We talked to Roberto Iannone of Zoundream about the world’s first portable TRANSLATOR of newborn cries.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Roberto Iannone: Doing fine, thanks. Of course, it’s not been an easy period or an easy period in general. With many sacrifices to the type of life we were used to having, but so far, all has gone fine, thankfully.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Zoundream.
Roberto Iannone: The idea for this product, and later for this company, came when I had my daughter, Sofia – about 3 years ago. Like most other parents in the world, my wife and I were struggling, in the beginning, to understand what our (first) child needed, if we were doing the right thing, at the right time and if she was fine. In short, all doubts that most parents in the world have, during the first weeks and months of life of their baby.
One day – by reading a book – I learnt that behind every single cry of Sofia, there was a meaning. And that actually, babies do cry differently depending on what they need, how they feel, and even whether they are sick or not.
This gave the idea.
At the time, I was working in a big corporation in Basel, and studying for my executive MBA. Long story short, I quickly quit my job and moved full-time in working on this business idea – together with some other people crazy enough to do the same risky step. Today we are 8 people and growing.
How does Zoundream innovate?
Roberto Iannone: Simply put, with a lot of try and error. Since we are developing something completely innovative, the only realistic approach to innovate is to test and check any hypothesis we develop, about what could work and what doesn’t. We follow this approach in every aspect of our innovation and developments. If it’s a hypothesis about what users (i.e. parents) would like, or use, for example, we try to develop a simple version and check how much they use it, and the feedback they share. If it is about a new solution to analyze baby cries, we can only develop it and execute extensive tests to see the actual response.
To support this approach, we developed an overall structure and system that can support this “try, test, validate” approach.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Roberto Iannone: Thankfully, it did not impact our business that much. There was, of course, some impact, but very limited. Practically, we were already used to work remotely even before COVID forced us to do so. And for the business we operate in, there wasn’t really such a dramatic impact as it was indeed experienced in many / most other industries. We got lucky, indeed.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Roberto Iannone: I guess the reality of a startup is always to make difficult choices. With limited information. And to live with them.
Maybe one of my most important lessons learnt, during these years working in a startup, is that compared to my previous years in corporate, a startup does require constantly to make such difficult choices. We believe that being an effective startup is all about speed. Speed to execute, speed to innovate, but also speed in moving, in steering in a different direction. In adapting to a dynamic environment. All things where a corporate cannot simply compete.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Roberto Iannone: That’s definitely a difficult part. A lot is constantly on stake. A startup is composed of people. We have families and children depending on us, and on the success of what we’re doing.
Personally, I don’t think there’s a definitive formula to deal with stress and anxiety. And I don’t think there should be even, because stress and anxiety can also be positive when channeled in the right direction. Maybe that is actually our own way in Zoundream on dealing with stress. We don’t pretend it is not there, or that it should be there. It is there, people do experience it, and they should: it’s not only normal but also a sign that we all understand what we are doing is important. After all, the work of each single one of us has a very concrete impact on the success and life of everybody else in the team. But we all do our best to channel that stress and direction in the right direction, helping out each other when we see that a certain person is getting overrun.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Roberto Iannone: We have some competition, of course. Our view on that is actually rather simple: in order to stay ahead of the game, we need to be faster, and better, than the other companies out there. It’s a game about speed, and ability to execute. But we are glad to see and experience that our solution is currently “ahead of the game”. Much more than when we started, actually. And we’re very positive on how it’s progressing.
Your final thoughts?
Roberto Iannone: As weird or out of place as it might sound, 2020 has been a great year. We are extremely glad about how it played out (and I’m not talking about the overall pandemic situation, clearly). We are looking for a comparable – if not even better – 2021.
And hopefully, during 2021, the pandemic situation will also get better / resolved, and we will get back to a normal and ordinary year. A year where we can still see and meet people face to face, organize physical events and in-person meetings as well as hug family members and friends again.
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