Learn from those who have done it before

The entrepreneurial recipe – Filippo Massarelli’s five ingredients for startup success

Entrepreneur Filippo Massarelli has been on an exciting journey since he first flirted with the startup scene as an ambitious engineering student in Southampton. Last week, he arrived back in his student city fresh from launching his latest international venture, Nanga Mai, and brought with him an insight into his own unique recipe for success.

Are you a circle or a triangle? Are you training to be an athlete of business?

Watch above for the full video from his talk, or read on to discover Filippo’s five ingredients to help you become an eminent entrepreneur …


1) Ditch the comfort zone

“I was born in Rome but didn’t live there long because I learned to walk somewhere in Russia,” Filippo opened. “I learned to talk in Uganda but don’t have any memories before when I started going to school in Yemen.”

IMG_8887 [editBotswana, Kenya, Chad… Filippo’s childhood passport must have countless stamps from his family’s adventures following his father’s work with the European Union. “I was forced to live outside my comfort zone,” Filippo explained. “Every time I got used to something I was forced to start learning new things, new languages and be socialising with somebody new.”

“Screw it, let’s do it.”

Richard Branson

Filippo now recognises that entrepreneurs strive to solve problems and push boundaries because they too push themselves out of their comfort zones. “You can force it,” he added. “Try having cold showers for the next 30 days. It’s easier said than done but the effect is you will train your willpower.”


2) Understand the human body

“In my view an entrepreneur is an athlete of business,” Filippo continued. “I’ve always been a sporty guy, but it wasn’t until I came to university that I started to analyse nutrition and sleep habits to make sure I was at peak physical performance.”

For Filippo, the principles are the same for physical and mental performance. “If you follow a good diet you will get more energy levels throughout the day and be more productive, whether it’s physically or in your studies,” he added.

IMG_8892 [edit]“Take breakfast, for example. You will have completely different hormonal levels, metabolic rate, energy levels and glycogen levels throughout the day depending on what you’re eating for breakfast. If you don’t know these things then how do you expect to be at your sharpest for a 5pm meeting? An entrepreneur needs to be 100 per cent productive all day round, all year round.”

Understanding your body involves understanding its efficiency 24/7 according to Filippo, including the third of your life that you’ll likely be spending asleep.

Most adults spend between seven and nine hours sleeping every night but there are some notable exceptions that the fashion founder believes are important to review. Business magnate Richard Branson is supposedly strict about sleeping just six hours and waking before 5am each morning, whereas historical figure Leonardo Da Vinci is said to have only napped for 20 minutes every four hours. What effect would different sleeping patterns make on your performance?


3) Discover your shape

“Arnold Schwarzenegger is the perfect example of a triangle,” Filippo said as an image of the Austrian star at his bulging best flashed up on the screen behind him. “We all have the same amount of time – your shape is defined by how you invest your time. How you invest your time depends on your interests and your interests depend on your character and ambitions.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger invested immense time and energy in becoming a world famous weight trainer in his youth and reached global stardom for his pains. Already considered one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, his fixation next turned to the silver screen and he dedicated all his efforts to becoming an A-list film star. Many blockbusters later, he turned his mind to politics and once again attained enormous success by being elected the Governor of California. In a 360° chart of Schwarzenegger’s life, these three obsessions make three peaks that set him out as a triangle.

“I don’t want to become the best in the world at something,” Filippo continued. “I would rather invest my time spread across many things that I’m passionate about – I want to be a circle. There will always be a triangle that will be better than me at any given subject, but that’s fine because I know that I’m a circle. It is very important for an entrepreneur to understand their shape too.”


4) Follow your gut instinct

Filippo’s journey through university started along an unexpected line when a module encouraged him to produce a professional business plan for an imaginary startup. His idea for a solar-powered iPhone charger case gathered surprising momentum until he was confronted with a dilemma in the summer between his third and fourth years of study.

“I was offered a competitive job and was faced with a choice of whether to choose logic or to follow my heart,” he explained. “There was no logical argument to continue with the startup because this was too big an opportunity to say ‘no’ to. I think this is the point where most entrepreneurs stop, the moment where many companies that may have a future die.”

Filippo chose to follow his heart and continue with his startup. Months later he was successfully raising capital at a Future Worlds Dragons’ Den event and having his business model accepted into the John Lewis Jlab accelerator programme.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Steve Jobs

“Have you seen the speech that Steve Jobs gave to Stanford graduates?” he asked. “You don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, you can only look backwards. And that’s true. That’s why a decision from the heart might not make logical sense at the time. You have to trust in something and follow your gut instinct. That’s a very hard skill but one that I think every entrepreneur should have in order to be successful.”


5) Be curious about everything

“It’s quite common at university to have a moment when you ask what you’re really doing here,” Filippo recalled. “Why am I studying this subject? It’s actually a question you shouldn’t even bother asking yourself.”

The two years since graduation have opened Filippo’s eyes to the reality that many people go on to work in a field that is in no way related to their degree. “Of course, if you want to become a doctor you need to study Medicine,” he explained. “But if you’re studying Medicine it doesn’t mean that you’re going to become a doctor. A designer that works for us studied History. There’s a programmer that works at Nanga Mai and he studied Architecture.”

Experience has taught Filippo that university serves a different purpose to unlocking a career in a predetermined sector. “University gives you time to discover what you like and understand if you’re actually going the right direction,” he says.

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

Albert Einstein

“If you realise that you’re not going the right direction, don’t leave your studies aside,” Filippo continued. “Keep going and get a good grade. Ultimately, I’m an aerospace engineer but I don’t work in engineering. It doesn’t matter that I only discovered that would be the case half way through – I still wanted to finish it.

“Your subject doesn’t really matter in the end because you’re going to learn so many new things once you start a job anyway. Start getting into a proper, productive university life. Go and see what a marketing lecture looks like or join your flatmates to start studying what they read. Build knowledge around entrepreneurship by participating in all the activities the University offers, visit the University science park and become involved in the Future Worlds network.

“Just be curious about everything.”

You can read more about Filippo’s entrepreneurial experiences and advice in his Future Worlds blog My journey so far: from engineer to entrepreneur.

Get in touch with Jon Nurse

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Jon Nurse

Content Manager
Future Worlds

Jon compiles the latest innovations, articles and interviews for futureworlds.com as the platform’s Content Manager. He is also helping researchers in Physical Sciences and Engineering impact society with their work as a Communications and Impact Officer at the University of Southampton. He previously worked as a Senior Reporter for the Trinity Mirror newsgroup.

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