“It’s important to maintain certain habits in order to find a balance”: Interview with BOOM imagestudio’s founder Federico

It all started with a love for photography, and soon turned out to be one of Europe’s fastest growing tech startups.

In just 2 years, Federico Mattia Dolci has grown BOOM imagestudio into a hyper-growth company that provides high-quality photographic solutions. Founded in 2018 in Milan, Italy, BOOM blends human abilities with the power of AI, to reduce effort across the entire photo shoot cycle, from booking to delivery.

Federico co-pilots this fast-moving rocket, having grown a network of 35,000 photographers and being recognised by Web Summit as one of Europe’s fastest growing startups. We caught a hot second with this speedy founder, to get his insights on how to thrive, stay balanced when passing through a phase of intergalactic speed growth, and a preview of what he’ll talk about at the EU-Startups Summit, April 2021.

To set the scene, can you tell us how you came to start BOOM Imagestudio? 

It all was born from a great love for photography. For many years, photography has been our great ally. It was a passion and, one day, it turned into an occasion when Giacomo, my future co-founder and longtime friend, called me and said: “They are looking for an interior photographer”. At the time, we were still full-time university students and we started BOOM from scratch. We shot photos during the day, we post-produced them at night and every shot was the perfect opportunity to improve. I still remember the energy of those days, the absolute care, the obsessive attention to details. We felt alive. After about two months, we added a third chair to the room, for Jacopo, the third founder. From that day on, everything changed. From Milan, we soon expanded our services to other cities in Italy and then to hundreds of cities abroad. Today, 2 years later, we are active in 60 countries and we have a global network of over 35,000 photographers.

BOOM is one of the fastest growing startups in Europe, so we’ll base a lot of our questions on this topic! If you had to pick one, what has been your biggest learning?

It may seem strange, but the more the company grows, the more it comes to life. It is becoming almost like a body, a collaborative system, where any function is the result of the interconnection of its many parts, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

That’s why I started to conceive the company itself as the ultimate creation, our “lab of the future” where we can bring out the great energies of its people. Only now, I understand the words of Ben Horowitz when he said “Take care of the people, the product and the profits – in that order”. 

Going forward, you understand that, as founders or CEOs, our role is to set the stage: to create, every day, space where people are willing and able to share and combine their talents and passions. To create the space for this collective genius to emerge.

You’ve said before that the age of “Move Fast and Break Things” is over, and today scaling fast requires a careful balancing act. Can you tell us more? 

I think that seeing the growth path of a company as a ladder, is a bit of an outdated concept, very 90’s. We are finally moving from an era of growth at all cost, just for growth’s sake, to one of responsible growth. Consequently, company culture needs to evolve, it must be written from the bottom up. We’re moving on to a different paradigm that I like to think of as “Move fast and build things”. At BOOM it means building something together, fueling the ‘collective genius’ I mentioned before, creating value by leveraging on our skills and passions. In this context, in which the demand for resilience, the ability to adapt to complex change, is almost constant, transformation and adaptability are absolutely necessary for a company to thrive. It does not just mean bouncing back from a moment of hardship, but getting better after and because of it. 

With so many fast-growing teams out there, what are your top tips to avoid founder burnout? 

There is no job description for founders. There are no shortcuts, magic potions or workarounds. Leading a startup, it’s not easy at all. It’s important to maintain certain habits in order to find a balance: having an early start every day, getting through emails and forcing yourself to fuel your passions. Create your own rhythm and make it your daily exercise. And in the evening do not throw yourself in front of the TV, don’t even buy it. Isolation hurts. Instead, talk to people. Challenge yourself and read. Read a lot. 

And remember: it is normal to have phases of euphoria and others of intense fatigue, perhaps even on the same day and several times. You are not crazy. You’re on the right track.

Out of all the fast-growing startups in Europe, do you have any that you are keeping your eye on? 

Naming just a few would be like treason. There are so many passionate founders, struggling to make their dreams come true, reinventing mobility, payments and every aspect of our life. I think it is enough to say that this is one of the most stimulating periods ever if you have a vision and want to turn it into a business. I see a lot of energy and excitement, the same we had at the beginning and that still drives us every day. 

What I see lacking a bit, on the other hand, is a strong ecosystem, a willingness to do more things together, for the greater good of the startup system. 

One of my goals is for BOOM to set the example, helping make the Italian and European ecosystem stronger, by creating greater synergies between companies, promoting opportunities for dialogue and the exchange of skills. 

BOOM, like many startups, is using AI to drive its services. How do you see AI developing in the next 5 years? 

The business community is increasingly recognizing the importance of AI. It is no longer an ‘obscure matter’, it is something that pervades every aspect of our lives and I believe for the better. At BOOM, AI is completely intertwined with every aspect of our business: we use machine learning and artificial intelligence to overcome the most complex obstacles and find new solutions for photographer and business workflows. We use technology to support creativity, not to replace it. Our work is inspired by the visionary challenge of learning beauty, encapsulating into its computation the implicit notions of a perfect photo. It is the result of an ongoing effort to tackle the hardest problems of Computer Vision, such as Instance Segmentation, Object Recognition and Image-to-Image translation.

To do this, we continuously invest in research and we have come such a long way in just 2 years, so who knows where the next 5 years will take us! Hopefully, our work will contribute to make AI usable by and accessible to everyone, with solutions dedicated to visual contents that are available for everyone.   

What advice would you give to all the founders out there? 

Never doubt that you can change the world! At the age of 25, in spite of everyone’s doubts, we started our company. Together we looked to where everyone else did not venture. Difficulties are what stimulates us to go on, what pushes us to question ourselves and improve, every day. So go to the pain rather than avoid it. The challenges you face will test and strengthen you. And don’t bother just to be better than your peers. Try to be better than yourself.