When we asked him what his first contact with web tech development was, his answer was something like “I had an American cousin back in 1996 who taught my brother and I static HTML and how to connect to GeoCities via FTP“.
His brother made a website about Goa, the former Portuguese colony in India, where his family has its roots. After realizing that the only thing that united his family more than Goa was Benfica – the soccer team – he made a website about it.
“I wasn’t crazy about soccer but I made a website about Benfica because I knew people would be interested in it.” – he said, revealing, at 13 years old, a very customer-driven mindset.
“It was a website with a badly cut GIF, a spinning soccer ball and ‘Sport Lisboa e Benfica’ written in Times New Roman on a black background. What I decided to do then was: when Benfica scored a goal, I ran to my computer in the basement and updated the website via FTP with the result. Then I sat there, refreshing the page over and over again while waiting for the public view counter to increment 2 numbers at once – meaning that someone (besides me) was viewing my barely live score website on GeoCities. In the 90 minutes that happened once. This was when there wasn’t anything about Benfica online. No official website. Nothing.“
“I was using the same tools that the biggest national sport publishers had access too. I realized it was truly democratic. I was mind-blown. Me, a kid in a basement in a small village was telling someone else out there the result of a soccer match with the same authority as a major publication. It was the only website about Benfica. I was a publisher. I was hooked.“
That website grew into a full blown portal about Benfica named “MegaBenfica”. Back then, it was on Alexa’s top 10 websites in Portugal. Leo was 15 and he was doing one of the top 10 sites in the country on his free time, after school.
When he turned 16, he did an internship with a company in Porto that did web portals – the jokes portal, the mobile portal… – way back then everyone launched vertical themed websites and called them portals – and that company provided MegaBenfica with a .com domain and hosting and gave him the tools and the time to develop features for MegaBenfica. Features like bets, a community, a rumor and gossip area, a WAP version, etc. The community got so big and lively that on MegaBenfica’s first birthday they organized a dinner with more than 70 people in Benfica’s stadium, “Estádio da Luz“, with Leo as the guest of honor.
But then something really bad happened. The company – that had a verbal agreement with Leo to own 50% of the project and owned the .com domain and the hosting – double crossed him.
The details of this double cross story are interesting but not worthy of Leo’s time. Or ours. And definitely not worth your time, dear reader. Just know this: in February 2001, when Leo was 17 years old and had by now dedicated his entire adolescence to a website about Benfica, he saw himself locked out of the website.
In a way, he saw himself locked out of his own social identity. He was no longer “The Guy from MegaBenfica”. He was “just” Leo Xavier.
He took that dramatic life-changing event as a lesson and he created Quodis in May 2001 to serve as a vehicle for his next projects. He started doing websites and custom software for all sorts of clients.
He then went to Instituto Superior Técnico where he started studying Computer Science. After 9 months he dropped out because Técnico is, as any Técnico student knows, a full time job. Also, Leo had already a successful software house and he realized that studying Communication Design would give him a better advantage at what he was doing – websites – and it would better suit his creative gifts than Computer Science. So he went to FBAUL and studied Communication Design.
With the money from Quodis first client Leo bought his first mobile phone. The company had slow but steady growth and in 2004 he employed the first person. In the next years he got to between 4 and 7 people on his staff. Quodis did everything from holiday cards in print to WAP websites to interactive CD-ROMs …everything.
In 2008 Leo hired Luís Abreu that brought Drupal – an Open Source content management system – into Quodis. And along with Drupal came an Open Source Software culture that became the company’s principles and DNA.
To complement that, Leo also hired a series of designers, including Ricardo Mestre. He is, in Leo’s own words “easily one of the best designers ever“. Quodis’ design culture became world-class.
That design culture, along with Open Source tools and principles, brought the first international clients.
Quodis started to do side-projects to show off what was possible with cutting-edge web standards and no Adobe Flash. Tori’s Eye was one of those projects – a well designed website with origami birds in a beautiful landscape showing tweets in real-time. In 2014 there were still articles about next year web design trends that showcased Tori’s Eye as an example. Tori’s Eye was designed and implemented by Quodis five years before, in 2009.
