Welcome to this special session of the MOOC in platform thinking. Today we have a very special guest which is Benedetta Arese Lucini, that will share with us her life within the world of platforms and the very first question is actually about you. So, would you like to tell us something about yourself and about how you get in the world of platforms? Yes, so thank you for having me, actually I started finding out about platforms and sharing economy startups when actually it wasn't even a thing, so I worked in e-commerce in Asia and obviously e-commerce is like a preemption to a platform economy but really jumped into that world when I was hired by a small startup called Uber at the time. They were in 2012 only in the US and they were trying to open the European market and I met the founder and he had a vision to use technology to facilitate the way people moved around cities and the idea of...let's explain very quickly what I mean by platform: for me platform marketplace is a solution that puts a two-sided market together. What does that mean? You have, on one side, people wanting something and, on the other side, usually people or businesses giving something and so through technology you put them together and you try and match demand and supply. Usually it's very localized and Uber, Airbnb were one of the first platform technologies that were created, but now they actually disrupt multiple markets thanks to technology, so that's how I got in and without even knowing. I guess you can get in by just finding the project you like and going for it. Well, you were mentioning Uber which is actually the reason why I've been knowing you as a name a couple of years ago and in this course we are also somehow telling a bit about our history in the world of research of platforms and I remember very clearly in 2014-2015, when we were starting our research in this world, your name on the newspapers while you were launching Uber here in italy and this is the question I've always wished to ask you. How was it to actually launch one of the greatest platforms all over the world in a new market in that moment when platforms were not yet the thing they are today? Yeah, so first of all it was 2012, so it's like nine years ago and it feels like yesterday, I know. I joined Uber, as I said, it was a very small company and one of the greatest things about Uber was that they really believed that every city had to have its own strategy and so even if it was one brand, one company, every general manager or every team locally would have its own sort of go to market, so it felt like a lot of little companies inside a bigger one. When I joined, there weren't even 100 people in Uber and when I left at the end of 2015, beginning of 2016, there were like more than 44000, so the growth was really insane and I actually went to manage from just Milan to Italy to also regionally Switzerland, Austria and Germany and as the company was growing and the brand was becoming known it was much easier but it you still had this thing that in every city you had to start all over because as we said before platforms are very local and so you have to scale them one city at the time and it really felt like you had to start all over again, so you never felt like the job was done and now it's a big company and everybody knows, because then you're like, okay let's launch a new city, let's launch Torino, let's launch Genova, Padova. We launched a few cities in Italy. Or let's launch a new product and it's always about educating the market and today Uber is like a verb. You know, I'm going to Uber a car but at the time nobody knew what it was so it was a really fun challenge but really exciting. We were a team of very young and motivated people who had no idea what we were going against in terms of regulation politics etc. but we had a lot of fun. Okay, you used that word, we had no idea about what it meant from a regulation perspective and you were mentioning something in the previous sentence you said: in the end the platform is kind of a technology that lets you match and let people meet from a digital space also in the real world and what got me fascinated in the world of platforms is the fact that just 15 years ago it was almost impossible to think about many of the services we have today and probably regulators could not think at all about the chance to have this kind of services, this kind of organizations, so my question is: what is in your opinion quite informed I would say, the role of the regulator in this process of launching and scaling this kind of companies? So I think that regulators obviously will come always after. I've always been fascinated by technology companies because they generally create a revolution from below, it's not like a regulator who says: I see this market, I'm gonna change the law to help it. It's usually people use something and then the regulator has to like adapt and so that's what we saw. There are countries where regulators are faster than others but the role of regulator is really about listening to the different players and trying to find a way to protect the interest of all players inside the system. When I was in Italy, we did a lot of work on the sharing economy, which is like, let's say, an economy created by platforms, so the concept that you're sharing goods with other people or services and we did a lot of work: we went to the parliament, we did a tour, it seemed like a political tour, all across here, Italy, and across Europe and with the European Union to educate about the role of sharing economy within economies and how it could enhance just the GDP of countries and how the workers within this economy could or not be protected and so regulators sometimes just say, you know, this cannot be done and they start like this, and then it's important to kind of bring it back