A chat with Enrico Casati, Co-founder of Velasca
Endeavor talks about… is a monthly column created to let you know the amazing people who give life to the Endeavor network as entrepreneurs, board members, and mentors.
This month we had a chat with Enrico Casati, Co-founder of Velasca, the Direct-To-Consumer brand that offers Made in Italy shoes at affordable prices. How? Shoes travel directly from the artisan’s hands to the customer’s feet!
Tell us about yourself: where are you from? Tell us about your background.
I studied Business Administration at Bocconi University and did an exchange program in Denver, Colorado. There I discovered a less theoretical and more practical way of doing things. During my third year, I became interested in entrepreneurship and consequently in the digital world. I did my master’s degree in Shanghai, where I also interned for an Italian mannequin manufacturer. I enjoyed the experience so much that I realized that the spirit of a small dynamic company can be very fun and engaging, as opposed to massive corporations where you might feel a bit alienated. Velasca, founded with Jacopo Sebastio, is definitely the result of this.
In fact, Velasca is the company with which you joined Endeavor, along with your partner Jacopo Sebastio. How important is the relationship between the two of you?
It’s fundamental. I’ve always been more involved in innovation and tech, e-commerce and communication, while Jacopo has been more involved in product design, retail, finance and sourcing. We run a very horizontal company, so feel comfortable with the fact that there are two of us leading it, each thinking in their own way, because it’s also through contrast that the best ideas and solutions are born. We delegate many things to the team, which is very good and structured, but Jacopo and I always do the new things, no matter what they are.
We were inspired by the business model of small artisanal stores, but make it scalable through our management and marketing approach.
The intuition behind Velasca is that of “recovering” a traditional profession, that of the shoemaker, and adapting it to a digital model. How did this idea come about and how did you turn it into reality?
The idea was conceived in Singapore, from a common inconvenience: I couldn’t find a pair of shoes I liked at the right price. So I asked Jacopo, whom I would join with my brother in Indonesia on holidays, to bring me a pair of moccasins, and we came up with the idea to turn it into a business: to bring Italian handmade shoes to the world, thanks to the “direct to consumer” model. We were inspired by the business model of small artisanal stores, but make it scalable through our management and marketing approach.
Has this had an impact on the world of Italian artisans?
I’m happy to say, yes. We’ve helped a number of long-standing artisans in the Marche region recover from the 2012/2013 crisis, who went from making 8,000 pairs of shoes in a year to making 30,000. We want to continue to enhance the importance of Made in Italy, but modernize it a bit.
How did you get early investors to trust you?
We went through individuals first, then business accelerators and business angels. We were convincing because we were very precise about the numbers as long as being very focused on the brand’s intangibles. The most important thing when talking to investors is clarity. You have to be able to explain how you intend to multiply the results based on your current numbers, in a very concrete way.
6) What makes the difference between a successful startup and a failed one?
Sixty percent of the difference is all about your timing when entering the market. At the heart of any business there is always one question: would the people I’m targeting pay this amount of money for the product I’m offering? If the answer is yes, you have to ask yourself: is this the right time to start? Will this be a sustainable process? This is very important. It is true that the strategy of selling a product below cost, not worrying about not turning a profit because the goal was to make the exit anyway, has worked for some. But it is a risky strategy, which at best can bring success to the founders, not to the market. The other difference is made by the people, their ability to believe in a project and put all their experience into it. Finally, a business model must be created that can be multiplied on various markets, which is what differentiates companies from stores, or startups from SMEs.
How do you choose collaborators?
What works for us is finding people with a desire to do and learn. Personality is also very important, because that’s where the “Velasca spirit” comes from. It’s also important to be able to give constructive criticism, business criticism and never personal criticism, without pointing fingers or raising your voice.
It is true that the strategy of selling a product below cost, not worrying about not turning a profit because the goal was to make the exit anyway, has worked for some. But it is a risky strategy, which at best can bring success to the founders, not to the market.
Let’s talk about mistakes: what mistakes have you made and what have you learned?
On the subject of people, in the past we’ve promoted people who weren’t right for the new role, or hired others who didn’t share our company values in terms of behavior with the rest of the team. From a business perspective, one mistake I only see now is getting too fixated on the single shoe category. The pandemic has made us realize how fragile such a specific business model is, and now we’re adapting. You don’t have to radically change the ideas you start with, but having the ability to add pieces that make you less fragile is very important.
What has been your experience with the Endeavor selection process?
In terms of values, Endeavor has always been amazing. Partnerships allow for incredible opportunities, like the Harvard course, which I did. I hope that in the future we will have more and more opportunities to meet other fellow entrepreneurs, including international ones.