The biometric security company BIO-key arrived in Spain last September. They chose Madrid to open their first headquarters outside the United States, where it was founded twenty-five years ago. BIO-key, which has a turnover of around ten million euros per year and employs sixty people, develops biometric authentication software and fingerprint scanners.
Álex Rocha is responsible for their new office. In this interview, he outlines the company’s plans and the reasons why he believes that Madrid is the city that best suits the business’s needs. “The business opportunities in Spain are an incentive,” he says. “Madrid will be the city that gives us the best return on investment.”
M.I.A.: What is BIO-key and who are its customers?
A.R.: BIO-key was founded twenty-seven years ago in the United States. The headquarters are in New York. We specialize in biometric signature: fingerprint, palm and facial recognition. Customers range from the FBI and the Department of Defense to large corporations, insurance companies and call centers. For now, most are in the United States. To begin with, we hope to offer our solution in the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and Africa), but the long-term plan is the global market.
M.I.A.: Do you have offices in the rest of the world?
A.R.: The first office we opened outside the United States is this one in Madrid. This year we will open in Portugal and Dubai.
Madrid is a technological hub, one of the most important capitals in technology and a bridge to a very interesting market, Latin America. The proximity to Portugal also helps us. The distance from Madrid to Barcelona and from Madrid to Lisbon is 600 kilometers. It is a privileged location that enables us to have a team in each country.
M.I.A.: When did you decide to expand to Europe and why did you opt for Madrid? Did you consider any other cities?
A.R.: BIO-key was interested in acquiring a company that was already present in the European market. This company was Swivel Secure Europe, which has offices in several parts of Europe, including Madrid. We decided to use the same strategy. Thus, BIO-key already has a presence in Europe.
Madrid was the city that made the most sense for us in terms of return on investment since it is the capital and there is plenty of talent. We want to hire the best professionals to work with us. We did some research and Madrid was the city that suited us best.
M.I.A.: What plans do you have for this office?
A.R.: We already have four people working here and we hope to reach ten. From here we will manage the EMEA region. We also have local workers in each location. We will be independent of the New York HQ: we will report to the BIO-Key board, but we will work completely independently.
Why is this investment so important? We believe that this is a key moment because biometrics will be very important in the future of many projects. More alarms are sold when there is an increase in robberies. And now there are a lot of problems with cybersecurity.
Regarding the workers for the Madrid office, we are looking for the best in each area. It is not about hiring to fill a vacancy: on the contrary, we identify an individual and if he or she fits with our vision they will get hired. It is the most important thing, what guarantees you success.
M.I.A.: What factor do you think the administration should promote to attract companies like yours to Madrid?
A.R: I would not talk about a single factor, but several. The first is stability. The human factor, the experience… Why haven’t we opened this office in Portugal? Because if we count the number of companies with more than 5,000 employees in Portugal, we do not get more than five. And in Spain there are many more. The business opportunity in Spain is an incentive. Madrid will be the city that gives us the best return on investment. We focus on the public sector, large companies and niche companies. We see that in Spain there are small companies, with few employees, that have turnovers of millions of euros. Small can also be big.
For example: we work with a company in Valencia that has six partners and works only outside of Spain. They make a specific product for the Asian market with which they make more than six million euros. A company with so few employees does not need identification, but they sell a product that may find it very interesting to integrate with ours.
M.I.A.: Have you had contact with the Administration since you arrived?
A.R.: First you test, then you demonstrate success and then you help. I understand that the Administration must help companies, but we have the support of a company listed on the Nasdaq. We set it up in less than a month. What we found most difficult was the bureaucratic part, dealing with the notary, opening a bank account … We hired an agency to help us with these matters. I would suggest implementing a process that allows an entrepreneur without resources to establish himself quickly. The more companies we have, the more competitive we will be. Having entrepreneurs and creating companies fosters talent and innovation.
M.I.A.: And has it been easy to find an office and hire the first employees?
A.R.: There is a lot of supply in the market at a price that is not cheap. We wanted an emblematic site, that people could identify with. Another issue is the remote work paradigm. Today many people value being able to work from home more than a salary increase. And the management part is simple. When managing the commercial part, the most useful metric is sales. Every sales agent has a target and knows how much he must sell. We will help with the strategy, but they are very experienced workers. I explained it to the board at BIO-Key: we are going to hire people over 50 years old who have been looking for work for months and have incredible backgrounds, with great experience in the market, but are not receiving any job offers because of their age.
M.I.A.: Sometimes companies prefer to hire junior workers because they cost less…
A.R.: Yes, but to do the job of a senior employee I need three junior workers. It depends on the strategy. You can take workers and foster a team spirit so that they grow with you. For me, staff turnover is lousy. I’ve always believed that kicking a person out isn’t a solution, it’s a problem.
M.I.A.: Could the Community or the City Council of Madrid offer you their services in the future?
A.R.: It’s a difficult question, because I didn’t plan to ask for any help. Networking events are good for us. All the initiatives that foster collaboration between companies are interesting. It would also be interesting to give talks to young entrepreneurs, because sometimes they forget that having a good product is not the only recipe for success. You can have the best product and not be able to sell it. I think the Administration should help young entrepreneurs by pairing them with people who have already gone down that road.