A Slice on Xavier Anguera, Co-Founder and CTO of Elsa
An engineer at heart, Xavier Anguera didn’t start his entrepreneurial journey until after gaining years of work experience. Anguera grew up in Barcelona, Spain, and attended Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya where he studied Electrical Engineering and later received his Ph.D. in Speech Technologies. After his studies, Anguera worked in corporate research for a large European company, where he was exposed to the concept of intrapreneurship, innovation within a company. This sparked a desire, or an “itch”, for Anguera to build his own product. After some attempts on his own, Anguera found his stride when he co-founded Elsa with Vu Van in 2015. The company has since raised over $25M and has employees all over the world.
Anguera met Van at a research conference in Germany. “Van had a small prototype and was getting help from an advisor who recommended that she travel to Germany from San Francisco to talk to people and see if she could find somebody [to help with her idea]. At the same time, I was there talking to people and thinking, ‘Am I going to continue being a solo entrepreneur? Am I going to go back to a big corporation? Or do I join somebody else in another startup?’ Well, it was serendipity we happened to meet there.”
They had a few conversations at the conference and later over the phone when they both returned to their respective homes. Anguera decided to join Van on her journey, becoming her technical co-founder and focusing on the artificial intelligence component. Their ultimate goal was to create a better way for non-native English speakers to get more comfortable speaking the language, by practicing their intonation fluency and pronunciation. Anguera being from Spain and Van being from Vietnam, they’ve used their personal experiences to build a product they hope can help others be more confident when speaking English, not just writing. “There is a huge divide between knowing how to write it [English] and speaking it. Some people write it very nicely but then you speak to them and it’s very hard to understand.”
Even though their partnership as co-founders has been highly successful, they’ve been no strangers to the obstacles that come with living in different countries. Van lives in San Francisco, where the company is headquartered, while Anguera is in Lisbon, Portugal and most team members are dispersed. “It’s just something you have to get used to. When I wake up in the morning, my co-founder is sleeping. You have to make sure your messages and communication are clear so you’re not going back and forth several times… If everybody was in the same place, there would probably be more interactions and ideas floating around because you just go for lunch and talk about something that turns into a big project.”
This has been especially true for Anguera and the teams who worked at their offices prior to the pandemic. They’ve had to adjust to not being physically around each other every day, while those who already worked remotely are actually happier since everyone’s been on the same level. This shift has brought attention to the benefits of being able to hire anyone from anywhere. Instead of settling on someone because they live nearby and can come into the office, they’ve been able to hire the best people regardless of location.
This makes a big impact on the success of the company, and Anguera highly stresses the importance of who you hire and surround yourself with. “A very important thing in a startup is to find the right people to row the boat with… If you find the right person or people who complement each other and can make it to work together, then good things happen. It’s not an easy ride. If you choose the wrong people or you just go and do a startup with your friends but you have the same expertise, there are so many things you’re going to be missing. The right co-founders will make it or break it.” Not only can co-founders balance each others’ skillsets, but Anguera emphasizes they can also be great motivators. One can motivate the other when they’re stressed, and vise versa. He learned this the hard way when founding and running his first company all by himself.
Even with the right co-founder, Anguera wants other entrepreneurs to recognize that entrepreneurship is a difficult journey, so they’ll need perseverance as well. “Do not give up, just keep pushing until the last drop. Entrepreneurship has very big highs, but very deep lows. This can come in very quick phases: one day you’re in the high because you see a client is coming in, but the next day that client says ‘no’ and you lost. Be ready to keep pushing, pushing, pushing, because things don’t happen overnight. Believe in what you do and keep pushing.”
Xavier Anguera has over 20 years of experience in Speech and signal processing technologies. In 2014 he started his own company, Sinkronigo, focused on creating eBooks with synchronized audio for language education. In 2015, Anguera joined Elsa as technical co-founder, building speech technology to help people improve their pronunciation and intonation skills when learning a new language. Connect with Anguera on LinkedIn.