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Our 1871 | Marcelo De Santis, Digital Innovator

Our 1871 is a series of articles, photos, and videos introducing you to the amazing people who power our community. Simple 1871 fact -- the people make the place.Today we chat with mentor Marcelo De Santis, who's led innovation at companies like Kraft Foods, Mondalez, and Pirelli. 


What did you have to learn the hard way?

When I was at university I founded my software company. I was the owner, the developer, the marketing and the sales guy, all at once. I was very good at ‘making things happen by myself” and I was offered a job in a startup in the financial industry.

I did very well at the beginning until the business started to grow exponentially. Since I did not have any experience building, organizing and leading teams, I failed to scale up my organization and finally was invited to leave the company.

While this was hard to digest in those early days of my career, I learned that – no matter how smart you think you are – there is a limitation of what you can do by yourself, but there is unlimited potential when you build a good team, when you surround yourself with great people and open yourself to learn from them. This lesson was fundamental to grow my career.

 What do you know today that you wish you'd known when you first started?

It takes much more than technical and financial skills to succeed in business; mastering relationships is key to understanding your colleagues, employees, customers, and stakeholders, as well as to motivate and engage others.

I think at the beginning of our careers, we want to prove that we can do everything by ourselves; we need that self-reassurance. But the faster we understand that we can achieve much more partnering with others, the faster we grow ourselves.

What skills do you think are the most important for an entrepreneur to have?

Resilience and determination with a “pinch” of humility. Starting a business is like pushing a big rock uphill and it feels like that for a quite a long time.

On the other side, humility acts as an accelerator in changing trajectory when things definitely are not going well. Sometimes founders struggle to “let go” of their original ideas and do not see the possibility to pivot and course correct the trajectory of the business on time. 

What's your tech prediction?

AI related startups will continue to grow exponentially and attract investments; specifically, those working on natural language processing which powers voice-enabled devices.

Voice is the path of least resistance to connect humans with machines, and I think the reduction of friction in that relationship will bring new AI use cases beyond the ones we know today with smart speakers.

There is a lot of potential in consumer, advertising, e-commerce and even in the enterprise segment to further automate company processes. Likewise, there are challenges to be addressed on how to be inclusive in the case of people with disabilities – e.g. deaf people or those that have temporarily lost their voice due to sickness. This space is evolving fast; just look at the recently announced Google Duplex system, which mimics human voice to make appointments -- fascinating.

What's one piece of advice you would give to an entrepreneur?

Have in clear mind the “why” of your business idea in terms of “what real problem are you solving” as well as “your personal passion to solve that problem.“ A great business reason combined with your passion will drive your venture forward at a good pace.

Fun Stuff

Which song is the soundtrack to your life? "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" from U2.

Which hashtag best describes you? #ClimbOn. it comes from my mountaineering background; a phrase coined by an accomplished mountaineer - Alan Arnette. It represents the spirit of high altitude mountaineering, a sport that tests human’s limits and teaches important lessons about humanity, courage and teamwork. It’s a sort of encouragement you give to fellow mountaineers as you progress your climbing journey.

What's your comfort food? Cheeseburger with sweet potato fries (and a cold beer).

What's your daily ritual? Wake up early, exercise, have a strong breakfast - with two shots of espresso - then out to make a difference. Each day is a gift.

What's your personal mantra? "Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” It’s actually a Japanese proverb. It reminds me that we are in a learning journey and that we always have the ability to learn from our mistakes and come back stronger; we just need to be resilient.

Follow Marcelo on Twitter.


 1871 provides work space, education, resources, and curated connections to help Chicago's entrepreneurs build and scale their business.

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