STARTUP ACADEMY #5: BUSINESS RESILIENCE
During the last lesson of UniCredit’s Start Lab Academy we looked at how to lead a successful business in uncertain scenarios and promote resilient leadership
The launch of a new business idea inevitably brings a degree of uncertainty with it. This is even clearer when the global economic environment is characterised by moments of crisis, such as the current one. This was discussed extensively during the last lesson of UniCredit’s Start-up Academy, which focused on resilience, the ability to face and overcome difficulties, adapting them into learning opportunities and incentives to accept and overcome unforeseen new challenges.
The day started off with a greeting from Andrea Casini, Co-CEO Commercial Banking Italy of UniCredit, who reiterated our bank’s commitment to closely supporting the growth and development of these new realities.
As per the Academy’s usual format, we met several testimonies during the day which not only represented success stories, but also this time – in an original way – stories of failure from which to learn important lessons.
With Elisabetta Scotti, CFO of Flos, we relived the story of one of her first, unfortunately unsuccessful, entrepreneurial projects, the startup volendo.com. The business idea consisted of an online shopping centre, inspired by similar projects in the United States, launched between 1999 and 2000. The project was able to gather the necessary capital, a team full of comprehensive skills, solid partnerships and a virtuously operating cashflow model all in a short time. The launch in Milan was extremely encouraging, supported by considerable communication initiatives which generated new jobs in very little time. Following the decision of launching the project in Bergamo and Turin, the first problems started. Some aspects related to logistics and online payments had been underestimated as they had not been adequately developed yet and the business model which worked for Milan was not easily adaptable elsewhere. The project failed due to the entry of large retailers in the online shopping market, a sign that entering the e-commerce segment doesn’t show high entry barriers. Volendo.com was closed down. It was a learning opportunity for Elisabetta, that she made good use of for her subsequent projects.
The event continued with stories of three scale-ups (former startups that achieved growth rapidly), with an explicit focus on the Covid-19 crisis management.
With David Avino, Founder and CEO at Argotec, we analysed the point of view of a Turin-based company, founded in 2008, working in aerospace engineering with offices in the U.S. and several European countries. Today, the company is engaging in the production of small satellites for deep space and developing engineering solutions to improve an astronaut’s comfort in orbit. During the pandemic, Argotec equipped itself to ensure a safe working environment, reacting with “optimism and confidence”, based on the experience gained during the 2008 financial crisis. The moment of uncertainty lasted two days, after that the immediate response was to invest in new resources that accelerated a project that, at the beginning of the pandemic, was being studied, and today positions the company as a market leader.
Anna Zattoni, Co-founder & President at “Jointly – il welfare condiviso (Welfare, shared)” shifted the focus to employee resilience. Jointly is specialised in providing companies with developed “welfare plans” for their employees thanks to a wide range of services, chosen from suppliers across Italy. People working in start-ups often do so in a constant “stressful” condition. Covid has influenced employees’ more intimate and personal space even further. Jointly has therefore chosen to launch specific service packages to support families affected by the pandemic. The choice was partly generated by a tragic event for Jointly, the sudden death of Fabio Galluccio, its co-founder.
Antonio Cianci, CEO of Airlite / AM Technology Ltd., leads a company, founded in 2014, that has the patent for a paint that purifies the air in both domestic and corporate spaces. Today, Airlite runs offices in Italy and abroad, including an office in China. It has numerous international partnerships that leverage on its technology. As the pandemic broke out the company found itself with a good degree of liquidity, following a capital increase in 2019, which allowed a rationalisation of internal processes, of its sales force and the drafting of a new business plan during the two months of the lockdown. The new plan focused on a mission, as timely as ever: purify the air and the different environments we live in.
The day continued with the testimony of Ugo Parodi Giusino, Founder of Magnisi, who spoke on the interesting topic of adaptive leadership in times of crisis. Market innovators, according to Parodi, must always consider that sooner or later there will be moments of great difficulty. The capital available often won’t be enough to solve the problem when a product or a service are no longer needed in a market. This could mean having to design another product, find another distribution channel, develop a different sales strategy. Having a parachute and plan B ready aids psychologically . But an entrepreneur must also know how to go beyond this and possibly accept failure.
The end of lesson was enriched by three further stories focused on factors that can build resilience: a clear vision, a data-driven approach and a commitment to permanent innovation.
The first topic was touched on in depth with Cristina Pozzi, Co-founder and CEO of Impactscool, an organisation that promotes the disclosure and training on future, emerging technologies and sustainability for companies and schools. Having a clear mindset, especially in the social field, allows the launch of new projects even in times of crisis, always giving adequate space to continuous education, with the internet offering great opportunities in this field.
Matteo Masi, Startup Segment Lead at Amazon Web Services (AWS) instead reiterated the importance of developing data-driven businesses for the companies of tomorrow, and the use of cloud technology as an innovative model for doing business. The prevailing leadership principle, even in times of crisis, remains the “customer obsession”. AWS offers a clear example of how a company remained true to itself for more than 14 years, continuing to innovate and experiment. In AWS’s experience, relying on a cloud platform is useful in the growth phase, but it is also useful in case of failure or crisis, as it allows to limit very high infrastructure costs. During these months many startups in the tourism industry have taken advantage of the flexibility of the cloud to reduce costs and the ability to implement new services for a pivot and develop new applications. For instance Filaindiana, in just a few weeks, developed an application to optimize the time needed for queuing in supermarkets by exploiting the speed of implementation in cloud systems.
Finally with Paola Scarpa, Client Solutions, Data & Insights at Google, we explored the theme of innovation continuity. The current moment leads to many questions, among all: how has the customer’s behaviour changed? All over the world, for instance, the interest in online shopping has increased by 100%. In the first 5 months of 2020 Italian online consumers tripled compared to last year. Google in this sense is leveraging a lot on digital interaction platforms. One example: the daily peak in the use of Google Meet has grown by 30 times during the pandemic.
The technology – which continues to have the smartphone as a key support tool – helps companies to be more visible, backing the business even in times of lockdown thanks to e-commerce platforms. The success for start-ups lies in the adoption of flexible and scalable technologies, which are usable on demand and easily replaceable, in order to allow companies to “surf” in a rapidly changing context.