João Pedro CortinhasFounder and CEO of Swonkie
João Pedro Cortinhas is the founder and CEO of Swonkie, a social networking platform of Vila Nova de Famalicão created in 2016. The idea of creating this platform – now a company – came after realizing that the tools on the market were not enough.
Operating in B2B, Swonkie currently has, as customers, not only digital marketing agencies, but also companies in the media industry. The investment of João Pedro Cortinhas now involves the internationalization of Swonkie, which was presented, in 2016, on the tv show Shark Tank Portugal.
Assuming himself as a full-time “maker” and part-time “dreamer”, João Pedro Cortinhas is one of the special guests at PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS Connecting Stories.
1. As the founder and CEO of Swonkie, a startup of Vila Nova de Famalicão, can you tell us a little about your journey and your professional experience?
I started my degree in 2005, in Accounting and Administration, at ISCAP. I had my first contact with the world of work when, in 2007, I joined ISCAP Júnior Empresa (IJE), which was part of an initiative to create, within a higher education entity, a company that would bring students closer to companies, providing services in the area of education. As head of external relations, I made contacts with companies and this made me better aware of the financial department at Sonaecom.
Two years later, I would enter there as a trainee – at Sonaecom, then Optimus, within the same group and, later, with the merger with ZON, NOS. I started my basic training in the financial area, but quickly realized that I wanted to be in the business area, where magic happens. Two years later, I moved to the commercial area – first in retail and then in telemarketing. Without knowing it, it started to give me the luggage that I would need to carry for the adventure that would start five years later, without being part of the plans.
2. How did you come up with the idea of starting your own business and what does Swonkie consist of?
It was never part of the plans. I never thought I would have my own business. I never thought I would be an entrepreneur. The plans were to work in a big company for the rest of my life and I was fine with it. I gave my maximum, I worked a lot and, maybe because of this, I was acquiring the entrepreneurial skills. I assumed the projects as mine and managed them as if they were mine.
I didn't become an entrepreneur of my own free will, it wasn't a thoughtful decision. When, in 2014, I decided to quit that company where I imagined myself for the rest of my life, for a personal decision – I was going to get married and move to England with my wife who already worked there –, the plan was to go to England and get a job in a company and start my career over again. That was the plan.
What has changed? At 28 years of age, I was at my maximum strength, I had learned a lot – on the last day of work I left the office at 4:45 am, because I made a point of leaving everything in order. And I still came back, for a week, for free, to accompany the person who would replace me – and this made me feel good. On my honeymoon, I took a book to read on the plane during the long flights we had ahead. It was nice to have a book in my suitcase and the only book I had was a book offered by the company from where I'd quit, by the hand of the CEO, after an internal ideas program in which I participated, about the history of Facebook.
It was a game changer, because it started to awaken in me the best and worst question you can have in professional life. The question is: what if? what if I do? What if it goes wrong? What if it works? This is where the turning point begins, this is where your plans go down the drain, this is where the magic begins to happen, whatever it is. When you make the decision to go in, things start happening.
I knew I wanted to do something, I didn't know what, so I decided to take a sabbatical year to try different things. My first idea was to Google and search “How to make money from home?”.
From the list that appeared, I did some of them, as affiliate program, user tester in UX/UI platforms, I created a blog, did sports trading and even delivered food by bicycle in the city where I lived.
I dedicated 80% of my time to trading, because I believed that, in the long run, it would be the activity that would give me the most income. With this came the creation of my blog to share everything I did. In three months of blogging, with daily contents, I received a thousand daily views and that made me start to understand: What is this digital? But how does it work? What is this about the power of social networks and how do they get you to so many people? When I asked myself about this once again, I was already too involved to leave.
I searched for a content creation tool for the blog, with sharing on social networks. Despite the market solutions, none satisfied me and met the needs I had. So I thought: what if I created a platform with everything I needed? You've already realized that when I start with these questions, I don't get out of it anytime soon. And that's when the idea of creating something that would later be called Swonkie started in February/March.
We are a social network management platform, where we take the main social network management players, such as agencies, companies, publishers and freelancers, a more efficient, controlled and measured way to manage social networks.
In a single hub, it is possible to create and schedule the contents of all social networks, and then achieve all the follow-up in terms of metrics, community management and competition analysis. Leaders in Portugal, with about 60% of the agency market in national terms, 80% of the media publisher in Portugal, make us believe in Go Global in the short term.
3. What support did you count on when the company was founded?
In 2014/2015 the bubble of entrepreneurship was not yet alive in Portugal, which came to pass one or two years later. In 2016, with the coming of Websummit and in 2017, with its continuity, the words "start-up", "entrepreneur", "funding" gained a huge buzz. In our case, I feel that it has messed up more than it has benefited. We started at a time when there were no startup vouchers and so many supports that exist today. It was a trend and I feel that, many times, it devalued what we were doing, it seemed easy to start a company, a start-up. Everyone did it and it trivialized the effort.
The most important support was that of my wife. She was the one who didn't make me stop when everything seemed uncertain, she was the one who told me: “if you believe in your idea 100%, why do you only dedicate yourself to 50%?”. That was the biggest support I had. Everything could go wrong, but I had the only support I needed at that moment.
