Dídac Lee: “Barça must be number one in everything, be it football, basket or new technologies.”

Dídac Lee is on the FC Barcelona Board of Directors, charged with managing New Technologies. In an exclusive interview with CNA, Lee considers that it is vital for FC Barcelona to be close to the fans, and social networks are the key to reaching this goal. Thanks to Lee, Barça is now the leading sports club in the field. Lee is a renowned Catalan entrepreneur and the Chinese work culture ethos has influenced him both in his life and work.

Marina Vicens

March 1, 2012 09:26 PM

Barcelona (CNA).- Dídac Lee is the FC Barcelona Director in the field of New Technologies. Entrepreneur by vocation and profession, Lee created his first business, a provider of Internet access, when he was just 21. He studied Computer Engineering but left it because he wanted to create innovative products for the entire world. Lee believes that when your job doesn’t exist, you have to create it. His entrepreneurial spirit is borne out of this philosophy: while he was studying he realised he wouldn’t find a company on which he would like to work, so he created his company himself. Now, he is chief executive of Inspirit, a technological business group comprised of technology companies which operates in different sectors. This group has 300 employees in Madrid, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Brazil, Mexico, China and Silicon Valley, where they compete against major companies. His parents came here 40 years ago from Taiwan, and Barça, he says, helped him to integrate in Catalonia. He started out by washing dishes at his parent’s restaurant and he is now a member of the Board of directors at FC Barcelona.  Thanks to Lee, now Barça is number one in all the social networks with more than 27,000,000 million fans on Facebook and more than 4,000,000 on Twitter. Lee’s biggest two passions, Barça and New Technologies, are the basis for his professional profile.

What plans did you make when you landed at FC Barcelona? What did you want to contribute?

When I started as a member of the Board of Directors, I found all the club’s technological side to be somewhat overlooked. Given that Barça must be number one in everything, be it football, basket or new technologies, my specific goal was to make Barça a reference in the sector of new technologies.

Barça is world leader in the main social networks, with more than 27 million fans in Facebook and more than 4 million followers on Twitter. What role have you played in this?

Well, first of all, I have to say that my mother could reach the same figures if she worked on it. What we have done is to create a department to control the social networks. We have programmed all the activities we have to do, we have promoted this area and we have taken care of it as much as possible. We have made a clear business option for the social networks because I think they are the new way to reach our fans. Obviously, it is not the same to do this kind of promotion with the ‘brand’ Barça than with a smaller team. That is why I say that my worth is relative. But it is true, when we arrived here, I think we were number five in the world, and now we are the leader in all the social networks.

You want to strengthen this aspect even more, because last November you signed an agreement with Google which allowed FC Barcelona to be the first sports club in the new social network Google +.  Is that right?

Yes.  Actually, we have signed agreements with Youtube, Google, Facebook and Tenzen – which is like Facebook but in China– … We are linked with all the big Internet platforms in a pioneering and exclusive way. With Youtube, for example, we carried out a great project: the broadcast of the inauguration of the new Masia [FC Barcelona’s football school and residence] by Youtube, which went all over the world. It was probably the most global Catalan event ever.

What plus do the social networks provide a club like FC Barcelona? Why are they so important?

They allow a bidirectional communication. They bring the fans closer to the club and they bring the club closer to the fans. Until now, between the club and its supporters, through the web, a fan was someone who went to the club, but, with social networks the club is present where the fans are too. We have to be where the fans are, so if they are in the social networks, we must be there too. It is very important to be close to our supporters so we can inform them and capture their ideas and feelings on certain issues… And, of course, it supposes an important business source for different ticket promotions and other marketing exercises.

Last July you signed an agreement with Telefónica according to which Barça became the first team in the world to transform a football stadium into an experimental test site for new technologies. In particular, this agreement helped to improve connectivity in the Camp Nou, among other initiatives. What did you expect from this agreement?

Telefónica I+D is the company in Spain that invests most in development, and the idea is to use what they are doing in development and testing without any additional cost for us. They are making tests with LTD and 4G. Our mobile phones use 3G so this step is a pioneering one. We are making tests with some technologies to improve the Camp Nou’s connectivity, but this is a very difficult project and it isn’t solved yet. Telefónica I+D also have some programmes, tools for consulting and proposal capturing ideas… which we also want to include.

What other projects do you have for FC Barcelona?

