Back in September I had the pleasure to chat with one of the nicest guys out there. I was hanging out at Boise’s Basque Center, when I saw this kid at the bar, who looked familiar but I hadn’t met before. I’d seen his pictures on Maite Iribarren-Gorrindo’s Facebook (who moved from Boise to Bilbao a year ago), but it didn’t dawn on me that he was her boss. I was shocked to find out he was Xabier Uribe-Etxebarria, Anboto’s founder and CEO, because when you think about a CEO you picture somebody more in their 40s or 50s.
Anboto is a Bilbao-based technology company founded in 2009, with offices in Erandio-Bilbao, Basque Country, and Redwood City, CA. Soon, though, a brand new office will open, this time in the beautiful city of Boise, Idaho.
The company provides Web Customer Service and eCommerce technology based on Semantics and Natural Language Processing to reduce costs and increase sales. In the short time they have been operating, Anboto has earned worldwide recognition. Last year, the company won the Guidewire Group Innovate!100 international prize for best “startup” in the world, and was chosen “Cool Vendor 2011” by Gartner. In November 2010, they obtained the ISO 27001 certification, meaning the company meets the highest standards in Security and Information management.
Despite being just shy of two years old, the Anboto Group is already a member of the Advisory Committee of the W3C consortium, which defines standards for the Web.
Xabier, Anboto’s founder and CEO, has an impressive resume for being only 30 years old. He’s an Industrial Engineer, has Master and PhD degrees in Language Processing, attended the Entrepreneurship Development Program in MIT Sloan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA, plus a myriad of other studies which take up two pages on his resume. He is fluent in Spanish, Basque, English and Portuguese, and knows enough French and German to be dangerous. Recently, he was selected by MIT’s Technology Review TR-35 as one of the leading young innovators in Spain. These awards have a great international recognition. Each year, the American edition of the Technology Review honors 35 innovators under 35 who are tackling important problems in transformative ways and in previous editions, people like Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook, Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google, or Danah Boyd, an employee of Microsoft Research have received this award.
Last fall, he was featured in Startup America Partnership, which brings together a coalition of mentors, advisors, funders, major corporations and service providers to deliver strategic and substantive resources to help entrepreneurs start and scale companies.
Besides being a genius Xabier is, as I mentioned before, fun to talk to, down-to-earth, and extremely passionate about his job.
For all this reasons – not to mention how intrigued I was when I heard about the new Anboto office he plans to open in Boise – I asked him if he’d be willing to sit down for an interview with A Basque in Boise, to which he happily agreed.
I also got in touch with John Brunelle, at City of Boise’s Office of Economic Development, to get his impressions on this upcoming Basque technology company, and what its presence in Boise will mean for our city. You can read his answers after Xabier Uribe-Etxebarria’s interview.
Q. A bit of background regarding your studies. What made you choose your degree?
Xabier Uribe-Etxebarria: To be honest, I didn’t know what to study, but I’ve always been a little bit curious and I like to know how things work. That’s why I chose Industrial Engineering. I found the zeros and ones intriguing from the very beginning; how problems could be solved based on zeros and ones.
Q. MIT… wow! Tell me a little bit about your experience there.
It was an incredible experience. The fact that I was surrounded by the highest quality faculty with dozens of Nobel laureates and the best resources to conduct research with state of the art equipment and machinery was a privilege. While I was there, I thought a lot about the opportunities many other fellow students would have had if they’d attended a university like MIT.
Q. When did you first come up with the idea about Semantics and Natural Language Processing?
My dad – also an engineer – taught me about linguistics and automatic translation. He loves languages. However, putting that knowledge in practice is something else. My dad has taught me a lot, not only about semantics, but about being a good person, about life and work as well. Thanks to him, I know what it takes to be successful, mainly, working hard.
Q. Describe the beginnings of Anboto. Was it difficult to start the company? Where did you start?
After accumulating all that knowledge from my dad I moved to the US to study. There I saw what the leading technology trends were; systems that could answer questions but didn’t have the ability to carry a dialogue. I thought to myself, “With all the knowledge I’ve learned in the last few years, would it be possible to develop something better?” And the answer was yes. I was convinced we could move past what the state-of-the-art was until that moment. That’s how award-winning company Anboto was born in Bilbao in 2009.
I chose that city because that’s where I have my roots and access to funds, particularly public ones specifically targeted towards newly created companies. Nevertheless, the thought that this was going to be an international project, and that we would eventually have to open offices abroad, was there from the beginning.
The first months were not easy, not only due to financial difficulties, but also because we needed to create our own space in a sector with strongly consolidated companies that had many years of experience in this field.
Q. Anboto’s presence in the world: expansion timeline
As I said before, Anboto was born with international vocation and at the beginning we had an office at the MIT in Boston. Now, we have just opened a delegation in Silicon Valley, where we want to start competing 100 % against the biggest players of this market in a few months.
Q. What did it mean to be chosen as the best ‘Start Up’ company in the world? What doors did it open for you? What types of new opportunities?
The award for the best ‘Start-Up’ company in the World is recognition of all the efforts from the past. With our Virtual Assistants we are changing the world of eCommerce and if a ranking as important as this one has chosen us, it means that we are going in the right direction.
Q. New offices in the US: Silicon Valley and Boise. I get Silicon Valley, but why Boise? What’s the connection?
The proximity to the big decision centers nowadays does not depend on where your office is located. I care more about the quality and professionalism of the people working for you. In this regard, I particularly like the potential that a city like Boise can offer us: great talent, creativity, governmental support and a beautiful view from any of the windows at your office!
