Some only heard the name for the first time when the coronavirus emergency began but Bending Spoons has been around since 2013 and is now Europe’s no 1 developer of IOS Apps as well as Italy’s “best workplace” according to Great Place to Work. With its highly-skilled and agile young team, here are the story and the qualities that make the company stand out from the rest
Some only heard the name for the first time when the coronavirus emergency began but Bending Spoons, the company that developed the contact tracing App Immuni to help combat the coronavirus in Italy, has been around for seven years. The company started in 2013 in Denmark and was set up by an almost entirely Italian team.
Matteo Danieli, Luca Ferrari, Tomasz Greber, Francesco Patarnello and Luca Querella all have engineering degrees and a masters from Copenhagen. Their first start-up, Evertail, shut down after two years, but it was an excellent training ground: to date, Bending Spoons has developed over 20 Apps that have been downloaded more than 340 million times, have 12 million users and generated revenues of over 90 million euro in 2019 with an international team of 150. One of its best known Apps is 30 Day Fitness, providing home workouts with video tutorials, the Splice video editing suite for smartphones and LiveQuiz, a very popular quiz App where you can win small cash prizes.
The company’s name Bending Spoons pays homage to the film Matrix. “There’s a scene in the film where a child bends a spoon with his thoughts. The name’s meaning links back to that idea, that, in order to have a significant impact on life, the best way is to look at things from a point of view that is completely different to all others,” explains Matteo Danieli, 34-year-old co-founder and head of product design.
One of the main players in Europe’s Silicon Valley (the company is Europe’s no 1 IOS App developer and among the top ten globally), Bending Spoons returned to Italy, to Milan, just a year after it was founded. In 2019, it earned itself three Great Place to Work awards: best workplace for women, best workplace for millennials (a total of 118 young people out of 130 employees, 14 of whom in senior roles) and best workplace in Italy in the category of companies with 50-149 employees, a recognition that they again received in 2020.
What makes it such an out of the ordinary workplace is its ambition “to create a legendary tech company, one that builds products used and loved by millions of people all over the world, and is recognised as among the very best places to work on the planet,” the entrepreneurs say in their manifesto.
Within the team there is maximum flexibility and everyone can work where and how they like: no set working hours, the choice to work remotely and unlimited holidays are just some of the practices available to the whole team.
At the heart of it all is the pursuit of excellence, starting with the team which was selected from over 40,000 candidates, after thousands of tests and hundreds of interviews. All the ‘Spooners’ (as employees are called) have at least one full-marks degree and come from companies like Google, Apple, McKinsey and CERN. “We think extraordinary people are the lifeblood of an incredible company, so we are obsessively selective and only look for the brightest (and nicest!) talents. Less than 1% of our applicants have become Spooners,” they write.
The average age of spooners is 29 and the number of women is above the average for the tech sector: at the beginning of 2020, 52 of the 143-strong team were female. People are at the heart of the company: the first rule is to invest in the team before any other cost item.
Within the team there is maximum flexibility and everyone can work where and how they like: no set working hours, the choice to work remotely and unlimited holidays are just some of the practices available to the whole team. “We trust each other and give complete freedom to work how, when, and where we like. We're so transparent that you'll have complete access from the get-go, and we encourage you to become a leader and a co-owner of Bending Spoons,” is their message to aspiring Spooners.
In the office, at the heart of Milan’s Porta Nuova district, there are hammocks hanging from the walls, lounge areas with sofas, TVs and videogame consoles, and work is by objectives in groups but with few meetings. For one week every year (this year, Covid permitting), the office closes and the whole team is taken on holiday together: last Winter the destination was Bali.
As well as a sought-after work environment, Bending Spoons also offers many opportunities for training.
Given the increasing appeal of the sector, the company’s journey was promising right from the start: suffice to say that in the US alone, the App economy has grown from 1.9 billion dollars in 2008 to 143 billion in 2016. Bending Spoons’ winning strategy was to diversify their App product portfolio, from fitness to photo retouching, video editing and entertainment. Each App is designed to appeal to a global user base, though the US market is the largest with 5.3 million users.
Their first big break came when they returned to Milan and met Riccardo Zacconi, CEO of KingDigital (the developer of Apps like Candy Crush Saga and Farm Hero) thanks to a competition organised by CharityStars, a start-up specialised in charity auctions.
The advice Zacconi gave them must have paid off: revenues kept on growing and in summer 2019 the start-up decided to offer stakes in the company with a view to possible market groupings and a future listing on the Milan Stock Exchange. Today, the company’s shareholders include H14, the family office of Silvio Berlsuconi’s three younger children (Barbara, Eleonora and Luigi), Nuo Capital, the investment holding of Hong Kong’s Pao-Cheng family and StarTip owned by Tamburi Investment Partners.
Today, as well as a sought-after work environment (and the company is still hiring despite the emergency), Bending Spoons also offers many opportunities for training. To combat the brain drain of Italian talents, every year Bending Spoon organizes competitions and courses for young people: one of the latest is Codeflows, the second edition of a Europe-wide programming competition with prizes totalling 40,000 euro to be shared among the 40 finalists; and First Ascent 2021, which celebrates 20 of the best business and technology students in Italy by taking them on a retreat to Barcelona where they will learn about business and entrepreneurship, have fun and network.