Former investment banker Carlo Del Mistro is founder and managing director of the Gelato Mio chain of ice cream stores.
My family are all public sector workers so there’s no entrepreneurs in the family and most of my friends are from professional backgrounds. I had the idea of becoming an entrepreneur, but didn’t really have a role model or any experience.
I worked at Lehman Brothers and people sometimes ask what skills from Lehman Brothers I now use. Financial modelling is always quite helpful — though it’s not really required to be an entrepreneur. But bankers and investors like being able to speak to me about technical financial terms. My financial models for Gelato Mio are quite complex for a business my size.
1st July 2008 was the official launch of our first store. I thought about an IT or online company, but I didn’t really have any valuable experience in technology. Thinking about food, being from Italy, I think I have a big advantage on the product side. I had some contacts in the food sector in Italy and so I managed to start the company quite easily. If I didn’t have that kind of background it would have been more difficult. So, I chose a field that I felt I had the resources to go into and that I liked.
Thousands of things really. The biggest thing to learn is perseverance; to stick to your decisions and try to carry them through. Being an entrepreneur you often hear people saying “No” to your face. You have to be able to carry on. Then I’d say the importance of the team. No entrepreneur is a lone wolf; there’s always a team working. You need to have a great team to sustain the business and to help it grow, because otherwise it will not work. At the moment there are 27 of us, including five people on the management side.
I do enjoy it. Economically it’s not great at the moment. But, the work satisfaction is way better than it’s ever been before for me. I’m doing what I like and doing it how I like and I have all the flexibility that I can desire. Nobody really does it for money. The challenge is to build something new and to see it grow. Whatever happens, I don’t really see myself working in a standard professional organisation any more. I will probably start up something else. It’s a risk, but I prefer being self-employed.
During the winter we are more careful with our purchases and we prepare for next year. So far, every year we have doubled in size. So we had one store in 2008 and then two in 2009 and it’s four now, and we are trying to double again in 2011. So it takes a lot of work because we are upgrading our systems and doing lots of training. We are really focused on making the company more professional.
“What it takes” can be read in full in vol 22/issue 1 of Business Strategy Review.