DAMIANO’s INTERVIEW for THE GUILDHALL SCHOOL of BUSINESS and LAW
This week’s blog is dedicated to an interview Seable’s CEO Damiano La Rocca gave to Rita Bressi, a student from the Guildhall School of Business and Law. We are proud Seable’s model had such impact on Rita that she decided to use our story for her student’s project. As with everything we do at Seable, we hope to keep having an impact on young people. Please enjoy this essay by Rita.
Brief introduction to my entrepreneur’s company:
Last November, thanks to my university, I had the great opportunity to attend a meeting at the ‘Accelerator’ where I met two entrepreneurs who operate in London. Both of the ideas were really interesting but one in particular have had a huge impact on me. Damiano La Rocca is a 29 years old Italian guy who has been living in London for ten years. He have studied International Tourism Management and in 2013 founded ‘Seable’, a company which organises trips for invalid people.
–Interview (Appendix 3)
I conducted the interview on the 10th of February over the phone. It has lasted over 30 minutes and I asked him mainly open constructive questions about his leadership style, his personality and moreover some details about his company.
Like the majority of the young entrepreneurs, Damiano presented his idea at the ‘Accelerator’. He said he has worked really hard with a team of people who were trying to launch their businesses as well. Unfortunately, the first attempt didn’t go through and Damiano lost his opportunity. Nevertheless, ‘Accelerator’ found his idea so innovative that it decided to reward him by providing with some capitals to sustain the primary costs (such as market research, insurance, license and permit fees, advertising and promotion and employees expenses) and by offering him an office for two years. (Interview)
According to Linda Applegate, people should identify the unique skills and behaviors who make an entrepreneur successful rather than focusing on entrepreneurial ‘personality’ (Applegate,2016 p. 1).
Through a survey, a literature review were able to understand and demonstrate the level of comfort and self-confidence people have towards several dimensions of entrepreneurial leadership.
The survey came out that founders, compared to non founders, show a higher ‘comfort with uncertainty’, identification of opportunities, vision and influence.
This aspect applies to Damiano La Rocca as he is very confident with uncertainty and he does not feel threatened from it. Moreover, despite the young age, he has been able to catch a glimpse of the opportunity through a market research and took advantage from it in order to establish and develop his company. He had a vision and he made it come true. Besides, as every leader should, he has the ability to influence his team and makes it gain the best results to meet the organisational vision.
- Differentiation between male and female entrepreneurs (Appendix 4):
The article also shows some key differences between male and female entrepreneurs, for example, women seem to be more confident in the ability to ‘efficiently manage operations’, to create unique visions and, lastly be influent. On the contrary men demonstrate a wider confidence when in comes to ‘comfort with uncertainty’ and financial management. This last theory cannot be applied to my entrepreneur as he confessed he has not high financial skills, indeed he had hired an accountant who takes care of the expenditures. ”I am not very good at managing financial so I hired an accountant” -Damiano La Rocca. (Interview
- Differentiating ‘serial founders’ and ‘first time founders’
The big gap between serial founders and first time founders is also discussed in this study.
‘Serial founders appear more comfortable with managing uncertainty and risks’ (Kraus, J. 2016)
In Kraus’ opinion, serial founders often like establishing and launching new businesses where risks are highest. This because they enjoy creating clarity from uncertainty.’
Again, this is not Damiano’s case. In fact, he stated he does not like running risks and he acts only when he’s sure he is going to succeed.
‘Authenticity as emerged as the gold standard for leadership’ (Harvard Business Review, 2015)
Recently, three scholars argued about Authentic Leadership.
According to Jeff Preferer, a leader should not be authentic at crucial moments; Adam Granit stated: ‘be yourself is actually a terrible advice, nobody wants to see your true self’. (Bill George, 2016 p.1)
Instead, Webster describes authenticity as ”real or genuine, not copied or false, true and accurated”. Authenticity comes from an old Greek world which means ‘author’. From this Warren Bennis stated ‘you are the author of your life’.
La Rocca strongly agrees with Bennis, as he explained he believes in destiny and he thinks everything happens for a reason. His father accident played an important role on the development of this opinion. ‘If you think about it’, he said, ‘If I wouldn’t moved to London, I would have never felt my home’s nostalgia and therefore I would never established my business.’ (Interview)
-Low self-monitors VS High self-monitors
Two types of authentic leadership have been distinguished by Ibarra: Low self-monitors and High self-monitors. People of the first category tend to say everything that comes to their mind, instead, people who belong to the second group watch carefully what they say because of the impact they can have on others. (Ibarra, 2016 p.1)
Damiano is definitely a high self-monitors. He is aware of the strong influence he has on his employees, for this reason he tends to be carefully whether his actions or words.
Indeed, according to Eagly authenticity emerges from the relationship between leaders and followers. It is a reciprocal process as leaders influence their followers and vice versa. (Eagly, 2005, cited in Northouse, 2012 p.254)
Ibarra believed low self-monitors is a sign of immaturity and insensibility to the feelings of others. Therefore, this is the opposite of being authentic leaders. In the light of this study, it can be said Damiano La Rocca is an authentic leader as he regularly involve people in deciding how to achieve the business’ goals, this help people feel like they belong to an organisation which cares about them. Moreover, he said he actively affect his team through his leadership style. Nevertheless, he also added sometimes this leadership style is not efficient as the way in which he acts influences positively or negatively his team. For example, when he is more strict and tight he can gain better results then he reaches when he is friendly and funny.