and find a solution in between, because clearly there's always an in-between super capitalism and the role of a protectionist country, so like they have to be playing in the middle. And that's interesting and I think that Uber is actually one of the companies, that's the implication of different regulators. The most have spent part of my research activities in Ireland and I discovered that there the situation is completely different. Actually there are taxi drivers because what they allowed was completely different from what happened here and this probably goes back to what you were mentioning with this local dimension of this global. And in Uber, especially in transport, every city has a different regulation and every region has a different regulation so it's not only the state. In finance, which we will talk about later, actually every country has a different regulation so it's not that easy to say: I'm a global platform, because you have to scale literally city by city, country by country, and adapt to the local regulation and it was interesting to see how maybe Italy was very different from Switzerland in terms of regulation which is next door but it was very similar to Japan or Korea because for some reason the regulators thought in the same way, so it didn't matter the borders. Sometimes it was like really strange the places where you had similar laws. That's fascinating to know that very far away places can be similar than places in the neighborhood. You were mentioning the finance word: what happened after your Uber era? Yeah, after my Uber era I spent some time in venture capital and then I started my own company with other co-founders and we co-founded a platform called Oval Money and the idea was to bring again, thanks to technology, financial products to everybody, so the idea was that a lot of people weren't going to invest their money because they thought they needed to know what they had to do or they needed to have connections or they needed a lot of money to be contacted by the big banks and so we decided you could invest and save your money with starting with one euro and on the other side we had providers that would create specific investment strategies, put them on our platform and the users would choose which strategy they preferred so we did a lot of things around the thematic investing, which now is very popular. When we started in 2017-18, it wasn't like a thing but now you know investing in the ESG, in green investing, in social teams or investing in certain industries like space, or gaming, or sports it's something that is happening more and more, and the idea would be professionals would create a portfolio of companies that were within a theme, put them on to Oval and then people could invest, so it gives the opportunity to smaller companies to have access to a lot of new investors and to investors to start investing with one euro because again one of the big things of platforms is they only work when there are economies of scale, so when there's a lot of people on them, so a platform doesn't work if it's me and you, a platform needs a lot of people on both sides and that's the beauty and also the hard part of how platforms scale, but Oval had this vision and it's continued to want to educate the market to the fact that it actually is very simple to start investing and it's trying to cut that barrier between normal people and the financial world. It's very interesting the word you said: Oval or anyhow platforms can educate the market in a certain field. It's interesting and probably something we've even seen with the Covid, the fact that we are users on certain platforms brought us closer to certain way of dealing with things that became extremely popular over the last years, so it's interesting this fact that the founder can actually see the platform as a way, it's nice. So you said that you spent a bit of time in a venture capital fund and that you got in touch with the other organization, I guess with other platforms as well. Would you like to share with us any curiosity you had, any strange platform, strange situation you've seen in this world of platforms? So, the interesting thing about platforms by studying them, seeing them and meeting founders, and working in the industry is that you realize that a lot of people think that it's a product just for millennials or Gen Z and it's a product that is very digital and you need to be very sort of techie to use, but actually the two things that surprised me the most was first of all that it's very human, because they are actually making connections between people on the supply and demand side. I think Airbnb is the the greatest example: you have somebody who sleeps in your house but you have like a person who lives in a city doing your guide, you have like a person driving you around the city, you have people bringing you food so you you're meeting people, so it becomes like super connected and they've been used more and more to create like a neighborhood within big cities, so actually even they don't only scale city by city, but neighborhood by neighborhood and so it becomes like you're sort of in love with your new neighborhood again, instead of feeling alone in big cities and then the second thing is I've always found it so fascinating when that users are not that young always. You find very diverse type of users. I remember when we first launched Oval, one of the people who wrote to us was like: I want to use my pension and he was a pension like a 65, 70 year old guy who wanted to start saving and investing a part of his pension, so it's not just for the young kids, let's say. Another example is: we had the drivers in Uber who would tell us they were doing this because their wife died and they were lonely, they didn't want to stay in the house and so they would like to dress up and