The entrepreneurial adventure begins
I’m Filippo Ongaro, former doctor of the astronauts, first italian doctor certified in anti-aging medicine.
My entrepreneurial story actually coincides a lot with my personal story, indeed I believe, from a certain standpoint, that a company, a business, an economic activity that can be founded on a nice personal story, has so many advantages, because it is clear that when you communicate your story and your passion, it’s a bit like if you spoke with people in a more intimate way, that they generally tend to listen to more than if you talk about a product.
My story started a little by chance, I studied medicine, then I studied sports medicine, but at a certain point I looked for an experience abroad, in a German University and the professor I worked with, to whom I was entrusted, was working on a project with the European Space Agency, he put me to work on this project, which was based on a new rehab program we had to do for the astronauts and at the end of that trial period the space agency asked me to stay. What was supposed to be a four month period then became a period of eight years, and in these eight years, born from a stroke of luck, or yes maybe on a bit of courage of accepting the risk of going abroad, but basically it was a stroke of luck , these eight years were fundamental, because I learned many things that I would have never learned in another environment, I built my story, because it’s clear that the astronauts’ doctor is not a job that everyone does, so it gives you a seal of uniqueness, which today is one of the things that matters the most, to be able to emerge in a more and more complex market, even to be able to determine how much you are worth, your price, the criterion of uniqueness is very important.
And, in a nutshell, as astronauts have this problem of accelerated aging when in orbit, six months in orbit are roughly equivalent to 10 years on earth, here is that the doctor is, in a sense, very interested in slowing down this aging process and it is clear that this thing immediately made me realize that with the world population that is growing old and with all the problems of chronic-degenerative disease, a doctor who has studied, in particular, how to slow down aging and how to live in the best of his shape, probably has some an advantage, even outside the spatial agency and so indeed it was.
Once I left the agency, I started the first of different entrepreneurship initiatives, so to speak, which was opening a center, a clinic specialized in anti-aging medicine. I brought back with me, from the experience abroad, my wife, who has got a good story as well, because she is a psychologist and has been the psychologist of the astronauts, we met on the field. And so it started very well that part of our business that was the clinical activity, we acquired the experience, we visited thousands of patients from all over Italy, we became well known.
Then came the books, then the radio, the television, and from there I started to understand that there was another dimension, which was not just work 1 to 1 with the patient in the medical clinic, but it was a work of communication, divulgation, training, even on much larger groups of people. Here a second phase of our business activity began, which is the one I’m following more closely now.
The money to start
Well, I have to make a distinction between the phases of my entrepreneurial activity, because in the first phase we needed a rather well equipped medical center, huge, that attracted patients a from all over Italy, it is clear that we needed money. However, I must say that I am a rare case of a person who ran away from a lot of money, because the first project, the very first, we started with a large industrial group and we regretted it, because in reality they are groups that understand little of the logic of a start up, they don’t have that speed and that hunger that instead one that is just starting has and must obviously satisfy.
So from that very first experience grew the desire to look for a person who was closer to us, and it was actually a patient who helped me out, a patient of this very early phase, which had some spaces, he had some money and said OK, let’s try to create a clinic center together. This was the phase of my life, let’s say the medical, clinic one, because, objectively, it would have been difficult to start alone.
While in the current phase, which is much more related to the internet world, the online, I have to say that we have done everything by ourselves and we have tried to acquire the most number of skills from the start. So we use a lot of videos, as a medium and we have tried to handle it, maybe a little amateurishly to keep the costs low and we have financed each progress already with sales.
This is, in my opinion, a loginc which is much more in harmony with the world of today: that is, if I had to think of the development of my activities in the next few years, I wouldn’t ask anybody for money, I would continue to finance my development with the revenues I’m making and that’s exactly what I am managing to do right now.
It is clear that when you need equipment, means of production, of sheds, of a lot of structure it’s more difficult, but it’s exactly for this reason that I moved from the physical world to the virtual world of the internet, where the costs are much lower and the margins much higher.
A negative and a positive event
The negative episode I can actually say that it then became positive, as it often happens with events that in the moment seem negative, but from which, in reality, you always learn a lot of things.
That episode was right at the beginning of the entrepreneurial activity. After I left the space agency, I moved from abroad back to Italy and I had a small child and I was full of enthusiasm, but I counted a lot on the role of this great industrial partner, to help us start a project that certainly wasn’t easy; making people understand what was the medicine that I was practicing was not really immediate and soon I realized that it was very difficult to work with a larger industrial group, because they have neither the timing, nor the logic that is necessary for a start-up to be quick and grow properly.
And so the negative episode, I actually created it myself, because it was the decision to give up this, this situation, to change it and look for another strategy to start, which aimed much more to really try to develop our internal skills, rather than, not really waiting for help, but still counting a lot on it and I have to say that this choice was very positive, because it triggered in me the desire to write, thinking that probably the books would be a medium, a very useful vehicle to divulge my philosophy, my approach to medicine.
And so that was what happened, then I wrote many, but from that moment something changed, that is, from the idea of: I am a technician/doctor and I cannot really try to be an entrepreneur, I need external support, instead, arised the urge to say no, no I am the product, not the others and so I must be able to give this product the proper exposure.
