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Interview with Nicola Junior Vitto of Blomming

Blomming's logo 
One of the keynote speakers at the meeting "Becoming a start-up entrepreneur", organised by Sardegna Ricerche's Start-up Desk on Thursday 18 September at the MEM in Cagliari, was Nicola Junior Vitto, co-founder of Blomming, the social commerce platform, who looked back on his business career and spoke about the 'lean start-up' approach, which was the focus of the competition launched by Sardegna Ricerche, entitled "From the Idea to the Business Model".

In preparation for the event, he told us about his experience with Blomming and shared some tips for start-up entrepreneurs. With input also from two other panellists in the meeting, Cosimo Panetta and Irene Cassarino (The Doers), he also explained the 'lean start-up' concept. At the end of the interview he also provided a short reading list for aspiring start-uppers.

When and how did the idea of Blomming come into being?
Blomming was born at the end of 2010, building on an earlier initiative of mine, and following a meeting with Alberto D'Ottavi. My experience was in products, web technologies and e-commerce, and I wanted to design a system bringing together e-commerce and social media. Alberto on the other hand had a strong record in the web and social media. So we joined forces, together with Andrea Salicetti for the technology side and launched our start-up in a market which would later be labelled "Social Commerce". Blomming's corporate structure was completed in July 2011 by the entry of Matteo Cascinari as partner and CEO: Matteo was a former senior manager in large Italian and International companies and a business angel so he helped us complete our team and start sourcing funding. This came about in July 2012 when the Vertis Sgr investment fund purchased a share in our company, allowing us to expand our team and business.

What is Blomming today?
Blomming is a SaaS (Software as a Service) e-commerce platform. It allows small online retailers to open their online store from a single centralised management point. All they need to do is create their product pages and they can immediately sell from their website or blog, Facebook page, Blomming itself, mobile applications and in the future from other platforms too. Blomming provides all the functions required of an advanced secure e-commerce system: shopping basket, checkout, payment system, order management, exchange of text messages with customers. Each store created with Blomming can be shared on the social network as if it were a blog post. Blomming makes e-commerce ubiquitous, bringing product sales functions directly to potential customers, through the audience of individual sellers.
Together with this we have also created a marketplace advertising the products of our top sellers, and an intuitive affiliation system enabling anyone (typically bloggers or social media lovers) to "re-sell" the sellers' products by means of a like on Facebook, a Tweet or a Pin and to earn a commission if the product is eventually sold through their referral. We are currently reviewing the integration and logic of some of our products and functionalities, in line with the new business model (our original platform came to have some 29,000 shops from worldwide users).

Could you describe the 'lean start-up' approach?
The 'lean start-up' method is modelled on the principles of lean manufacturing, a production system developed by Toyota, which has been transferred, adapted and applied to the entrepreneurial world. To me, the key principle is that the unit of measurement of a start-up's progress is "validated learning", i.e. what the entrepreneur learns over time about the components of his or her business model, compared with the original assumptions. Learning is acquired through structured comparison with the market, a testing process which follows a build-measure-learn cycle.

The lean start-up method is a conceptual model, it's not a pre-packaged plan setting out steps to be followed. It is designed to adapt to actual business conditions, helping the entrepreneur to operate in conditions of extreme uncertainty and increasing the start-up's chance of succeeding, by minimizing the wasting of resources, time and costs.

What suggestions would you give to anyone wishing to transform a business idea into a start-up?
I had wanted to become an entrepreneur since I was a child, it was my dream and I managed to achieve it after a few years as an employee. While the experience I gained as an employee was of fundamental importance, had I remained an employee I would never have been able to learn in such a short time what I then learnt from my own start-up.
While there probably are no universal rules, I can give some tips based on my personal experience:
- follow your gut feelings and your heart: the road will be long and winding - often more so than you anticipated - and you must really believe in your vision to launch your own business. So my advice is never to launch a start-up if you're not 100% convinced of its validity: any unresolved doubts will only deepen over time.
- find the right people to partner up with: being in a business together is a bit like being married. Probably you'll spend the greater part of the day together and it's important to get along well: personal incompatibilities will exacerbate any problems. If there are any misunderstandings or overlapping responsibilities, clear them up from the start: today's small misunderstanding might well become a reason for winding up the business tomorrow.
- enjoy every day appreciating the freedom to make your own choices, which of course will also mean taking the risk of making mistakes; but also savour the satisfaction of having created something which never existed before.
- I realised early on that going at it alone with just a written presentation I wouldn't get very far: so, in order, I found a business partner, I resigned from the excellent job I had and I started to build the prototype of my idea. Still, it took me one and a half years before I secured the first funding.
So always bear in mind that the process might take longer than you thought and that you must be ready to take some steps back, take significant risks or start again from scratch if necessary.
Last but not least: if you want to launch an internet start-up and you don't know how to programme, look for a technology-savvy co-founder or, if necessary, learn the minimum skills needed to make a prototype. While the technology is not the be-all and end-all of your idea, on the internet it is nevertheless a key tool, and delegating technical management to third-party providers could discourage prospective partners and/or investors.

I'd like to add some of the sources I found useful when I set out on my new path.
- The Art of the Start - Guy Kawasaki
- Business Model Generation - Alexander Osterwalder
- The Start-up Owner's Manual - Steve Blank (more recent than 'The Four Steps to the Epiphany' I had read)
- The Lean Start-up - Eric Ries - (reads like a novel )
- The 4-Hour Workweek (a seminal work – simple but with excellent food for thought).

Pagine correlate
Becoming a Start-up Entrepreneur

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Sara Palmas