“It is in our nature to be pioneers. We are not wired to wait around for a return to normality”: Interview with BOOM’s CEO Federico Mattia Dolci

Federico Mattia Dolci

Founded in 2018, the Milan-based startup Boom set out to transform the world of visual content management through technology.

Realising that businesses need a large quantity of visual content, BOOM has effectively created the world’s first ‘Visual Production Platform’. This allows businesses all over the world to get visual content such a photos and videos delivered in the click of a button. Its SaaS platform offers a fast production speed and API integrations, to streamline entire photoshoot lifecycles, from booking to final delivery.

Since BOOM has just recently moved from a marketplace model to becoming a B2B SaaS company, we thought this would be great timing to catch up with their co-founder and CEO Federico Mattia Dolci.

Thank you for joining us, Federico! As we spoke last year, we’d like to jump in with a question about how the past year (during the pandemic) has been for BOOM?

Well, we can agree that it was certainly a wake-up call for humanity! It drastically altered our way of seeing the world, and it has reminded us of this important lesson from Andy Grove: “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.”

As startups, we are designed to adapt to complex and sudden changes. In a world where the demand for resilience is almost constant, we have to approach every obstacle as an opportunity to thrive. This does not mean simply bouncing back from a moment of hardship, or getting better afterward, it means getting better during and because of it. So, never waste a good crisis… that’s the motto! 

An example? The pandemic forced us to adopt new ways of working. In only a few months we fundamentally reimagined our work and the role physical offices play in creating safe, productive, and enjoyable workplaces.

It is in our nature to be pioneers. We are not wired to wait around for a return to normality. Many employees have asked me questions like: Will we go to the office again – and, if so, how often? What will work mean if our offices are virtual and we lose those day-to-day social interactions?

Our vision is a new model, one that combines remote work and in-person office time. The result? A fusion of the two, a hybrid that blends the best of both worlds: structure and sociability, independence and flexibility. 

BOOM is now a ‘remote-first’ company, but one that retains a home where we can meet, share moments, host all-hands meetings, and be together. The concept of ‘freedom’ is at the heart of our company, before trust or responsibility. In this context, freedom equals the possibility to work from anywhere, not living in the office, and not having to condition your private life to a physical place. 

Freedom is not the opposite of accountability – it is a path toward it. To summarize these 12 months in 5 points:

  • Embrace a positive attitude: We found that most of our obstacles were internal, not external. For this reason, every day, we act with the serenity to accept things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
  • Define your culture as soon as possible: Ensure what you value most is at its core. In times of trouble, you want to have a clear outline of your company culture to fall back on.
  • Create a solid growth foundation: It may be tempting to race ahead, but striking a careful balance between speed and efficiency is vital. Aim for strong unit economics as much as scalable technology infrastructure.
  • Embrace a product mindset: Fail fast and prevent irrevocable disasters. Gather as much information as possible and launch, then gather feedback, improve, and reiterate. Our biggest threat is not making mistakes but avoiding them. If we do that we will face a lack of innovation.
  • Always acting on behalf of the company as a whole: We all dream about building a company with longevity. Today it is clearer than ever before – successful companies scale more than just revenue. They scale their worldview. Among the many challenges, we are pursuing a new leadership concept: horizontal, transparent, and inclusive. It is one that guarantees no one fights alone but is instead part of a cohesive whole.

BOOM is also now moving from a marketplace model to a B2B SaaS company. Could you explain more?

“Software is eating the world,” wrote Marc Andreessen, in an essay published in The Wall Street Journal in 2011. In the space of 10 years, the music industry shifted from CDs to Spotify. Netflix did much the same with video streaming. What about photography? Now it’s our turn. We are designing a Content-as-a-Service platform to transform a traditionally physical service — that handles complex logistics — into a digital, hassle-free service for worldwide businesses. It will be a scalable environment that manages visual content lifecycles.

The content thus becomes the vehicle of an epochal transformation. Technology is the first true value and vehicle for a radical chance to solve the famous ‘innovator’s dilemma‘. It’s a new arena, in which it is possible to design an ever-growing, multiple-act company that continuously evolves, builds new products, and expands into new regions or verticals and boasts superior unit economics, long-term cash flows, and agile and data-driven product development.

That’s why I truly believe that BOOM’s solution is nothing short of revolutionary. By offering a plug-and-play technology that manages the whole visual content lifecycle we remove the pain of supplier management, logistics, production, and delivery. BOOM does it all in 1/8 of the time, securing high-quality output.

