Eduardo Festa started his professional career back in 2008 in Italy. In 2011, however, when he joined Sisal, as a Social Media Strategist, he started to see things differently. In this experience, he managed to get some key understandings of social channels and customer acquisition.
After this role, he made the jump to the startup life. He co-founded his first startup: Meeting Life. This was a social platform that allowed people to get together and experience new activities. The startup received €60K seed investment thanks to a viral video campaign, which gained attention on Italian and American web-magazines, such as Repubblica and Mashable.
Although things looked promising, they didn’t work out as expected. However, Eduardo, now with the startup virus in his body, decided to go ahead, find 3 brand new co-founders and start a new company: Edo.io srl, from which 2 innovative projects have originated from; the latest and current being Edo Agenda.
In this exclusive interview with MyStartupLand, we walk through his experience as a startup founder, as well as understanding some key learnings for himself as well as other fellow entrepreneurs around the globe.
1. Eduardo, let’s start with an easy one. What’s the elevator pitch for Edo Agenda?
Edo Agenda is a comprehensive and highly intuitive digital agenda that helps users manage their time, priorities and life by bringing together events, notes, tasks, and reminders.
Its minimalist yet smart design leads users to 3 main accomplishments that are summed up in our catchphrase: “Organize your day, free up your creativity and reach your goals”.
2. How did you come up with the idea for Edo Agenda?
Edo Agenda is the second product that we have developed as a company. Our company name is Edo.io and we initially had a vision for a digital platform where people could organize, share and manage files and communication in one single place that took the name of Edo Team.
The idea came to me while working at Sisal and most of my colleagues, as well as myself, were experiencing confusion in doing our work mostly because documents were scattered across various platforms and communication channels were disjointed from the documents.
Developing, pitching, marketing and bringing to market Edo Team has been an immense learning experience for us. Some of the mistakes we did, led us to have some delays in bringing Edo Team to maturity. In the meantime, Slack gained significant traction and popularity across the globe and we realized that we had lost our opportunity considering the strong similarities between Edo Team and Slack.
At that point, we assessed the market for solution gaps, considered Edo Team users’ feedback who craved for a more distraction-free and personal tool to organize their life and looked at the technological achievements that we could carry over to a new project. This is how Edo Agenda was born.
3. What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
I believe the answer to this question has 2 elements to it. On one side, I have always had a strong sense of curiosity combined with a healthy dose of risk-taking. I think for example of my experiences abroad in the UK and in USA where I went not only to improve my English but also to explore and improve my digital marketing and startup skills.
In addition, what truly gave me the motivation to found a new company was a vision I had. I could sense and touch my colleagues’ and my own frustration in handling too many tools to get work done and I thought to myself: “There must be a better way to do it”. So I left a promising career and a decent salary to dive into a new adventure that was both a big question mark but that was also in my own hands to steer.
4. The startup journey isn’t an easy one. What keeps you going every morning and how you keep that motivation going among your team members?
You are absolutely right, working for a startup isn’t for the faint-hearted.
Determination is key to keep going and I find renewed strength in seeing how our users appreciate the work we do. Knowing that we add real value to our users’ life is highly motivating to the 5 of us to continue improving the platform.
Of course, some days are tougher than others and a grand vision or a higher purpose can not suffice at times. That’s when our relentless sense of humor kicks in. In the office, it’s a constant teasing and throwing jokes at each other. It’s like going for a 30km hike or an 80km bike ride. It’s only natural to feel exhausted at some point with a desire to give up. In those moments it’s enough to tell a story or a joke and not only you get distracted and so you no longer feel the pain in your legs, but also you feel your heart warming up, you are happy, you are not walking or cycling alone.
This is exactly what we do, not only when we are struggling but also as a preventive measure. We would hardly find a happier working environment. Play hard, work hard. This is our secret sauce.