On the contrary, he defined himself as a ‘slave’ for his customers, they must be always right. He acts like this in particular for the kind of people his dealing with.
”Entrepreneurial marketing is the pro-active identification and exploitation of opportunities for acquiring and retaining profitable customers through alternative approaches to risk management, resource leveraging and value creation”. (Morris, Schindehutte and LaForge, 2002:2)
In this article the initial issue of every start-ups is discussed, that is ‘how to attract customers without any user’.
The first strategy is to prefer ‘digital marketing’ rathen than traditional mass media as they are more expensive. Digital marketing instead, allows companies to advertise for $10 a day.
This is basically what Damiano did, as he said, in the beginning he used social media in the beginning such as ‘Youtube’ in order to capture the attention of a wider range of customers.
The second one is called ‘Shifting trom supply to demand’ and it consists in asking people what they want and build it forward and envisioning the perfect experience and creating it backward. Once again, this plan is followed by La Rocca. In fact, he listens to his customers, their desires and objectives and looks for different ways to meet them. For his company this means building a trustworthy and strong reputation which is vitally important to attract more potential customers. (Thales Teixeira and Michael Blanding, 2016)
The main differences between social and individual entrepreneurship are outlined through this study. (Appendix 6)
”The older and still dominant American myth involves two kinds of actors: entrepreneurial heroes and industrial drones – the inspired and the perspired.” (Reich, 1987:78).
Individual entrepreneurship, as the name may suggests, involves individuals who take actions through innovation and opportunities running risks.
On the other hand, social entrepreneurship is characterised by a participant, a group of people or a network who undertake an holistic process to develop societal innovation. In this way they create favorable opportunities. Unlike individual entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship does not involve risk taking, nay, it tends to minimize it. (Herlau, H. & Tetzschner H, 1998)
Damiano La Rocca runs a social enterprise, indeed, he has a conflictual relationship with challenges, he usually faces them up just if he is sure he can win and if he is confident enough. He doesn’t like risking. However he states the biggest challenge has been starting his business.
Despite Damiano has done a great job so far, he should be more confident in risk taking in order to expand his company abroad and enter new markets even if this wouldn’t allow him to go back to his homeland very often. Moreover, I would recommend him to improve his financial skills: La Rocca should takes charge of the financial management or, at least, having the necessary competencies to check on the accountant’s work. In order to achieve this, he could follow some course in his free time or do some researches on his own.
Besides, the marketing strategies could also be improved. Employees take care of the advertising and it looks like they did it well. However, I would advice Damiano to hire a marketing company to supply a stronger advertising which can have a bigger impact on wider range of people.
In the beginning this will raise the costs, but it is a good investment as it is going to make the company more popular, attract more customers and therefore, earn more money.
By interviewing my entrepreneur, analysing his responses and using academic articles helped me understanding leadership and entrepreneurship more deeply.
In the beginning I though people usually born with the skills necessary to make them entrepreneurs, instead by looking at Drucker’s study I now know that I was wrong. This made me feel more comfortable as I understood I can actually learn how to be a good entrepreneur and thus, how to achieve success in the future. (Drucker, 1982: 143)
Using Amabile’s research I have learned more about creativity and innovation, what they are and how to improve them. (Amabile, 1996 p.49)
Through Applegate’s study I understood how to start a business and what uncertainty actually means for entrepreneurs, how an entrepreneur manages risks and financial implicationshow male and female entrepreneurs are different from each other. (Applegate, 2016)
By analasying Bill George’s research I am now aware of authenticity really means for leaders and entrepreneurs, how important it is and how to develop and establish a strong and efficient relationship with customers and leaders. (Bill George, 2016)
Teixeira and Blanding’s article is the one I have loved the most. Attracting customers in order to make a business grow is not easy and they have proven some marketing strategies can actually change a business’ fate. This study is inspiring as it also encourages changes and therefore, it makes readers braver in decision making. (Teixeira and Blanding, 2016)
I am now aware there are various kind of businesses and each one has to be managed in and by different ways and leaders. By taking into account Tetzshner, Helge, Herlau and Henrik’s work I am now able to differentiate between Social and Individual Entrepreneurship. (Tetzschner, H. and Herlau, H. 2003)
In addition I have learned how to interview somebody, how to develop question from academia, using combinations to discuss open questions (What, how..why) and closed (do you, do this) I understood the differences between them and this can help me in approaching people as I am not a confident person. In terms of practice I now know the risks, the behaviors and what entrepreneurs actually do within their businesses.
In conclusion, the most interesting part in this assignment for me, has been researching numerous author’s point of views and critiques. By doing this I have also learned how to link various concepts even from different lectures and modules. I think this is the most important skill a student can develop as it helps enriching personal culture and develop flexibility in thinking.