Growing up in Northern Italy, Arrigo Bodda dreamed of becoming an architect. He chose instead to study law, a handy pre-requisite for a career in human resources in a country where staffing involves a lot of legal work. His corporate career neatly coincided with the emergence of the European Union, a phenomenon that deeply influenced his work and life. After much success in the executive suites of global enterprises, Arrigo now has the opportunity to pursue his passion for design and architecture as an angel investor with Walnut Venture Associates and as an entrepreneur.
In this lighthearted interview, Arrigo shares some of the valuable wisdom gained in navigating large multinational enterprises across cultures and across disciplines. He offers valuable suggestions for founders of startups seeking to do business with multinational companies. He also provides an appealing model of finding the right balance between following your passions and making concessions to reality.
Among the Topics Covered Were:
- Arrigo Bodda Bio
- Living & Working in Europe vs. in the United States
- The Secrets of Successful Cross-cultural Relations in the Workplace
- How Arrigo Bodda found His Career Path – Deep Wisdom on Career Development from an HR Specialist
- “The suggestion that I have for everyone that is listening now, and that they are thinking where I should make my first move, my recommendation is make your first move in a place where the people around you are better than you.”
- European Union 2.0
- Tips for Startups Navigating Huge Multinationals
- The Value of an MBA from IMD
- Starting a Company in Thailand
- What Kind of Companies Arrigo Bodda Likes to Invest In
- What Does Arrigo Bodda Look for in a Founding Team?
- Don’t Invest in Startups Alone – Join a Group, It will Save you Money & Be More Fun than Investing Alone
Transcript of Arrigo Bodda, "European Angel," Ep. 13
GUEST: Executive and angel investor ARRIGO BODDA
SAL DAHER: Welcome to Angel Invest Boston, conversations with Boston’s most interesting angels and founders. I am Sal Daher, and my goal for this podcast is to learn more about building successful new companies. The best way I can think of doing this is by talking to people who have done it. In our 13th episode, we will be speaking with HR executive, founder, and angel investor, Arrigo Bodda. Arrigo, thanks for taking the time to be interviewed.
ARRIGO BODDA: Sal, thank you very much, it is really a pleasure to be here for me.
Arrigo Bodda Bio
SAL DAHER: You’re welcome, this is tremendous. Arrigo Bodda has over 25 years’ experience of international business in different industries. IT, electronics, metals, industrial, and consumer goods. Most recently he led the human resources organization function of large global companies. Currently, Arrigo is making his first investments as an angel investor in the USA with Walnut Ventures [Walnut Venture Associates], which is the group that I belong to. Internationally, mainly South Europe, and Southeast Asia. He is keen on supporting funded companies with mentorship and professional advice, and I’ve seen this firsthand with Arrigo, and investors in some companies together. He also is interested in real estate, and has launched his first startup in Thailand.
Arrigo holds a bachelor’s degree in public law from Turin University in Italy, and a master’s degree in business administration from IMD in Switzerland. He actively volunteers at Career Collaborative in Boston. Is a member of the Milton historical Society, Amnesty International, and Slow Food. Arrigo lived and worked in five countries of different continents, he is fluent in English and Italian, with conversational knowledge of Spanish and French. He co-owns a professional football team, the Green Bay Packers. One share, he is crying.
ARRIGO BODDA: I would like to talk about that.
SAL DAHER: He is crying.
ARRIGO BODDA: Next question, please.
SAL DAHER: The Packers have just lost out to the finals in the Super Bowl.
ARRIGO BODDA: That’s right.
Living & Working in Europe vs. in the United States
SAL DAHER: Arrigo, you grew up in Italy, then worked in several European countries, and eventually the US. Kind of like compare and contrast life and work in Europe and the United States.
ARRIGO BODDA: Sure Sal, I believe that I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to follow a dream all my life, and the dream of my life was always to travel. I always enjoy knowing new countries, new people, new way of living. That’s happened professionally, because after the first 15 years of my career in my own country, that is Italy, I had opportunity to start to travel for business, and to work in other country. They came to the US in year 2000. It was a very, very interesting experience, because my English was not where it should have been, and so the very, very, week or monthwas really a tough experience.
I really remember being… walking in a meeting in which I was the only non-native speaker in the room. That was quite a challenge, I tell you. Of course, I was operational from day one, so I had yet to understand everything, so I couldn’t miss things. Really challenge you, but again, like any tough experience, you grow out of that. If you have a willing to learn, if you have a desire to learn, things happen. Well my experience as you say, happened in the US in three different states, so I can pretty much compare lifestyle and way of working of the Midwest where I was first, and then of the northeast where I’ve been, and different states in Europe.