This first experience then was, quote unquote, negative, but it was also very useful as it helped create that more recent positive one, when I decided to leave the world of the clinic and enter more into the world of courses, of events, of training. Here I was reminded of this spirit of saying “I have to rely on my own abilities and I am the product and we managed to do everything at home”, in particular, the first video course that we sold, we shot it in the living room, with a camera really of little, of little value and when we launched the product online, watching the sales grow minute by minute immediately opened my eyes again on this concept: you are the product and if you can create the right showcase, you have all the “cards” to be sold well, because you’re bringing value, you are adding value to the lives of people and this probably is the most important thing today to sell the kind of service/product that I take care of.
Doing business in Italy
Let’s say that the territory is definitely not the simplest, we all know it and we can’t hide it, but it is also true, and I have experienced this a lot, living abroad for so many years, that Italians “have an extra gear” for many things and therefore I think that it is one of those situations where you have to move on from the hitches, the bureaucracy, the difficulties we all know, because perhaps from a human resources standpoint, of ideas and creativity and I must say also of commitment that italians put in when they believe in something, it’s probably higher than the average of the other countries.
I have lived for long abroad and I have always had this idea: abroad everyone works, no one excluded, but just a little, in Italy, however, for many who do very little, there are few who do a lot. Therefore, if you meet those capable to produce a lot, it’s clear that a great history of entrepreneurial activity can start; after all, Italy, with all the difficulties it has always had, it has had more than a few companies of success, indeed, it has had many and in some fields it has dictated the rules for decades.
So I think it’s about of “double speed”, on one side we would like this territory to be simple and easy with the roads flattened for us, on the other hand, exactly because the territory is this difficult, people develop resources that other countries partly lack, even the ability to improvise, to solve problems at the last minute; I find that these are the strong features: also, if the system helped the entrepreneur, we would probably be able to do much more.
The key traits of an entrepreneur
Well, I do not know if I can speak generally of entrepreneurs, because I believe that the term entrepreneur encompasses so many different facets that it’s not easy to answer.
There are entrepreneurs who are more like managers, there are entrepreneurs who are more creative. I can talk about how I feel. If I can call myself an entrepreneur, I believe that I have always loved the idea of the entrepreneur, even when I was studying medicine and I had absolutely no idea that one day I would do this for a living, because I’ve always believed that the enterprise, the activity of an entrepreneur, if done honestly, means creating what does not yet exist, it means bringing services to improve the quality of the life of other people, so I think that doing business is one of the noblest things that exist, maybe the noblest, because you are shaping the world, with every product, every service.
The characteristic that I believe the entrepreneur must have the most of is courage, because I believe that many of us would like to have a life, we can say more entrepreneurial, so many today talk about creativity, but basically the company is the most creative thing in the world, because it creates things that do not exist and it’s even able to sell them to people who pay for them and therefore I believe that there is nothing more creative than that. But creativity does not exist if there is no courage, if you let yourself be stopped by the fear of failure, by the fear of judgment, by the fear of what others will think, the fear of not being able, the fear of losing, you will never be able to create a business. So, I think that courage, which isn’t the absence of fear, but is the ability to go beyond fear, to overcome it, that is to act despite it frightens you, I think is perhaps the feature founding an entrepreneurial mentality, of taking a risk because he believes that there may be a benefit beyond that risk, for him and also for his customers, of course.
The future for the new generations
Well, if I had to give advice to the young people who are thinking of becoming entrepreneurs, the first advice is to do it, because I believe the job of the future will be an entrepreneurial job anyway, regardless of if you are a company of one person or a hundred, the idea of a safe job, of a job as a clerk, it is an idea that is setting and we must begin to realize it, even in a country like Italy.
So, the first advice is to have the courage to accept the risk of being an entrepreneur, but also to have the force to see the great benefits that are immediately beyond the risk. Having a project in life is the most important thing, I have always had this feeling that the thing that makes me suffer the most is seeing a life wasted and so many lives are wasted even in the context of work: doing things they do not like, doing boring, repetitive things. The idea of being an entrepreneur is a fascinating idea, because it is an idea of freedom, of autonomy especially because as an entrepreneur, you have direct contact with your customers.
Speaking of this direct contact, I would say my second piece of advice is that you have to understand deeply, really deeply, the soul of the internet, because the internet is the future of our world, it does not mean that the real world will disappear, many beautiful projects, perhaps the most beautiful, in fact, are based on two realities, one online and one in the real world. However, there will not be any business in this world that will manage to get to a certain degree of success without an extremely smart use of the internet. I see so many guys spending their day looking at tattoos and butts, legs, thighs and shoulders on Instagram, all fantastic things, but I don’t see many guys who understand the commercial logic, the power that these means have. So, instead of wasting time watching the video of a cat that rides a skateboard, it is studying the essence of how YouTube works , of how Facebook works, of how Instagram works, of how a blog works, of how all these mechanism work that allows you reach the whole world, from your keyboard, from anywhere, from a garage, from an attic and I believe that here in Italy it’s still not very clear.
The last piece of advice I give is learning English, because if you are not able to communicate in a global language, you will unfortunately be condemned to a progressive irrelevance and we must accept this. Unfortunately our country prepares us little for this, compared to other countries, but it is becoming, and it will always be an essential card.
I believe this mix of daring to say “I want to be an entrepreneur”, of very deep understanding of the enormous potential that the internet gives us and of the ability to be global even in our own niche, are the three keys, in my opinion, for success.