go out and they would feel again they could connect to people and they had like a purpose and so it's really fascinating how this economy actually touches very different areas and if you want also women, for example, it's something I've always focused on, is finding women drivers or women in finance and like really finding these networks that are not obvious because technologies usually talks to young male kids or young people and actually you will find that it applies and helps a lot more groups of people so for me this is really cool, it's very cool because you're kind of listing the misperception about platforms, it's global but actually it's very local, it's technological and it is, but it is very human related, very neighborhood related in many cases, as you were mentioning, it's very interesting, one of the goals of this course is to go behind the surface of platforms and I think you're really going in that direction with your words and you said it before: Uber became a verb, so uberize, the uber of something, uberization even it's written somewhere. Still after a lot of years we have many successful platforms but I would say for sure much more platforms that didn't make it so that they claimed that they were becoming the Uber of something but in the end they couldn't make it. What's the difference, in your opinion, between those that actually make it and those that claim to be the Uber of something else? So, first of all not every market has to be disrupted in a platform way, so I think at a certain point there was a little bit of Uber mania, so everything was Uber of everything; the second thing which is actually the most interesting is that people believe that platform scales because of just demand like if you will use my platform, I am gonna go for the marketing of getting more and more users. But actually it's really interesting how these platforms and I've spent a lot of time working on this with different founders; it is like actually how do you really grow supply, so if for Airbnb's number of homes for Uber is number of drivers, for deliveries number of restaurants, because actually that is the one part that is the hardest to scale, it's the one that gives you the advantage and it's the one that when a customer comes to you and finds what they want, they will not go away. If they don't find it, you will have a lot of customers and no cars and then a person will never come back, so the the supply side is usually more sticky and it's the one that drives the growth and then the demand comes, so always focus on supply. The supply is also the hardest to get because clearly, generally, in the supply you're talking to professional people, professional drivers, or professional service providers they come to home for like cleaning for example or they come for beauty and all these professionals have other jobs, have other works, so to convince them to come to your platform you have to be fake it and one of the interesting things we used to do as tricks is to say: come to our office and we were in a co-working space and so we would say this is all the office of Uber. Obviously there were like 15 startups and we were like one desk with five people or three people and we would say: this is the whole office. So it made it feel like, okay, you're a big company and so you really have to a little bit fake it, until like enough people come up and then they start getting enough work because you're getting demand and then that's how platform grows. So I think that balance is something that doesn't happen all the time and it's very difficult and it requires a lot of work and a lot of capital in certain cases, so you really need to think about the long-term plan for scaling a market and then the problem is you have to do it a second time or a third time when you open a second, third, fourth market, so that's the hard part of seeing how some make it and some don't. That's very cool and well, that's very cool from the outside, probably living it is very challenging but it's absolutely very very interesting. You were mentioning many companies, many startups, many ideas that became platforms. Something that I always wondered is how we can use this model, this idea of doing businesses in a quite different way from what we were used to in existing companies, what's your thoughts on that? So, I think that there are two things that companies can take from this, one is internal, so changing the organizational work inside, so again a company is very structured, there's a pyramid, there's like a hierarchy; the decisions are only made on top. I think this platform model creates a way of making decisions or creating connections that are horizontal within companies and so there can be a lot of like HR or any way company specific internal opportunities and the second is about thinking how, and this depends from company to company, but it depends how a company distributes its product, its services today and how it can think about using a little bit more technology and a little bit more of this philosophy of like exactly connected economy to distribute their product and one of the examples that comes to mind if you think about insurance companies, they're the most old-fashioned companies in the world, they probably make still a lot of money and so they never want to change the way they're doing things and the way they got distributed the product was very much the same throughout the last 100 years and now they're trying to see if there are ways in which they can sell car insurance or health insurance through an app or directly to consumer not going through like promoters etc. and they're starting to understand that if they want to do it this way, the type of insurance they sell can't be like a 15-page document that you have to read and like sign, but it has to be something which is like