Michelangelo Ravagnan: ANTLOS & The Sailing Holiday Revolution

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Founder and CEO of ANTLOS, Michelangelo Ravagnan explains the challenges & opportunities for Italian startups as well as how he came up with the idea for an online sailing holiday platform.

With summer 2016 showing the tip of its nose and me with the aspiration of coming out with an exciting holiday, I decided to interview Michelangelo Ravagnan, one of the three bright founders and CEO of ANTLOS, a young startup incubated at H-FARM, that offers the opportunity to book any kind of sailing vacation at a competitive price online, offering a wide array of destinations.

Michelangelo, how did you come up with the idea to launch your startup?

If you grew up in a sea town like Venice, you really have the passion for sailing in your veins. I find it somehow amusing how people living on the mainland are used to their first motorbike or car, while Venetians like me have their first punt (“barchino” in Venetian) to navigate across the city canals.

When I finished my studies, I decided to follow my big passion for the nautical sector. I initially worked for a famous Italian yacht manufacturer, paying my dues for one year and sailing throughout the entire Mediterranean Sea. I consequently became one of the company’s tester captains and once a yacht was sold to a ship owner, I had to make sure that the boat was operating perfectly. During the deliver, I took care of the transfer of the yacht from the shipyard in Venice to Sardinia, or Monte Carlo, Côte Azur, Nice. We were also providing the yacht-owner and his crew with special tailored-made training.

Right, but how come that you decided to focus on the sharing economy?

Working with yacht-owners, sometimes I was asked to rent out yachts. This meant that I liaised with a charter agency, performing on-board the roles of skipper and captain in charge of the charter service. Eventually, I also decided to start a new entrepreneurial activity in Venice and I ended up managing accommodation facilities, i.e. a Bed & Breakfast through the platform provided by Airbnb.

ANTLOS was developed thanks to a consolidated friendship with Marco and Nicola, both from Venice like me. We decided to expand our common passion for the sea alongside the developments of the sharing economy. For this reason, we unified our complementary experiences, developing a project dedicated to sailing boat holidays.

We quickly understood that the added value in comparison to other services was the 24/7 exchange between the host and his/her guests. More than in any other activity related to the sharing economy, sailing boat holidays could become the ideal situation where not only the yacht owner provides check-in/check-out procedures, but he/she also entirely spends the holiday with his guests.

Therefore, the most important feature for ANTLOS is the professionalism of our local skippers. We reinvented the sharing economy for vacations giving birth to a new kind of service, taking a big challenge.

Was it hard to move into this direction?

This was an extremely hard decision to take. Startuppers, when they become so, must interrupt their previous life, otherwise they could not be fully able to plunge themselves into their adventure, which requires all energies twenty-four hours a day. From my point of view, hard work is the only key to achieving success. There can be a good concept as well as a brilliant project idea, but the value of the service that you are offering is given by the hard work and commitment that you put into your startup.
For this reason, the most important feature that we look for in our team members remains ambition and the eagerness to embrace our common challenge. When we decided to do so, we opted for an ‘all-in’ option. Hence, we look for the same characteristic into anyone who wants to work with us.

The desire to embark on an exciting and demanding experience is a must. Candidates should not be simply looking for a new job, and this is fundamental because a startup doesn’t merely offer a job, indeed it wants to share the opportunity to be part of a life-changing experience, to be able to satisfyingly create and achieve growth together.

Michelangelo Ravagnan: ANTLOS & The Sailing Holiday RevolutionHow did you give all yourself with ANTLOS?

Taking up a challenge like this one is the riskiest thing ever. My friends/business partners and I sold everything we had, from the wristwatch given by grandpa, to the guitars we grew up with; all that we could. This provided us with an initial fund that allowed us to move to London, where an ecosystem for startups already existed for several years.

With these financial resources, we paid for the accommodation in London; we participated to events and fulfilled the first applications to apply for selected acceleration programs at UK incubators. We never really thought we could have found any concrete opportunities for launching a startup in Italy, but when we received a newsletter from H-FARM, the well-known venture incubator near Venice, we decided to apply for its acceleration programme called H-CAMP.