In Italy where I grew up, and Belgium, Switzerland, Spain. I learned to recognize, that is the most important thing. I believe what you need to have is a desire to see more then the differences, the commonality. That’s what will help you to be successful in one place, or in another place. Bring from your previous experience what you have learned to do well, and try to export in the new environment. Recognize that there is something in your environment that matter, and you need to work on this. I give you an example.
SAL DAHER: Okay.
The Secrets of Successful Cross-cultural Relations in the Workplace
ARRIGO BODDA: Spelling. From the country where I came from, no one really cared if you make a spelling mistake. They notice immediately here in the US that you cannot make spelling mistakes, because people immediately will assume that you are not accurate. One thing that in Europe may be not important here, is very important.
SAL DAHER: In the US, as well as the way you speak and your vocabulary, it is a mark of how educated you are. If you make spelling mistakes, it indicates that you are not someone who is well-educated. It is jarring. I think that’s how I see it, because I’m a foreigner as well, and spelling in English is a major problem. My native language, Portuguese, is phonetic, so spelling is not a problem. Everybody who knows how to read in Portuguese knows how to spell. In English, it is kind of like it separates the boys from the men.
ARRIGO BODDA: Exactly, exactly. I absolutely learned that from day one. Other things that you learn is some societies are more process oriented, other societies are more relation oriented. The way I was interpreting human resources in Europe was more relation based. I developed thorough relation, even on a personal base with the people that I was serving. Why, here in the US, the approach, at least in the beginning is very process oriented. Sometimes is border administration. I was able to learn the processes, and I got great help from my colleague here, that has helped me on that. On the other side, I was able to bring my relationship style here, this was pretty much appreciated. Again, back to your question, I believe you need to recognize what are the things that matter in the new place where you operate, and deal with that. Learn that, and bring what you did well from your past experience.
SAL DAHER: So kind of play to your strengths?
ARRIGO BODDA: Yes.
SAL DAHER: Then try to minimize your weaknesses in the new environment?
ARRIGO BODDA: Absolutely, and I will give you another small thing about that. Being punctual is an important thing here in the US. Like in many other countries in the world. Italian are not known to be punctual, right? They would assume that-
SAL DAHER: Does it matter if you’re a Northern Italian or a Southern Italian?
ARRIGO BODDA: There is a bit of difference, in general they are not so keen upon punctuality, so for me, being punctual was a matter of pride. That’s a matter of fact, I was always the most punctual in the room, because I didn’t want someone think that Italian, he’s ah…. I was always there five minutes before. It’s the small things that taught me how to be successful in international environment.
SAL DAHER: Play to your strengths and then work like crazy on your weaknesses, particularly the ones that point to cross-cultural conflicts?
ARRIGO BODDA: Absolutely, absolutely. The very last thing that always applies is try to embrace the local beliefs or values. I would say …. We were joking about Green Bay, but Green Bay for me was a big integration factor when I was in Milwaukee, everyone there really lived the thing. For me was a thing that I love, so it was not myself creating a fake interest, I was really interested in it. Being part of the community, being able to discuss about the game facilitated a lot of the way I was introduced.
SAL DAHER: You went to the point of becoming a co-owner.
ARRIGO BODDA: Yes, yes. I have some more time to explain to my wife I always wasting money on a piece of paper. I did it.
How Arrigo Bodda found His Career Path – Deep Wisdom on Career Development from an HR Specialist
SAL DAHER: Arrigo, I know that you work in certain situations trying to help people develop in their careers and so forth, and giving your background. Just for the benefit of young listeners, tell me a little bit about how you say in secondary school, to when you were in a university, and after that, how it is that you discovered what it is that you wanted to do with your life?
ARRIGO BODDA: Wonderful, that’s a great question, and I would love to be able myself to answer to you that human resources was always my passion when I was 10 years old, it was dream. It was not. Actually, my greatest passion when I was in my youth, it was about design, and about architecture. That was a thing that I was really passionate about, and read a lot, and I traveled to visit buildings in the middle of nowhere because it was designed by from someone famous. This was my passion when I was 15, 16, 18. But, when it was time to make a decision, I really faced the reality and said there are millions of architects in the world, and they don’t need millions of architects in the world.
I say, would I be able to break the cage and emerge as the most brilliant architect, and be successful, or should I find a different space that I like, but in which I have more chances to be successful? I made a practical decision to keep designer architect as a passion, and do something that would guarantee me a career success and financial stability, and that’s what I did. I took law school, because in my family that was a tradition, we had lawyer, the dean of the faculties where I ended up was a relative of mine.
SAL DAHER: It was a family business.
