Controlling and digital marketing for startups


An introduction to management controlling digital marketing with an expert

Planning and controlling is a fundamental topic for startups.

Let’s meet Luca Vanzulli on controlling for startups!

Luca Vanzulli is a Planning & Controlling Specialist with a passion for data analysis, the creation of dashboards & reporting. In his spare time, he has a passion for Blogging, Copywriting, Web Content Marketing, web Marketing, Digital Strategy, and interviews with startup founders.

Hi Luca, can you tell us about yourself and your passion for both management control, content marketing and the startup’s world? Where does it come from and how does it all come together?

My approach to controlling began in my father’s shoe shop when I implemented an accounting software to manage book entries, receipts, inventory and revenues. Everything was done manually, and I started collecting data, standardising, and processing information. An experience that made me immediately understand how important it is defining analysis objectives before designing databases and dashboards. I always had a curiosity for numbers, but, on a professional level, at the beginning I focused on marketing and business development for a company that operated in the field of telecommunications, teletext and web marketing services. It was 2000 and it was the period of the privatization of the state-owned telephone operator, and it seemed that interactive teletext was a truly innovative discovery: a way to interact with customers by offering additional services. It was also the period of banners and web marketing campaigns. Business management always fascinated me, and, above all, the analysis of potential interrelationships intrigued me a lot. In 1999, there was the opportunity to move on and carry out planning and management controlling tasks. At that time, management control was mainly run by the entrepreneur himself. It was a very intense and stimulating period given that there was a lot to set up and build in terms of data aggregation, summary tables, analysis to be implemented, procedures to be introduced for monitoring company performance. I always have in my DNA the desire to learn more and more, with the aim of always improving. I have always appreciated the startup’s world where there is always something to learn and continually grow and improve. Day after day you make a step forward and it seems you never enter into the operations daily routine that repeats itself over and over. Therefore, I consider myself a transversal figure, placed in the middle between controlling and marketing, where the common element is data management. The startup’s world and content marketing were a direct consequence, which soon turned into a passion for writing and experimenting, and curiosity to analyse business ideas and innovative solutions.

Luca, you work in the field of Planning & Controlling in a multinational company, as well as collaborate in your spare time with B2Corporate, a business hub, which deals with corporate business issues. Given your long and significant experience in business analysis and controlling, we want to ask you how important, the measurement of results and the implementation of an effective and lean management controlling system for a startup are. How to implement all this?

I think that the term “measurement”, in the context of those who make a startup, is a relevant aspect. Measuring the results versus the possible defined targets is necessary and essential in order to understand where we are. It is necessary to take a continuous snapshot and check if everything is in line or if it is necessary to make corrective actions. Sometimes there are project ideas, which during the experiential phase of growth can also lead to significant changes of direction. You should be able to create reference metrics for both the internal and external environment. In my opinion, a startup founder should also implement immediately a management controlling system, according to a step-by-step logic. Even the simple creation of homogeneous and normalized databases is a valuable starting point. Initially, you can also use the classic Microsoft Office tools and create customized and simple management models! In this way, the controlling will progressively evolve with the startup: you will recognised by yourself when it is time to adopt more complex tools and implement automation processes and business intelligence. Always remind that technology is a means not the goal! Furthermore, it is preferable to first define processes, operational mechanisms, and procedures. Better to focus on a few key drivers (KPI) to monitor. Start with the analysis of the commercial flow, keep under control the portfolio of potential customers, then the costs, the margins and so on! The financial part will initially unbalance, and it will have to be monitored carefully! The strategies for managing financial requirements and the choice of channels for obtaining fundraising to support investments will then lead you to a further step in the growth of management controlling and financial planning.

Can you explain the importance of data and, specifically, of small data in the startup environment? And how is all this relevant for defining effective and efficient digital strategies?

Data is a precious asset for the startup’s founders and, in general, for all those who operate in the business. It is increasingly essential to collect data from multiple sources, both internal and external to the company. We then proceed with data cleaning, processing and the design of data visualization models. Excel dashboards, dashboards with PowerBi or Tableu are examples of a dynamic modus operandi and support for business decisions.

