Giacomo Marini – The Man Who Builds Tech Giants

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Marini is a Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur and investor with extensive hands-on management experience in starting and growing new businesses, identifying, and leveraging emerging technologies, developing, and growing great management teams capable of operating on a global level.

Marini has been Chairman and CEO of Noventi Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based technology investment firm, which he founded in 2002. Noventi has invested in 20+ companies and several funds.

From 2013 to 2017, Marini was also Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Neato Robotics, a home robots company, acquired by Vorwerk.

In 2012 he was the founding Chairman of Velomat S.r.l. a robotics and automation company acquired in 2020 by Sacmi.

Prior to this, Marini was Chief Executive Officer of two private companies and Managing Director of Cirlab, an innovation incubator and venture investment company.

In 1981 he co-founded Logitech (NASDAQ: LOGI) and served as an executive and board member for over a decade. He evolved from engineering management to operations management and to Chief Operating Officer.

Previously, he held technical and management positions with Olivetti and IBM.

He currently serves on the board of PCTEL (NASDAQ: PCTI), NextLabs, iPost and Nexent. Previously he served on the board of several private companies and 2 other public companies. Marini holds a “Laurea” degree cum laude in Computer Science from the University of Pisa, Italy.

Marini has been involved in key volunteer leadership positions. He is Chair of the SVIEC Foundation. He was Board Member of NIAF, National Italian American Foundation and served as Executive Trustee of the University of California at Davis Foundation.

Marini has been a speaker or guest lecturer at numerous venues and conferences, including UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, University of Pisa, Carnegie-Mellon University, Global Entrepreneurship Program at Stanford, Aspen Institute Italia.

 

Transcript:

Alan  0:12

Welcome to American Dreams I’m visiting here today with Giacomo Marini. And Giacomo it is good to have you with us today and as the co founder of Logitech, there’s a there’s a great story there. But before we, start into that, I want to, I want to roll back the clock a little bit, and talk about some basic concepts or decisions that lead your path to where you’re able to launch a very successful company. Can you walk us through in your career, some of the key decisions that you made that helped drive you to an entrepreneurial type of a company versus just going to work for somebody? And, you know, following their directions?

 

Giancomo  1:17

Well, first, thank you for having me, it’s really a pleasure to be here. So as you can tell from my accent, and I was born and raised in Italy, so I went to school there, I went to university there, and then I, I started my career there. I was one of the first computer science graduates in Italy. So that can give a little bit of a sense of find new things. So so when I finished high school, I was intending to go into electronic engineering, and then I heard of this new university degree in computer science, they just established in at the University of Pisa. And so I said, this is exciting, this is new computers are going to be important. So, I decided to go into computer science into a computer science course basically, and so I was the second batch of computer science graduate people in Italy, so that there was a little bit of a sense of trying to look at new things at emerging things that come in front of you and maybe take chances with those. I work first, at IBM, my first job was at IBM. IBM was at the time the premier computer company in the world. I mean, it’s like going today work for Google, or apple. So I was lucky enough to be to get a job at IBM. I tried it and got it the first time but I practiced it a little better than second time I got it. And so I spent four years at IBM. It was a very resource rich company and the time they gave me opportunities to travel to learn English actually I didn’t. I studied French at school but when I arrived at IBM they said well you need to speak English. So they made me to take classes and learning English. After IBM I went to to Olivetti I went to Olivetti at the time in which an Italian interpreter by the well known Italian Carlo de banda took over Olivetti and, and started a significant change at the company and I saw an opportunity to be part a little bit of that change. And so I joined Olivetti taking a salary cut believe it or not. And so it was a very important years. Totally worth it. And then we, and then we had been talking with these two friends, Pierluigi Pagasa, Daniel Boyle, and then in 1991, we decided to we decided to start a company a large tech and which started as a consulting company, and then within a year or two, I want to California basically, and that was another very critical decision in life. I would say probably maybe possibly the most critical decision in life. So I go there in the end of 1992. And I’ve been here since. Those were important decisions. I would say.

 

Alan  5:14

When you started Logitech in you mentioned you first started as a consulting company, what gap did you see in the market? Certainly there were other consulting companies at the time. But where did you see the the problem that you’re coming in and the solution that you are bringing to the table?

