Keeping a facilitation business alive in Europe’s first country to experience lockdown

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Daniele Busato

The Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.

In June 2020, Julia Skupchenko from Lockdown Economy spoke with Fabrizio Faraco, founder of In Sprint, an Italian company with the mission of helping entrepreneurs around the world reach success and autonomy. The project was doing great in its first months of existence, assisting multiple clients per day. But how did it handle the shock of having to go through the first lockdown in all of Europe?

Could you tell us more about In Sprint?

Fabrizio: In Sprint is a company devoted to helping customers gain success and autonomy. We want to make people and companies successful, but we want to be — in a sort of sense — not relevant for the success, simply teach or facilitate them. We use mainly workshops as a way to succeed and different types of methodologies, such as LEGO Serious Play and Lean Startup. This is quite important because our credo is “business agility”.

We normally start from what our clients feel is a need, then from the need, we try to understand which is the real impact they want to have. Then from the goal of this impact, we design a series of workshops, a sort of path that allows them to actually reach these results but also to learn how to do it and how they have to change their mindsets.

It can happen that our clients call us back because they want to scale up, but not because we have to do and repeat everything. While obviously we can consult and train, what we really love to do is facilitate them, make the solution emerge inside them.

How was your business going before the lockdown?

Fabrizio: In Sprint was founded in February 2019, and in one year we grew immensely: in January and February of this year we had an average of two workshops per day, and there were only two of us (me and Andrea Romoli). Most of our work was in physical presence, face to face, so when the lockdown arrived (we were in Milan the 22nd of February when we had Patient One in Italy, and at it was the biggest boom in all of Europe because until that time only China had experienced such a situation) it was tough for us because we realized immediately that the first half of our year’s revenues were completely cancelled (initially we thought only the first quarter). So from success to zero.

From a business point of view, how did you address the situation?

Fabrizio: I was lucky because just the 23rd of February I flew to Dubai to sustain the Spring Framework Training for some companies and entrepreneurs. This was good because it gave me time to think and strategize; had I remained in Italy, I probably would have been overwhelmed by the panic wave that was all over the country. So being in Dubai allowed me to just keep calm, think “Ok, we are good at facing crises, we help companies handle them, so let’s be the doctors of ourselves (which doesn’t always actually work)”. In the past I had done several hybrid or online workshops (one even very important with a leading company like IBM), so my idea was to go online, but not to teach something like in a webinar, but rather to try and make people collaborate and do workshops at the same time. So once back from Dubai, Andrea and I created our first interactive workshop trying to see if people would understand this type of format. It was a success, so we then tried to see whether people would pay for it or not, and the answer was positive.

We decided hence to organize a series of interactive workshops for free to let people understand, and a series of paying workshops once gained certain sophisticated techniques. We also attempted to convince colleagues (and even competitors) to move into the interactive workshop modality, and we are really happy because quite a few of them are now successful in doing them.

To be frank, we didn’t actually recover all the revenues lost, but at least we got a new source of revenue: an offering which was designed during the lockdown but is now not only for the lockdown, and we are going to have this kind of offering as part of our solution even in face to face situations.

How is the business going now?

Fabrizio: Obviously, there are some uncertainties, it’s not just like before. But you have to be prepared, you have to think ahead and try to be ready for an uncertain future. This is not only an In Sprint problem, all companies have it. Of course, all entrepreneurs are now very busy in getting everything done in order to recover from the situation, so they are very focused on the business as usual, on production and delivery, and they have very little time to focus on new uncertainties, new scenarios that can come up, how to get into new markets and take opportunities because beyond any shock there are huge opportunities. So that is a really untapped environment, and it’s were we as In Sprint can really help them in overcome or manage this period.

We now have our business as usual offering (in September we had our Science Spring certification, face to face, bootcamp as we did last year); we are going to launch online strategy strings, a series of interactive workshops that allow an entrepreneur to go from where they are now to manage an uncertain future (we also have some hybrid solutions, in which we do some parts online and others offline). In particular, we are focusing on how we can strategize while having to work on a day-to-day basis.

