Vision, velocity, coldness, a pinch of good luck. These features are common to the two happy-ending entrepreneurial stories of Andrea Di Camillo, founder and CEO of P101, and Antonio Perini, serial start-upper and the mind behind Milkman. Milkman is a logistics company that was invested by Poste Italiane in May (capital increase: €25M). In 2010 Perini and Di Camillo had led the first exit of another start-up, Viamente, which was then bought by the American Workwave. Here they tell us the whole story in a double interview.
Let’s start from the beginning. When and why did you two meet? And what did you like about each other?
Antonio Perini: I was working in a video communication tech company called Mirial, in Milan. In our free time, with a colleague, we liked to think about new ideas that we could develop. I looked for Andrea, who was at the time Banzai’s partner and manager, had a “past” in the then almost non-existent world of venture capital in which he still took an interest. I began to tell him about Viamente, about its underlying technology, which in that case was used to optimize logistic routes but could have a wide range of “practical” applications: for instance with Cortilia, the company that was later founded and managed by Marco Porcaro, my start-up dreaming colleague. In that case, the service by Viamente was “linked” to the optimization of vegetables transportation: from farmer to consumer. The two companies’ common tech core would have enabled more services: I was talking about technology, but Andrea was bored. I noticed it and, fortunately, I veered my pitch towards service rather than technology, and talked about Cortilia as a project (we called it Geomercato at the time).
Andrea Di Camillo: Luckily you did that, really. When Antonio started the demo of Cortilia it was like a “wake up call”: I could see the potential of the business in the long term and in the meantime I could see Antonio’s entrepreneurial and managerial profile, a feature that – together with a good team – represents 50% of the success of a start-up/VC journey. I started investing, personally, in 2010, and then through Boox, which was my small investment company with which I “restarted” the path of venture capital before P101 and after the dark years following the 2001 dot-com crisis. Then other investors arrived and within a year and a half the company was sold to Workwave Route Manager, of which Antonio was a shareholder.
In all, about 4 years have passed from the foundation of the start-up to its exit. This was a real record in Italy, especially at the time: how did you get to the exit?
Antonio Perini: In 2008 I resigned from the position of sales director at Mirial and decided to invest in the future: Viamente and Cortilia were the two start-ups my colleague and I started with. Our first customer arrived a year and a half later, for both companies: and if you have some results to “bring as a dowry” to a VC fund, it is easier to get funded by it. At the time, I knew everything about technology but nothing about business and corporate management. When Andrea announced that he would give me 50,000 euros to start, he made it a condition that I invested them in communication, since we needed to estimate the potential demand for such an innovative service rather than running the company without knowing whether there was a market for it.
Andrea Di Camillo: By investing in advertising, we could have a global estimate of how many companies needed the solution that Viamente could offer and how much it costed to reach each new customer. We set a line: if 100 new customers arrived within a month, the company would be ready to receive more funds. And we could start thinking about the next step: the entry of new investors.
And how didi t go?
Antonio Perini: With 10,000 euros we could reach 150 new customers in a month: it was the end of 2010. In March 2011 we were ready for a new investment round as we had real data about market potential: we had “bought” that information with the marketing campaigns that we had “paid” with Andrea’s funds. The lesson that we learned is that technology does not win alone. When we sold the company, we did it for a figure that was 14 times the invested capital (which was around €300,000 among Andrea’s and others’). Workwave acquired us in August 2012 and I went to the USA to take care of the business. We decided to sell because our main competitor was an Israeli-American company, Toa Technologies, which had raised $86 million. We could only compete if we were coming from a different perspective and size.
Andrea Di Camillo: Workwave had seen our online ad and they contacted us, only later discovering that behind such an innovative and sophisticated technology there was an Italian start-up. The size we were confronted with was very different from what we were used to in the tiny world of Italian VC. Today, things are changing in Italy too, and in the “Zoom Economy” life will probably be easier for Italian entrepreneurs, who often have brilliant ideas and a lot of talent but are far from big financial centres. Industrial districts, for example, are not close to Milan: this is why start-ups build their businesses with little risk capital and a lot of debt capital, which leads to the typical situation of Italian SMEs. With mass digitization comes unlimited access to financial resources, not just from Italy to Italy but cross-border too. If there is a good idea, wherever it is, there should be no limit to investing money into that idea.