You’re not alone. Jose Vigil, CEO of RoamTouch, a touchpad technology company says it’s one of the toughest challenges he faces as an entrepreneur. Find out what the tech culture looks like in Argentina and how the industrial designer got his start from a Microsoft organized contest.
Hometown: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Current Residence: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Occupation: CEO RoamTouch
Areas of Focus: Multitouch technology
What is the start up culture like in Buenos Aires?
In the dot com explosion of the 90′s, there were several cases of Argentines already creating startups that were successful. Argentina has a high educational, level since education is free for Argentines, which makes for a large pool of qualified professionals. I, myself, went to a public school and have a degree in Industrial Design from the University of Buenos Aires. I think we have a very entrepreneurial culture and more and more Argentines are taking on global projects.
There are private and NGO entities that support startup efforts and incubate them. I deliberately decided take another route and bootstrap my company, creating a network of professionals from scratch. I aimed to create an international team because by the time I came up with the idea for a multitouch user interface modular system based on thin client imagery computing, people who specialized in this technology were not really out in the local market yet. As a result, our team is very diverse. Our CTO is German, our WebKit specialist is Indian, and our Business Development chief and Legal advisors are from the US and Sierra Leone.
How did you get into the multitouch/tactile technology when it´s still not commonly used in Argentina?
As I mentioned before, I am an Industrial Designer with a strong background in the IT business and I´ve worked in many different areas. In 2006, I was participating in an Industrial Design contest with my friend Hernan Fretto, another industrial designer specializing in furniture design. The contest was put on by Microsoft. It was called ¨Designing the Computer of the Future,¨ and also known as StartSomethingPC. We decided on doing a tactile project because we thought that the best and most effective solutions were in tactile technology. There was no iPhone yet and very little information about that technology. I knew that the static PC at home was something very primitive and that the household was really the place where touch screen technology would fit perfectly in the future.
It was during this time of research that I met Fabian Franz who basically confirmed that my ideas were not totally crazy. Fabian is the author of FreeNX and the co-founder/ CTO of our company, Roaming Keyboards. Afterwards, we went to business advisors to make a marketable path for our vision. My business advisor, Greg Robin, advised me to put the user interface modular system on hold since tablets were not popular yet, and he advised me to tackle the mobile smartphone market first using multitouch gestures.
Is the technology sector growing in Argentina?
Absolutely. I see local entrepreneurs who are flourishing at the international level all around me. These companies operate locally and have a completely Argentine workforces as opposed to outsourcing. We have an interesting cultural profile here. Since Argentina had a lot of different immigration – European, Middle Eastern, and now Asian immigrants – it makes us a pretty diverse group and I think it makes us flexible to working with different cultures outside of Argentina.
With crazy inflation levels and economic crises, we have no choice but to be very resourceful. We have been raised to face problems and solve them in our own way. Out of necessity we have to be creative with few resources. In general, I think Argentines are very communicative, fast learners, and resilient with getting back on our feet after a crisis. These attributes plus the high level of education makes the Argentine workforce attractive for new global projects.
What are the challenges of starting up a tech business in Argentina?
My challenges haven´t been related to starting up in Argentina. The biggest challenges come from wanting to break the mold; wanting to implement new ideas from scratch, wanting to change things for the better while also having to maintain a home, a job and a life. And that is always a difficult challenge in whichever region. The challenge comes from trying to create something big out of an apartment, a network connection and just enough money for the bare essentials. If I didn´t have the emotional and economic support of my wife, my parents, relatives and friends, I would have crashed.
And actually, I think that launching a start up in Argentina has it´s benefits. Here, 1 US dollar equals 4 pesos and living is relatively cheap. Around me, I have a network of qualified people knowledgeable in just about any technology. Without this local network, I could not have come this far.
Who has influenced your work?
First of all, my dad. A genius mind. He´s an excellent entrepreneur who is helping me at present as a general advisor. He made a great effort to teach me solid values, in my opinion, of utmost importance to creating a company. Secondly, Fabian Franz, our CTO and rock star who through all these years has taught me to be patient and to manage my time efficiently. Fabian is an amazingly smart guy who breathes technology and is capable of talking all types of languages. Third, Greg Robin, my business advisor and current Marketing Chief, because he brought reality to the project. Greg works as a business advisor in the Valley and is based in San Francisco so he´s in the know with all of the market trends. He made me make a tremendous effort to create something that could reach the masses market-wise as opposed to something very specialized. He´s extremely direct and doesn’t sugarcoat anything which is really great for me because it brings me down from the clouds and into reality. And lastly, Gregor Berkowitz. I met him back when I was concentrating on a hardware project. He guided me in that period and showed me the difficulties of hardware development which pushed me towards focusing on the software aspect of my idea. Steve Jobs is my idol at this point. He’s revolutionary. He´s able to destroy today what he created yesterday in order to make something better. He surrounded himself with a strong industrial design team headed by Jonathon Ive and created the iMac. They are a small team of talented people that are really intent on solving problems, like we are. And for me, that is the true duty of industrial designers – to solve problems in the most effective way using the simplest solutions. “Keep It Simple Stupid.”
What’s next for you?
As a major objective, our new smartphone app, PadKite, aims to create a new standard for using multi-touch devices. PadKite is a tool that acts like a mouse for your smartphone and the app also provides gesture-based controls powered by selection gestures and a GestureKit. We want to extend this app to all touch screen devices beyond phones. Once we achieve setting a standard, we will be able to use that as a springboard for developing solutions in the home. Users can continue working with our invention but in different environments. Fortunately for us, GoogleTV can bring us back to our first and original user interface modular system vision in the same path as PadKite. We are already thinking about going to the next level; there is a lot to do with PadKite running on top of different types of content like video. It´s exciting because it´s an unexplored field of interaction in the living room. We´re used to thinking big and will continue doing so.
What will the computer of the future look like?
Definitely tactile. I envision at least 15 years of touch screen computers flooding the household while being controlled with fingers and gestures before going to the next level which is controlling them directly with our mind. For the moment and until then we will use the most effective way to use our brains with a computer and that is with our fingers. Computers will not change millions of years of evolution of hands from one day to another just because there is one decade of advance in technology. It is most likely that this computer of the future is not a mouse, nor a keyboard, nor a display but all together and that is where we are heading.
I think that gestures and systems like PadKite running on different home environments are going to be the next-generation computers. That is my forecast. This tactile period will probably last the same amount of time that personal computers did, which will end soon. We are in a transition.