Today we are going to interview Francisco Pellegrini, Chief Executive Officer of Yalla Baby, Francisco is also a Managing Partner at Eureka Labs Middle East. Here, he hones his skills in developing, empowering and scaling startups in Latin America and the GCC. Additionally, he is a Neuro Coaching and NLP practitioner who supports entrepreneurs with developing their soft skills.Intro
Francisco Pellegrini, Thank you for your time. We know you are busy right now, could you please tell us a bit about you and what made you choose entrepreneurship or how you became an entrepreneur?
I became an entrepreneur when I was 18 years old, I set up my first business in the fashion industry, a women’s clothing brand in my city in Argentina. From this moment I felt that having experience as an employee in Big Companies and SMEs plus my studies in University and postgraduate will allow me someday to have the right skills to lead my startup.
Tell us about yourself where you are from and what you do?
I was born In Cordoba, Argentina, and I am the current Managing Partner at Eureka Labs in the Middle East and CEO of Yalla Baby Box. I am also a certified Life Coach and passionate about training entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs to achieve their goals. I am an expert in creating, launching and operating Tech Businesses, mostly in eCommerce.
What were the main challenges you faced early on in your online ventures? And do you still encounter them to this day?
The main challenge in every start-up at the beginning is to deal without any investment and this is the major risk every entrepreneur takes. You must dedicate full time, but knowing that you won’t receive any salary or payback. However, we did a great job as a team to find the right investor (seed round) and partners in our online venture and we were able to achieve this goal quickly. Next challenges came around the Technology, Business Model and as a part of the learning curve, we are encountering “Product Market Fit” to our service. Understanding the needs of our customers while we are building awareness of our brand is the main challenge at this stage, mostly in new business models such as subscription.
How did you get the idea about Starting Yalla Baby Box?
Eureka Labs, as a group, has been running a similar business in Argentina and South America in the last 2 years, so we have the right playbook for Yalla Baby Box. However, we adapted into the Middle East and added many other new features that we have got from other similar businesses in the US and some new ideas created by us. The final result is the 1st Subscription Ecommerce for Baby Essentials, Baby Care and Mom Care in the Middle East offering an affordable and competitive premium service to the moms’ doorstep.
How big is Yalla Baby Box?
Yalla Baby Box in only 2 months of operation and without investing much money in marketing has more than 150 subscribers, more than 400 moms received our boxes in the last 6 months (pre-sales, and boxes with old branding), we have 13k followers on Instagram and closed Facebook Group. There are 10 people fully committed to providing the right IT standards from Argentina and the US, and about 10 people in UAE btw Logistic, Marketing, Customer Service, Corporate Sales, ex… Some of them are working on a freelance basis. This is Yalla Baby Box Family and we are expecting to grow significantly during 2020 even starting in Saudi Arabia with a strong partner there.
What is your most effective marketing strategy which made cartlow a big success?
In ecommerce, there are plenty, online (performance marketing) and offline, but in subscription building a relationship with your clients is crucial, they must trust you and all strategies related to referral, influencers, a recommendation from specialists and expert will work if you make them part of the brand awareness. We are working with more than 30 influencers and we have already 5 brand ambassadors which they are spreading the word from our beginning.
How did you get the idea about Starting Eureka Labs?
Eureka Labs was the result of 15 years in the eCommerce industry with 3 main exits; 2011, Alamaula.com was sold to eBay (US) as the main classified for the south cone. In 2016, mymarketplay was sold to Naspers group as US Marketplace, and in 2017 buscape.com.br was the third exit positioning this marketplace as the top 5 in Brazil. After that, Eureka Labs started creating, launching and operating eCommerce worldwide using subscription model playbook in different fields, such as Baby Industry. Eureka Labs provides expertise mostly in technology development and software factory, but also in marketing strategy and execution. In 2019 we opened a branch in the Middle East operating from Dubai.
When you started Yalla Baby Box how did your Minimum Viable Product and first traction looked like?
The MVP was very completed, we did say that we skip the MVP for something very attractive and stable. However, because we were listening to our customer demand we made the platform more eCommerce friendly with many other features that appeared in the new version launched beginning of December 2019.
As you are based in Dubai, what is your favourite restaurant there?
Well, as Argentinean, the best restaurant means the best Meat and maybe the best wines. I like to cook barbecue myself but if not we use to go to those steak restaurant such as Gaucho, Asado ex..
What activities/hobbies do you enjoy doing to “wind down” or relax?
I play Padel Tennis, go to the gym every day and I used to play Capoeira (a mix btw Martial Art and Dance from Brazil). Sport and Health are very important to me.
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what would you do differently?
Nothing, I think the journey is exactly what I faced and I am facing right now.
What advice would you give to yourself if you could only relay one piece of advice to your former self?