4. What challenges did you find along the way and to what extent was the participation in the Shark Tank an added value?
The creation of the team was the biggest challenge. How to attract people when you have nothing? How to do it when you don't have a single euro to pay them? Mobilizing people for something you have in your head can kill or make the biggest companies of the future live.
But that was before I met my founding partner, Daniel, a kid who was 17 at the time, but who showed an unusual potential and a capacity to work and want out of the ordinary. That's what brought us closer and kept us together. Before meeting him, I had about three potential founding partners, all with degrees in the area. But after 15 days of work, they deserted and I never saw them again. Everybody wants to be rich, but nobody wants to sacrifice themselves to achieve it.
It's easy to have a day when we want to create something, a moment of inspiration, excitement and joy, but the difficult is the day after, the day when it's necessary to start working. And the hardest is still the day after that, when it's necessary to continue.
Fortunately for me, I found Daniel, and he found me. And it was our determination that got us this far.
The Shark Tank appeared in 2014, at a time when much was being said about entrepreneurship, but people were still in their comfort zone. I already sporadically followed the formats of other countries and it awakened something in me, the desire to do something, to experiment. I followed the first edition and felt like participating, but I still had a handful of nothing and I didn't sign up. I felt that I was not ready, that it was still early. I saw all the episodes and when I saw the business that was there, I said to myself, “I can do it too. Why not?”.
As soon as the second edition came out, I signed up. After the castings, on my birthday, I get a phone call saying: "you've been selected to come and record your pitch in the program before the investors". It was a nice birthday present I received.
In fact, we went to the program without knowing very well what could happen and what to do if the five of them wanted to invest in us. It was a sea of doubt, but we decided to go without fear, without “ifs”.
What we saw on television was only a part of the program, an hour of negotiation for a few television minutes. Fortunately for us, Miguel Ribeiro Ferreira saw something the others didn't, he saw two entrepreneurs with a huge hunger to do something, to create value. And, as he himself said, if we didn't do Swonkie, we would do something else.
He was the only one to invest in us, which made our choice easy. We wanted to do something, we wanted to start building something and we needed help. We ignored all the “funding for startups” studies on “equities” and stuff and followed our instinct.
The future showed us that we did the right thing and getting to know Miguel Ribeiro Ferreira was one of the best things that happened to us. Today he is still our partner and will certainly be for many more years. Fortunately, I also brought another partner, Isabel, who has an incredible spirit. Today we are four partners in Swonkie.
What makes us really proud, besides having built our company and our team, is also the relationship we have with them.
5. Having also participated – with Swonkie – in the WebSummit, what was it possible to draw from this experience?
It was to realize that there is more world than the one we live in. That there are people who speak another language, who have different time zones, different beliefs, but who are doing the same as you: creating, bringing value, living with little to channel all their resources into your business. People who have the same dreams as you and who, above all, work as hard as you or more to realize them.
I learned that right now, while you're reading this, someone on the other side of the world is working much harder and transforming that idea that, like you, thousands of people have had, but only a few realize it.
Websummit was not an investment point for me, nor was I looking for it. I went looking for inspiration, validation, strength and, above all, I went looking for learning. And I learned a lot.
I learned that the best way to have clients is to work hard, to create value and not to bow and say that we are the best just because we had a million euro investment round.
Since I didn't have it, we really had to have a serious product to live on with the best financing we could have: our clients' money.
Websummit is made for a common purpose and we don't have to be ashamed to say “it doesn't make sense to me, because it's no longer part of my goals”. The essence of the event no longer makes sense.
We were in 2016 with a launch positioning, in 2017 we changed and wanted the first clients. In 2018 we were there, but I wasn't even there personally. It was just a way of saying “we lived all this time and today we are a business”. In 2019 we weren't even there anymore. It didn't make sense to us anymore.
6. Why Swonkie? Is there a story behind the name?
Yes, there is. The first project we created was called Switch On Network, because our purpose was to create a hub to connect all social networks. We had the first platform with that name and when the selection to go to the Shark Tank came up, we decided to change the name to something more commercial. The problem, and good thing, was that we didn't come up with something better. That's when we had the idea to create an acronym for the name and turned it into Swonnk. It wasn't the sexiest name in the world, but it was with it that we appeared on Shark Tank.
After the program, and with Miguel's investment, we set out to create the brand with a list of several names. As when we created the first product we had a community of alpha users, we decided to put up for vote in that community, where people called each other Swonkies whenever they asked some question. That's where someone says, “but I didn't want to stop being a Swonkie”. We realized then that we already had the name without knowing it. We went ahead with the name Swonkie because it would allow us to always have a story to tell and, above all, we wouldn't lose our genesis and our DNA.
7. How did the interest in the area of social networks come along?
Everything came from two factors. The first was due to the blog I created and my need to distribute the content on social networks. I realized that this was what made me go further, always increasing my audience. Allied to that was the strong growth that social networks were having in Portugal at the time. I realized that it wasn't just my need, but the need of the market, and that made us realize that we had a market in strong growth, as you can see five years later.