“Anyone that creates his own business does so because they have a passion and because they want to show something to the world. There are not many people that want to create something and keep it a secret.“
Tori’s Eye was so popular that Mozilla, the organization that develops the Firefox web browser, wanted to work with Quodis. Along with that came clients from Germany and the US, like Porsche and Nike. Quodis still works with a lot of international customers today. The biggest projects that Quodis made with a full team were the website for CTT – the Portuguese national postal service – and a UX role in the redesign for Público’s website – one of the biggest daily news publications in Portugal.
Quodis doesn’t just do beautifully designed Open Source websites. They have a very strong UX consultancy process and care about how a website is part of the business for their client.
But then Leo realized something: we’re selling billable hours. And that doesn’t scale.
Quodis had a problem: increasing fixed costs with a fixed team and a love for the projects they worked on that made them work more than the hours they billed to clients.
Also, Quodis was trying to fight the need to grow into a full-blown digital agency and keep the team small. “We’re a digital boutique. We didn’t want to be a big agency.“
An awesome team that loved to work together and loved what they did was suddenly trapped into this situation.
So Leo and the team made the hard decision to stop growing. In January 2014, the team members started taking great offers and going to work in other companies and projects.
Currently, Quodis is Leo and the freelancers and companies he hires on a per-project basis, picking the required skills for each project.
During all these years, the Quodis office became the co-working known as “Liberdade 229” in order to deal with this more liquid reality. Some 30 freelancers and startups call it their HQ.
Also, Quodis became a reference in the digital and Open Source communities organizing events like “Florida after 7” – an after work event very popular amongst Lisbon’s digital workers, both in startups and in digital agencies.
More recently, Quodis was contacted to work with a new digital news publication for the Portuguese market that was starting in Portugal: Observador.
Quodis did a User Experience project for Observador that made the digital publication management to ditch the bespoke closed-source CMS they had and go with a WordPress solution. During that process Leo became CTO “at large” for Observador setting up the tools and the design and development team. Observador has been largely recognized for its design and IT innovation in its first year.
Currently Leo is working on the UX and Design process with two major news publications in the UK going through a similar process.
“The challenges in the UK are basically the same. Talent-wise we’re at the same level. Actually, Observador started from scratch with a digital-only approach 8 months ago so, in some aspects, Portugal is ahead. The main difference I feel is that there’s more capital.“
Asked about the moment that the tech startup scene in Portugal is living and having been a jury for Lisbon Challenge and a community leader in the tech scene Leo is both excited and cautious:
“This startup moment we’re living is extremely exciting and sexy. It brings access to capital that wouldn’t exist in any other way and a freedom to try new things that otherwise wouldn’t happen.“
“But let me go back a bit: Why do we want to put Lisbon on the map? I’m not a fan of putting on a map just because. Hype is just hype. It raises awareness and that’s good because it brings people and businesses. There’s a long tail that is interesting but there are other, more direct, ways of getting that. But we have to be more realistic than that. We can’t be fans of great Portuguese startups leaving the country for good. That’s not good. I would like Portugal to have more capital to keep the startups and the talent in Portugal. Our purpose should be to build and stay. Not to sell and leave.”
“If we want to bring more people to Lisbon and to Portugal we have to look for what this city and this country has that others don’t.”
“We don’t want to be Silicon Valley. And we don’t want to be London. Who wants to be a busy and overpriced London anyway?! And Berlin isn’t the prettiest city around. We have an awesome life quality here. We have awesome talent. And we’re getting more capital and in bigger amounts.”
To continue our journey through the seas of the Portuguese tech startup scene, Leo pointed us in the direction of 4 outstanding people: Rui Alves from RUPEAL/InvoiceXpress, David Dias, one of the LXJS organizers, Olaf Veerman from Flipside and Alexandre Barbosa from Faber Ventures.
Like where this is heading? Did Leo Xavier give us the right coordinates for the next interviews? Then, stay tuned for the following pier-to-pier with the fellow adventurers.