on an app, it's readable in one screen and it's like subscribable straight away. You can decide to take the insurance for one month and take it off the next, and these kind of things, and also on top, if you think about it, insurance had to adapt to this platform economy so there had to be a new insurance for the driver of Uber or a new type of insurance for the Airbnb home, so I just took one industry that is like for me completely old-fashioned, that actually was changing pretty fast with this new platform economy, and that's how I believe like CEOs and strategy professionals of bigger companies should think about their business models. Okay, so reaching the end of this conversation you've been in many different roles in your career in the world of platforms, you've seen the venture capital perspective, you've been the founder, you've been the country manager, you've been in different places, what's your piece of advice for someone that wants to answer there, what would you say to someone that said: I want to create a platform? So, create a new one from scratch, I think it's the advice I give to any startup. First of all choose a company that you really believe in and choose a project that you really believe in, don't start a company just because it's like the Uber of something. A platform should be the method to getting to your goal. Your goals and your mission should be: I don't want to start a platform, my mission should be I want to change transport, I want to change this industry, I want to change insurance, I want to change hospitality in a way that is more affordable, more human, so you have to choose your mission and I really like founders and I also angel invest sometimes in startups that have founders that have a deep mission because doing a startup and doing a company is very complicated, it's probably one of the hardest jobs there are, so you need to have that motivation you need to love the idea and your concept, your mission, so why are you there, why are you doing this instead of taking a job, why are you like struggling all the night to find supply or demand when you could be in a company and they pay you a salary? So, this is the first part. Secondly, surround yourself by mentors and when I say mentors this is another problem: people think mentors are people who have white hair and they've been in the industry for 15, 20, 30 years. Sometimes, the best mentors for me have been people who are doing the same, they were startup starting a company as well because maybe they had my same problem and you could ask and they tell you the truth and they help you throughout the way, so maybe ask people who've worked in other platforms or who are starting a platform themselves and surround yourself with mentors; and number three, in platforms is even harder, be very well connected to your market. In platforms you have two markets so, your users on one side and your service providers on the other. You have to spend so much time talking to them, I think people believe I'm the CEO and so I'm gonna manage and instead one of the things I've always loved is I spend a lot of time, at least like a few hours every week, even when I was super busy and going and traveling and had a bigger job, spending time replying to customers. So on the chats or online, on the tickets that they sent, or meeting with the drivers for example of Uber or meeting with with financial providers and talking to my customers in Oval, because this gives you a really good idea of what your market is and that's how I found out about the fact that I wasn't really targeting only like young millennials but a whole group of people that could be bigger than that and so I think these three are advices that I would give any startup founder and in platforms you just have to do double the work because you have two sides to your business, so that's very helpful. Thank you. One last question: you said something that got my attention because it's not obvious, that someone that stay within an interesting work such as the one of platforms can say that clearly you said: I don't think that the entire world, all the industries, all the companies should become platforms and so the last question I'd like to ask you is: looking ahead, what do you see for platforms, the next challenge, the next opportunity that they are bringing? What's coming in your informed opinion? Well, as I said, I believe actually platforms will become more and more local, so there's a lot of local problems that can be disrupted by the platform technology and I think they will arrive to more and more people for sure. Some companies have scaled a lot, they have millions and millions of users, but if you think about how big populations are, it's like just starting and I actually believe there is a lot more to be done, for example. For the world is hard to say, but one of the things that I've always thought could be really interesting for Italy as a country is to disrupt really tourism and to use platforms for the one thing that we do really well, which is like our country's beauties and trying to find ways in which we can really use technology to make people closer to our country, our culture, our food, our beautiful people, our beautiful landscapes and tourism. I believe is just starting, I mean, Airbnb opened a huge world but for a country like Italy I believe tourism can completely be changed by using platform economy. Okay, so thank you very much for staying here with us, thank you very much for all your insights in the world of platform. See you for something else in the world of platforms. I really appreciate it and, yes, I'm working on my new project so it's still in a platform world, let's say, so looking forward to it launching. So for a new course we'll have a new interview. Exactly. Thank you again for being here with us. Thank you.