In conversation with Riccardo Pozzoli
Class and elegance for one of the most followed Italian entrepreneurs of all time. From his debut as a creative mind behind The Blonde Salad to co-founder of Foorban, milanese food delivery app to still a member of the DEPOP app board. Riccardo Pozzoli talks exclusively to TBD Journal and reveals his secrets to the business of the future, the first one is: "If you feel too sure it means that it is already late".
You have arrived here with great successes or even failures. If you have to tell something about yourself, how would you tell it? Who is Riccardo?
Personally, at 32 I still do not know who I am, I really hope to take a few more years to understand who I am, otherwise it would be too obvious if I had already understood everything. Let's say I’ve found myself in the right place at the right time, having the opportunity to start a wonderful adventure. Then surely the curiosity, which is my characteristic, as well as the desire to do and experiment, have led me over the years to make many experiences, both positive and negative. I like to define failure only as a word that we use in our civil code, to be evaluated only as a moment down in a long path, what should be the life for an entrepreneur, characterized by high and low moments. Without the swing, there is neither fun not progress. Precisely, because of the alternation of these two moments that enthusiasm is created and the stimulus and experience are maintained.
Many students are finishing their high school studies and they face the choice of university. Is there any advice you would like to give them, some mistakes you made that someone should not repeat today?
The training path is extremely important in terms of personal growth and satisfaction. Surely, the studies help you to develop a mindset, a method, a network and a series of aspects that are part of it. Both, me and Fabio (ed note Fabio Attanasio, co-founder of TBD Eyewear), even if we have different academic background, I am graduated in Finance, while Fabio has a degree in Law degree, we have noticed that what you learn at university is useful when you are started to do business and you can extrapolate a series of concepts that you previously could not think as useful tool. In other words, applying knowledge learned from books into the business world. Surely, the choice of university is one of the most difficult, but actually it becomes less and less binding with the passing of time. I always recommend to follow your passions, that certainly will change with time, but it does not matter, it is essential to love and love what you do. Even if you graduate in Philosophy at 25 and then in your life you decide to be a cook, it does not matter: if you have done a university course with intelligence and curiosity, you will certainly be able to use certain aspects in life that you can place on the occasion. Consequently, if someone is confused in relation to the choice, I always recommend the Faculty of Economics, because it is the one that opens more doors.
Do start-ups abroad or in Italy. We know the great differences with foreign countries, and also above all for the tax issue. But based on your experience is it better Italy or Abroad?
It's not easy, and it's a very wide talk to discuss, but surely if you are Italian, in Italy you play at home, you know the rules, you know the market, you know tastes. You can sense what can work and what does not. It is true that if you have just finished university you would not be able to make an invoice, but it does not matter, because it is much easier to start in your country than abroad, by affinity, intuition, taste and analysis market. The real problem is that we are a country of absolute conservatism in investments. We have the highest rate of homeowners in the world with the highest rate of conservative investors in the world. The truth is that we invest in brick, in traditional instruments, and this leads to difficulties in raising capital. Surely, on this aspect it is much more complicated to do start-ups here in Italy than abroad. For example, I decided to stay in the US to launch a new business, but I necessarily had to spend time in the reference market to understand it. You can not have a good idea and then think about launching it elsewhere, because it will not work there, perhaps. Thus, it depends on the various businesses, but it is important to know the market. So, my primary advice is to really understand where you want to live, and to know the market, assimilate it and understand it. Indeed, Foorban was an American model but it was adapted to the Italian market, because I knew it. So, a person must choose where to start the business and the country of reference that is known the best. The capital must be a secondary problem, also because Italy is slowly adjusting.
What characteristics must the start-up of today have to be a great company of the future?