What changes have you seen in your industry over the past 12 months?

Images are an international alphabet. Today, the importance of visuals is progressing at a speed never before seen. It is a revolution that profoundly impacts everyone’s lives, as well as their communication and purchasing habits.

Since there is no longer physical interaction between buyers and sellers, with no buildings or staff to evaluate, and no physical items to inspect, purchasing decisions are made purely on the copy and images provided—the content. 

COVID-19 has profoundly transformed the retail market, with profit margins from online sales up 38% vs pre-covid. Things were already headed in that direction, but the pandemic has served as a profound market accelerator.

So, now more than ever, content is king. Stop for a second and think of what you bought last week on Amazon, Deliveroo, Airbnb, or any other e-commerce platform. Did you immediately purchase a product, a meal, or an apartment? No, what you actually bought were images, online representations of those purchases. That’s where our role becomes integral: fast-growing online sales depend on an end-to-end solution to digitize the visual content life-cycle. 

You joined us at the EU-Startups Summit to talk about the topic “The Summit’s Siren Song: Designing the new Playbook for Growth”. Could you expand a bit on this topic for our readers?

It was about our obsession with growth. For every startup, this is a siren song: magnetically fascinating and, at the same time, inherently dangerous. Growth brings with it an increase in complexity and this will inherently create some degree of chaos. All manner of challenges will arise as a result of this. It is a sort of technical debt that includes poor communication, misalignment, a loss of focus, and falling victim to illusions along the way. These are just some of the growing pains of any startup.

What is not so evident is that, as you grow, your efforts must also be directed toward reducing these risks. To do this, try to keep complexity to a minimum for as long as possible. Ok, but what is not an option here? Staying effective by staying small!

To facilitate this we must redesign the playbook. Growing at any cost is no longer sustainable. Today we are enduring the consequences of such reckless, short-sighted policies. Widening social inequality, record levels of environmental pollution, and the fallacious perception of being the only patrons of our world. Business caused this, but it also has the power to drive change and reverse it.

We have to conceptualize individual companies as members of a broader leadership community, and in doing so we must redefine our mindsets. Business is all about people. If we empower them, we’ll never regret it.

 To do that, 3 tenets are crucial:

  • Purpose: “Rowing harder doesn’t help if the boat is headed in the wrong direction!” Many companies are concerned more with having than with being, losing sight of their North Star in the process. So, ask constantly what your ‘why’ is. Leading in today’s world is about creating conditions for success that empower everyone to contribute their best efforts, all in the pursuit of a common goal. This is done by defining clear aims within aligned strategies.
  • Transparency: We must make transparency and trust the cornerstones of company culture in order to channel our organization’s energy, at every level. In such a group — with clear objectives and motivations — powers arise that we never would have imagined possible.
  • Accountability: Promoting the feeling of ownership is crucial. Leading by example is the way to do this. People seem to think that those in power answer to no one, that they are free to do as they please. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth—the person in power answers to everyone.

We believe that leaders should not act as conquering warriors, but as attentive, watchful gardeners.

The more harmonious our group is, the easier it will be to adapt to change, foster growth, and ensure continuous innovation. I have seen it over and over again. We are the fastest and most innovative when employees at every level make and own their decisions.

If you had one piece of advice for yourself 5 years ago, what would it be? 

Stick to your principles. An entrepreneur is someone with faith in their ability to build something where there was nothing before. This is a long-term game.

You will win or lose individual hands, but it’s what happens in the long term that matters. So take a step back. The challenges you face will test and strengthen you. It’s about not giving up. It’s about discipline over passion, not how many times you get rejected. It’s about how many times you stand up and keep on going. Most people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in two or three decades. 

How do you see the media tech industry changing in the next 5-10 years? Any predictions?

During the pandemic, the role of the media and technology industry as “enablers” was galvanized. For a while, everything shifted to online-only and the industry gained new customers that brought with them new challenges, such as how to support the digitization and web-based migration of traditionally analog services and their customers. More than 40% of companies increased their use of online marketing. Software investments and the whole ecosystem saw a huge uptick in adoption rates. We all got used to new ways of doing business, like remote working, remote production workflows, increased streaming volumes, new online retail experience, etc. All of this needs online visual stimuli to survive, and I don’t see that changing.