The Startup Geeks interview with Davide Conforti, CEO of OfCourseMe
Startup Geeks is the reference community for startup founders in Italy. An environment that is still quite young and that is really in need of reference points. In just one year, Giulia and Alessio have succeeded in the difficult undertaking of becoming such a reference point and this why we at OfCourseMe are proud to report the text of our CEO Davide Conforti’s interview with Startup Geeks a year ago. It is also important to note that all the objectives for 2019 mentioned in the interview have been achieved… but enough spoilers. Below is the full text, while the original can be found here.
Hi Davide, for those who don’t know you, tell us something about yourself and what you were doing before you founded a startup
Hi everyone and thank you!
I am 36 years old, I have been married to Irene for over 6 years and I am the father of Jacopo and Elia; I am a bass player in a Pink Floyd tribute band and I studied Engineering at PoliMi; I spent 10 pre-startup years involved in strategic consultancy and data intensive roles in a scale-up; I have a background in finance and analysis and now I mainly deal with the commercial aspect of OfCourseMe.
Francesco, co-founder of OfCourseMe with the role of COO, was also born in 1982; married to Valentina, he lives in beautiful Pavia; he graduated in History and is a living example of how we can re-invent ourselves professionally through study and hard work. Francesco is an optimal Marketer, with Product and Operations skills and over 10 years of experience in the digital field.
What is OfCourseMe?
OfCourseMe was founded as an indexing and organisation platform for online training content, aggregated by partner platforms to make the search for the training course you are interested in immediate, in a context characterised by a huge amount of quality content, albeit totally disorganised/fragmented and therefore not very accessible.
While maintaining a B2C soul (namely our FREE site, where you can search, compare and scrutinise the approximately 200k of content that we organise), we focused on the development and marketing of corporate B2B solutions that allow training/people development managers to have the OfCourseMe functions embedded in their corporate training environment (in jargon, LMS).
Why did you create this particular startup? What requirements did you wish to satisfy?
As often happens, we were motivated by both personal and business reasons:
- Personal: Fra and I wanted to try, after years of fighting in the trenches together, to build a lasting and valuable business, to be managed in line with our ethical-professional principles,
- Business: in a context where the average life of a skill has fallen to less than 5 years (it was once 20+ years), people must train continuously to remain relevant in the job market; at the same time, if approximately 20% of the workforce of a company runs the risk of becoming “obsolete” every year, this is a huge challenge for any business affected by digitisation (all).
At the same time, the amount of multi-source and multi-format training content available out there has grown exponentially over the past 10 years thanks to the MOOC phenomenon and other formats, such as podcasts/eBooks/etc. OfCourseMe organises this abundance in one place, and makes it easily accessible to companies (B2B) and individual lifelong learners (B2C) through a search and recommendation engine that is continually improving.
What is the market like in Italy in this sector? Do you have competitors?
The reference market is the corporate e-learning segment that has several players that have been established for years but that is still poorly consolidated (numerous “small” players): there are those who sell LMS, those who produce courses, those who provide consultancy in the training sector, those involved in funded training, etc.
Currently, there is no direct competitor to OfCourseMe in the domestic market (perhaps – if taken to an extreme – LinkedIn Learning?), even if some LMS vendors are developing functionalities similar to what we offer, though not search engine specialists and much less content organisation and curated recommendations.
In reality, we receive many requests for partnerships, since ours is an open solution, created to integrate with APIs in various types of environments, to complement existing services and solutions and thus not forcing any switching costs on the customer.
How do you select the platforms you include on OfCourseMe?
Requests from our customers, quality of content at source, diversity of content, only mobile-friendly sources, a healthy mix of FREE vs. PAID content.
How do you select your employees/collaborators?
To date, we have hired only senior staff; this was fundamental because the Team works 100% remotely and therefore, we need people who know what to do and who work independently for objectives/deliverables; we found them, and they are phenomenal.
The personal characteristics we seek MUST be in line with our values/code of ethics: responsibility (individual and collective), integrity, transparency, intellectual humility, adaptability.
What are the goals for this new year?
We closed a really positive 2018, which saw us break even in less than 12 months from our foundation and sell our service to several large companies!
In 2019, we have Budget to do at least double that.
The determinants of growth will be:
- deep penetration of the domestic market; test another 1-2 countries and 1 other market segment;
- the release of a new product in Q1 and progressively build new features on it;
- the addition of other content/sources on top to the 200k that we already organise.
What is the most difficult and most satisfying part of a job like yours?
Most difficult: mitigating the cyclic nature of a corporate business, while continuously developing the product; building a solid and distinctive corporate culture, clearly expressing the values of the Team and that must be reaffirmed every day with everyone’s behaviour (especially when you are criticised or have to criticise someone); going back to being husbands and fathers at home.
Most satisfying: customers who buy your product and are satisfied with it; the Team that believes in it and takes responsibility for developments, without excuses; immediately being able to grow in self-financing (something we are particularly proud of).
What advice would you give to all those young people who want to start a startup?
First of all – statistically – the majority of the most successful startups/companies are founded by people over 40 years of age.
Therefore, I would humbly recommend a young person get some solid experience first:
- accumulate funds for the bootstrap,
- be credible (in the eyes of customers, the Team, potential investors),
- build a solid network for promoting the initiative (= selling)
In the startup phase:
- Build a cash-generating business right away, because – however much you have collected from Angels, VC, crowd, etc. – you do not want to go to bed every night wondering whether the boat will stay afloat. From this point of view, risking your all helps to give the “right motivation”.
- Decide immediately – in addition to the business model / strategy / go to market / funding / etc. – whatever you want the culture of your company to be, what its founding principles are, such as the fundamental values on which you will NEVER be willing to compromise; if you do not, the people you hire will determine the culture for you and you will lack a fundamental criterion for deciding who you want to hire, promote, lose.