Surely globality, which is vital. Today it is true that you can start with local businesses, but you must have an extremely global mindset. Also because if today you are leaving with a business in Milan, then there could be a Bocconi Finnish student who could use it, so you have to think about a possible expansion and a next step, the competition is just around the corner, but the globality is the key to success. Another fundamental aspect is to have an Anglo-Saxon mentality on finding capital. I learned in the last years that being the owner of 100% of nothing is worse than being the owner of 10% of a Billion activity. This is to say that in today's environment if you are without capital, without the right investments, it is really difficult to keep up and have the same speed as your competitors. I always recommend to have an open mind regarding investments, even towards dilution and loss of control, but then you can afford to have the capital to be fast and dynamic. It is better to do and to make mistakes today than not to do ... if you stay still today you are swallowed up. Furthermore, It is important to say that the team plays a key role. Knowing how to motivate, how to delegate, and how to build a team is fundamental as well as going in the same direction, especially to keep the pace of growth that you must have and that must be nourished by a part of the investments, and the level of execution, which obviously can not be slowed down.
You started with fashion, you were the creator of one of the social successes and not the greatest in recent years (The Blonde Salad). But excluding fashion, do you think there are some sectors with high potential that are still unexplored?
Surely today Fashion is what I would not recommend, because it is the '' best '' populated and especially, we are moving towards extremely fast and dynamic trends. For example, if a street style brand is born tomorrow, after 6 months it is no longer cool. This is for fashion. While, regarding clothing, it is definitely one of the directions to go, as well as the accessory and the beauty, which is one the most dynamic and interesting sectors, where there are also more investments. Then there are actually a number of other types of business, like yachting, design and supplies where there is still a lot to do. There is so much that it is still not clear what could be done, everything is still an unexplored world. Surely, these are sectors with a very high potential if you already start from Italy, because we have the tradition, but that kind of innovation in the product and in business models still needs to be applied.
Italian for you?
Creative. Italian remains creative and enterprising. Unfortunately it is provincial. Super smart, able to launch many extremely creative projects, but when he starts looking at what the neighbor is doing and goes into competition, he loses a lot. We Italians are self-limited in our growth. We do not see a moment of growth in relations and cooperation with others. It is a huge sin.
In an interview you said: doing business means creating value and not just earnings. Do you have an example of business or company that you think is proof of this phrase?
In reality there are many. What I have always tried to communicate is that profit should not be the ultimate goal of a company, but it must be the KPI of how a company works. This is not the goal, which must instead of being a value that is self-sustainable and has its own value. I do this very much in my concept and all the start-ups I have created own this characteristic as basic featute. Perhaps, sometimes I should have looked at more money - laughs - but that's okay, everyone has their own way of doing business. I prefer having an extra experience rather than one car more, which has gratified me from an entrepreneurial point of view.
Do you see the potential of a new free social network that can be successful, as Instagram has replaced in fashion Facebook in the past?
Actually no. The possibility is there, but there will be more a generational change. For example, formerly FB is now experiencing its first generational change in social media. The current 15 years do not use FB because parents use it. So even the social media are experiencing this socio-cultural phenomenon, as the new generations no longer take inspiration from the old, but self-feed at the level of aspiration. Indeed, current parents are trying to find inspiration from the new generations, because they are more current. This did not happen absolutely 30 years ago. Paradoxically, for many reasons we too were inspired by our parents, the current 12 years and 15 years, however, are totally aliens from their parents and therefore all that belongs to the parental class should not belong to them.Basically, Facebook is experiencing this moment, while Snapchat, for example, is experiencing the competition of Instagram. Today, unless you are Google, it is difficult to stand against the Facebook Patron, so I said sincerely, I do not see the possibility of the immediate emergence of new social media, if some new technological hardware development will not take place. However, today's social media boom comes because there has been this tool (ndr smartphone) that has totally changed the ways in which we interact, with which we entertain. If in three years a new technological hardware device should arise, which somehow changes the way we entertain again, then in my opinion there will certainly be fertile ground. I do not see any other opportunities right now. It was a bit like the Big Bang and now everything is amalgamating around IG, which is the main platform, while everything else is secondary.
The success of your business ideas surely comes from your intuitions, but in some way to validate them you rely more on empirical evidence, such as market research, or learning by doing? What is the first step you complete?
