Being an entrepreneur to me is like conducting an orchestra: you have to know your musicians’ parts, know each and every single instrument, and conduct everyone through a collaborative adventure. It’s like conducting Beethoven’s Ode to Joy: have you ever been in a theatre and felt the music’s vibrations course through your body? It is such a powerful and physical experience, you cannot but feel inspired. To me, the products, the experiences, tailored by companies, should have the same effect on people: they should move them, change lives, make a difference.
The entrepreneur is an artist, a madman: the chaotically, yet precise, mixture of vision, thought and action, an inevitable combination, he wouldn’t be able to do what he does without his emotionally practical folly.
Based on my personal parable and those of many friends I have met on the course of my ventures, if I had to pinpoint the characteristics that make entrepreneurs who they are, 5 spring to mind.
1.Nurture the fundamental urge to change the status quo
Most of the entrepreneurs I have met are in constant pursuit of change and are obsessed with the idea that they ought to help shape the world through innovation, even in its most radical form. For me, this is what initiated my collaborative adventure and what got me all the way to where I am today. In 2000, when I first moved out to Milan to launch my first startup, I experienced firsthand the big headache and time wasted to find and rent out an apartment. After having experienced the excruciating process myself and having discovered that large corporations were using aparthotels to relocate their expats and avoid the complexities of the rental system, I became convinced that there was a lot of room to innovate the sector, by introducing greater flexibility, transparency and property management solutions. It was the beginning of “Infrastructure as a service”, the concept that got our company Halldis, to become the Italian leader in property management for temporary rentals for the corporate and leisure market. And it is what we are experimenting today with serviced offices with Copernico Where Things Happen: the idea that we can become the ideal partner for big corporations that are looking to outsource their infrastructure and facility management to a partner, benefiting from our “pay as you go” services.
2. Fight against the odds and beat them
Changing the status quo is no easy task, and often it may feel like trying to move an enormous mountain. Don’t give up and go with your gut. When I started contacting real estate sector experts like owners, lawyers, accountants, consultants, in order to understand how to deliver at best the simplified property management model I had been thinking about, I learnt straight away that the “system” resisted radical innovation. To start out, I had to force things, and go against consolidated order. Technology was a powerful ally. Using state of the art management and distributive systems, we designed a website with online booking and advanced CRM, that was integrated with administrative management systems. The project hit the status quo like a tsunami: the first year we made 200.000 euros, the second 1mln, then 2mln, 4mln and 8mln. In Halldis, between 2003 and 2007 we started experimenting: we started taking on vacation rentals, we launched new international cities like Paris, as well as new management models like franchising. These incremental innovations helped us understand the market, profit from our position as firstcomers and retain a market leader position.
3. Challenges will never leave you, learn to love them
In 2008 the scenario changed, peer to peer platforms were flooding the market, offering clients the same benefits we were offering, via a simple website. My team and I were faced with a challenge: we had to develop a new business model. Once again technology became our ally: we worked on a new platform that supported our processes better. We expanded our products’ distribution to emerging channels and also opened to small local players specialized in property management, who could profit from our platform in order to manage their company better. Instead of competing in a new arena, we capitalized on our expertise and positioned ourselves as the leaders of professional property management.
4. Constantly feel like a startupper
After more than twenty years as an entrepreneur, I still feel like a startupper. I constantly look for ways to reinvent my companies and venture into new territories. In 2006 we decided to apply the same formula to the world of offices: contractual flexibility, simplified payments, zero investments, plug and play spaces and pay as you go services. We were starting over again into a different market, where the competition was represented by one player, a company that is still world leader in the serviced office market. We had to invent an innovative business that met market needs and tapped into an unsatisfied demand. From 2006 to 2014 we nurtured and cultivated this project and reached 9,000 sqm for a total of 700 workstations. In 2014 my team and I started interrogating ourselves about how we could bring about a disruption in this market, anticipating possible competitors, and reaping the benefits of what we had learnt from the activities with the residential Business Unit of our company. Copernico Where Things Happen saw the light, a smart working platform that now manages 9 buildings, amounting to 26000 sqm. The startupper in me is still constantly facing several challenges: mastering an increasingly rapid growth, finding people that understand the vision and embody it, finding financial resources to fuel the growth and innovation inside the company and carrying out, with constant determination, daily actions that help shape such an ample platform in such a reduced timespan.
5. Predict the future by dreaming big
Instead of relying on past and cemented habits, entrepreneurs dream about how the future will look like and try to understand how they can help shape it: it’s what people call being visionary. If you want to start getting an idea of what lies ahead, I suggest you take a look at Future State 2030. The global megatrends shaping governments by KPMG International, offering interesting insights into what’s to come. In 2030 13% of the population will be 65+, there will be a 40% global gap between water supply and demand, 60% of the world’s population will live in cities and by 2025, companies will spend an average of 5 years in the S&P 500 index. Data like this, will mean that entrepreneurs will have to design products, I dare say design experiences, that take into consideration these aspects. In my case, I tend to observe the trends in relation to smart working and how this will change the way we work in the future. More and more businesses will start measuring employee performance based on results achieved, as opposed to setting time and space constraints, this will mean flexible hours and spaces. These aspects will affect the ventures of any entrepreneur: the Italian government itself took note, with a recent bill dedicated to smart working. How can entrepreneurs respond to these changes and ultimately be the force of change? The HBR put it quite effectively in 2011: the secret is Embracing Complexity. I’d like to add to this, that it is paramount that we develop a “collaborative economy frame of mind” and ride the wave of collaborative platforms, on-demand and distributed workforce, mobility, wearable technology and all the things that are disrupting life as we know it today. With Copernico Where Things Happen we offer a platform that helps companies make the shift from traditional brick and mortar companies to competitive liquid ones. We design experiences tailored towards the new generation of workers and our blurred lifestyles: a platform for an ample community of professionals, where sharing knowledge and experiences is the norm, new business ventures are born every day and collaborative experimentation runs free. Our company is an example of collaborative experimentation in itself, so much so, that in March 2016 we’ll be opening a brand new member club in Brera: Clubhouse Brera, open to female and male C-levels and opinion leaders.
And we’re not stopping there, recently I’ve started harbouring the idea of developing an ideal city: the holistic sum of what we have experimented with our residential and workspace businesses. I have a feeling it’s going to change the status quo, it will require a hell of a lot of fighting against the odds in order to beat them and it’s a big big dream.
Some may call it madness, I just say… I love a challenge.
Pietro Martani was born in Mantua (Italy) in 1973. He holds a BA in International Relations and attended an international programme at the University of Pavia (Italy), Trinity College Dublin (Ireland) and Hunter College of the City University of New York (USA). Pietro also completed an MBA at the ISTUD Foundation, an independent business school based in Milan (Italy). He has been an entrepreneur since his twenties and today he is the co-founder and CEO of Windows on Europe SpA, a holding company controlling several brands, specialized in residential property management for the short term rental market, such as Halldis and Windows on Italy. He is also co-founder and CEO of Copernico Holding SpA, which controls Copernico Where Things Happen, a smart working platform managing 9 buildings in Italy and internationally. He divides his time between Milan and London, where his wife and three children live.