Micro-data is an increasingly important and valuable element for experimenting and identifying business opportunities. The concept of small data or micro-data is very well explained by Massimo Giacchino in his book “Design Marketing” – analysing micro-data to test and scale market strategies: “micro-data are to be understood as traces and signals that people leave online. Ideally, they mostly, but not exclusively, come from what Google defines as all the times people have a need or a curiosity that can be satisfied with an online search”. As you can understand, this element is very precious and can be applied in different contexts: internet, social networks, in comments on a post and in reviews. By using micro-data, we can understand and collect information on competitors and customers. They are also particularly useful for defining the buyer personas. They allow you to identify market trends and build keywords to create digital content or to trace business strategies. Many types of small data have an extremely low cost as they are free available on the web. Actually, micro-data are already there, and their collection requires the marketer only the time to analyse them with tools that are available in the market and are mostly free.

What are the key elements on which our aspiring startup’s founders should focus on the process of validating their idea and building a successful startup?

Nobody has the magic wand to identify the ideal solution. I believe that it is the reference context and the idea to be developed that count a lot. However, it should be kept in mind that it is important to define objectives, and, if, after a certain period or due to certain exogenous and endogenous elements or factors, the idea itself prevents or slows down the upgrade phase, you must have the courage to review the initial idea. Unfortunately, the word startup is not always synonymous with success and will also lead to failures or changes in the initial business model. Therefore, I believe that it’s essential planning the goals to be achieved in definite times, their verification and the introduction of corrective actions, or system and product changes. A trial-and-error approach should be part of the startup founder’s mindset set. The validation of a startup idea is a complex and articulated process. It is also preferable to be followed by a mentor to receive strategic and development support. Initially, we need to ask ourselves questions such as: what problem do I want to solve with my startup? Is it a current, growing, future problem? What is my target audience? How can I learn about my problem? What pricing strategies should I adopt? I believe it is immediately relevant involving potential customers and making them an active part of the growth of my product / service. In terms of modus operandi, the application of the Lean Startup concepts can certainly help. In this way you will be able to structure a product design and development process, according to a logic aimed at encouraging frequent interactions with customers. Another certainly important aspect is “innovation accounting”, to be understood as your toolkit to measure, analyse and verify the activities or actions performed by a user in a digital platform. There is no standard metrics portfolio. Customization is necessary, according to the reference context in which you operate.

Can you tell us something more about B2corporate and your collaboration with this online magazine?

The B2corporate project was born almost for fun. There was the desire to experience the world of blogging and communities! An online publishing project born in 2006, which over the time has grown thanks to the passion and perseverance of a team of professionals, who, despite being engaged in their job and business activities, love to spend time to spread a corporate culture focused on business management, enhancement of human resources, marketing strategies, simplification of daily work activities. B2Corporate offers contents deemed valuable for the target audience. Blogging also means creating synergies and collaborations between users. B2corporate has a newsletter of over 25.000 subscribers made of entrepreneurs, startup’s founders, executives, employees, accountants, management consultants, marketers, employees, teachers, and students.

As part of your various interviews with startup’s founders, what are the “lessons” you learned so far, and can you mention us to the best interviews to inspire our startup and aspiring founders?

I always enjoyed reading interviews since I was a kid. They have always given me something positive and food for thought. Doing an interview is certainly a rewarding format and can always be used to help gain new experiences. With the interview you mix traces of personal life, concepts, solutions, thoughts, experiences. It is a more “intimate” content, which allows you to bring home experiences of life and growth, as well as new ideas to elaborate and develop. It is difficult to say which are the most beautiful interviews I made and published. Each one has its positive and interesting aspects to take home. I leave the choice to you. Here is the link.

Among the various books you wrote, which one would you recommend our founders to start with, in order to approach the world of numbers, finance, and management controlling? What knowledge and skills do you think they should initially develop to tackle the set-up of their startup with more awareness and the right mindset?

More than anything else, I wrote some practical guides on using Excel. I would recommend the one entitled Business dashboards with Excel. It’s useful for those who want to understand how to start synthesizing data starting from excel. The market is constantly evolving, and I believe that tools such as Power BI or similar ones, are growing fast. I suggest startup founders to be curious and continue reading and learning; perhaps even taking advantage of the new formats of audio books or even apps that propose book summaries, which allow you to quickly get into the heart of the topic and understand if it is appropriate or less devoting a full study. The rule to be followed is experimenting, measuring and monitoring the route being pursued, being supported by data analysis.