In reality, as we said before, an idea, although it can be global and open-minded, must start from a "terrain", so you must first understand the characteristics of that terrain and only then you can export it to the world. Simply, the concept is: you have to analyze that terrain. In this way, surely the passage of time in a country, in a society, helps you understand ... then surely you can do focus groups, surveys and you can read researches. Now, there is a new business that I am thinking of launching in California, where I spent almost six months and where I am trying to understand as much as possible the reference market. I spend time just going around to see and research because it is a retail business, so I try to identify possible competitors. I have read all of Forbes' research on this kind of industry, I try to inform myself and understand how the Big Players are moving in that particular sector. Then, of course, there's always the unknown, the risk ... but I think if you wait to be sure of your choice, you'll end up being a last mover. If you're sure, it's probably too late.
Your book is having a great success. The boys read it and look for inspiration, they write you and you share their beautiful thoughts. In the end, the social reduce a little the barriers between those behind and not, a smartphone, but also giving you many responsibilities. How has the role of the influencer changed in your opinion?
Actually, I have already started writing the second book, and it will be precisely on this concept, that we, 30 years people, have the responsibility to dictate the rules to make sure that there is an ethical sense in the use of social media. Fortunately, social media is the first PEER to PEER communication channel and not with a TOP DOWN approach. Cinema, the press, the radio, the television were all companies that communicated to the public, with some small interaction, but little stuff. The approach to the media has completely changed, now the platform that gives you the opportunity to talk, talk and entertain are Facebook, Instagram. I always do the example of Ford. Ford gives you the car, the vehicle, but then you drive. If you get on the sidewalk, the responsibility is yours. The same is true for using social media.When I went to Harvard, one of the questions was just this: "Ricky, what do you think about putting a license for professional influencers?" Well, if you think about it it's not totally wrong reasoning, it's just unworkable for the tools we have today. You could make a certification, a kind of license, but I do not think it is necessary, also because it would be less freedom of expression that is the fundamental characteristic of Social Networks. Surely, what we should try to develop is an ethical sense of doing things well. It is a further challenge that other generations have not had.
Let's do a trial, reverse process. Not a startup, but a small family business that wants to open up to a young and competitive country. Obviously, it depends on the product, but what actions should they take?
This is definitely another interesting topic because it is absolutely not true that you necessarily need to do it. It is always very important to try and understand what your business is. For example, if you make tomatoes “handcrafted” and these are made in a certain way, you can never get to produce 7 million a month, because above the 100,000 you will lose the quality of your product. Here in this case a choice has to be made. If there is a family business, which is beautiful, healthy and self-supporting, it is not necessary that one should make the leap, surely with some communication tools, maybe today, they can help you to promote your business, but it does not mean that the business must be transformed. The business can remain the same, but just using new channels to promote itself more easily and even economically perhaps.
At 32 years: mind behind The Blonde Salad, you already have your own successful start-up, you've written a book, you're loved and followed ... something else? A small dream in the drawer maybe?
Let's say that I have had many dreams in my life, and I really hope one day to allow my children to make a sporting and professional career. This is because I'm a big sports fan and I had to abandon passions like swimming and motorcycles because I felt the need to do well at the Scientific High School, then Finance at University ... today, fortunately I found a way to do business, to support myself financially and to have fun, because I can do many things that I like. Obviously I had to leave a series of things on the street, such as the drums I really enjoyed playing, too bad, because maybe I could have been a drum-rock –laughs– a drummer's future. So yes, as a great sports fan, in my life I dreamed about different sports careers. I think that one day I will have the opposite problem, when my son will come to tell me: “Dad I enrolled in Law or Economics, I could get hurt – laughs – Do not think about it! I will tell him: "Rather do it or the actor or the painter, choose something that you enjoy in life”. I am joking, I was lucky, because this life gives me a lot, but yes, I have this little dream in the drawer, I would have been willingly a sportsman or a rock drummer!
Credits: Riccardo Pozzoli wears Vicuna Rhodium // Fabio Attanasio wears Mohair Gold // Bottle Green