On e-commerce, preparing for the challenges of entrepreneurship, and the importance of happiness.
FORTUNE — New York-based Pau Sabria arrived in the United States by way of Barcelona, Spain. As a teenager, he knew he wanted to study something technical. He loved math, physics, and computers but hated chemistry, so he decided to study what he calls “super-sexy electrical engineering.”
He received an undergraduate degree from the School of Telecommunications Engineering of Barcelona, and after briefly working as a consultant at Boston Consulting Group, he earned an MBA from Columbia University. With both technical and business experience, he eventually decided to try his hand at entrepreneurship.
Sabria is one of the co-founders of the four-year-old company Olapic, which helps brands like Coach, Men’s Wearhouse, and Pepsi monetize fan photos on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Customers take pictures of themselves with a product (such as a T-shirt or sporting gear) and tag it with the company’s hashtag. Olapic then helps its clients manage the photos and import them to their websites alongside more professional photos. The idea is to give potential customers a better sense of what products look like — and ultimately, figure out which images (regardless of production quality) lead to more sales through a blend of analytics, marketing, and design.
Sabria, 31, spoke with Fortune.
1. Who in technology do you admire most? Why?
I admire two different technology engineers for two very different reasons. I admire Elon Musk a lot. He’s the only entrepreneur that, through his activities, challenges us and makes us look very small, and that’s very hard to do. The other one that I admire is Fabrice Grinda. Fabrice is a serial entrepreneur from France. He’s also one of the most prolific investors, and he has a way of thinking about the world that I like a lot. He’s very rational and is always questioning his own beliefs, and I think that’s very, very important. He has a blog that I read on a regular basis.
2. Which area of technology excites you most?
There are two fronts. On the B2B side, it’s how to leverage content and how to shape the e-commerce experiences of the future. It’s been essentially the same experience since the beginning of the Internet, and I think there’s tremendous room for improvement. It makes me 100% sure that we can do better. On the B2C side, one of the things I’m most excited about is a general trend in app development where we, instead of focusing on the utility of the app itself and what it does, are actually focusing on how it makes you feel. Take the Uber app for instance: While it is great to be able to book a cab from your phone, the exciting element here is not necessarily the technology itself; it’s the feeling of freedom you receive through the experience. It changes how you might think about booking a cab, and that change in behavior is significant to the point where you almost become addicted to it.
3. What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do?
Starting a company is not for everyone, so you have to really want to do that. Don’t rush into starting something, and be sure that you have at least a good team to start with. Lots of people want to start companies because they think it’s cool, and the reality is that it’s very hard and very painful. It’s important to be aware that starting companies and entrepreneurship itself brings with it a lot of suffering and sorrow and stress. You should always look on the bright side of things, but the reality is that you go through difficulties and problems and issues. So I would say just to be sure that you have the conviction.
4. What’s the next big project you want to tackle?
I don’t always think of it that way, but there are some areas that I’m obsessed with. For example, to-do lists. I’ve tried everything out there, and there’s nothing that actually works for me. I guess if at some point when I have more time down the road to actually build something that is useful for me, I would do something around task management and to do lists.
5. What challenges are facing your business right now?
Growing the team. The challenges that you have when you start are very different from when the company evolves and grows, and I think that now we’re at the stage where we have to scale. It affects the culture and recruiting and operations and many things that we still don’t know will become challenges. We need to be prepared to handle those.
6. What was the most important thing you learned in school?
One of the first math classes that you take in engineering school is centered around the difference between absolute and relative errors. That goes a long way in engineering. It’s similar to the 80/20 rule, the concept that you have to assess things on an absolute measure but also on relative scales. You might be obsessing about something, but in the grand scheme of things it might not be that big of a deal. For example, you might be spending too much on a certain initiative, but in the grand scheme of things, cutting costs might not really save anything. In engineering, you learn ways of thinking more than anything else.
7. What is one goal — either personal or professional — that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime?
Be happy. You can accomplish that through different methods. I’m always learning, so what I’m doing now isn’t necessarily the way that might make you happy — it’s ultimately having a clear sense of what makes you happy. Whether it’s surrounding yourself with people that are happy, doing what you’re passionate about, trying to find true love, or whatever it is, you have to keep that kind of goal in mind and make decisions based on that. Sometimes you lose perspective of what that is. Some people say, “To be happy, I want to make more money.” Or, “I want to move here because it would be fun.” At the end of the day you have to put yourself in a few years from now, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, and think, what do I think is going to make me more happy by then? And then you make decisions based on that.
8. What do you do to live a balanced life?
I do three things that keep me from going insane: I run quite a bit, I read a lot, and I cook. I also try to go to sleep early. I force myself to do that. I’m not always successful at that, but I try to be.
9. What was the last book you read?
The most recent book by Frederick Forsyth called The Kill List — I’ve read everything that he’s written. Now I’m reading two books, one in French called The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa, who explores the Japanese invasion of China as a mix of war and love stories. The other is a book I found recently on my trip back home to Spain that I had read already. It’s called Boy by Roald Dahl, and I had enjoyed it when I was a kid.
10. What is one unique or quirky habit that you have?
I like to write sometimes about very specific things. I have an obsession with love, so you can find me on medium.com where I have a few articles that I’ve written about the similarities between startups and technology and finding love.
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