8. How has Swonkie evolved over the years and how do you see it in five years?
We had different stages and they all contributed in a positive way to what we are today. The company is four years old but, actually, has three as a business.
In October 2016, six months later, when we officially launched the first Swonkie platform, we realized that we were not going the right way. In April 2017, we decided to change the product and launched the new version in September that year. During the months of rebuilding everything, we had 10 companies that were testing the product for free and helping us with feedback in the process. In November 2017, two months after the launch, we closed those clients. They all remain to this day.
The year 2018 brought us the entrance in the brazilian market and the validation in Portugal. In 2019, we grew in Portugal more than ever, we grew in Brazil and started working in the spanish market. We launched ourselves in Spain in 2020.
We know where we want to go and in the coming years we will want to be the leaders in Portugal and Spain. We also want to grow in Europe, as well as in the LATAM countries.
I don't know what the point of arrival is. The road is long and as long as we have fuel, we will accelerate and refuel when necessary. I see a path of growth and, above all, very different from the platform that it is today, perhaps with another business model and with another market axis. We cannot believe that in five years the social networks will be the same, so we certainly foresee a great change in the product at all levels.
9. Swonkie was the promoter of Social Media Hackathon. How was the first edition of this event?
SMH was born from a strategic plan that we have for the brand. It was not an event that was born out of context. It served to assume a lasting presence of Swonkie in the market, in order to work the brand notoriety in all aspects. It was born from a simple idea, with a clear purpose, having acquired a bigger dimension than we initially imagined.
The support of the City Council and the councilman Augusto Lima were decisive in creating the largest event dedicated to social networks in Portugal, in Vila Nova de Famalicão. Vila Nova de Famalicão brought people from all districts and we exhausted the city's hotel capacity. We also added a strong component of internal consumption in the restaurant area. We gathered about 500 people in Vila Nova de Famalicão in two days. It was one of the milestones of which we are most proud of.
We prepared SMH 2020 for September but, as in almost everything, the pandemic changed our plans and we had to postpone the second edition to 2021. But it will be an even better and an epic edition, because it will mark the five years of Swonkie.
10. You also created the Swonkie Academy. What did it consist of and what's its balance?
This year, besides SMH, it would bring two more Swonkie novelties. The Swonkie Academy was one of them. The other one will be launched as soon as the pandemic allows it and we will have more freedom again without danger of contagion.
This idea was scheduled to be launched in May 2020 and the Swonkie Academy in September. Plans were exchanged and, as we were already working on these, we anticipated the launch of the Swonkie Academy, a project that was very receptive.
Swonkie Academy is a Swonkie brand that will allow people with an interest in Digital Marketing to acquire, in online format, specific training with the best Digital Marketing trainers in Portugal. It is a project that was born to bring more notoriety to the Swonkie platform and to prepare people with more knowledge to be in social networks.
Therefore, we make a positive balance. Above all, it was a project of enormous learning, which opened doors for us and the will to do more. We will continue with the Swonkie Academy and, very soon, we will communicate more news.
Five thousand subscribers and 110 thousand views of the contents have to make us continue and, therefore, we will soon launch more news of our project.
11. What can you say to those who do not yet enjoy this content scheduling platform for social networks?
Being digital has to be seen as an investment. It only becomes a cost when we don't get a return or create ways to be more productive to make our investment profitable.
This is exactly what Swonkie brings: an efficient way of being on social networks, so that you can concentrate on content production. Social networks today allow us to reach millions of people every day without leaving the place. We have to optimize the way we do it and Swonkie allows that. Faster, with more data and more planning.
The investment of time has to be spent in the production of quality content and not in the waste of time that is jumping from social network to social network to do this work.
Being on social networks is a long-term move and consistency of content is important to achieve this. Therefore, what matters is better planning and faster distribution of content. That's where Swonkie comes into play and becomes your ideal partner.
12. Since PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS is a leader in the development of multimedia kiosks and digital billboards for the international market, what is your opinion about its products and its digital marketing strategy?
They are products that bring online and offline closer together, necessary for any point of sale – whether in a store, on the street or in a subway station. I remember perfectly that the London underground always has great advertising indoors. Imagine a digital billboard with the possibility of buying the product at the moment and being able to receive the same product upon arrival home... That would be the high point!
These are content distribution channels, points of sale that, above all, can be useful in a proximity marketing strategy for local businesses.
Connecting Stories is a new editorial space led by PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS which consists of conducting exclusive interviews, directed at influential personalities who work in different sectors of activity.
The project, conceived by PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS, includes the publication of success stories, through small interviews with influencers who want to share details about their projects, opinions, plans for the future, among other subjects.
The idea is to connect stories, share knowledge, develop networking and generate content that can provide new visions, opportunities and ideas.
Founded in 2000, PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS is a world renowned Portuguese IT company, manufacturer of indoor and outdoor multimedia kiosks, self-service equipment, digital billboards, interactive tables and other digital solutions, for all types of sectors and industries. To know more about our story, click here.