Nuno decided to leave Germany to return to Portugal and launch a company specializing in WordPress websites and eCommerce. Today WidgiLabs is an established company with a portfolio that includes clients such as Uniplaces, Observador and ECO.
When Nuno left the European Space Agency and returned to Portugal, he came armed with a dream: to launch a company. Since then WidgiLabs has established itself in the Portuguese market as a company specializing in WordPress, as well as the creation of websites and eCommerce. The company’s portfolio includes both national and international clients with two of the most successful projects being the launch of two Portuguese media channels, Observador and ECO. They have also worked with clients from different industry sectors, including several startups such as Uniplaces, which is now an international case study and one of the most successful startups in Portugal.
What exactly does WidgiLabs do?
WidgiLabs creates differentiated web presence solutions based entirely on WordPress, helps define digital strategies, and tracks our clients’ projects from conception to go-to-market.
How did WidgiLabs come about?
WidgiLabs came about from our aspiration to create a place where we would love to work, with a great team of people, and on projects that sparked our interest so we wouldn’t feel bored going to work on Monday mornings. I always dreamed about a workplace like that where we would have the means to create, explore and bring people’s dreams to life. After living for two years in Germany, we decided to return to Portugal because we started to see a different dynamic with events and the blooming entrepreneurial scene, which was very different from when we left. We wanted to work with clients around the world and also be closer to our families and to the amazing Portuguese food and weather.
How many people are working in your team?
We work with a daily team of multiple diverse people, and will be bringing on a couple more in the next coming months. It is a strategically small team and for each project we bring in key people to complement with expertise in different areas according to the projects needs. This approach works to our advantage because we benefit from a strong core with solid knowledge and we utilise resources that bring a different and multidisciplinary perspective. For this reason, we have an extensive network of contacts, which directly and indirectly contribute to the success of our projects.
Why does WidgiLabs focus solely on WordPress and what are the main advantages of this platform?
It was a decision we made early on based on the fact that WordPress stands at the intersection of what we loved to do and what the market needed and was willing to pay for. Due to our background in computer engineering, we could have adopted other technologies and platforms, but WordPress has been with us since we started blogging and so we were led to explore it more deeply and play around to see what we could do with it. It is an open-source, which is very important to us, and we developed a good expertise and understanding of it from the development of our first SaaS product.
Is WordPress inadequate for some specific projects?
It is important to say we do not recommend WordPress blindly for every project. There are very specific projects that will probably not gain much by using it, and, in that case, it is best to accept that. However, more important than the tool itself is who you are going to hire to help leveraging the tool. If you look at some of the top websites in the world, you’ll see they use very different programs(Java, PHP, Ruby, etc.). Nevertheless, they all have a good digital presence that supports their businesses.
Had you always intended to create your own company or did entrepreneurship come about in an unexpected way?
It was already a dream we had had since university. One colleague challenged me with the question: “Have you ever thought about creating your own job?” At the time, we were reading Paul Graham’s “Hackers & Painters”, and creating a startup seemed like the thing destined for those who wanted to make a difference in the world, work with the best technologies and somehow dictate their own game and have the freedom to be different.
What led a computer engineer to switch positions at the European Space Agency in Germany and return to Portugal to set up his own company?
The will to achieve more and to do things our own way, with people we like. And the challenge of working for yourself and living the adventure of having a business of your own and seeing how far you can go.
After these years, how has the feedback been?
Very positive. WidgiLabs is a company with a solid position in the market and the skills to respond to projects with varying degrees of complexity. The fact of being a small company makes it very agile. The sectors we work with the most are media, industry, banking, agencies, e-commerce, startups, e-learning platforms and niche blogs, among others. We’ve also developed international projects, mainly in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Brazil and Angola.
What have been your main projects over time?
Last year we were responsible for the digital launch of ECO.pt, an online Portuguese newspaper, where we had the opportunity to work with a media team and managed to reach the market with a differentiating product for both the web and mobile. The project ended up winning Meios & Publicidade’s magazine award “Launch of the Year”. Prior to this, we also won the equivalent award with the Observador, where we integrated the development team of a project that became a reference for the media market in Portugal, and for the possiblities of what can be achieved with WordPress.
I would also like to highlight the creation of the Forbes Portugal website where we were able to use WordPress as a one-stop backoffice for all their contents.
We also worked with startups to launch rapid solutions to test new concepts in the market, such as Uniplaces, for which we developed the first prototype of the product that won the Startup Weekend and allowed them to realise their idea. Fortunately today, they are a case study and maintain a successful international presence.
In projects related to the industry, I can highlight the redesign of Liveplace’s digital presence. This company is the leader in Portugal for the sale of constructive solutions and already has 11 stores spread throughout the country.
Would you say WidgiLabs is most focused on media projects?
We are dedicated to giving the same kind of answers for different industries. But digital media is rapidly changing and we feel there is a ton of untapped opportunities to explore. It is also an area where we have developed great expertise by working directly with journalists and newsrooms.
Are there any new projects you can tell us about?
For now, I can’t reveal much information, due to customer confidentiality, but we will soon be able to disclose some details. We are mainly active in areas such as e-commerce, the creation of marketplaces, innovative digital presences and customized solutions for startups and SMEs.
Are there many companies in Portugal working exclusively with WordPress?