ARRIGO BODDA: Family business, but it was not my first passion. What I learned is that even if you take an alternative route, still keep your passion living, because at a certain point in my life, and it is happening right now to me, you will be able to get back and do something with your passion. That has followed me throughout my career, and I kept as a separate interest, but at the end now I’m able to work on that. So I went to law school for this reason, and since in Europe the HR is very contractual based, and this kind of thing is very common that people-
SAL DAHER: Oh, so it played to-
ARRIGO BODDA: Absolutely, absolutely. It was a natural transition to a HR, because low end HR, very close. I would say that the majority of HR executive in Italy have a law background.
SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative), because in the previous episode Christopher Christopher is a lawyer who became a CFO of a company, IONA, that did a lot of very contract-oriented business, because the type of software it provided, middleware, so it had to do contrasts with lots of companies. It was really important to have a lawyer, so he went from being a law partnership, to being the lawyer for the firm and building, basically a little law firm inside the company, because their activity was so legally intensive, as yours. This makes perfect sense.
ARRIGO BODDA: Absolutely, it does, and also allow me to give a small advice on how to complete your profile. When you have a background that is highly geared toward contractual, especially in human resource[s], you want to feel the gap that you have on the psychological part of the profession, because it is very important, you are dealing with people, you need to understand what they think, what’s all their motivations, this kind of thing. Again, having a solid background on the contractual side, all my education in my profession was on the other side. I really try from the very beginning to fil the gap on the psychological side of the profession.
SAL DAHER: Interesting. How did you get into your first job at Unilever?
“The suggestion that I have for everyone that is listening now, and that they are thinking where I should make my first move, my recommendation is make your first move in a place where the people around you are better than you.”
ARRIGO BODDA: Actually, Unilever was my second job. I went to Unilever by coincidence. A consultant that I knew was asking if I knew someone for a job at Unilever, and he referred my name. I got in contact not with the staffing department, I’m not sure if I would have made it through the staffing the department. I was fortunate to connect with the guru of HR in Unilever, this was a very famous person in the field there. We connected well, there was a good chemistry from the first conversation, and they hired me. I was very lucky, because it was a kind of university for HR. The suggestion that I have for everyone that is listening now, and that they are thinking where I should make my first move, my recommendation is make your first move in a place where the people around you are better than you.
Because there is nothing that allow you to grow than to play with people that are better than you. If you play tennis, don’t play with people that are below your level, play with people that are higher, because this is how-
SAL DAHER: How you improve your game?
ARRIGO BODDA: Absolute, how you improve your game.
SAL DAHER: Look for people that are more skilled, more trained at that particular business than you are, and work with them, and it'll rub off.
ARRIGO BODDA: Absolutely, be prepared to suffer, because especially at the beginning they will embarrass you, they will put you in situation in which you need to emerge. That is how you grow. My six, seven years that I spent in Unilever was extremely helpful for building my career, because also you get kind of a brand. Even now I believe that having a stint of your career in a company that is well recognized it helps a lot to build the next step in your career.
SAL DAHER: Yeah, I guess it’s the advice I guess of was it the advice of Socrates who said to the young, teach the old things?
ARRIGO BODDA: I didn’t know that, interesting.
SAL DAHER: You are saying go to a well-established company, that can show you how things are done as companies exist, and then when you try to start your own company, you can work off of that. You know the things you can play, the rules you can fudge with, and the rules you can’t. And so forth.
ARRIGO BODDA: I can certainly say it’s that.
SAL DAHER: Yeah, Beethoven played with the musical rules. He knew the rules. Early Beethoven is a classical composer, sounds a lot like Haydn, but later on he changed the structure of music and so forth. Know a little bit how established companies work, spend a year or two.
ARRIGO BODDA: Perfectly said, perfectly exactly as I said, know your basics well, and then you can start to improvise.
SAL DAHER: Interesting.
ARRIGO BODDA: Absolutely. I had this fortune, and in my next career move were made pretty much leveraging what I learned in my first year.
SAL DAHER: Learn, get yourself into a place where people are better trained than you are. Also, work in a place which is structured, and really has its act together?
ARRIGO BODDA: Yeah, absolutely, stretch yourself, stretch yourself. Always try to compete in a space where you are not the top dog, but you need to earn your-
SAL DAHER: To up your game?
ARRIGO BODDA: Yes, to up your game.
SAL DAHER: I was looking at your professional, the timing of your professional career, and the life of the European Union sort of coincide. It must be interesting, how did you see the European companies you are working in, how did they change during that life of the European Union?
ARRIGO BODDA: I have to tell you Sal that I’m really biased here here, because I’m really a fan of the European concept. I believe that’s helped a lot, European company, and European country to develop to the way that they are now. As you say, I saw in the professional life in this year, the borders were opening, and the circulation of manager for instance became from rare, where exotic, became a way of doing business. Corporation now they were opening up European headquarter, and in one of the experiences when I worked at United Technology, I would say that's half of my time was dedicated to work on European projects, because smart company like UTC were really leveraging local talents to help on European matters and issue and projects, not to mention how much more easy to travel doing business is the horror … I still remember in my clothes with all the jars with all the currency, Franc, Florin, and Pound.