Q. Where will the office in Boise be? What would you like to get accomplished from Boise?
At the moment we have offices in Bilbao and Redwood City, CA. The operating cost in Silicon Valley is very high. We are planning on having our Marketing and part of the Sales department there.
However, we are a cloud based company, therefore we also need a data center. We will start with an office in Boise, where the cost of electricity, beta testing and technical support is significantly lower. We chose Boise for the same reason Hewlett-Packard did: a city with a high quality of life that’s only an hour away by plane from Silicon Valley.
I won’t deny that Boise’s Basque community played an important role in my decision to choose Boise. I let my heart guide me first and then I looked for “excuses” to open our new office there. I am extremely grateful to Boise and its Basque community for the support they have provided my company and me.
Q. You met with a lot of people during your recent trip to Boise, from Mayor Bieter to University professors and business people. What did you get accomplish during your time here?
The entire business and institutional community of Boise were awesome upon my arrival to present them with the idea of opening offices there. They see the value of opening and facilitating the entrance of new technology and innovative enterprises in their community. I definitely believe that this is a win-win for everyone involved in this adventure.
Q. Mayor Bieter told me that Anboto is going to be included in The Greenhouse program (a business incubator which works with early-stage companies of today to become the powerhouses of tomorrow). Can you elaborate a little bit on that?
Yes, Anboto will be part of The Greenhouse program. I can’t believe the amount of support we have received from Boise’s City Hall, the Chamber of Commerce, and Idaho’s Lt. Governor Brad Little, among a long list of people and organizations.
I have a good rapport with Dave Bieter, he really has come through for us. I’m sure time will prove Dave made the right decision when he stood by Anboto, a well-known in the Basque Country, but new to the US. I hope to make a difference in Idaho’s and drive up the state’s economy.
Q. You are planning on working together with students from BSU and University of Idaho. Tell me a little bit about these projects.
BSU and the University of Idaho have also given Anboto a great deal of support. I have several agreements with both entities, where students from the Masters program are working on three different projects due next month related to sales, business issues and taxes, and competitors.
We have also reached an agreement with the USAC program and are in the process with the University of Idaho.
Q. Any plans about moving to the US?
I don’t have plans to permanently live in the US right now, but I will be travelling regularly.
Q. How do you envision the future of Anboto?
I hope the future brings us success. We are going to work hard in 2012, aiming at becoming an even better company, keep our rate of product innovation and grow both in number of employees and clients. Day after day we improve our technology; practically 100 % of what we do is an innovation: tests, search of new verticals, execution of new developments. We have applications ready that we still have not launched to the market, we never stop. Our philosophy is to be always ahead of competition, we believe in innovation and working within a constant improvement process. We are a technological start-up company where innovation is the key.
As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to get a feeling about the City of Boise’s views on Anboto, and how Boise can benefit from having the company here. John Brunelle, Director of Economic Development, collaborates with innovators to improve the economic well-being and quality of life in Boise. He was nice enough to meet with me and answer my questions.
Q. How did you hear about Anboto, and what is your overall impression after meeting with the company’s founder and CEO, Xabier Uribe-Etxebarria?
John Brunelle: In early August I received a call from Maite Iribarren-Gorrindo asking for a meeting with the Mayor and me. I set that up as quickly as possible and we had a great first meeting with Xabier and Maite on August 10th. The next day I met with Xabier and arranged for a quick tour of the Greenhouse, the small business incubator created by the city’s Office of Economic Development and operated by Boise State University.
In our first meeting it was obvious that Anboto and Boise could truly benefit from working together. Xabier’s presentation was impressive, to say the least, and it was obvious to us that we wanted to support this person and this company and a Boise presence in any way possible. He earned our respect and trust very quickly.
We’ve met with him again in Boise and the Bay Area since then, and we continue to plan for Anboto in Boise.
Q. You mentioned the “incubator” for new business during our conversation about Anboto. Will Xabier’s company be part of this program? Undoubtedly, Anboto brings innovative solutions to the field of human-to-computer communications, but how would you tie it with the greenhouse main focus, renewable resources and sustainable practices?
The Greenhouse is run by Jim Hogge and the Small Business Development Center at BSU, and they have now worked with Anboto and confirmed them as a future tenant. The people at SBDC have been great partners through the first year of this cooperative effort and Anboto will benefit from their expertise and connection with the university. The core focus of Greenhouse may be on “renewable resources” type startups, but not to the exclusion of great opportunities to support concepts in other sectors.
Q. What’s the process like once a company is placed in the program? Is the a time limit for these companies before they have to vacate the space and stop using the services provided by the City and SBDC?
Generally it’s a 12 month agreement, but there is flexibility built-in.
Q. How do you think Anboto will contribute to Boise’s economy and growth? Where do you see the company going in the years to come?
It is way too early to know what the impact will be, and it’s the team at Anboto who could answer these questions. The City of Boise does not possess many incentive or funding tools to support private enterprise, but we do offer support whenever possible. And of course we want sustained rapid growth for Anboto and a future that includes “Bilbao, Boise, and Beyond.”
Q. On a more personal level, how does it feel to bring a Basque start-up company (and one so successful, by the way) to a city like Boise, where we are lucky to enjoy such a strong Basque community?
I’m not Basque, but my niece and nephew are. Maybe someday they can live in Boise and work for a company with its HQ in Bilbao. I would like that.
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