Thousands of businesses already run on WordPress and so the number of companies providing WordPress services has been growing. And I believe that number will increase even more with time. What is important is that we remain different from our competition. The market is increasingly competitive but we see this in a positive light. We even made it part of our mission: to accelerate the growth of WordPress and its ecosystem. One of the main advantages of WordPress for clients is that it won’t make you hostage of a single company or supplier if things go wrong. WordPress clients can be assured that they will never be stuck with a particular supplier or an outdated custom-built legacy software that is obsolete and with which new suppliers won’t accept to work (because they don’t want to open a “can of worms”.)
What makes WidgiLabs different from the competition?
If you look at agencies that provide services relying on WordPress, many create websites based on “premium themes” rather than custom themes, which is something we offer. Another factor is that our core is development rather than design, and that we’ve been using WordPress as a framework for years now (to create startup platforms like Uniplaces, andB2B marketplaces, etc).
We also participate with and promote the local WordPress Portuguese community by organizing meetups and WordCamp Lisboa (the international WordPress conference).
Other differentiating factors include the fact that we have products based on WordPress, the experience of running websites with millions of monthly pageviews and that our team includes developers that have contributed to the WordPress core before. This puts WidgiLabs in a very unique position.
What has changed in the market and what are the challenges of the future?
When we started, there was a lot of talk around the crisis and austerity of 2008, but what we saw, perhaps because it was in a space like Coworklisboa, were people who wanted to invest both in the creation of new businesses and in the remodeling and growth of existing businesses. Thanks to a fantastic team, we have been able to sustain this growth. If a site does not catch our eye or if something does not work, it is very easy to close that browsing window, and go to Facebook or another site. That is the big challenge and will continue to be; capturing people’s attention. It has never been so important for brands to be able to surprise and have an online presence that catches people’s attention and presents something different than what they expect. This is our focus, which isalways based on WordPress because we think it is the best tool to achieve this.
Are you one of the pioneers of WordPress in Portugal?
I think we were pioneers in the creation of WidgiLabs, as a company focused exclusively on WordPress. When we started, some people asked “why do you only work with WordPress?” and “how do you manage to do that”? Fortunately, we have received very positive feedback from our customers. It is important to realize that WordPress was born as a platform for blogging. This was its main purpose for many years. It was used by people to post to a personal blog, period. That’s how I also started interacting with WordPress during college, where I customized the template and the plugins of my blog. But by then there were several other programmers working with WordPress.
Has WidgiLabs received any external financing? Would you be available to integrate new partners into the company?
The company has only equity capital and we have not yet received external financing. We had an investment proposal early on but by then, more than monetary investment, we wanted to be advised and build our networking and contacts. We ended up not accepting it because there seemed to be too many limitations and we did not want to start our company with those kinds of limitations, but it is something that we will review again very soon, since there are always opportunities at this level.
What did you leave behind in Germany and what did you gain from your return to Portugal?
I came back to a country with a new entrepreneurial dynamic. When we moved to Germany, things were different in Portugal. The market was at a different stage. And even though we came back at a time when the country was going through financial crisis, some innovation trends could already be felt. For example, the creation of coworking spaces and events that mobilized people to start new things. This trend has continued to this day, with increasing impact, and all of this made us decide to return. We realize that we don’t have to be out of the country to enjoy those things. When we live in another country we appreciate what we have in Portugal. While living here, even if unconsciously, it seems that we are waiting for the country to give us something, to provide jobs and opportunities. But when we go abroad we realize that “okay I’m not from this country, so nobody will give me anything. I’ll have to do it for myself”. And we changed our mindset. After changing it, being abroad or back in Portugal makes no difference.
And what are the main differences between the two countries?
Not wanting to make generalizations, but the time I lived in Germany leads me to believe that the main differences are in terms of word of honor, values and ethics. Somehow in Germany when someone tells us that something is going to be done (even at the level of public services) we can trust that it will be done. There is also the matterof punctuality and following rules, and above all there is the matter of training.The education system is very good. To date, Germany has produced more than 100 Nobel Prizes in several areas. Then there is the question of the standard of living being far above average. In Europe it is only surpassed by Finland and Denmark.
How do you view the ecosystem of startups in Portugal?
Entrepreneurship has been greatly promoted in Portugal in recent years. There are several agents who are doing a fantastic job in this area. However, I think there is too much focus on “raising capital”. This leads one to think that the only way to grow is just that, and that the companies that raise investment are the only “winners.” There are a number of businesses with revenues between 1 -2 million euros a year that are left out of the ecosystem because there are no resources to empower people to grow these businesses or use alternative forms of financing such as revenue-based financing.
Does Portugal have the potential to grow and transform its startups into leading companies operating in the international market?
I’m sure it does. Turning our startups into global reference companies implies, above all, realizing that it’s not just a matter of mindset. To be a leader you need to invest heavily in training, marketing and innovation. And if in the past there were no examples to present, today Portugal already has some examples that can be an inspiration. But the real point is to “invest”.
What does Portugal have to offer to national and international entrepreneurs?
Talent, support to entrepreneurs, climate / gastronomy / hospitality, groups of makers, hackers, programmers, engineers, coworking spaces, cultural events. A lot of things.
What are the main difficulties of starting a new business?
Being too involved in day-to-day operations and not focusing on other business areas such as building a leadership / management team, internationalization, recruiting, etc.
As an entrepreneur, what are your main daily routines in managing your business and your life?
I don’t know if there are any fixed routines that I follow. The truth is, I do not like them! What I do know is that I don’t spend enough time dreaming and celebrating, two essential activities for any entrepreneur, manager or leader. It is from dreaming that action ensues, and we should enjoy the moments of celebration to gain inner strength and continue to pursue them.