Follow your dreams, they know the way, follow your instincts they guide you and pursue the happiness in a very simple way, the simpler the better.
What motivates you?
Ambition, the wish and desires to grow and learn more, I would say I am a challenge hunter or thirsty of challenges so that way I cannot stay in my comfort zone for long.
Do you think that entrepreneurialism is something that is in your blood? Or is it something that can be learned?
Is something you can learn but what is in your blood is how risky and ambitious you are, to become an entrepreneur you need to fail more times than you expect as if you are learning how to ride a bike and before riding well you must learn to fall.
How do you generate new ideas? Could you tell us a bit about your creative process?
I am an extremely fanatic, taking notes in several excel sheets during my “Eureka” Moment (the creative time of the day), then I do my research or benchmark if these things already exist and compare.
How far are you willing to go to succeed? Are there any specific ethics you stick by no matter what?
As far as I can within professional ethics and respecting other people in terms of Culture, Religion, Race, ex.. Success does not depend only on one person, it is something you achieve as a part of a team or group of people who support each other following a true leader.
How do you define success?
The award you will receive for failing and persevere many times until you do the right thing in which other people can congratulate you and feel inspired by what you do.
What is your greatest fear (Business or personal) and how do you manage it/or fear in general?
Loneliness is my greatest fear and this is something I have been managing by using different techniques to learn how to be and deal with myself, experimenting moments of loneliness and learn how to cope with them.
If all of your money, websites, contacts and products were wiped off the face of the earth tomorrow, what would you do if you had to start from scratch? What model would you use? What techniques etc.?
Same that I used to become successful. “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”, the Most important thing in life is Health and Family, these things if you lose them that will be a real problem. The rest we can start from zero again.
What is the best way to achieve long-term success as opposed to a few thousand short term?
Everything needs to be set up as long term when I say everything it means personal and professional goals. Success is a synonym of the long term because it is a journey, a journey as an entrepreneur, businessman, friend, son, brother ex… To achieve the success you must fail many times and as per the last question maybe lose everything to start again stronger. When you feel successful is when everything you achieved is now rewarding you with a feeling of fullness and happiness that is beyond money, status or recognition. Is about a legacy you will leave and how helpful your success could be for others.
What is your opinion on the future of the E-commerce industry in the UAE? Where are we heading with it?
E-commerce is the future, that’s for sure, not only because I say that is, but also because of statistics and prediction and what is happening in the world right now. And, we have discovered that Subscription (that now is common in services, ex; Netflix) will be the main Business Model in Retail/eCommerce in the next 5 to 10 years. So, we as experienced in this field, look forward to being the pioneers in this region starting with a very competitive industry, Babies.
How do you go about finding investors and capital for your venture? Any tips for newbies?
We have found pre-revenue- seed round in about 2 months of working in the fundraising. So that is very effective. This is mostly using special networking and because we have a name and track record. It is highly important to have coherence and clarity in your Pitch and supported by very professional documents (excel, pdf, ex…). You can have a very innovative and great Idea but if you cannot make a right Business Plan/Model expresses in a very good Pitch and supported by real proof and validation of the market you won’t succeed. Investors from all types are currently looking for highly scalable projects and huge market growth with a lot of potential getting minimal market share, even though with high competition.
Can you name a few of your business decisions that resulted in quantum leap growth?
Well, 90% of my decisions, good or bad, are aiming at generating growth and increasing efficiency. We have just started with Yalla Baby Box however in a few months we achieved our dependency from 3PL (third parties) having all the most important variables of the business (Technology, Operations, Logistics, Marketing) ready to scale and grow faster than any potential competition. And, the list of subscribers has increased remarkably organically without investing much in our Marketing Plan yet. This is a good start when you are getting product-market fit and surfing in the learning curve isn’t it?
What were your biggest mistakes?
Bad decisions in terms of finding the right 3PL (Third Party) mostly in certain key activities such as Logistic (Fulfillment and Last mile) in which we lost some time and Money. However, we learnt a lot at the end enabled us to have a very scalable and efficient operation. Some others were related to the first assumption about our business model and the first version of our Technology was attached to this, hopefully, we have the right and qualified team to move quite fast and came on board with a very nice version (launched last December) in which we are very sure that it will generate growth.
How did you build out the team? What were the most important hires?
We have most of our Team in House, but we have some other freelancers as well. We know very well what our Key Activities are and we focus on having the right people to generate growth constantly, but at the same time, we make them feel part of this journey and challenge as a real family. Some of the areas which are critical for the Business we make sure to hire the right people in which they want to stay long term and grow with us, as every startup. Operations are huge, but in Logistic (warehouse, last mile, fulfilment) are crucial to have experienced people supported by easy-going people who want to be able to learn and most important young and very proactive.