A chat with…Chiara Russo, Co-founder & CEO of Codemotion
Welcome back to Endeavor talks about! This month we had a chat with Chiara Russo, Co-founder & CEO of Codemotion, the biggest tech community to help developers grow.
Communities are invaluable from a personal and professional growth perspective. When you have a problem and you can discuss it with someone else who has already dealt with it, the value is greater than any training course.
Tell us about yourself: where are you from? Tell us about your background.
I studied computer engineering. Technology and STEM subjects were very much in my family, as my father is an electrical engineer and my mother a mathematician. I wrote my first lines of code when I was eight years old and began to dream of changing the world by programming.
Codemotion is the company with which you joined Endeavor along with your partner Mara Marzocchi. What was the spark that convinced you to throw yourself into this venture?
Codemotion was founded by chance, one day I was visiting a professor at the university. I met Mara, my future co-founder, there. Mara was telling the professor that she would no longer be organizing a well-attended event, the Java Day, a conference on the Java programming language, because she could no longer keep up with it on her own. Since I had been very involved in university activities, the professor threw out the idea that I should be the one to help Mara, and I was. At that time there were no events where the content was chosen by developers for other developers, only events wanted by big companies to sell products, so the Java Day was very successful. We decided then to open it up to all languages, renaming it Codemotion. At that point, the event grew even more, crossing the Italian borders, to the point where we found ourselves having to choose between Codemotion and our own jobs. We chose to take the plunge and founded our first startup, with neither of us having the slightest experience in the matter. The first 4 years were an experiment in which we figured out what a company was and how to grow it, organizing conferences everywhere in EMEA. At that point the company was sustaining itself, but in 2017 we chose to diversify and make it scalable by moving into venture capital. With our seed round of €1.5 Million we hired management and developed the first release of the platform to take Codemotion online. We launched it at the end of 2019.
And that’s when Covid hit.
That’s right. We closed a €6 million round in April 2020, a very sensitive time. Because of Covid, we would havelost €4 million in revenues overnight. On one hand, we had to start the whole thing all over again, but on the other hand, we were lucky, because it was the opportunity to make the transition online. We had to accelerate operations, but we were able to develop in few months what we had planned to develop in two years, and by 2021 the platform was already well and truly up and running. This also led to a turnover of the team. Some stayed and kept growing with us, while others rightly took paths that were more suited to them.
What is the role of community in the working world today? Could an approach like Codemotion’s benefit other industries?
Absolutely. Communities are invaluable from a personal and professional growth perspective. When you have a problem and you can discuss it with someone else who has already dealt with it, the value is greater than any training course. I have also experienced this as an entrepreneur, that’ s what Endeavor is all about after all.
One of the most important aspects of my role is to push people to look forward, to be the driver of our vision.
What is your role in the company as CEO now? How did you and your co-founder decide to share the roles?
Although I am the programmer out of the two of us, paradoxically Mara has always been the face of the devs side of Codemotion. She mostly follows the content line for the community, while I follow the business and entrepreneurial side. One of the most important aspects of my role is to push people to look forward, to be the driver of our vision.
And how do you manage to do this, how do you maintain the ambitiousness of a company to make it grow?
Among the things I do, I hire managers who are better than me. This is my first time as an entrepreneur, and I want my C-level people to be experienced, people who will help me grow. To embark on the adventure of climbing a company, you should not be afraid to engage with people who may know more than you do, or who are so willing to put themselves out there that they feel like the company is theirs. With these kinds of people, you can grow.
So the team is what makes the difference between a successful company and one that fails?
The team and the ability to execute, which are related. Lots of people are able to pull good ideas out of their hats, the difference is the ability to actually put them into action, and it is the team that makes that possible. The important thing, however, is to remember that it is not enough for people to be good, they need to be integrated into a context where they are fulfilled and continually challenged to do better.
It was not easy to learn how to share the vision of the company with the managers and leave the groundwork to them, I made so many mistakes in the process, but it was necessary to go from being a startup to a scaleup.
How do you choose collaborators?
Experience and skills matter a lot, but it depends on the level of the person you want to hire. As for junior collaborators the technical competence part is less of a priority, because you can acquire that in the field, the important thing is that you feel a connection with the company. Also, regarding junior employees, I think there are more important things than accumulating titles, like having had experience abroad and having shown, in general, a strong passion and ability to step out of the box. The only technical requirement in Codemotion is at least to speak English or Spanish.
How do you foresee developer profession in the near future?
I see it growing, and it will keep growing, because we are surrounded by technology. Ninety-five percent of companies today are going through a digital transformation. The way a developer is seen has changed from being a nerd in the garage to a key player in innovation. It is an increasingly sought-after role, especially in the security field. Right now there are so many jobs and so few developers compared to the demand, so there is a kind of upward war on RALs that is kind of spiking the market.
Let’s talk about mistakes: what mistakes have you made and what have you learned?
I have made so many that it is difficult to list them in a row! Perhaps the biggest mistakes we made as a company were on internationalization, but mine specifically were related to the difficulty of delegating, not because I was a control freak, but really because I was not used to it. It was not easy to learn how to share the vision of the company with the managers and leave the groundwork to them, I made so many mistakes in the process, but it was necessary to go from being a startup to a scaleup.
Talking with other entrepreneurs, with mentors, with board members, were all important pieces for the construction of the new Codemotion.
How has the selection process at Endeavor been in your experience?
It was a wonderful challenge. In 2019, we already had the ambition to develop ourselves as an online platform, but we were still almost exclusively active offline. Talking with other entrepreneurs, with mentors, with board members, were all important pieces for the construction of the new Codemotion. We received a comeback at the Miami ISP, and I remember that despite the disappointment of not getting in, the feedback we received had been worthy. The selection process itself is already such a valuable part. Needless to say, then, we formed precious and long-lasting relationships with other entrepreneurs in the network .. In short, I love Endeavor!