We have just launched a mobile phone application programme, the FCB Apps. We want Barça to be the reference in mobile applications: such as mobile videogames and other apps… We want to be the world number one, because we see there is a lot of future in this field. From this project, we want to get two things: on the one hand, we want to obtain a lot of money for the club, and, on the other hand, we want to boost and foster the creation of many mobile companies in Barcelona, because the mobile industry is one of the most sustainable industries in today’s difficult economic situation. These companies don’t usually have the best ways of reaching the market, and Barça does have this possibility. And we want to make associations with companies which are starting up. Of course, we are also focusing on e-commerce, because, at the moment, it is somewhat forgotten and I believe we have a big potential in this area.

What about the Asian market?

We are putting a lot of emphasis on the Asian market, because it is not as well covered as the European or American football market. We have the chance to develop new businesses there, because they are starting to really follow football, so it’s a good moment to attract new followers and fans. We must be there.

You have created ‘Barça 2020’, a future observatory through the network. What does it consist of?

I think that there is no better way to observe the future than by building it. So that it is what we are doing: we are building Barça of the future. That is why we are not only working from day to day, but we are launching a lot of projects the results of which we will see in some years, not now. The big promotion of social networks is an example of this project, because we created them when social networks weren’t so popular, with the aim of using them in ten years. But, social networks have become popular in just one year, something that we didn’t foresee when we launched this initiative. So, as we cannot predict things, the best way to predict the future is to create it.

Your personal blog is headed by the Reebok slogan “Life is too short, play hard”. How has the Chinese work culture influenced you in your professional life?

Well, my parents came to Figueres, in Girona, more than 40 years ago and I was born here. Despite this, my education was clearly oriental, and the work culture is a basic pillar of oriental culture. It embraces values such as effort, humility... Some values that I believe are very similar to Catalan culture. But the Reebok slogan goes further than this idea, it is a little bit different, because Chinese culture is about working, working, and working, and that’s all. In my case, I agree that we have to work a lot, of course, but I think that working is equally important as enjoying life. I’ve got this idea very clear.

You are a new technologies fan.  Is Barça your other big passion?

Yes, exactly. Being able to enjoy both my passions, new technologies and Barça, at the same time is amazing. I have the privilege of going to sleep working and waking up working. Many times I think: ‘I don’t know if it is a privilege or a burden. But I prefer to see it as a privilege. This goes back to the Reebok slogan: with such a short life, waking up and not having any motivation to work is very sad. What usually happens is that people choose motivations that are not very realistic or achievable. In my case, my ambition was to become a Barça Director. It was very difficult, yes, but it was realistic, because I was prepared to get the job in the field of New Technologies. It wouldn’t have been realistic for me to aim to be director in the economic area, for example, because I wouldn’t have been prepared. That said, your motivations must be very difficult to reach, in order to have a challenge.

Have you ever thought you would start out by washing dishes at your parent’s restaurant and end up by being a member of the Board of Directors at FC Barcelona?

To be honest, no. I never expected it to happen neither that it would happen so early. I think the possibilities I had of becoming a member of Barça’s Board of Directors was one in a million, because I wasn’t in Sandro Rosell’s close circle of friends or family. I met him recently at an international business meeting. I was asked what I expected to be in life, and, as always, I said I wanted to be a Barça Director. And then, a German gentleman told me he would present me to Rossell. If I had any worries of being ridiculous or arrogant or whatever, I probably wouldn’t be a Barça Director now. The chances are there: the question is to get them. When you want to get something, apart from being positive and working a lot, you have to let it be known. And that is what I did. My case is the proof that something so difficult is actually possible. For me, luck is when circumstances and preparations join together.

Have your reached your maximum aspirations by being a member of FC Barcelona’s Board?

No. It is very important to set other aims and objectives. There are a lot of things to do and to create now. Barça is a great vehicle for doing things for Catalonia. I would like to create 4 or 5 projects which I can leave behind. For example, I would like to boost entrepreneurship and to set up projects for disfavoured children – a project Barça is already working on-. There are many things that the brand “Barça” can do.

In different interviews you have assured that Barça and football were the factors that helped you feel integrated. What does Barça mean to you?

It is true. My parents were the first Chinese family in Girona, so I was the first Girona-born Chinese child in the region. At that time, I was a very unusual thing, and people used to point me out in the street, but I didn’t understand why if I was born here! There were many things that bewildered me. So, when I played football or I watched Barça matches I used to feel integrated. For me, Barça was the tool that helped me integrate in Catalonia. But this is not just my case: Barça is an incredible integration tool for everybody who comes here.