SAL DAHER: Yeah, Dutch Florin, the Belgian this, and the plugs.
ARRIGO BODDA: The plugs they still remain, the plugs still remain. Unfortunately, the currency has been overcome.
SAL DAHER: You would have thought the plugs, they would have fixed the plugs.
ARRIGO BODDA: It’s horrible, the plugs I think. Again, having trouble a lot, the plugs, converters, and all this kind of thing. That's fine. Back to your question, I’m really enthusiastic about the notion of Europe itself. A large country that has less for instance fiscal discipline, like Italy for instance. Being a member of the European Union helped a lot in my humble opinion. My country to normalize their way of financing and everything. It was a great opportunity. Of course now is going under tremendous pressure with the Brexit and everything that is happening that France could be the next one. Let’s see what’s going on, but conceptually-
European Union 2.0
SAL DAHER: Maybe the European project will take a new form. The logic of it is very compelling, of dissolving borders for trade, of doing away, allowing the mobility of management and presumably someday in the future, the distant future having common plugs. I think those things are extremely compelling, so I think there will be even with Britain leaving the EU, I think they will eventually have some kind of an arrangement on trade with the EU, because they are so close. It makes a lot of sense, it is very compelling. I think there will be a different model, but I think this EU 1.0 that is falling apart will have a new version of it.
ARRIGO BODDA: Absolutely, I really hope that your analogy is correct. I believe is truth. On the other side I can say I’m an Europe fan, but other side having lived in Brussels for instance, I was close to the European Union, and you would see the bureaucracy, you would see the bad management at some time was [inaudible 00:20:01].
SAL DAHER: The astonishing thing is that the European Parliament doesn’t pass laws. They can’t project laws, they're commissions that make laws. There is nobody who is accountable to a voter, which is a surprising thing. The most remarkable thing about the EU, I’m a fan of the European project as well, but sometimes things give me pause. I was sitting next to a young man flying from Paris to London, a business trip. I said, “Why are you going to London?” He said, “I’m going to London to learn English.” I said, “Oh, I just got an MBA in Paris, the equivalent of an MBA in Paris, and I need English in order to work at the EU, because my ambition is to be at the EU because they have the best retirement program.”
ARRIGO BODDA: Right.
SAL DAHER: This is a guy who is starting his career, he's thinking about the retirement program.
ARRIGO BODDA: I’m not surprised.
SAL DAHER: This is an MBA, I mean, what planet is this. This is a young man, there is something wrong when a young man is thinking about a retirement program. A young man should be thinking about rocket ships, about going to another planet or something, not freaking retirement programs.
ARRIGO BODDA: You’re right, but that’s tell how appealing working there, or enjoying the benefits, but on the other side someone had to pay for this benefit, this retirement. This is probably what many voters in Europe were not happy. Again, I am really hopeful that it's a historical moment, it is a phase, and we'll get back probably to Europe.
SAL DAHER: EU 2.0 will be much more interesting. It is very compelling. I’ve seen the effects of it in Spain, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Spain because of my wife’s family. Spain has been revolutionized; it’s another country because of the European project.
Tips for Startups Navigating Huge Multinationals
SAL DAHER: Arrigo, I wanted talking about large organizations, and to go from the European Union to your time at Alcoa, we’re talking here to people who are founders, or angel investors working in tiny little enterprises just starting out. Do you have any thoughts from your experience at an enormously large and successful company, and doing a very basic thing, I’m thinking aluminum, and making it into things. What lesson do you have for them?
ARRIGO BODDA: Yep. Well, I will say that I worked for a significant part of my career in Alcoa, it was a very interesting corporation, it was probably even larger when I worked there in the year 2002, to 2009 then now. I saw that behind the curtains of maybe a conventional business, like aluminum, you would see aluminum, you wouldn’t think about innovation, but there is a lot of innovation that is acting behind the scene. To your question, Sal, how innovators, how company can help, and tap, and benefit from these. I would recommend two avenues. The first avenue would be to develop a relationship with the R and D centers in every company.
Or three avenues probably. The R&D would be the first one. In Alcoa close to Pittsburgh there is a huge center where all the research on new material, new technology happened. Alcoa was aluminum, but if you see now they have now developed a new material, titanium, or other alloys that allows them to get more profitable market, like aerospace, or even cars. All the research happened there, the majority of the resource. Connecting with these resource centers, it would be the natural first. Second one will be, if they have, and I don’t believe at that time I will call it one, but may have one now. Many large corporations like Alcoa have a venture group inside their organization. The mission of these groups I believe within organization is to invest in startup.
