Germano Invernizzi was born in Milan but grew abroad, in France. The call of his country of origin led him back to Italy to study in Bologna and complete his training in BBS, where he chose the Master in Business Management with track Made in Italy. The passion for entrepreneurship, developed precisely among the walls of Villa Guastavillani, brings him this year to present his startup Eezecard during the third edition of StartUp Ecosystem Day.
Where does your story start? What did you want to become when you were younger?
I was born in Milan but grew up in Paris, where I studied until high school. Then, when I had to choose the course of study, I felt the need to return to Italy and I finally moved to Bologna, where I had part of my family.
At the time I was determined to go for a diplomatic career, so I chose to study Political Sciences. During my studies, the passion for politics remained but I slowly grew passionate also about economics. Over the years I have also developed a growing curiosity towards the management of a company, so as soon as I graduated I decided to complete my studies with a Master strongly linked to the business world.
How did you get to BBS and what do you remember most about that period? At what point of your path did you understand that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
It was a friend of mine who told me about BBS. I participated in the Open Day and there I discovered the Master in Business Management with address Made in Italy, which I believe was proposed for the first time that year. Having always lived abroad, I wanted to study something specific about our values and our excellences, and it was precisely this that convinced me.
About the time spent in BBS I still remember very well today the atmosphere that was created among us classmates. With many of them we have remained friends and with others we have also worked together. It is a network that I still carry with me after so many years, both at a professional level and at a level of friendships.
The push towards the entrepreneurial world, on the other hand, came to me from the Master. It was the business school that gave me a particular imprint and made me develop a little more resourcefulness. In addition to a general understanding of the company, its management and the macro and micro economic aspects, the most important part of the Master’s experience was to acquire the awareness that it was possible to turn concepts and ideas into practical projects. It was really a journey that gave me the tools to materialize ideas, projects and dreams, and turn them into something concrete.
What were the experiences of the Master that have turned out to be the most useful for your career as an entrepreneur?
During the Master’s Degree, we did project works with very important companies such as Zanotti, Pquadro, and Lotto, presenting the outcomes to the various Managing Directors. This experience has helped me a lot for my entrepreneurial journey. It has been like a bootcamp, necessary to understand how to present yourself at certain levels, how to structure a project, how to work in a group. I also had the opportunity to analyze several case studies and to understand, at least in part, what actually means to manage a company.
After BBS I had the opportunity to do a very educational experience at Liu Jo as the assistant of the Marketing and Communication Director. After the internship, I decided to go back abroad, in order to complete my growth path. I went to London, where I continued to work for a few years in marketing and I also started my first startup.
Tell us something about Eezecard. How was the idea born and what were your first steps to turn it into reality?
About two and a half years ago I spent a period in Los Angeles because I wanted to attend a Master on social media at UCLA and I went to the University to understand how to register. However, having friends already living in Los Angeles, I was able to attend some birthday parties where 8 gifts out of 10 were gift cards. At that moment I got a revelation. I had never given or received a gift card, but on that occasion I realized that it was a very convenient solution and that those who received it could buy what they really wanted.
So I returned to Italy to fix some bureaucratic aspects and then move to the United States to attend the Master. By pure chance, just before leaving, I mentioned the gift cards to one of my cousins, one evening during the dinner. He also planned to start a startup, because he wanted to create something of his own after a career as a manager. At that point I no longer left and we decided to jump together in this adventure. The initial idea was very vague, we started doing market research in Italy and in the United States, spending entire days studying data that was not even easy to find (most were U.S. researches). Once we understood that there were all the conditions to realize what we had in mind, we made a first draft of the project, a static page of the site and we bought the domain. And there we began to visit a first round of companies.
When did you understand that the idea could become a company, that you could succeed?
In addition to market research, another fact confirmed that we were on the right track. That year (the year when my friends and I turned 30 years old), I ended up in dozens of group chats to decide about birthday gifts. I ended up regularly in these conversations with about 20 other people, where I knew only half of them, and where the first person who wrote usually made their debut with “Oh God, the nightmare of the gift”. The problems I had encountered in these chats were many: nobody wanted to go physically to look for the gift and waste time in the shops; everyone was reluctant to anticipate money for others; regularly the gift was the wrong one. So I said to myself: “why if this is a nightmare, don’t I help finding a solution?”