5. For any startup founder, mentors and advisors play an important role. However, we can all agree that the startup world has also a lot of “noise”, with mentors or advisor of dubious experience. How did you manage to find the right support for you and your startup? What are the key qualities in an advisor or mentor you looked into?
When I first decided I wanted to give way to my desire to found my startup, I immediately realized I needed some experience to make sure I would be successful.
In a time (2011) where in Italy the word “startup” was not even being used nor was it known, it was harder than now to find a source of knowledge and guidance. I happened to be lucky to be befriended to Ernesto since our university times, a guy who was as entrepreneurial as myself. He had started this path before me so I decided to spend some time learning the ropes from him in his project “Meeting life” which offered tourists local experiences, extremely similar to “Experiences”, the latest Airbnb revenue stream.
I think Ernesto has been a good mentor as it gets mostly because of 3 key qualities:
- Openness, which is generosity in sharing his knowledge. He isn’t jealous of other people’s achievements and believes that 1 + 1 = 3 meaning that by being open about his ideas, he received more ideas back through brainstorming and open collaboration.
- Discipline, which I interpret as a serious approach to startup best practices (such as launching the product fast and adapt it to users’ feedback) and an intention to learn startup tools (such as social media) in depth. There is no need to reinvent the wheel and it is crucial to master the tools to make you successful.
- Creativity, in the startup and technology world, you shape your own reality, you set your own path. I believe that imagination is as powerful as knowledge. Most people know how growth hacking is key to any company now, not only to startups.
In my opinion, an ideal mentor should be creative and should arouse creativity: it is with new ideas that one can conquer the world.
6. What is the best advice you have received since you started this journey (regardless who you got it from)?
Never take anything for granted; especially relationships with people.
7. As a startup founder, stress and uncertainty play a big component in your daily life… What is the number 1 thing that worries you the most? If you were to suggest the “best practice” to deal with stress to other founders, what would that be?
Stress has become a steady companion of most workers, unfortunately, and startup founders are not immune to it. At times, stress can be unbearable and after a number of years doing this activity we decided to face it and found our own solution: while you cannot switch off feelings of uncertainty, fear of failure or pressure to succeed fast, you can tune it down by turning up the volume of productivity.
It may sound cliché but it does work for us; we have learned that by putting all our efforts on what we do best, which is conceptualized, envision and develop an application, we are relieved of some of the stress as we know we are doing the best we can to achieve our goals. Repeating it to each other aloud helps us channel our energy in the right way.
We also found that meditation can be extremely helpful! It forces you to slow down, to breath deeply and to help you detach from your worries: 3 key factors to slow you down. I am personally passionate about Asian ancient cultures and this translates into putting a touch of zen on Edo Agenda to aim at spreading an aura of calm and peace in the world: I hope this does transpire during its usage.
8. How did the startup life change you? (compared to the time before your startup journey)
It’s very simple: I dedicate more hours to work and fewer hours to sleep 🙂
9. When running a startup, there are several components that become priorities: product, team, culture, funding, and so on… what’s your top priority when running Edo.io and why?
It is true when running a startup you feel like being a Firefighters team with one truck and 5 bush fires happening at once!
Where do you rush first?
In our specific case, I have always known that “team” is the key element that would make or break my startup. I was lucky enough to surround myself with 3 highly skilled co-founders. Paolo is a brilliant mobile developer with successful mobile apps launched on Google Store. Marco is a killer CTO with Space Engineering background. Angelo is a naturally gifted web developer with extended design and marketing expertise.
We have also welcomed a recent “Australian” addition: with 10 years sales experience in Tech corporates worldwide, Luca. He is helping us manage the entire Marketing strategy and execution.
In addition to the individual knowledge they bring to the Edo table, we are all complementary to each other and together we make a complete team able to be creative, to conceptualize, to develop, to market and to raise funds. We are also a sort of stereotyped Italian startup as we all have either familiar or long-term friendship ties. By having solid, healthy, respectful relationships we operate at high levels of productivity and as I said before, we have a lot of fun in our day to day leading to high levels of satisfaction. We are a happy tech family!