SAL DAHER: To look for strategic partnerships?
ARRIGO BODDA: Yes.
SAL DAHER: Not like Google ventures invests money, but to do some strategic collaborations, where the technology makes sense.
ARRIGO BODDA: Absolutely, it could even be that you have groups as investment.
SAL DAHER: I’ve seen them in the case of Bosch.
ARRIGO BODDA: Right, exactly. Emerson Electric probably you have also there. I think Cargill for instance I know for sure that they have a venture. In many corporations, especially in recent times there is groups that by mission they invest in stuff. The third avenues that I would recommend is to go local. You are maybe a start upper in Chile, tried to connect is more easy, they speak the same language, you can reach, you probably can talk to the CEO of the local venture, and present your proposition. If the person is smart enough to see the opportunity, it will be her responsibility, or his responsibility to bring your idea up to the people that’s going to nurture your idea. Three avenue, R and D, or the venture groups inside the large corporation, or the local. The local thing, yes.
SAL DAHER: Arrigo, are there any other lessons that you’d like to impart from your experience with all these global companies?
ARRIGO BODDA: I don’t know if there is a lesson, but this is a current international career is something I recommend. The international career is something that I went into that almost by chance, but once I was in there, it was extremely satisfactory for me. Of course, is required to have a good family support, because you are moving your family in different countries, especially if you have kids, you need to be very careful about that. Make sure that your family is backing you 100%, that you are not disrupting their growths.
SAL DAHER: There are better times to move. If your kids are three years old they are easy to move. If they are 13, it can be a problem.
ARRIGO BODDA: Absolutely, exactly.
SAL DAHER: Moving a 13-year-old girl from one country to another.
ARRIGO BODDA: I totally agree with you Sal, and my daughter actually is 13 in a few months. This phase of my professional career I wouldn’t consider another move, for this reason you are highlighting. Again, it could be very rewarding for, in that it opens up your mind. Sometimes we see in recent times that the people are very focused on their turf, on their local thing. If you have lived abroad and if you have worked in different country, I believe your mind is naturally more open to many things, new ideas.
SAL DAHER: Very interesting. Arrigo, tell me a little bit about, or tell us about your decision to leave Gtech, and then go off and do things on your own.
ARRIGO BODDA: I would say that more than leaving Gtech, it was a company that I really liked, I had the opportunity to do great things. It was a major reorganizing, I loved organization, this thing I would say was a great experience. My decision was pretty much to make it a life decision. Leave corporate to do something else. Again, when you arrive at a certain age, and you see my hair as they turned grey some years ago.
SAL DAHER: You have a few grey hairs.
ARRIGO BODDA: Yes, they are. You start to do some reflection and you say, “Well, do I want to do the same thing all over my life, or I want my professional life, and my life to be a bit different?” I made the decision. Then I go back to my passions, as I started to say at the beginning, design architectural, was always a passion from the start. I say well, maybe now I have the opportunity to follow my passion.
SAL DAHER: This is where the payoff comes in?
ARRIGO BODDA: Exactly.
SAL DAHER: You gave up your passion in architecture when you were a young man, and now after you’ve had a successful career in global corporations, you can pursue your interests in architecture, design, and so forth.
The Value of an MBA from IMD
ARRIGO BODDA: Exactly. Very well say Sal, and I will add one more thing. I work in HR all my life, and I like my profession, but also I love business. Proof of that is when I was in Switzerland; I had the opportunity to take my MBA at IMD, that’s one of the best business schools, at least in Europe.
SAL DAHER: Yes, top business school, yeah.
ARRIGO BODDA: It was a fantastic challenge, it was tough, because of course you continue to work, you have a family, and on top of that you have a two-year program that you need to follow full of people that is smarter than you of course.
SAL DAHER: Was that in Lausanne?
ARRIGO BODDA: In Lausanne, exactly. Full of people that are smarter than you, you want to complete it. First thing they tell you is it is an MBA but don’t even think for a second that you bought the right to have an MBA at the end of the program. You have to do your stuff.
SAL DAHER: You earn it.
ARRIGO BODDA: You need to earn it. It was extremely challenging. This allowed me to add to my HR experience, business expertise. I wasn’t becoming an expert when I was sitting at the table with my colleague, we were talking about strategy, marketing and finance, I have basics, the basics that we mentioned at the beginning to discuss.
SAL DAHER: You had the basics from your MBA program, because it is well-rounded. Then you have this very, very massive amount of knowledge about HR. Your thinking now how do I create my own activity applying these skills, and playing through the passions that I have.
ARRIGO BODDA: Absolutely, it was exactly like that. Angel investing was the first opportunity to put this interest of mine at work. Because if you think angel investing, you need to use your business knowledge to evaluate situation, and think. I remember vividly the time in which I was making the first consideration, the first investment, and I went to my library, I went to see my business in the book that you get for the MBA, and one of these books was valuation of the company.