 

Giancomo  5:35

So there were, there were two important things that we by chance or by luck without the put together. One was thinking of hardware and software together. Okay, so we we really got involved into projects that had the strong hardware component and software component the same. That has been a little bit of a theme, you know, I mean, definitely I have been at Logitech for a long time and we can go into that a little bit more. But definitely my career a little bit understanding that the designing software and hardware together brings you much better product than designing these these two worlds in isolation if you wanted and that was one important thing that we we saw it realize okay, and then the second thing is that graphical user interface is what do you see what you get type of user interface, I mean, again, this is 1991. So 1991, I mean all the terminals and the screens, which I mean you had typewritiers were a type of terminals for computers, and then you started having display terminals very straight diamond as well, mostly unfathomed, that you know, that graphics, they did not look like a page, they did not look like the pages that you were going to print. So the graphical user interface, we engaged in some projects that very important on visual component first bitmap displays at the time. So I would say these two elements, hardware and software designed together and towed or architected together. And then the second thing, the graphical user interface, the What You See Is What You Get type of display if you want. So those were some important thing and and later if you want the mouse grew. So in one of the very first project that we did for a customer, we use the mouse interface, that was the way that we got sort of familiar with the mouse that then became if you want the first important significant financial logical going forward.

 

Alan  8:07

When you look at today’s computer industry versus what it was in the 80s and 90s, when Logitech was was going, what what do you see are the key differences? In other words, you know, if you were starting a company today, do you can you identify some of the gaps that are existing within our current market that need to be filled in in? If that company was Logitech what would you see would need to be done?

 

Giancomo  8:39

Well, I have I don’t know if I would dare to talk about the gaps today because I would leave that to the, to the interpreter as of today, who I believe more in tune with what is going on. So I I buy T shirts that day, but at the end of the day, and we’re gonna touch on those for a moment in a moment. But I would I think that a big difference between early 80s And today is how much simpler and faster is to develop products today. I mean, definitely, deep. I mean, the software environments today allow you to do things in a much faster, I mean, two orders of magnitude faster than we could do in the early 80s. So I mean, and also the the the hardware tools that body types of design and simulation and so on so forth. I mean, are incredibly much more powerful than they were today. I mean, we were working on machines with 32 kilobytes of memory, 64 kilobytes of memory, okay. And CPM machines, I mean, early MS DOS machines, I mean, so pretty clearly designing products has become incredibly easier and faster. Okay. And and which allows you to design more complex product in a much shorter period of time that is for sure. Of things that today I believe are important but not in the most general sense, but of the things that I’m a little bit more aware of and is really robotics. Robotics for the home. I mean, the last company that I ran, I mean, you need to have robotics, we were making robots to clean floors. And we were thinking of other robots to help you to do tasks around the house that I think remains a an under invested area in my book. So there is an opportunity to build more I mean, clearly floor cleaning robots have gotten by the advanced and pretty it useful, and pretty inexpensive. And so there are many other tasks in the in the house that you could do with robotics, I mean, where do you have IT investments and where divide with the right if you want skill set, I mean, like loading and unloading your dishwasher, taking the dishes out of your, I mean, from your table, back to the sink, go to the dishwasher, folding your laundry, cleaning yourself sinks and your toilets and that type of stuff. I mean, so there are a number of things. So when you think about the activity in the house, there are a number of activities that most people would rather have some thing else do it, or somebody else do it. And so this was cleaning the floor was an obvious one if you want. But there are many other tasks like the one that I mentioned. So there is an opportunity there. And there is an opportunity of building a number of specialized robots that do specific tasks, and they do them quite well at a cost that that is affordable. So you today you can buy talking about anywhere from $200 to $1,000, if you want, and you can build robots that do some of these other tasks in that same angle, same price range, I mean, but somewhat interesting, but it is hard. It is hard, because these are very complex architectures of hardware and software designed to do it inexpensively. So there is a challenge there for people who want to take that challenge. Go forward.

 

Alan  13:03

You know, one of the things that Logitech did very well, is they gave a universal look across the globe of the company model going across several countries. What do you attribute to the success that a lot of lot of computer companies get started up but few are able to scale globally, such as Logitech?