If we are lucky, we will probably reach by next year the levels of last year.

There is one situation that we feel is quite important: what COVID and the lockdown economy teach to all the companies is that now, in order to make people move, you really need to be effective. So for a company like us, the market has completely changed, because we need to prove ourselves that we can be effective and we can make companies move people only if the results are really significant and effective. This is a really big challenge for all facilitators around the world.

You mentioned that entrepreneurs are busy delivering production so they are not really looking at what opportunities this crisis has brought. How was it for your own company, what did you do internally to identify what are your own opportunities?

Fabrizio: When I was in Dubai, we really focused on our identity, we went back into our “why” (why we do what we do), and understood beyond the problem, beyond the service, beyond the client, the real reason why we are in this business — and I suggest everybody do this. Based on this, we tried to come up with some scenarios, not in order to forecast the future, but in order to figure out robust strategies (strategies that are good no matter what scenario happens) or specific strategies (strategies that you need when a specific scenario arises).

This allows you to better understand your organization and your product, and obviously, it’s not something you only do once, but rather a process. What is important is not the strategy, but strategizing. So what we did is what we suggest: strategize, strategize, strategize. For us it’s business as usual: imagine a small company in Italy that is producing, for example, production lines for food processing. They have to deliver their product to their client, so they don’t have time to think about how many companies to approach, how many new markets they can enter; perhaps they never looked into Germany because in Germany there is high competitiveness, but after the shock, the strong competitor is weak, so maybe it is the right time to get into that country. Understanding better one’s business allows taking opportunities that at one time appeared only as dreams. To this regard, I’ll tell one thing: I arrived some years ago on a small Caribbean island after liberation from USA troops with some fellow Italian entrepreneurs devoted to tourism. I saw how the shock had produced enormous opportunities: we bought a beach lease for $70 per year, then we bought it for $150 and sold it for $3,000,000. Of course, it took 10 years for the whole process, but if you arrive in a place that is already stabilized you’re going to pay the $3,000,000, not 150. So sometimes the shock is a good way to make lots of money, but you have to be courageous, need to have a strategy, and don’t plan the future (because nobody knows about the future) but know how you could react in front of different situations, or, as we say, you have to “iterate”, go step by step and be ready to change the path based on the situation you have in front of you.

Great mini master class. Your story is brilliant and shows how many opportunities are really out there. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Fabrizio: Thank you. I just want to add one thing: in this particular period, a company of two people sometimes can feel a bit “alone”, so we team up with a series of companies all around the world (under the label of “Trivium International”) devoted to allowing companies to take opportunities from this shock, simply by strategizing ahead. Since we use LEGO Serious Play as one of our key methodologies, the whole program is called “Play Ahead”, meaning “play” as a way to get really good at strategizing and “ahead” because if you want to have time to react to a new crisis, you have to play (strategize) in advance.

About the Guest

Fabrizio Faraco is a certified facilitator in Design Sprint, Design Thinking and LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®. After 15 years of the corporation as a manager and 10 of business consultants around Italy and abroad, today he focuses on effective strategies for the success of organizations and in particular the opportunities offered by the development of digital and advanced business design tools. Those who engage with Fabrizio can always count on innovative methods and effective paths to acquire an innovation-oriented mindset. His assignments are geared towards ensuring that organizations are able to carry out innovation independently. His works produce: a solution that the participants feel their own (because it emerges in the workshop from them); the growth of internal skills (individual and organizational) to be able to continue innovating within the organization. In addition to innovative methods, those who engage with Fabrizio can benefit from his experience gained over the years and developed in extensive applications of the adopted methods. Whether it is, quickly validating a development choice (using Design Sprint) or co-create a real-time strategy to carry on with simple guiding principles (with the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY) or a continuous innovation process (with design thinking and lean startup), Fabrizio has already applied the methods and a combination of them in similar contexts repeatedly with success. In Sprint is an Italian company that supports organizations to have success in autonomy. In Sprint has been known for introducing business agility into organizations. The new program will focus on how to manage the uncertain future and how to strategize while you are taking care of day-to-day business.

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