This was exactly what you do when you do some angel investing. Picking up this book was for me to reconnect with something that I studied probably 10 years ago, and now I need it for what I was doing. It was a great thing to do. I went into angel investing again, by chance. A friend a Whartonite connect me with another Whartonite that said you know well Richard Lane, this is a member. Absolutely, Richard Lane is a member at Walnut and Rich presented me to the group that has kindly accepted my nomination. I started with one, and again, I don’t want to be too kind to anyone, but was a great group to join, because it is made of people that is different level of experience.
SAL DAHER: It’s a lot of fun.
ARRIGO BODDA: It’s a great group, and very supportive. I believe everyone was aware of this. I was a rookie angel investor, and I didn’t have any specific industry knowledge.
SAL DAHER: You do, that’s the thing. Your knowledge at HR for example, we’ve seen several HR startups, you've invested in a couple. Okay? We’ve had really excellent input from you on how HR works in general, and then also in cases of just judging people, you made a career deciding who's a fit for what. Your perceptions of people and so forth are really very valuable. This is what I like to say, I'm always saying you don’t have to be Mark Zuckerberg to invest as an angel, you don’t have to have $1 billion to invest.
At the same time, you’ve been successful in almost any field, endeavor, any professional endeavor, and you have something to add to help angels in a group, because there’s nobody else that has that kind of background. There are other people who have expertise and how to build software, others how to develop product. It mix and matches, and this is collaboration that goes on in angel groups, is a lot of fun, and I love that we can bring to bear the skills when we’re looking at a company that are necessary by putting members into the due diligence team. Anyway, coming up next, I will ask executive and angel investor Arrigo Bodda, how he decided to start a company in Thailand.
ARRIGO BODDA: Right, right.
SAL DAHER: First, I’d like to express my gratitude to Startupdoc for a review on iTunes which says, “This series is just what the Boston entrepreneurial ecosystem needs. Honest advice, and relevant war stories. Bravo, I hope they keep coming.” Thanks Startupdoc for taking the time to review our podcast on iTunes. You see, we bring you the thoughts of hugely successful people in a professionally produced podcast completely free, and without any advertising. The only thing we ask in return is that you help us get the word out about our podcast. To give back a little bit, take a moment to review us on iTunes, tell others about the podcast, and sign up on angelinvestboston.com to be made aware of future live in-person events. We’re going to be holding events where we record the program live with an audience. People will have a chance to ask questions and so forth. If you are going to sign up with angelinvestboston.com, you’ll be made aware of these things, and also be made aware of new episodes and so forth, so do sign up. Anyway, getting back to Arrigo’s fascinating story. How did this start up in Thailand come about?
Starting a Company in Thailand
ARRIGO BODDA: That was a very interesting story that I gladly share, because it can help others probably to avoid the mistake I made. It was Thailand, because my wife is Thai, so we have a connection there, we spent time, and we know the local environment. I know it’s an economy that is willing to grow, and the government support investments from outside. The first consideration I made, there is an ecosystem that will allow me to start a company and actually, I got good connection with what they call International Trade Development Department in Thailand, they are very helpful, they treat us with the red carpet. You get a lot of information how to startup a company, how to staff them which are the legal. You don’t even need to probably hire, at least at the beginning, a lawyer, or a broker to start your business. You get a lot of support. First we went there because we believed was a country which was easy to start up a company.
SAL DAHER: This was interesting, so they provide you with help setting up the legal infrastructure of the company, and getting over the hurdles. This is new.
ARRIGO BODDA: You would be surprised how the public administration in a country like Thailand is efficient. For instance, to give you a practical example, in Bangkok, there is a place in which entrepreneurs go, and they have all the agencies that are needed, so the tax agencies, the employment agencies, the trademark. You don’t need to tour the city from office to office, but the office goes to you in a single place. Again, it has been developed recently, but it is a good example how a country can attract investment.
Thailand was a right place for what to do, of course, your passion, right? I say, well, we need to exploit the design thing. The idea was pretty simple, was to create designing services based in Thailand, tapping the local talent there from university, or a professional firm. Sell designing services over the world. The other thing it was a bit immature phase here in the US, but it was still interesting there, it was 3D printing. You don't have too much of that in Thailand, so the idea was to combine the professional services with some 3-D printing.
SAL DAHER: Right.
ARRIGO BODDA: The idea sounds okay, but then they start the problem. I didn’t really make thorough research on the market and on the business. My recommendation to everyone of course is to make your homework before starting anything. Because it may cost a few thousand dollars, but it may save a lot. Because you need to understand how large is the market who the players, how you can make money, and this kind of thing. I kind of overlooked, I got some basic information, I knew which industry could serve there, but I didn’t went too much in depth. That was mistake number one. Second mistake was about people.