To validate our idea, however, we needed to find companies that believed in our project. At that point we involved a third person, an atypical 60-year-old startupper who has a great deal of experience in sales and fashion. With him we have visited a dozen of companies, including PinUp, Spalding & Bros and Nike. We immediately went to the big players, in order to understand already at the very first stage if our idea was good enough. The answer was very positive, even if we had nothing in our hands, apart from a static page and a good amount of things that are feasible but not yet done. So we jumped in, we registered the brand and founded the company.
What was the step immediately following the validation of your idea?
Ours is actually an atypical startup, in part because I was the youngest partner at 30, partly because of the great experience of the other three. We were able to register it as an innovative startup and the real job of positioning and branding began there. In early December of last year, we went online, in absolute beta testing. We preferred to go online without too much publicity and without too much clamor, to have as soon as possible a real taste of the market, to understand who our user was, how he got to the website and what he was looking for, how to improve the platform, and so on. We have done almost a year of testing, data analysis, consumer analysis, and from there we have virtually revolutionized the platform, which will be released in the final version in early December this year.
We started with fashion, but analyzing user feedback we created the categories Fashion & Beauty, Food & Beverage and Design and Interior, which are also the three macro excellences of Italian Heritage. Therefore, always with a view to entering the global market, we decided to develop a more heterogeneous platform, covering more fields. The biggest news is that we will sell gift cards from a Tuscan winery, rather than a Piedmontese regional produce company, or a company that makes caviar in Bergamo. Our spirit has always been to dedicate a beautiful showcase to smaller, niche, but high quality brands.
Did you feel that the market was ready for your proposal or do you have to ‘educate’ your future consumers to gift cards?
The gift card is often perceived as a somewhat impersonal gift, as if someone had no time and willingness to think about it too much. With our offer instead it becomes a very different product, oriented towards the search for Italian excellence. Another very useful thing we have developed is an algorithm for filtering searches. On the new version of the platform there is a form that asks you for whom the gift is, what are your interests, how old you are and what is your budget. With these few steps, the platform manages to filter through hundreds of proposals, leaving you to choose from those that are most suitable for your needs.
In the testing phase we have already made sales and found customers, so there is already a lot of curiosity. Surely in the United States, in Germany, in France, and in England the market is much more mature. With our new platform we would like, in the near future, to expand and start testing in countries where the market is already more receptive. At this moment, however, the goal is the official launch in Italy of the definitive platform with the new layout. We also have many related projects, including the development of an app, the application for gifts.
What is your opinion about the situation of startups in Italy?
We have had an experience perhaps a little atypical, I found partners with great experience and my back was covered. So, I was lucky enough to start already with a solid support in all the early stages where maybe you need more experience, more contacts. I did not experience it myself, but from what I could see, a problem that I have certainly encountered in Italy is that of the lack of touch points between the world of startups, investors and the institutional world. There is little collaboration and the startups are still viewed as a less serious business.
Having started your first startup in England and the second in Italy, have you noticed big differences between the two countries?
I did not find any difference. The bureaucratic part abroad is actually leaner, it takes a day instead of a week, but in my opinion this does not change the situation so much. We are led to believe that everything is easier abroad and sometimes complaining about your country is also an excuse not to start, but the difficulties are exactly the same.
In England I met guys from all over the world and what I noticed among the young people who interface with the job market is certainly the great difference from the side of flexibility. Young foreigners are certainly more used to flexible jobs and have less inclination to look for a permanent one. Two weeks ago a friend of mine sent me to dinner with 6-7 other people to celebrate the signing of a permanent contract, something that would never happen among my friends abroad. Of course everything is systematically connected, because without a permanent contract here in Italy you do not have access to credit, you can not have a home and so on. And this also affects the willingness to become an entrepreneur, to jump into the unknown.
It is often heard that starting a startup has become practically a fashion. Did you have this perception here in Italy? And abroad?
Unfortunately, founding a startup in Italy is still seen more as a pastime than a real job or a true vision, which entails great sacrifices. I notice the difference when I talk to one of my peers in France, which gives you credibility and is interested in what you do. In Italy, on the other hand, you are perceived as someone that can afford to play around because you have a family behind you, or you do not know what to do or do not want to find a ‘real’ job yet. Abroad they see it as something very positive, a real commitment and not an activity to do just to spend the day. The forma mentis of my peers in Italy is very different, but in essence creating a startup in our country is neither more difficult nor easier than creating it abroad. A startup requires time, dedication and commitment everywhere in the same way.
Germano Invernizzi, Co-founder of Eezecard
Master in Business Management / Made in Italy – Class of 2010/2011