In conclusion, my answer is how “team” has been my priority at the beginning of our adventure and by laying the right foundations we are able to trust each other as well as divide & conquer any difficulty that we face along the way.
10. Did you raise venture capital? If yes, what would you suggest to other startup founders that are getting into VC funding? If not, are you going to look for funding and how would you go about it?
We did raise venture capital in 2 different rounds and we have received one grant. I recommend to all startup founders out there who are keen to achieve the same to aim at validating your product and assumptions at the earliest opportunity. It is also important to stay motivated, determined and patient as it can be a process as long as 12 months.
11. Your startup is based in Italy. Why did you choose Italy as a starting point? Are you considering moving somewhere else?
We are all Italians and Rome was the largest city closest to us that could offer the ideal conditions to create a headquarters. There we found the first two of our VC investors and one of them, TIM Ventures, offered us an office for free so that is convenient. We are not necessarily bound by geography; with 70% of international users we have huge growth potential and the world is our oyster.
12. Would you consider Italy to be a “startup-friendly” country?
While Italy is not the easiest market to create or nurture your startup, it has changed a lot in recent years. When we started, no one knew nor used the term “startup”; now there are several incubators, so things have developed, luckily.
13. What’s the startup ecosystem in Italy?
To be honest the startup ecosystem is rather limited. We work side by side with another promising startup, Pedius, and we exchange ideas and news on a regular basis. Apart from that, we find that more investments could be done in this sector.
14. In your opinion, is there something that is missing in the current Italian startup ecosystem that you would like to see more?
We would love to see this change of mindset from the Italian banks, politics, investors, and entrepreneurs continue towards understanding how startups are a way for the Italian economy to rise and compete on a global level and how they are best equipped to deliver innovation.
15. What strategies should startup founders embrace to build a great product?
For us, it’s been about going back to the basics of startup best practices. What has worked particularly well for us is listening to the users.
Of course we have a vision and of course, we remain in control of the evolution of our solution but we listen to every single person who writes us with a question, feedback, tip, request. We reply to every single one of them and whenever possible we aim at meeting their requests or applying their ideas and not because we are nice people but because they represent the market and they may be tomorrow’s paying customers.
Our strategy is to stay humble, listen to the users and not believing we know better than anyone else.
16. Tell us about how Edo Agenda has been perceived and welcomed in the market and how your revenue streams look like.
So far I have only mentioned our digital agenda, Edo Agenda. But we do have a paper agenda as well, as we believe that paper is here to stay and the 2 tools offer different advantages.
Edo Agenda has attracted so far 81,000 registered users globally in just 11 months of activity, 40% of which reside in the USA and 70% outside Italy.
A meaningful event that brought light on Edo Agenda has been being mentioned as best productivity app of the week on Apple App Store in the US last October 2017. We are in the process of releasing our premium features at 2 euro per month or 20 euro per year if paid in advance. We have decided to offer free unrestricted navigation for the first 2 months of usage to everyone (without the need to enter credit card details) and the vast majority of users are still in the midst of this free trial.
Very soon we will have clearer stats on the conversion rate from free users to paying customers. It is important to highlight though that Edo Agenda will remain free to use for anyone without any time limitations: paying for premium features is just an option.
Regarding our Edo Agenda Paper, we have received lots of interest from about 400 people from all over the world who have been willing to pay expensive shipping costs (as high as 100% of the cost of the item which is 30 euro) in order to own it. This has been a great testament to our choice of design and the worldwide sale continues to occur.
17. What advices would you give to first-time startup founders?
Read books on startups, digital marketing, growth hacking. Anyone who reads 3 books on a topic knows more about that topic than 90% of the global population.
Stay humble, stimulate your creativity, find a good mentor, work for some companies before, either corporate, SMB or startups: you can learn in each of them.
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