You wouldn’t expect it from me, but I made it. Meaning that the desire of starting a business made me a bit blind. I find a partner that has the right qualification to do the thing. It was coming from the design world, has a connection with the University. On paper it was a look good, and I met, and decent chemistry with the person from the beginning, and I say is a man that is like entrepreneur of their own company, and they have the son, and the son doesn’t want to take the job, and the father believes oh yeah, you are the man for replacing me, and this kind of thing. It was not the case. Again, suggestion number two is when you start the business, be sure of the people that are with you. Having surprises as it happens when you are into the business might be a costly consequence.
SAL DAHER: Now, is this mistake one that you might have been less likely to make if you were in Italy and hiring an Italian design firm?
ARRIGO BODDA: Probably not, and I explained that Sal. I made the mistake because I had a passion for doing this. I was kind of obsessed. I was a bit of obsessed, and I see many times we interview our startup; you see passion and obsession in the founders. Now, passion is a great thing, because things don't happen if you don’t have passion. What I learned to my expense is, is passion should not be obsession, because when it is an obsession, then you are not anymore critical.
You don’t assess people, or situation in the way that it should be assessed. You assess only if they are functional to what you want to achieve. Since I badly wanted to do startup I overlooked something, and then the thing backslashed. Luckily enough we were at the very beginning of the project, and not having a partner, local partners there, didn’t allow this thing to start. Of course you learn from every experience, so what I learned is that I definitely wanted to do something in the design architectural space, and I learned that having good partner, and to do your own homework before starting in is fundamental. I am applying that next venture I’m doing.
SAL DAHER: That you’re involved with?
ARRIGO BODDA: Absolutely, absolutely. It was a great story, but I believe that most of the entrepreneur went through these failures, and these help you to build the success for your future.
What Kind of Companies Arrigo Bodda Likes to Invest In
SAL DAHER: Very interesting. Now, you connected with Rich Lane, who is the treasurer of Walnut Ventures, and you joined Walnut, and you’ve been working in Walnut. What type of companies do you like to invest in?
ARRIGO BODDA: I have a list, I have with me. There are three columns actually. I took out of internet all the possible field of startup, and I have this three column, in which I have the primary, a secondary, and I have a third one. On the primary are the areas in which either I work, or I have a connection. For instance, food and drinks, I work in Unilever, I kind of know the industry even if it was years ago. Gaming this was my last experience. Real estate, I did something real estate, so everything that is connected with construction and things is something that raise my attention, and you have connection, and of course human resource.
As you see they are lot, a flurry of company now based on the payroll benefit, and all this stuff. These are my primary set. Then there are other secondary interests in areas that I like as a sector, but I don’t have a knowledge. I go there with more prudence, and it could be aerospace, it could be electronics, it could be marketing, or Internet, or other things. This would be target number two, and then there are segment or verticals, in which I believe I really don’t have the basic knowledge for me to assess anything. I’m thinking about banking, I think about financial services, I think fintech. I think healthcare, medical device. These are segments that might be interesting for me, especially from a return perspective, I see that so many people in our groups are very skilled in these. Not having a basic knowledge, I decided to stay by default out of that. This is my rule of the thumb.
SAL DAHER: Rule of thumb.
ARRIGO BODDA: Absolutely. As we say, besides the sector, my main reason for investing in a company is that I believe the founder and the team are right.
What Does Arrigo Bodda Look for in a Founding Team?
SAL DAHER: That brings us to the next question that I had for you, is with all your HR experience, and then your painful experience in Thailand, what do you look for in a founding team?
ARRIGO BODDA: Very interesting. I go back what I say, passion is the first thing. I never consider to invest in any company if I don’t believe that the founder or team, his team, is really passionate about what they are doing. Sometimes see less passion. Of course, all of them they have a connection with what they do, but you see more passion, less passion. When I see less passion that can be expressed in many way, not having a thorough knowledge of your industry, your competitor can happen. These are bit of red flags for me. The second thing is the ability of putting together a team of qualified individuals. A founder is good, but many times when I see the founder is alone. For many reasons, it could be either because their pitches doesn’t bring other member, obviously she always talk in terms of me me, I did, I made, and this kind of thing.
I have a kind of perception it is a one-man band, and this is another thing that is more red flag. Stamina of course, I experience myself how much time is required to start up anything. Having a high level of energy is fundamental. Being great communicator, I learn in my professional life to anything you do you need to communicate. Unfortunately, this is a pity, because you will require a little effort for many entrepreneur to improve their communicational skill. Good idea are not getting traction, because our badly communicate as I have been shown many times.
