HeForShe: Stefano Maifreni | Founder, Eggcelerate

Stefano MaifreniAn engineer by education, product manager by role and expert at achieving growth by career, Stefano has an outstanding track record in business strategy, operations, product and marketing, with extensive P&L management and international expansion experience.

His professional journey includes Senior Manager roles in global Blue-chip companies, Growing Businesses and Start-ups in technology-intensive and innovative industries (IT, Telecom, Technology Manufacturing, Drones, IoT and FinTech).

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role

I am an engineer by education, a product manager by role, and a growth expert by career.

I have a background in B2B Tech, where I pioneered the SaaS model and, after the excitement of the early 2000s, I learned to achieve growth with scarce resources.

Being very action- and delivery-focused, and a data-driven "efficiency geek" with an entrepreneurial spirit, I decided a few years ago to follow my passion of helping small B2B tech businesses succeed with their challenges in productive and profitable ways

I founded Eggcelerate in 2014 to help the CEO and Founders interconnect thoughts and actions while adopting a down-to-earth approach that leaves bandwidth for learning and adaptation. We activate the strategy of Tech B2B Small Businesses.

It allowed me to work closely with growing companies and start-ups in technology-intensive and innovative industries, such as IT, technology manufacturing, drones, IoT and Insure/FinTech, immersive theatre and diversity marketing.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, I have always been career conscious, but I started doing this in a structured and regular way during my MBA, and I still do it. Finding time for reflections and check the alignment between what you do and what you like is very important.

Is what you do just a shuttle from one weekend to the next? Is it just something that gives you a salary and allows to pay you the bills? Or it's something you love and enjoy every minute of? Do you feel energised at the idea of starting your working day? Are you learning something new every day? What are the development prospects?

The questions are easy to write, a bit scary to ask yourself, but quite probing and helpful.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Of course! Many people depict the process to plan and achieve the career you want as a straight arrow, which entails the following steps: know who you are, decide what you want to do, get it, climb the ladder. I bet you might get stuck on step one for a long time!

The point is that you change, your preferences evolve, and the world moves faster. A career is a climbing frame, and you might go up, move laterally, even down at times, on your way to the top. Therefore, you need to check in often with yourself, experiment with new things, maybe try a few before focusing on what you want and like. There are no straight arrows and ladders – these are oversimplifications that cause frustrations.

Those stopped for me the moment I turn my career plan into a serendipity plan!

Regarding my entrepreneurial experience, you can imagine all the challenges: establishing a business from scratch, gaining credibility, keeping momentum, but also, some sleepless nights about cash flow, a Client deferring payments. But these were business-related challenges that I somehow expected.

I didn't expect that feeling of loneliness that entrepreneurs have: you're out there with your business, and you need to look after yourself & your business.

What has been your most significant achievement to date?

The growth of my Clients' businesses, and ours as a result.

Seeing the results coming through, making your Client happy and as a result, seeing your business grow is thrilling. It's a testimony to the impact you had on businesses and the lives of the people involved.

My best achievement is my young daughter, though! It makes my life very interesting, with no risk of getting bored. However, I can see a pattern regarding the "girl" and "boy" divide and gender-biased toys and games. It might be the signs of something more deeply ingrained in the culture. I find it extraordinarily conservative and outdated.

What one thing do you believe has been a significant factor in your achieving success?

I would point to two main things. Firstly, I do what I love – it gives me energy and a drive I rarely had during my career. Secondly, probably the fact that I don't feel I have achieved in full what I could. It's a hunger for new opportunities to impact and learn at the same time.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone, or are you someone's mentee?

Mentoring is one of the most important things if you want to develop professionally and as a person. I have been a mentee for a long time – and still am. I have a personal 'board of directors' of people with different backgrounds, ranging from top executives in the UK and abroad to professional coaches to … a priest. They can give me advice, help, and ask a wealth of challenging questions.

I have mentored people of all sorts of backgrounds, mainly in start-ups and SMEs and MBA students. I haven't noticed any difference concerning the courage of leaving their comfort zone. It was all about personal experiences, not gender.

What can businesses/government/allies do to help diversity and inclusion?

Normalise it – neutralise it. Instil a company culture whereby colleagues are colleagues: their sensitive traits and preferences don't count. It's all about objectives and performance.

There's a long way to go, I'm afraid.

Why do you think it's important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

I have always been a supporter of diversity. My revealing moment was when I had my first management role. My team was very diverse concerning gender, age, and background. That allowed us to see any problems from different angles and develop collective lateral thinking.

Diversity is essential for everyone, not just for men. We should extend this to sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, or faith. I think we should aim for workplaces and a society where these things are merely irrelevant. Not to say that the identity of any person is not relevant, but this sort of "clustering" should not find any space. It is fertile soil for stereotyping and ultimately for intolerance and discrimination.

Instead, I think discrimination brought to the extreme can become positive. Imagine you can "discriminate" one person to the next one; it means you accept each one for what they are. Discrimination has two meanings in English: "the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex" and "recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another." – we should move from the former to the latter.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes", said Oscar Wilde.

If I had to change something with the benefit of hindsight, I would have probably started a structured approach to my career earlier. I'd have also launched my business earlier.

I spent too much time in my comfort zone.

On the entrepreneurial experience, I would be fairer to myself and take more "me time".

One piece of advice I would give my young self would be to define what success means without being influenced by how the majority defines it.

What is your next challenge, and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

The immediate challenge is, of course, to grow my business. However, the real point is to see how it will look like if I project it in the future and ask myself those uncomfortable questions.

But the long-term achievement would be to feel self-actualised (as in the Maslow pyramid), which for me is the synonym of success.

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