Enrico Deleo talks how he came up with the first marketplace for comics in Italy and how he raised 400k in seed.
Business: First Marketplace for Comics
Can you briefly tell your story?
I spent my childhood in a little but wonderful town in the southern of Italy during the first mass internet era. I’ve been immediately captured by the charm of this tool and the inebriating sense of having the whole world in front of a desktop!
I knew I wanted to be actively involved, so I began spending almost everyday on my uncle’s pc (at first I didn’t even had one at home) and playing with any kind of hardware and software I could find. At the age of 12 I coded my first website (it was basically a blog related to very basic hacking topics) and I bought my first pc, I never spent a day without a shell and some code since then.
“At the age of 12 I coded my first website (it was basically a blog related to very basic hacking topics) and I bought my first pc…”
What are you currently doing?
I’m the founder and chief technical officer of the first digital comics marketplace in Italy, accelerated by one of the most important business accelerator of my country, LUISS EnLabs, that helped me and my business partner during the go-to-market phase and the first fund raising (~ 400k €). I’m basically redesigning the way people read comics on their mobile devices and building a comprehensive set of digital solutions for the industry.
What drove you to start Verticomics?
When I was 21 I was approached by a friend of mine that was launching a comics contest. At the time I was already working as a web freelancer and I had enough experience to turn that contest into an experimental online contest addressed to the whole nation.
That contest attracted a lot of interest: we keep getting proposals even weeks after it was closed. We decided to make that website permanent to give people (newcomers and professionals) the opportunity to show their works and get involved to new contest and activities. That website was then verticalismi.it , the first community driven webcomic magazine. To me, it was clear we could try a step further, bringing the same experience and passion to the mainstream world. So I moved to Rome to establish VERTICOMICS and a new episode began.
How did you define your MVP?
During the years of verticalismi.it we got in touch both with publishers and readers and already tested our reading system.
We were pretty sure of what they were searching for, but we needed to do it (very) fast. The business accelerator gave us a seat and included us into a business training course of six months. I closed all my previous jobs and put myself 100% on the new platform and mobile apps. It was a rush but eventually, when the sixth month ended, we got a product.
During the acceleration program, we’ve been encouraged to get on board great advisor that helped us better define the details of the offer and the marketing strategy. Luckily for us, when we launched, thousands of people actually liked the product and downloaded the app. After a week we were among the top 10 best apps for reading and among the best apps of the month according to iTunes. We were ready for the investors.
“We were ready for the investors.”
How did you attract your first users and how did you grow Verticomics?
We leveraged the traction we already had thanks to verticalismi.it: we included some of our previous readers into the closed beta program asking them for advises and opinions, releasing a better, revised version once every 2 weeks.
The word of mouth did a lot, but my business partner was also great: he has been able to turn himself into a press office and a wealthy businessman, closing enough deals for a good catalog.
What is the business model?
On one side we are a book store. We sell selected comics in a peculiar edition we carefully craft in order to enhance the digital experience. On the other side we are the only Italian company specialised in online comics, hence we offer all kind of value added services for publishing houses such as digitalisation, online strategy, protection against piracy and so on.
What are the major challenges you have faced?
At first it was tough: in the business world, comics were not seen as a serious thing and we needed to be impeccable to have confidence. This required full commitment and before we were funded also a lot of work for free. I have to thank my family who supported me when my savings have been over.
Did you receive any funding? What investors expect to see?
Yes, we funded our first BP thanks to peculiar VCs and business angels. At the end of the day if you can prove your assumption with a decent product and numbers someone will believe in you.
What would you recommend to those who want to follow your steps?
My advise is to work hard, build the best product you can within a reasonable timespan and keep in mind that you need to test as soon as you can to proof you were right (or learn from your errors).
If you are new to the business game, a good business incubator or accelerator could make the difference and give you the tools you need to start (such as a minimum of training and the right network).
Where can we learn more about Verticomics?