 

Giancomo  13:28

Yeah, that’s a very good point. We, were global from day one back in 1981. Okay, so we, we started in Europe, we had some first contract with Japan at the beginning. I mean, that’s was very far away. I mean, these were times where it will cost you two or $3 a minute to make the phone call. Okay. I mean, to make an international phone call, I mean, of course. I mean, there was no, email. Email was even primitive at the time. So and then we move to California. And then if you if you continue that in, in 86, we started going to Taiwan, I mean, and, and establishing manufacturing base in Taiwan. We started going to China 1999. Okay, nobody would go to China in 1999. So there was this this thinking global I mean, which is incredibly much easier now, but was very complicated in 1981. And, and it was quite a maybe we are the toy founders sort of reinforce themselves in the thinking, if you want I mean, being a little bit fearless about that. From my personal standpoint, there is one fact that I have reflected on which is that my father was an immigrant. When I was two My father was a Farmer was a young farmer. He got married. And my father and my mother after I was born decided that they needed to get out of the farm and do something else that to build a better future for themselves and for the children. And so my father, when I was two went to Venezuela and became a construction work. So the upgrade from from being if you want a farmer to a construction worker might not sound that big of an upgrade, but it was for him. I mean, it was opening up to a completely different world. But again, he crossed off of the world, I mean, to go and look for that. So if you want I go with that context of somebody that can cross around the world. And then he came back and then he went, he went out again for a second time. And then he came back in 61. But I was in personally I was in that context where it didn’t sound strange for somebody to go somewhere else across the world. And then and so having seen that, and then gone and I remember I tell a story, which is the first time so a few months after we started Logitech we invested a significant amount of money to go to Japan to negotiate what became an important contract for us and, and we look for tickets and the the most inexpensive tickets were going to Singapore, and in 1981, left Italy and Switzerland, we went to Singapore. We land in Singapore we stayed overnight one night and it was eye opening, seeing an airport in Singapore that was bigger than the Frankfurt Airport. Okay, so the they just opened the Changi Airport, in Singapore. The new airport, in Singapore, and you see this huge airport and you realize, again, reinforcing the concept that the center of the world has moved somewhere else. We don’t know maybe where it is, but it’s definitely not in Rome anymore. Okay, so that’s it. So so there were a number of experiences and choices and experiences that really made us think globally. And we have always told our self I mean, Logitech was, was very global. And I remember we had responded to go on, on the economist back in must have been it for 85. That was talking about this later company. I mean, taking global in that respect. Yeah.

 

Alan  17:42

So I have time for one more question. I would, but I’m curious, your father was able to see your company scaled to the size that it became across the globe?

 

Giancomo  17:59

Yes, yes, he was.

 

Alan  18:01

What did he think about moving from the farm and to the first, you know, business and then seeing what his son did?

 

Giancomo  18:10

Well, I think it was probably maybe even a little bit natural for him, I mean, seeing that you can move and certainly when when I was going back home I mean, it was a very nice time to be together and leaving was definitely again as he got older, a little bit more difficult if you want but hopefully he was he was proud of what he saw and I was very proud of him that he should me the way and to be able to do these things.

 

Alan  18:49

In retrospect as you as you look at your life, what what do you want to be known for when everything is said and done, but what legacy Do you want to be known for?

 

Giancomo  19:02

You get in a professional sense, I would say there are a couple of things. One is to build companies around product. So the products in three CD is is very important. It was important Logitech. Logitech was a that is where a lot of money for this and then that the second thing as a professional would be, to be to have been to be a good coach. So I think one of the most powerful things of my life is to see people that I work with that work for me, perhaps that have grown, a grown in the ability to run companies and departments think better and think of the important things are very time They go, go forward. And I bet some signals that that might have been the case for some people, and certainly some people have recognized that but being a good coach from the professional standpoint, growing teams, that another important thing that I always tell people is that a CEO can kill a company, okay? The CEO by himself or herself cannot build a successful company needs a strong team, and he needs and he needs by people and that that’s a strong belief that I have and, and from the personal standpoint, that people remember me as a good person, I mean, in the simplest version of the world

 

Alan  20:54

Giacomo, it’s been a pleasure having you with us today on American Dreams and, and we feel there’s so much value there. We really appreciate all that you’re doing not only to bring this world, this technology, but also you’ve also helped to enable and giving back into the lives of several students. Thank you so much.