Interview with BEINTOO: The Importance of the Team
Antonio Tomarchio, CEO of Beintoo, the winner company of the startup competition at LeWeb ‘11, spoke with Opinno about their experience, from the early beginning through their present victory at LeWeb and their future plans to expand in China.
Giulia: Let’s talk about Beintoo from the beginning.
In 2008 Filippo Privitera, William Nespoli, Walter Ferrara and I funded our first company developing AdRight, a platform for targeting and management of the on-line advertising. In 2009 Dada S.P.A. (RCS group) acquired AdRight and hired us. At that time I was 26 years old and I was in charge of Product Development for On-line Advertising and I managed an experienced team of 25 person.
During this period we became aware of the potential of mobile, we realized that at that very moment, it was not possible because of the technological gap (i.e. number of devices and the different protocol used for WAP) but the moment was coming thanks to the development of smart phones and the iPhone; the user experience was getting closer to the desktop computer one. We were sure that this technology combined with geo-localization could achieve significant results.
Our challenge was to understand how to make mobile advertising more interesting.
We were conscious that using banners, or other forms of traditional advertising, was not enough on the mobile web; we were not using significant features of the new, emerging platform. We got the idea to combine the success of already-existing and successful mobile games with the importance placed on pleasant interaction between users and brand. We were conscious that games development was not a scalable activity for a brand or an advertiser, or even accessible to local retailers.
To reach the audience with rewards as a gratification mechanism.
Why not use already existing games with a strong user-base? From here came the idea of reaching the audience with rewards as a gratification mechanism. This idea became clearer during summer 2010 when we received some enthusiastic feedback from different opinion leader and we decided to go this path because was interesting and challenging.
Giulia: Recently, Dave Mcclure gave a speech about the most important reason for not running a start-up. Summarizing, he said that your start-up must be your most important occupation- more than your spouse or your children. What do you think about it?
I completely agree. In fact, we all decided to resign from DADA and fund our own company to work full time on the project. The concept of a part time start-up is a nonsense by definition.
I believe that for running a startup you have to spend 150% of yourself in it. I understand that is not simple to resign and make a leap into the unknown. The idea is only 20/30%, the rest is execution. There is a lot of difference in terms of effort between having a good idea, running a start-up, going live with a platform and also persuading developers such as Fruit Ninja and other advertisers to support your cause.
You cannot succeed running a start-up part-time– you have to decide yes or no. Halfway there can only be at the early stage. In November 2010 we defined everything and we started to work full time.
I want to dispel a myth: it is not true that in Italy or in Europe there are no Business Angels.
For sure on one hand there are less investors but on the other there are less competitors than in US; of course to have access to investor funding you have to present a solid project with an interesting business plan and traction.
In January 2011 we had access to Italian Business Angels and we closed an angels round of €250.000 .
The funding gave us the opportunity to structure the company. Once we had the chance to pay the salaries, we decided to invest in our team by hiring some software developers. I strongly believe that a salary is important for the quality of life and the motivation of the team. I also believe that you can stay on a budget by cutting unnecessary costs until funding, but after that you must invest in people. We hired a motivated and qualified team of ten people aged between 22-26 years old.
In April 2011 we released the SDK and we went to the US immediately to have a validation of our product by the US market.
Chinese market is our current project.
US is a key market and we closed a lot of partnerships there. It’s important to be present in Silicon Valley; we have some people based there who continue to work actively.
The Chinese market is our current project. We have the possibility to reach about 1.000.000 users and the company’s competition is fragmented. I’ve recently been in China to work on strategic partnerships. In January I’ll be there again, I plan to spend a lot of time in Asia in 2012. In May we’ll be also sponsor of The Beijing Global Mobile Conference.
Giulia: Tell me your impression about LeWeb ‘11.
We are really proud about this experience. We had the pleasure of meeting there a lot of interesting people as Marissa Mayer and Benjamin Ling from Google and we had really motivating feedback about the rising interest of investors about gamification.
Giulia: Let’s talk about your team. How did you built it?
The team is essential both success or failure of a startup. It’s crucial to know how to chose the right person. I really want to stress on the importance of my team. I am the Beintoo CEO and I’m the one who talks, but I am here because of the strong effort of everyone is part of this project. The ability to build an efficient team is the ability to identify the right people at all times. I strongly believe that team building happens randomly. It is important to create friendships that can lead to professional involvement. With the other co-founders we have been friends for a long time. On the other hand,we met Andrea and Rossella during a trip in Kenya.
Giulia: Why is the majority Italian?
Our team is, for the majority, Italian. We prefer to have an Italian Engineering department instead of hiring professional from Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley engineers have a lot of disadvantages in terms of costs and loyalty to the company as Mark Zuckerberg declared recently. That’s why we would like to base the engineering operation in Italy or in Europe (Berlin is an interesting hub or London) and have a presence in the Bay Area. Actually we have not yet determined if I will stay in Italy or if I will move. We are defining the strategy according to the development of the China project.
Giulia: I would like to investigate more about Beintoo’s perception. Could you compare the company with a time of life.
It would be certainly youths between 20/25 years old: you must be a little crazy and you must have the passion of that age to run this kind of startup.
Giulia: And comparing Beintoo with a city?
For sure London. A European city with an international breath, and a professional look.
Giulia can be reached at giuliacozzolino(at)gmail.com and (at)giuliacozzolino