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Navigating the Entrepreneurial Journey: What it Takes to be a Founder in Italy in 2024

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Stepping onto the winding road of entrepreneurship in Italy is akin to embarking on a deeply personal voyage. Believe me! Often investors are personal advisors and we have the privilege and the unique opportunity to witness from very close what it takes to be entrepreneur. In the vibrant alleys of Milan or amidst the tranquil beauty of Tuscany’s countryside, Italian entrepreneurs weave their dreams with the fabric of their surroundings.

It’s a journey marked by intimate challenges and whispered opportunities, where every step shapes not just a business, but a life’s narrative. Join us as we delve into the essence of what it truly means to thrive as an entrepreneur amidst the rich tapestry of Italy’s landscapes and culture. Here is a list of features that every entrepreneur in Italy should have:

1. Guts – Entrepreneurship requires courage. Hell! It’s the defining feature. You could have been anywhere else in the world leading a comfy life. But you decided to be an entrepreneur. That is already a symptom of the guts it takes. Taking risks, pursuing unconventional ideas, and stepping outside comfort zones are inherent to the entrepreneurial spirit. Italian entrepreneurs must have the courage to pursue their dreams relentlessly, even in the face of uncertainty, more than anyone else. Why? Because this country is as beautiful as it is mean, and because success sometimes is not well perceived in this society.

2. Patience and self-control –The Italian entrepreneurial landscape often moves at its own pace. Success rarely comes overnight. Patience is not just a virtue; it’s a necessity. Whether navigating bureaucratic hurdles or building long-lasting relationships, entrepreneurs in Italy must cultivate patience to weather the ups and downs of their journey. A VC tells you “no”? Patience. Notary can’t fix the deed next week? Patience. Corporate client postponing that final call for 3 weeks? Patience, Patience, Patience.

3. Grit – Italian entrepreneurs need resilience in abundance. From economic downturns to fierce competition, setbacks are inevitable. Grit is what separates those who persevere from those who falter. Just don’t give up! Not yet! Embracing challenges as opportunities for growth and pushing through adversity is fundamental to success. Now, if you have grit while keeping your smile, that is a trait I want to see in a founder.

4. Empathy – Italians are known for their warmth and hospitality. Yet the VC world can turn you into a delusional, cold-hearted, selfish person. Don’t let that happen. Open your heart to empathy, one of the most powerful tools for entrepreneurs. Understanding the needs and desires of customers, employees, and stakeholders is key to building meaningful connections and driving sustainable growth. Not only that. If you use empathy towards outside stakeholders, you will start a culture of empathy inside your team. No blame game. No pointing fingers. That’s the company you want to build.

5.Pentathlon Training – In Italy, maybe more than anywhere else, entrepreneurship often feels like a mental and emotional pentathlon. It requires a multifaceted approach encompassing strategic thinking, problem-solving, communication skills, leadership, and adaptability. You need to know your way around several technical disciplines, from accounting to programming, from marketing to sales strategy. Why? Because more often than not, you will be asked to support and lead in any field your company is engaged in.

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6. Constructive Attitude –
Positivity is contagious, and in the face of challenges, maintaining a constructive attitude can make all the difference. We, Italians, have this tendency to talk behind people’s backs. I lived abroad for so many years and I haven’t seen any other culture behaving like this. But that’s not how a founder should behave. Viewing setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth fosters resilience and innovation, not as an opportunity to blame others.

7. Being Nice Doesn’t Mean Being a Fool – The importance of assertiveness and shrewdness in business dealings is so important. Being kind and respectful doesn’t equate to being naive. I have learned, over time, to lend a hand, but there is a phrase that my father told me once that also makes a point: “If it’s out of your hand, it deserves freedom from your mind too”.

8. Adaptability – The only constant in entrepreneurship is change. Being adaptable and flexible means being Italian at our finest. I think it’s what we are known for in the whole world. Not for being punctual. Not for being hierarchically flat. Not for being efficient. Hell, we are known because we can work in any situation. Italian entrepreneurs must embrace flexibility and adaptability to thrive in a dynamic environment. Whether responding to market shifts or technological advancements, the ability to pivot and evolve is crucial for staying relevant and competitive.

9. Build A Personal Advisory Board – It made a big difference for me. When I needed support in my darkest hours, I built a network of mentors, advisors, and peers who provided invaluable support and guidance along my entrepreneurial journey. Drawing on diverse perspectives and expertise helps entrepreneurs make informed decisions and navigate challenges more effectively. Pick from your friends, classmates, and former colleagues. You need somebody who knows you well but is not too biased about what you do. Who will treat you kindly but will also be brutally honest when needed.

10. Room Reading Superpower – In a culture rich with history, art, and tradition, Italian entrepreneurs possess a unique advantage – a room-reading superpower. Understanding social cues, reading between the lines, and navigating nuanced interactions are skills honed in Italy’s vibrant social fabric.

What else? Oh yes, I almost forgot. The following is not a must-have feature. In fact, sometimes, possessing this trait might even label you as a bit of an outlier, a misfit. Yet, it’s an integral part of who I am as an entrepreneur, and I can’t help but emphasize its significance: culture. Entrepreneurs who immerse themselves in literature, traverse the globe, search for the right words to express themselves, and embrace diverse cultures don’t just build companies; they craft living, breathing entities that resonate deeply with the human experience. Being larger than life cannot only mean building a 100M company that in a few hundred years will be nothing more than a few millimeters of dust. Building a legacy, however, will survive the heartless judgment of time, so read, study, take care of your mind and your soul. Culture infuses our ventures with empathy, understanding, and a global perspective, enabling you and us to create businesses that transcend borders and connect on a profound level with people from all walks of life.

Good entrepreneurial life, Italy 2024!