Why Lisbon? Interview with Lou Schillaci, cloudyBoss

Lisbon, Portugal is quickly becoming an entrepreneurial hotspot for startups and budding business ideas, thanks to affordable living, comfortable weather and an ever-growing tech scene.

We had the chance to speak with Giuseppe (Lou) Schillaci, CEO cloudyBoss, on making the move from Perth, WA to Lisbon four years ago, and hear why Lisbon is a great spot to consider for your start-up.

With 25 years experience in the high-tech industry, Lou has held executive positions in both Australia and the US, including CEO of NDG Software, a multi-million dollar US-based network software corporation, which later was sold to IBM; CEO of NoizeNet, Australia’s first Digital Rights Management company; and CEO of SigPoint, a leading edge Non-Destructive Testing software solution.

He’s been named one of the “Top Six High Tech Heroes in Australia’s IT Industry” by Business Review Weekly, and was among the “Top Ten Movers and Shakers” in the Australian IT industry according to The Australian

Here’s what he had to say:

What made you decide to move your business to Lisbon? 

Our business, like many other start-ups, was born global and has the natural capacity to grow to fulfil this role. However even with that advantage, many Australian startups like ours, face a host of issues that can become detrimental to that goal. These include cost of living, time zones, distances, connectivity, and of course, financial assistance and political will.

With this in mind, we looked for a country where we could base our operations and alleviate most if not all of these issues. We chose Portugal in the end for many reasons, not only those I have just mentioned.

Firstly Portugal’s proximity to the largest markets in the world – it sits right between our most important markets – USA and Europe. In fact to make things even easier, in terms of communications and travel, it is the only country within Europe that shares London’s GMT.

Speaking of travel, Portugal’s two international airports and its national carrier TAP, have daily services to almost every major country in Europe as well as the east coast of the US.  Of course low cost airlines such as Ryanair etc. are also here and offer rates as low as AUD$12 one way to London and many other European destinations. Perfect if you’re a start-up!

Secondly, some people may not be aware that Portugal’s infrastructure rivals most others countries in Europe and certainly Australia. Telephone and Internet services are second to none, with almost 90% of all homes having access to high speed / no download limit internet and 4G cell networks, both at very low prices.

In fact it is not unusual to pay less than AUD$50 for a package that includes 100Mbs fibre/cable Internet, two mobile phones with unlimited national calls, your wired house phone with unlimited national and limited international calls, as well as over 100 cable TV stations, most of which are English.

It’s also worth noting that Portugal is one of the few countries in the world that does not dub their TV or movies, only sub-titles them. This has had a dramatic effect on the nation’s ability to speak English, especially with millennials and their younger peers.

It was only 1974 that Portugal changed from a dictatorship to a modern republic and with that change came a quick catch-up to the rest of the world in many senses – modern medicine,  world leading banking services and importantly modern education methods and with it access to low cost university tuition. As an example, the average bachelor and master programs cost between AUD$1,200 and AUD$2,200 per year. With this comes a stream of highly educated and eager graduates. Perfect if you’re looking to staff a start-up!

We wanted to get away from the oppressive Tall Poppy syndrome that we’d experienced in Australia. In Portugal, if you are successful, in whatever your field, you are congratulated for your efforts and for showing others what can be achieved. It’s refreshing.

So although I haven’t singled out the low-cost-of living, I am sure that you’ve gleaned that from what I have been saying. Did I mention a great cup of coffee here is less that AUD$1?

How important has your Australian network been to get started over here?

Our Australian contacts were not relevant to us commencing business in Portugal. It is not a country that is recognised as being a commercial centre by most Australians. That said, just recently the new Australian Ambassador, Peter Raynor, has shown interest in actively supporting bi-lateral trade. For us the importance is the focus being given to supporting Australian companies wishing to establish themselves in Portugal.

Prior to this, there was no focused Australian support network in Portugal. Even now Austrade does not have a representative based here, however the Paris based team, who are assigned Portugal as one of their territories, have recently shown interest in expanding their support.

Have you raised money in Europe and how did you find it compared to Australia? 

Although raising capital locally is ideal, for many reasons, we have not actively pursued the VC/Angel community here. We believe that investment of any kind should bring with it access to a larger network of possible partners, second stage investors and the corporate community. In Portugal, to date, we have not found the right fit.  Whether that is because it doesn’t exist or because we just haven’t found it is yet to be determined. (If you know anyone let us know!)

What is it like to do business in Lisbon?

Portugal is a small place with a short history of modern commercialisation. With that comes the good and the bad. On the positive side, it is a place of opportunity. The acceptance of new technology and modernisation, which allows an innovative start-up to quickly establish a presence and following.

This is exemplified by the intense focus on, and astronomical growth of, the start-up community, as can be seen by the overwhelming success of Web Summit in November 2016 and a reason for the entire Web Summit team to move from Dublin to a new base in Lisbon.

The bad side? We have to understand that Portugal has been through a very tough financial period. Although preliminary figures show that GDP in 2017 are expanding at the fastest rate in over a decade, there is a still a lag within most industries and will take time to catch up. Evidence of this is the reluctance of some government departments and fiscal institutions to fund new projects and lend money. I should also mention that some of the old-school thinking remains in Portugal where things may not get done today but rather “Amanha’’ (tomorrow).

Overall, I believe this to be a land of opportunity, especially in the technology sector. As I mentioned before, the fast transition from dictatorship to democracy, opened many doors for positive development. The kind of quantum leap I am referring to is like going from vinyl to digital music, missing cassettes and CDs.

Are you working as a remote team or did the team move over with you? Do you, or have you, hired local talent? 

At cloudyBoss, our entire vision is that the workplace is changing and that team members can work equally as effectively in remote locations as from a central base. We have over 50 engineers, partners, interns based across the entire globe, including people we have hired in Portugal.

I moved to Portugal, to exploit its many advantages, and the rest of the team continued working in their locations – including Thailand, Australia, Germany, France, Russia and India. For all intents and purposes nothing has changed in the way we conduct business, except that we have unlocked new opportunities from me being here.

What do you love about living in Lisbon? 

Although I enjoy the business and social benefits of living in Europe’s smallest capital city, Lisbon, I particularly enjoy being close to Portugal’s ‘Riviera’, the Algarve, where myself and my wife spend a lot of time.

The lifestyle that we enjoy is not dissimilar to that of Perth, in terms of climate and the laid-back environment.

Top three tips:

  1. Choose a location that offers both business and lifestyle opportunities. You don’t want to live in a cold and stressful metropolis and neither do your staff!
  2. Seek advice on the possibility of attaining residency in your chosen country. Countries like Portugal offer various visas and tax incentives for non EU passport holders.
  3. Take the blinkers off and consider non-mainstream countries. There are other options besides France and Germany. (Post-Brexit, I can’t include the UK anymore!)  

 Thank you to Lou Schillaci for this interview. You can contact him at cloudyBoss. 

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