Before becoming an entrepreneur, Martina worked in strategic consulting at The Boston Consulting Group in Milan and Seoul and as Business Consultant at EY.
Martina holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and International Relations and a Master’s Degree in General Management and International Business at LUISS Guido Carli.
You started your career in consulting, and then, in 2019, together with Ciro Di Lanno, you founded Mirta, the first marketplace for high-end Artisans. What led you to this decision, and how did the idea of Mirta come about?
Martina: I studied Political Science, but then I realised that I wanted to pursue a career in business. Therefore, I graduated in Management in Rome and then moved to Milan. After that, I worked in consulting in BCG for four years, and it was there that the idea of Mirta came about.
In BCG, I met my co-founder, Ciro Di Lanno, working together on a project in Milan. Then Ciro moved to Stanford for a 2-year MBA. He already knew he wanted to pursue an entrepreneurial career, so he moved to Silicon Valley to learn best practices on launching a startup and studying marketplaces and other successful business models.
I decided to continue my career in consulting in Asia, to BCG’s Seoul office and Japan. One of my clients was a Korean fashion brand, which wanted to move production from Korea to Italy to position itself in the consumer’s mind towards the luxury segment. As a result, the brand looked for small Italian high-end artisans to produce their designs and products.
And as an Italian abroad, I realised a couple of things. One was the power of Made in Italy brand on international markets. The second was that most of the time, it is not the brand that makes the product, but the small artisans, one of the key pillars of the fashion industry.
Therefore, together with Ciro, we saw an opportunity in building a digital platform that would allow artisans to gain visibility and reach the end consumer directly. High-end artisans are small businesses focused on products that need support in commercial and digital activities. So in 2019, we decided to return to Italy to build something that would enhance and preserve one of our most vital industries, founding Mirta.
Mirta is an e-commerce platform promoting Made in Italy and fashion craftsmanship globally digital platform. Can you tell us more about the business model of the company?
Martina: Mirta is an enabler that works in partnership with artisans, letting them focus on what they do best – product development and production – and helping them on all other activities, mainly operations and logistics, digital marketing and customer care.
Mirta was launched in 2019 as a B2C platform to connect the artisans with the international end customers. Today, the final customer wants more transparency on the supply chain, wants an ethical and sustainable product, and wants to go beyond the product to know what that product represents.
We manage everything from Italy, having in-house digital skills to reach the end customers using diversified channels, such as social media, influencers, partnerships with publishers.
We have developed a sustainable business model with no stock and overproduction, as the artisans create the product after purchase. In this way, we guarantee the customer a very engaging experience, which gives importance to slowness and waiting, knowing that an artisan is taking care of them.
While working on this model, we realised that there was also an opportunity on the B2B side, thanks to feedback received from artisans and consumers. So in October 2021, we launched a second platform, Mirta Wholesale, with which we connect artisans with independent boutiques, who are increasingly looking for unique products to bring into their communities. Therefore, we are developing a digital service that allows store owners to discover artisans and get them into communities without coming to Italy.
This is all part of the broader vision of creating a luxury ecosystem that focuses on people rather than the brand and provides access to a more global ecosystem.
What results have you achieved until now?
Martina: Today, we have a team of more than 40 people, 200 Italian artisans on the platform, approx. 1,000 boutiques and more than 20,000 end customers.
Our biggest market is the United States, a relatively mature market that values the world of craftsmanship. We also serve Asia, mainly Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, all passionate about Made in Italy and keen on new and unique products. A residual part of our business is developed in Northern Europe. In short, we have an extensive reach, and we see an increasing global demand for new, high-quality products that are made to last.
In December, you announced that Mirta raised € 2,5 million from a pool of investors led by Picus Capital, TA Venture and Encelado, raising in total € 5 million. What are the development plans of the company?
Martina: We see an excellent opportunity for growth, and we have found good partners who believe in the same values and want to accompany us on our journey.
On the one hand, we want to quickly scale up the B2B platform, which was created following the requests from our stakeholders, signals that should never be ignored. On the other hand, we want to sustainably grow the B2C platform to create a new ecosystem in the world of luxury. One of our goals is to grow the artisan base to over 2,000 artisans by the end of 2022.
This brings with it a growth of the team, which we expect to double by the end of the year, to support all the players in the ecosystem we are creating (artisans, boutiques and end consumers).
And then we will make investments in technology. We define ourselves as a tech company because we have a solid technological component linked to process automation. In addition, we are developing in-house tools made for the artisan and designed for the needs of a small business that is currently very focused on the production world and not very digital.
What are the main challenges you experienced in creating Mirta and are facing now in the growth phase? What would you suggest to founders approaching the scaling-up stage?
Martina: The challenges we have experienced are different between the startup and scaleup phases.
In the startup phase, the main challenge was to overcome the initial resistance of the artisans to using a new solution that was created to help them. And, of course, we didn’t expect this kind of resistance. Also, being two founders with a business and not tech background meant finding alternative solutions to get to market quickly.
In the scaleup phase, other elements come into play. The most complex challenge – which, I believe, is also the key to success if managed well – is to scale up the organisation. It is going from a small organisation with a few people and very horizontal with tasks often overlapping, to a scaleup organisation, with internal processes that allow all the people of the team to work well. That is the most critical challenge. It is managing change within the organisation in iterations and building an organisation that, while growing, also reorganises itself quickly to keep up with all the market changes.
The advice I would give is to invest in talent and bring on board people who believe in your project as much as you do, are flexible, curious, passionate, able to evolve as the company grows. It is essential always to be ready for change. You have to be prepared to ask the market for feedback and process this feedback to evolve in line with the market. It happened for us with was the pandemic (we launched the platform in late 2019) and the B2B launch. Therefore, it is essential to listen carefully to market signals and adapt quickly to changes.
One last question: what do you think about the Italian startup ecosystem? How is creating a global business starting from Italy?
Martina: The Italian startup ecosystem is growing. More and more investors are coming from abroad and looking at Italy as an interesting country. In 2021 more than € 1.4 billion was invested in the Italian market, and more than € 400 million came from foreign investors (see the article: Investments in Italian startups reached € 1.46 billion in 2021, +118% on 2020).
Many startups are growing, and many young people that after finishing university, their top choice is to go and work in a startup.
Regarding internationalisation, Mirta has been international since day zero. The Italian market can be a starting point, but it is important to look abroad and export products and services to other countries. In my opinion, we are making progress. There are examples of Italian startups that are approaching foreign countries.
I believe that there are many talents, resources (e.g. craftsmanship) and potential in Italy, and it is our duty to bring the best of Italy to global markets with the best tools at our disposal. International markets are so keen on Italian products and new services. We, too, can have our say from this point of view.
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For more info on Mirta, visit: https://www.mirta.com/