Interview With The CEO Of Wardroba – An International Fashion Start-Up From Italy
We bring to you an interesting conversation with Mr. Fulvio Catalano, CEO of Wardroba, an international fashion start-up based out of Milan, Italy. He is an alumnus of MIP Business School of Politecnico di Milano. In this conversation, he shares with us some great insights on entrepreneurship, leadership and international business.
1. Tell us about yourself and your educational background.
My name is Fulvio Catalano, co-founder and CEO of Wardroba. I am an engineer and I moved to Milan in 2006 to work as a Commercial Customer Support Manager. This gave me the possibility to learn a lot about sales, logistics and customer experience. As the first idea of Wardroba was born in 2009, but with no experience in entrepreneurship, in 2011, I decided to attend an MBA course at MIP Business School of Politecnico di Milano where I met other two engineers, Federico Della Bella and Luca Nardone with whom we shared the passion for digital innovation and so started to design Wardroba.
2. What is your product?
Wardroba platform is formed by a website (with a web responsive design) and by an application for iOS mobile devices (and soon for Android devices). We have internally designed and developed the UX, the Database structure and the web services integration, outsourcing modular code development.
The user experience is centered on the digital closet. Both users and brands have a profile and interact on the platform like in a social network.
Users can browse to find items, other users and brands. They can upload a photo of their own items or just save them from the other users and brands, create outfits to try new sets and buy brands collections. The shopping experience is totally inside Wardroba (no forward to external websites); users can add items from different brands to the cart and complete the payment (Wardroba is integrated to Braintree secure payments services). All posts can be also shared on Facebook and soon on the other social networks.
Brands are selected by us, mainly Made in Italy in this phase, but we have recently opened selections also in the other countries. As mentioned, they are free from any digital action as we create the store on Wardroba and upload items (background removed to allow the creation of outfits by users) of the catalogue. Once an item is sold, the brand automatically receives our order and the schedule to pick the item through our courier. The only task in charge to the brand is to give the item to our courier during the pickup.
In parallel, to advertise brands and the social shopping experience on Wardroba we use the digital Ads (Facebook Ads, Google Adwords) and our social media channels to talk about our brands and their stories.
3. How did the idea of Wadroba strike to you? What are your main markets of operations as of now?
Wardroba is a Fashion Social Commerce with a selection of emerging, edgy, memorable brands and designers. In Wardroba, we replicated the typical unique seeker’s buying experience: users get inspiration from the community, search for new creations, create outfits, save the wishlist in the digital wardrobe, and buy from new talented brands. There are many new brands and designers in the worldwide scenario with high designing and creative skills. They are capable of creating innovative products in the highest quality at fair prices, strictly related to the quality of the materials and of the production processes (most of them are handmade) and not to the brand name. Customers so, pay for the quality, not for the brand only.
The value proposition of Wardroba is based on on the fact that emerging brands don’t have an easy access to digital economies. E-commerce, digital marketing, logistics, and customer care require large resources and significant upfront investments. Large e-commerce platforms don’t offer a solution, as they are dominated by economies of scale and big brands. In-house e-commerce solutions are expensive and time-consuming.
Nowadays, where social networks and e-commerce are strictly connected we offer them at no fixed costs (and zero risks) but only a commission on sales, a complete solution to sell their collections:
– A store in a Fashion Social Commerce platform, with social network functionalities
– Marketing and Social Media campaigns through our channels
– Management of sales, logistics and customer support services
– International B2b distribution using the digital channel and the store on Wardroba as an online showroom.
In Wardroba new brands can be focused on design and production of their collection, we do all the rest.
4. What were your initial challenges in building up your core team?
The team was formed since the beginning of Wardroba in a strongly and exciting collaborative mood. The core team is made of the three co-founders I already presented to you and three software engineers recently graduated at Politecnico di Milano University, who joined Wardroba since the beginning and contributed in a big way to create the digital platform: Riccardo Lazzati, Nicola Casamassima and Jacopo Gasparetti. They are also minority shareholders.
Even if we discuss and agree together about strategic decisions, the roles are:
Fulvio Catalano is the CEO; he takes care of the front end design, the selection and management of brands, business development and marketing.
Federico Della Bella is the CFOO and CMO; he is in charge with business planning, fundraising, strategy and marketing.
Luca Nardone is the CTO; he is in charge with the whole IT development.
Nicola Casamassima – IT development
Jacopo Gasparetti – IT development
Rizzardo Lazzati – IT development
We have partnerships with external collaborators for other activities:
Social Media Manager – for communication campaigns on our social media
Fashion Manager – for scouting of new brands and international distribution
We are also incubated in Polihub, the Startup District of Politecnico di Milano and associated to Assolombarda.
The main challenge to create the right team stands on the difficulty to find people not skilled (No young entrepreneur is already skilled on a Venture!), but to find people with a strong will and innovating mind are capable of going ahead among many difficulties. We were able to launch Wardroba with a small amount of money while we were studying at MBA and working in other Companies.
5. What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last six months?
It was the expansion of our business model, giving a place also to younger designers and creative private people (this project is being launched right now). Any decision is taken jointly with the other members of the team as the enthusiasm and the consideration that we are going in the right direction are the fuel of our engine.
6. What is next on the radar- geographical expansion or expansion in your offerings, or both?
Wardroba offers new brands products, mainly Made in Italy for now, but open also to other countries. We are expanding searching for customers, users and investors in the Far East (India, China, Korea and Japan), Australia, USA and UK. Next year we will approach Russia and Brazil.
7. How interconnected are the concepts of leadership and entrepreneurship according to you?
I think that leadership is a tool to be applied to entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur has to be the first to start to work and the last to switch off the PC in the night. If your team has 6 entrepreneurs you have a big engine made of 6 mutual leaders. When I am strong, I am a leader of my colleagues. When they are stronger than me, they are my leaders. That is a team.
8. You are currently operating in the US, UK, Korea, what were the macroeconomic factors you had to consider when you were launching your brand overseas?
We use the power of the web. A smart way to work allows you to reach any country at any time. We are strong on Facebook Ads and Google Ads (Adwords, Shopping etc…) as we studied them a lot and tried and tried. Now we know what to do to save money and get the highest score. We selected countries on language first and time zone to test different reactions. USA, UK and Australia were the first. The Far East area was introduced to test our value proposition: quality products from new Made in Italy brands.
9. What advice can you give to the future entrepreneurs who want to launch an international business eventually?
Never back down. Use your brain and you can do everything in the smartest way.