SAL DAHER: Yeah, the pitch deck, and how it’s delivered. These accelerators such as Techstars, and so on they spend a lot of time helping them, not just because it helps them communicate better, but it also helps them understand the business they’re in better. It really helps them to think it through.
ARRIGO BODDA: True. For both it’s true. Still you see companies, they don’t have these gifts.
SAL DAHER: The emphasis on communication is extremely important, not only for letting other people know about your business, but also for you to learn about your business yourself, because in the process of refining your presentation, you are going to refine your business, you figure out really what your business is about.
ARRIGO BODDA: Yep, absolutely. Beyond the passion, and stamina, communicational skill, and ability to build a team, then there is a secret source. The secret source is something that you see in the eyes of the person that is talking to you, and develop with your experience, having interview, and knowing how people develop in their career. That is a final touch to a selection for a yes or a no on some investment or any follow ups. This is how I see the people that I meet. Again, I have always been very curious of talking with people, I always spend more time, and I do that in a pleasant way. I really enjoy talking with people, and hearing their stories.
SAL DAHER: Let’s make this the last question.
ARRIGO BODDA: Sure.
SAL DAHER: Would you like to talk a little bit about pivots; situations where you had a startup that had one plan, but then discovered that that plan wasn’t working out, and came up with a new plan, and so do you have a favorite story there that you want to tell?
ARRIGO BODDA: I don’t have a specific story. Of course, at the beginning of my investing career I don’t have the dozens of companies that people in our group have experience with. Of course I can relate to my professional career, and I always been an advocate for change in the company, where I work, so for me, in conceptual terms, pivot is good, because situation change, markets change, opportunity arise. It is the ability of the company to shift, to steer and move to a different direction I always support that. Saying that, the things that concern me, and they concern me in a large corporation before, but they concern me in small entity now, when instead of a clear strategic redirecting, there are bit of wobbling, or uncertainty, or following the last trend, the last-
SAL DAHER: Loss of focus?
ARRIGO BODDA: Yes.
SAL DAHER: Instead of pursuing one direction and discovering it doesn’t work, and then going in a completely different direction full tilt, they’re trying to do two things at the same time, they are trying to still do the old plan, but kind of trying a new plan, and so forth?
ARRIGO BODDA: Absolutely. This is the thing that is really concerning, because one of the lessons that I took from my business school is a strategy, is a more not what you are going to do, but what you are not going to do, what you leave behind, what you consciously decide not to do. Many times in the presentation we see companies they have an idea that could be smart, but then they say, “In addition of these we will also do this.” When I hear also do this I say, there is something wrong. It is good if there is strategic thinking behind that.
SAL DAHER: Tremendous. Are there any other thoughts that you have that you wanted to add?
Don’t Invest in Startups Alone – Join a Group, It will Save you Money & Be More Fun than Investing Alone
ARRIGO BODDA: No, I just would like to say to listeners that are considering to join the angel investing world, as you correctly say, you don’t need to be especially in any sector, you don’t need to be a genius to be in this thing, just join a group [inaudible 00:48:42]. I don’t know, I don't have experience-
SAL DAHER: Definitely join a group. Don’t try to do this by yourself-
ARRIGO BODDA: Exactly, will be very, very bad. Tough, and-
SAL DAHER: Expensive.
ARRIGO BODDA: Exactly, expensive. Sit down and learn and listen. That is important, you contribute as much as you can, but look what experienced angels are doing, and contribute as much as I can. It’s a world that is reachable from everyone, it can be very rewarding. I don’t know yet in financial term, but probably is not even my most important goal in this phase, but is very rewarding because putting in contact with smart entrepreneur, great investment people on the investment community, and is a great place to be.
SAL DAHER: It’s a lot of fun.
ARRIGO BODDA: Absolutely.
SAL DAHER: Doing it in a group is a lot more fun than doing it by yourself.
ARRIGO BODDA: Absolutely, I wouldn’t do by myself, for sure.
SAL DAHER: Excellent. Arrigo, you’ve been most kind to sit down and share your valuable experience with us. Thanks a lot, this is really tremendous.
ARRIGO BODDA: Thank you very much, to you is a great thing that you’re doing these podcasts, and it will be helpful to many people I believe.
SAL DAHER: I hope it is, I hope a lot of people listen to it, I hope a lot of people share it with other people who might have an interest. Listeners, if you enjoyed this podcast, give back a little bit by kindly reviewing it on iTunes. If you have suggestions or criticisms, you can write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m Sal Daher; this is Angel Invest Boston, conversations with Boston’s most interesting angels and founders. I’m glad you were able to join, our engineer is James Willetts, our theme was composed by John McCusick. Our graphic design is by Maywood Art. This is Angel Invest Boston, I’m Sal Daher.