Photo: Roxanne Varza
Just a short time ago, John Stockdale was working at the Facebook HQ in California. Nobody would’ve ever thought that he would leave one of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley – and most definitely not to join a little startup in Europe. But that is exactly what he did.We caught up with John to find out exactly why he left Facebook to join the uSpeak team in Madrid, Spain.
Roxanne Varza: Hi John. Can you start by describing your experience at Facebook? When did you start working there and what exactly was your role?
John Stockdale: Of course. I worked at Facebook nearly two years. I joined the company in 2009 as a SRE, or Site Reliability Engineer, in the Operations group. Our team was responsible for the operational health of the site, and handled a wide range of responsibilities: first line triage of site issues, system-wide monitoring of services, deploying and maintaining our datacenter infrastructure, and much more. A year later I transitioned to the Engineering group, working as a Software Engineer for the Open Source and Web Standards team. Among other projects in that role, I helped build the Download Your Information service.
I really enjoyed my experience there; not only was it one of the best-run companies I’ve had the privilege of working for, but I was able to make a level of impact that would be impossible elsewhere in our industry.
RV: And how did you get in touch with the uSpeak team that is now based in Madrid? What was it about this particular project that excited you?
JS: *chuckles* Actually, it’s a funny story. In addition to being passionate about startups, I absolutely love music. I’ve been going to the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California for several years now. This year, on the last day of the festival I made it backstage (with a little help from my good friends at RootMusic, who make the popular BandPages application for musicians on Facebook), where I met Andres Burdett, the Co-Founder of uSpeak, before Kanye West.
We got to talking and realised we are both passionate about building things, and in particular wanted to find ways to contribute back to the entire entrepreneurial community. A few phone calls later I was flying out to Madrid to meet the uSpeak team, as well as Luis, Cobi, and the other great people behind the Startupbootcamp accelerator program – which we are currently participating in.
Once we dug more into the specifics behind uSpeak, I got excited by the magnitude of the challenge and the learning opportunity it presented. The concept of computer-assisted language learning has existed since the 1960s, but insofar the overall experience and efficacy of what people have created falls short. By leveraging personalisation, machine learning, and social networking, I think we have an incredible opportunity with uSpeak to change all of that, and create the most compelling and engaging learning platform to date.
RV: You probably know that lots of European entrepreneurs dream about working in the US and at Facebook. What made you want to go against the grain and work in Europe?
JS: I’ve lived and worked in Silicon Valley since 2002. I feel fortunate to have great friends and a strong network there. The valley startup ecosystem is very mature; I’m thankful for all the knowledge I’ve gained from it. With that in mind, I felt like participating in the European startup community presented a great opportunity to contribute to a more nascent ecosystem, and contribute back to the industry I love.
RV: What has been your experience as an entrepreneur in Spain so far? Is it very different to what you expected and to your experience in the US?
JS: I’ve been very impressed by the other teams in Startupbootcamp Madrid. There are a bunch of great people in the program who are clearly passionate about what they do. Anytime you get a group of good people with motivation together, good things happen.
There are definitely differences. It’s harder to recruit top-tier engineering talent in Europe, and there aren’t as many resources available within the community. Although I hope we can help change that, it’s likely that long-term we’ll need to build out our main engineering and operations presence in the Bay Area, while keeping the rest of the company based in the EU.
RV: Do you have any advice for US entrepreneurs regarding Europe?
JS: People sometimes get preoccupied with where an idea comes from, but today we face many of the same challenges worldwide. More than anything, the internet has made the world flat. My advice both to entrepreneurs and investors is to embrace the quality of the idea and the quality of the team, not the source.
Finally, although current regulations allow business travel between the US and the EU for up to 90 days, I encourage the relevant governing bodies to step up and make open access and long-term visas for entrepreneurs, investors, engineers, etc. a policy priority. Current regulations are a burden on some of our most promising individuals; everyone wins when we are free to work together.