Attending startup weekends is always stimulating, but the one iStarter organized in Turin a couple of weeks ago impressed me in a special way. On one hand because it was the first major milestone of our project, scheduled even before the official launch (planned for next Saturday), but mainly because it amplified some feelings I have gained about our country and (even more) about the approach and attitudes we Italians became accustomed to over time.
We are people with a tendency to complain about almost everything, and who expect that our complaining can trigger someone else’s action to find a remedy for a reduction (alleged or real) of our privileges and well-being (something we are just not able to accept). Even in the evidence that the time has come to make some sacrifices.
And outside our borders we are known as tricky, unreliable people living in the country that has always a law to protect any whim, and this is why we are not normally considered good business partners. It looks like fighting to protect our immunity from punishment (even if deserved) is the main goal of our existence.
And I’m not talking just about what you read in the news, the great trials and injustices. This is also true for many small, everyday things: we are those who evade taxes, who park on pedestrian crossings or in the spots reserved for the disabled; we double park to go get a cup of coffee (ever tried to do the same in Los Angeles or London?), we get caught speeding and then challenge the ticket (yes, because the radar was not visible… try to explain this concept to a foreigner!).
In short, we always have a good reason to break the rules. We just don’t like them. And we keep going on like this because we got used to the concept that often you can just walk away with no punishment, in a constant race to prove who is smarter.
I firmly believe that this attitude of constant challenging the institutions at all levels is the main cause of all the inefficiencies of our country. A situation which is now out of hand: when the majority of people behave in this way, rules and laws enforcement becomes impossible. The only hope lies in the construction of a different culture in future generations. In short, a matter that our parents would have called civic education.
Considering this (non-exciting) picture, when I see someone who, instead of wasting time complaining or cheating, works hard to build her future with her own hands, I notice and appreciate that. At the same time it strengthens my optimism, that (so far) nobody was able to kill. Yes, we can do it, working from the bottom up.
The iStarter startup weekend was even better than that: there was a (totally unexpected) time coincidence which turned a nice event (which already represents a breath of fresh air for anyone having a little bit of hope and trust in young people, our country and its future) into something even more interesting.
I was there on Saturday, in the room where the business ideas which survived the rigorous selection (more than 60 of them were left behind) were pitched to us in rapid succession. With my computer lazily resting on my lap (so to justify its name), I was listening with interest to the young members of the teams, each one determined to convince us that their idea was the best.
As the 11 presentations passed by one after the other, while just glancing at my monitor I noticed several tweets commenting on a press conference held somewhere in Northern Italy that will probably keep the media busy for the next six months.
Two Italies in comparison: one side which work on change the world, the other one which waste time
Out there was the usual one, with its power struggles, the pre-election boutades coming from every political party (which can sound convincing only to neo-voters), the relentless and often unethical struggle to conquer positions and the associated privileges. The Italy that doesn’t know words like efficiency, sacrifice, personal investment, risk. The Italy aiming at protecting its muffled security and access to public money, the one I’ve been hoping for too many years could disappear.
And here, right in front of me, was a different Italy. Much quieter, made up of young people determined, who works for change the world with their ideas and projects. People who work hard, among many difficulties, but who do not give up. Young people who risk their own (often scarce) resources and look for others with whom to share their bet. For better or for worse. No easy powerful positions, no privileges.
These are the young people who can put our country back on track. An army that does not waste time, that wakes up in the morning and starts to bite the dust to bring home some results. I dare (but like) to compare their commitment to the one the generation before mine had, in the post-war years: the commitment that led to the economic boom of our country.
The young teams we met are of the kind who is not scared by uncertainty, who choose to jump in the international competition instead of spending their time complaining and pointing out how better other countries are (they seem to know that very well though); young people who have no fear of insecurity pushed to the extreme, who are thrilled by what they do. And it doesn’t matter if they talk about computer science or mechanics, biotechnology, new materials. What really matters and clearly distinguishes them, is their passion.
Unfortunately these are the young people who will run away from Italy in a few years, tired of fights, lies, cheating and legalized robbery. I’m sure that some of these guys in a few months will be in London, or Berlin, or in Silicon Valley. Too bad, more will come (and leave), and then others until our country changes, until we learn how to offer our talents a competitive working environment. What matters now is not to lose the momentum.
It is immediate for me to compare them, these young entrepreneurs-to-be, with some I saw showing up for job interviews and ask (as the very first question) how long it takes to get a permanent job. That’s their goal, at the age of 25. Muffled security. That’s the other Italy, where rights come before duties (duties?), those who want to live comfortably and secure from day one.
In good times a certain tolerance for this attitude can be understood, but now we need a different approach, we need more of these young guys who believe in their skills and have big dreams (yes, you must aim high to succeed). I’m talking about startups today, but this simple concept applies regardless of the chosen career path.
The big goals are those that make you dream, they give you the strength that makes you eager to conquer the world (a sentence we heard several times from the teams, camouflaged as a joke). And when you fight on your own, using your own skills, your own resources, that’s when you succeed.
Yes, because everybody is good at doing great things with someone else’s money. And in the land of no-rules, no-laws, and no control, easy (and sometimes predictable) failures are tolerated. Maybe you are even given more opportunities. But how can you take a challenge seriously if you have nothing to lose?
Failing is a problem for everyone, but it can be good. Failing is ok when it hurts, when it comes after months or years of struggle, having invested time and sacrifices in your startup project. It is good only if you understand why you failed.
That’s why we founded iStarter. To demonstrate to young candidate entrepreneurs that we believe in their model. That it is possible to be successful just using our own resources, maybe joining forces with others who want to share a risk, in our country or abroad. We need to convince our partners that Italy is not only what you see and read in the news. Yes, doing healthy business with Italian entrepreneurs is possible.
Coming back to the startup weekend, the selection was inevitably tough, and not all of the talented teams that we listened to moved on to the next step. And as inevitable is that we feel sorry for those who didn’t make it, because all have shown great commitment and determination.
But this is just the first try, iStarter’s doors are always open and they can come back, with a different idea or the same one redesigned. Anyway I’m sure this was a good experience for them, reinforcing their working approach and their attitude to appreciate every opportunity, wisely using the available resources and struggling to get what they want from life.
Very good then Marco, Gianluca, Giuseppe, Stefano, Giulia (in order of presentation), and all the others up to Massimo. Thanks for having dedicated part of your valuable time to explain to us your recipe for a better world, and what you would like us to do for you. I hope to see you again in iStarter in the coming weeks to refine your business idea with our team, and to join you in the first steps of your successful company.
Now, after a couple of weeks passed since the event, two weeks spent in my office dealing with other matters, other commitments, other deadlines, a question spontaneously comes to my mind for the iStarter team: have we set the date for the next Startup Weekend yet?