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Federico Solinas: the man who turned shopping into a game

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Federico Solinas: the man who turned shopping into a game

“No one will buy in stores anymore. Everything will be purchased online. We will go to stores just to ‘try’ something, until technology allows us to have the same experience. A drone will bring everything to our home, half an hour later the purchase. And if we now live with the phone in our hand, soon we will live wearing glasses for augmented reality. We will have more time thanks to artificial intelligence. Someone will lose their job. Everything has a life cycle. And this is also for me and my business… If you don’t renew yourself, you’ll end up like Blockbuster.”

Federico Solinas11 years ago, in London, has founded Bidoo, an e-commerce platform, where you play and purchase products by participating in an auction. He did everything bootstrapped, with a small capital, without venture capital funding. It went through very tough years, with thousands of competitors. And in a world where everything changes dramatically and startups have only a few years of life, Bidoo continues to work.

36 years old, Solinas left in 2012 from a small town near Cagliari. Destination: London. In his pocket, he has only one desire: to do something new. “I couldn’t do it in Italy. London, pre-Brexit, was considered the best place in Europe. The idea of ​​leaving seemed so extraordinary to me that I did everything I could to leave.”

With a friend he founded Bidoo, made a thousand attempts to acquire users, exploited all the social networks, worked like a madman. Then the turning point. Today he has 8 million users, 15 million in revenue, 50 people on the team. How does it work? “To participate in an auction you must have credits, which you can earn for free on the site or on Instagram. Each credit gives you the opportunity to make an offer on a product for sale. These are electronics, kitchen and beauty products. You save up to 90%. If you want to participate in more auctions, however, you must purchase additional credits.”

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Rewind. At 19, Solinas enrolled in economics school, but dropped out after a few months. He creates a first startup in the world of e-commerce. “He was called Mandrake and was a search engine for offline shopping. I went to the florist in Cagliari and told him: you should put your flowers on my platform. You take photos, publish them, indicate the prices and then people come to the store and buy them from you. And he replied: you are raving…”

The startup closes. “I made the classic mistakes. But I didn’t stop experimenting.”

Telling the story of Bidoo is a bit like retracing what has happened online in the last 10 years. “I wanted to create something in this world, dominated right from the start by big players, like Amazon. An average user generally buys where the price is lowest or where shipping is fastest. It’s impossible to do e-commerce and compete on the product prices or shipping speed. If you want to be successful, you have to offer a completely different experience. Shopping sites were emerging around the world that entertained consumers with gamification logic. I tried too…”

Consistency and luck: these are the ingredients of his success. Bidoo begins to move thanks to the arrival of Facebook in Italy. “In 2012, Facebook pages were a bit like today’s influencers, but no one knew it. One evening I was working in customer service and I was contacted by a boy: he proposed me an advertisement on a page. I was skeptical at first. I paid 30 euros for the first post. After 2 minutes, Bidoo was down due to the amount of traffic. From that moment everything changed for us.”

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Then to explain why, he adds: “Social networks are like a game of chairs. At the beginning there is room to acquire avalanches of new users at very low prices, but it doesn’t last forever. As time goes by, many other companies realize the potential and the seats run out. Users are not infinite.”

After Facebook, here is Instagram. Bidoo starts exploiting memes. Then come the influencers. “We contacted them, negotiated the price, took the best ones. We have a database with 10 thousand influencers.” Finally Covid, and Bidoo explodes. “And now there is TikTok. In some countries (not in Italy), the TikTok Shop is already active. A kind of shop, with products for sale. The user has already inserted his credit card and with one click, during a live broadcast, or in a simple video, buy. This thing will change everything.”

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What have you learned along the way?

“That the costanza it’s worth a lot. Many times we said to ourselves: ‘enough’. Nobody around us believed it. And in the end you too convince yourself that you are a poor fool. Nonetheless we resisted and tried. If we hadn’t done it then, we wouldn’t be here today. At some point you make a switch. You change. Start doing different things. Little steps. And the transformation begins. Something that first happens inside you, in daily life, then later is reflected in the business.”

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In these years Federico also lives a personal breakthrough. “For a long time I lived out of balance. At one point I suffered from anxiety. I started attending Robin Sharma’s coaching sessions and learned a lot. I discovered that: ‘Energy is more important than IQ’. Energy is much more important than IQ. You can be as smart as you want, but if you’re tired you don’t do anything. It’s persistence that counts. If you have to cut down a tree, you can hit it thousands of times, but if you don’t hit the same spot, it won’t fall.

Until a few years ago I worked every day, zero holidays, rest was almost considered ridiculous. But then I realized that I was wasting time, I was doing worthless things. I was inside the hamster wheel. I decided to change. To value rest. I started scheduling everything in a calendar, I choose what to do. When I work, when I eat, when I train, when I go out, when I dedicate myself to my personal path. The number one advantage? I no longer have anxiety. I don’t have to figure out every morning what I need to do. Everything is already decided. And it’s me who decides, not others. I can also say no, I don’t procrastinate anymore. I was the king of procrastinators. If I could do something later, I did it later. Now I force myself to put the ugliest and most mangy things right away. And it changes everything. Because that mangy stuff that you’re procrastinating on continues to be there inside you, behind the scenes, it’s consuming bandwidth and making you tired.”

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I learned that everything has a life cycle. Nobody is God. You remember Messenger, we used it all day. Then came Facebook. Then Skype. Stores? Physical stores will no longer sell. We need to renew ourselves.”

And what will you do? “The biggest challenge is maintaining users’ attention. We want to focus on live shopping, but including gaming. Let’s imagine a platform, where on one side there are content creators who become presenters of a live game and sellers, on the other there are consumers who play live while shopping and receive a discount proportional to how good they were at the game.”

As you imagine the future? “Two things will change the world: Apple glasses, augmented reality viewers, e l’artificial intelligence. We will live with these glasses, which will become less and less invasive. It’s as if we put a layer of information between our senses. And then artificial intelligence. Of course it will help us, it will give us more free time. But I’m also scared, a lot of people will lose their jobs. And from an ethical point of view I ask myself questions. Each of us will have to rethink our business. Will I myself continue to sell non-essential products?”.

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