After sending to H-FARM several presentations with our conceptual idea, we chose to come back to Venice. An extremely positive synergy immediately started with H-FARM, who selected ANTLOS among thousands of other startups for the new H-CAMP starting in October 2014. We thus put the experience of London aside, pleased that the same kind of practice could be attained within our territory. We went against the grain, finding our chance for growth only a few kilometers away from our hometown. This was an incredible opportunity we still cannot believe.

What fuelled your startup at the beginning and what will in the future?

H-FARM gave us the opportunity to benefit from several services, from incubation (mentoring, training, co-working space, etc.) to board and lodging. This was truly necessary to develop what was, at that time, only our entrepreneurial idea, transforming it into a real prototype that we finally introduced to several tech-partners and investors.

In January 2015, ANTLOS eventually found some investors for the pre-seed round, who decided to support the startup. Hence, we received our first round of funding from H-FARM, Club Italia Investimenti 2 (an investment company based in Milan), and from a business angel investor. They provided us with an overall loan of € 180.000 in the form of incubation services and cash. With the first financial resources, we constituted the company and we started to implement our team.

New collaborators arrived, helping us to develop the online platform. Consequently, we launched the first campaign to make us known. The initial platform was released in June 2015 and it was a Beta-version of what you can find online now.

Unexpectedly, in June 2015 an autonomous investor manifested his interest from Sweden. We believe that the real competitive advantage of a startup is its human capital, so the potential investor was invited in Venice to meet with our entire team. We shared with him our forthcoming vision and he decided to support us with an amount of € 500.000. The new investor, representing his family fund Incos Invest, allowed us to go through the seeding phase smoothly, speeding up the development of our startup.
ANTLOS is now made up of a professional international team. We are proud to affirm that in a very short time we developed an amazing platform able to transact important figures, widening our skippers’ community database and collecting the first bookings. At the end of this summer season, this will be functional to an additional funding round, Series A (up to € 1-2 million).

What is the response that you’re receiving so far?

The first users of ANTLOS are giving us an extremely positive feedback. All the responses that you can find online are real. Skippers working with us are chosen through a methodical selection and in comparison to other similar platforms, they must also sign a contract with us. This is fundamental to cooperate with professional people possessing a strong sense of commitment and responsibility, very important when you offer a full-time navigation service.

Like for any other startup, it is difficult to make long-term forecasts. We are working hard to make ANTLOS become the international platform of reference for all the people who want to live a truly diverse and extraordinary sailing experience. This is our goal and biggest ambition.

We are increasingly opening to a public of both beginners and sailing passionate people, who can enjoy the chance to book their vacation at very accessible costs. Sailing holidays can be perceived as a luxury vacation, but through our platform they are very affordable, considering that many of our bookings have an average value per person of € 70-90 a day. This kind of vacation should, in this way, become available to a wider public.

Michelangelo, what’s your personal advice for young startuppers in Veneto Region?

A strong commitment is fundamental in Veneto region as anywhere else. Startuppers must believe in what they are doing, this is the first and most important thing to remember. Giving all yourself and making sacrifices is essential.

Becoming a startupper means to be able to say ‘no’ to any other sliding doors, lifestyle, and perhaps to another permanent work. Especially in Italy, it is not very easy to find young people who decide to renounce to the stereotypical secured job with long-term contract. Derailing from the tracks of ordinary life and following your dreams is indispensable to continue day by day to achieve your scheduled goals.
The second important thing is to develop a startup in a sector where startuppers actually possess some valuable experience, perhaps also a strong network. Time is really precious in the initial growth phase of a startup. Being ambitious, taking up a challenge, making sacrifices, and having the relevant competences, are the secret ingredients for success.

Last but not least, startuppers should always work within a group of friends. They will spend most of their time with colleagues rather than family or partners. It is a tough life, working 15-16 hours a day and having a good relationship with colleagues is fundamental. There will be discussions in any case, but these will happen among people you trust and know well, and they will be constructive.

Startuppers must give themselves entirely, starting in the early morning without knowing when they finish in the evening. I think this is the right path to follow because investors will be eager to support those projects where people give 100%!



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