Farhad is a serial entrepreneur with over 14 years of experience in the digital field.
Before Mamazen Startup Studio, he managed Bakeca.it internal and external sales teams. He also coordinated the Glamoo.com sales team as Commercial Director (exit to Italian Yellow Pages). In addition, he was the Co-Founder of Pony Zero (Exit to Cigierre SPA).
Farhad is a Business Angel and Board Member of Studiohub, the largest European Startup Studio Network.
Farhad holds a Mechanical Engineer Degree from the Politecnico di Torino.
You are a serial entrepreneur, and then in 2018, together with Alessandro Mina, you founded Mamazen Startup Studio, an Italian Venture Builder based in Turin. Can you tell us more about how the idea of Mamazen came about?
Farhad: Mamazen is the result of a long gestation process that began in 2011 and ended in July 2018.
The idea came during my first entrepreneurial experience and matured with subsequent experiences, particularly Pony Zero. Startups and entrepreneurs often struggle in the go-to-market phase, crafting a product that really meets market needs, finding the right consultants, raising money from investors, etc. I wanted to build something that would help entrepreneurs, but not an incubator or accelerator.
When I was close to selling Pony Zero in 2018, I started figuring out my next venture. And I realised that besides supporting entrepreneurs, I also wanted to be their co-founder, to share the entrepreneurial risk of every venture I would create with them.
One day a friend returned from London and asked me what I planned to do after the Pony Zero exit. I replied that I wanted to create a team of experienced entrepreneurs to launch more than one company at a time and to do it in a way that reduced risk. My friend told me it was an existing model: a Startup Studio. So I started doing my research.
At that time, there were 150 venture builders in the world. I managed to interview 70 of them. I learned about their experience, how they validated ideas, how they financed their venture builders, whether they accepted ideas from external founders or only developed internal ideas, etc.
Then I decided to found Mamazen with Alessandro Mina, who was working with me in Pony Zero.
The name Mamazen is made up of two components. “Zen” from Japanese and samurai culture. After years of creating startups, I wanted to do things in a different, more Zen way. And “Mama” because we wanted our venture builder to be like a mama for everything we would create.
Can you better explain how you turn ideas into realities? What is your process?
Farhad: We defined a rigorous 4-month process for the validation of ideas. It took us a long time to define the process.
When you are an entrepreneur, you solve problems; if there is a problem, somehow you find the solution. When you have to create a process for your team to execute, it’s a different story. And we used multiple techniques.
We first defined verticals, which are verticals related to new ways for people to use services already on the market, mainly for micro-businesses. We look for existing markets where the need is already there. For example, the two recently established companies are a pet groomer at domicile service and a hairdresser at your doorstep service.
Then we look for problems, not for ideas. And later, we analyse market trends, google search and google trends. We also look at negative comments on existing services.
The next step is to put some ads on the web and test the interaction of potential customers with the ads.
We also build landing pages of websites where users can book a service that is not yet provided to refine the communication language, test the market and collect real data on market validation, customer acquisition cost, etc.
Afterwards, we contact customers for interviews. We also do legal, financial and M&A analyses.
This process of stages and gates is followed by about 40 ideas developed by Mamazen per year. We then select the 2 best-performing ones that will become startups. The founders who join the startups will find a company already in place, clients, an MVP, and revenues.
With our 4-month process, we take off the founders’ shoulders about 3 years of work.
You are also the CEO of IH1, a holding company that operates alongside Mamazen to fund the best startups produced by the Studio. Can you tell us more about IH1’s involvement?
Farhad: After creating the legal entity and onboarding the founders (usually two founders – one on the product side and one on the sales side – to whom we give 70% shares), IH1 comes into place, providing € 100k in pre-seed financing.
Then the founders have 6 to 9 months to build on those revenues to grow and reach certain milestones so that IH1 can provide additional capital.
Because we performed the first startup activities, we know everything about the financed companies. So we do not need to do due diligence, plus we have a 9-month observation period. If we decide to make a follow-on investment, it’s because it is the right one.
IH1 only operates with Mamazen and Mamazen startups. IH1 will invest in 15 pre-seed startups by 2026 (today, it has 5 investments), providing € 100k to each startup. Moreover, € 4.5 million is available for follow-on investments in several tranches to be deployed to the best startups.
And we have the first right of refusal in every startup that comes out of Mamazen.
One last question. As an expert in launching and scaling companies, what advice would you give Italian entrepreneurs?
Farhad: I think that go-to-market is a must. My advice is to go for tests and market validation. Then ask the right things to potential clients, such as their habits, how they behave and why they behave in a certain way, to understand their real needs. Online tests like creating landing pages are also feasible for physical services.
Finally, I suggest bootstrapping before going out and raising money.
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For more info on Mamazen, visit: https://www.mamazen.it/en