usually come for more mature markets, with higher competition and demands. Therefore, starting here is easier for us.

Guiripreneurs functions in conjunction with Madrid Emprende, the Entrepreneurship Master of the Complutense University and utopic_us, a co-working space in Madrid. What kinds of benefits do Guiripreneur members have?

Guiripreneurs members get the following benefits:

  • Free use of our Office on Gran Via
  • Free use of utopicus_us and Madrid Lab venue for free events
  • 50% beca for the Entrepreneurship Master of the Complutense University
  • Support of an international network of over 1000 international entrepeneurs
  • A “give first” culture unique in our society, where we help each other, just because we believe in our community. Takers and promoters get kicked out.

What other resources and services does Madrid offer for entrepreneurs and small business owners? Is there a tech or start-up hub scene in Madrid, as there is in Tel Aviv, London or Berlin? If so, where?

If by “start-up hub” you mean a high concentration of successful startups, then clearly Madrid nor Barcelona are not. But yes, in these two cities, you have entrepreneurs everywhere and will find support. The questions then is why you are in Madrid for instance as an entrepreneur.

What I believe is that entrepreneurship should not be “trendy” or “special”. It should be a lifestyle choice as normal as others such as being an employee or a civil servant. Not perceived as better (as in San Francisco) nor worse (as in Spain in general).

Entrepreneurs have always been an integral part of our lives and cities. From the medieval ages where craftsmen and guilds where the norm. We are just coming back to the small craftsmen paradigm as it was before the industrial revolution parenthesis.

I do not feel we need a hub. We do not need support. Our feeling is that we just need no obstruction, and Spain with its amazing quality of life will attract lifestyle entrepreneurs. Not the “facebook” type, even if there are super successful startups, but will attract more the entrepreneurs who want a balance between quality of life and business opportunities.

The standard idea for starting a business in Spain seems to be opening up a bar or a hairdresser. The majority of these close down after several months. How does one found a start-up that stays afloat? Do you have any ideas for start-ups that you are just waiting for someone to start?

Opening a business is a risky venture. By definition, most ventures will fail. My first venture was a failure – FlatAway: premium flatshares for young top level professionals in Madrid.

I think the main thing is to start small and test. Start now and try and get one client for free. Then charge 10 € for the next client. Then double again and again, until no one wants to hear about it and answer “What??? That much???”. That’s your price. Still keep your job, make 500 € a month just on weekends and night, make it work, save six months living costs and jump ship!

As for ideas: they are over-rated. Twitter sounds like the dumbest idea ever: “Let’s limit communication to 140 characters”. What wins is execution, testing, learning and being profitable.

I usually recommend to focus on a need they have for themselves. In my case, we need to reinvent education, and I think an entrepreneur-led master based on doing and learning languages is a long-term project I have.

How has the financial crisis affected expat businesses? Have you had to take any action with respect to changing your own business model? What plans do you have for your own start-up, Moving2Madrid?

I chose to run a service business, which means low fixed costs and we focus on keeping high margins.

Therefore, I prefer to stay the sole owner, no debt and no investors, until I feel I really need investors to scale if relevant.

The crisis has cleaned the market of the bad providers, but also reduced local demand, and given more focus on the foreign demand.