Taking Texting to the Next Level with KaleyraKALEYRA FOUNDER AND CEO, DARIO CALOGERO, IS BUILDING HIS 1999 MOBILE BUSINESS MESSAGING STARTUP INTO A GLOBAL PLAYER, STAYING ONE STEP AHEAD OF TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE
Dario Calogero, founder and CEO of Kaleyra, which provides mobile phone messaging for banks and large companies, has the knack for being in the right place at the right time since he left Bocconi in 1987 with a BA in economics and a passion for strategic marketing. Even his decision to found the mobile banking applications startup Ubiquity in 1999, the year before the dotcom bubble exploded, turned out to be a success rather than bad timing.
Being in the right place at the right time is simply another way of saying that Calogero, 56, seems to possess the knack for reading future trends that is essential to becoming a successful entrepreneur. While still a Bocconi student, he did his thesis in 1987 by seeking out an internship at Olivetti on electronic transfers at point of sale. Debit cards and ATM machines were only just becoming widespread, so there was little to no existing research published about the topic.
“I had to do 25 interviews in the field,” he recalled in an interview with viaSarfatti25. “You don’t often get to do that.”
As a consultant, he started specializing in telecommunications at Coopers and Lybrand in 1995 – right when newcomers started flooding into a deregulated market. He worked with clients including Omnitel, Infostrada, Enel and Albacom.
In 1997, Oracle recruited him for startup called Network Computer Incorporated. Oracle chief Larry Ellison had the idea of taking on his rival Bill Gates at Microsoft by using networked computers to “end” the PC. He was about 15 years too soon. The company became Liberate Technologies, and listed on the Nasdaq. Dario soon found himself in Silicon Valley at the start of the Internet boom, when a generation of young idealists believed they could change the world for the better.
“I was living on a plane,” he said. “That’s where the idea for ‘Ubiquity’ came from. I realized I wanted to do my own startup.”
He founded Ubiquity in 1999, working with banks to develop mobile banking applications. One year later, the dotcom bubble exploded. Ubiquity lost a lot of money in 2000, 2001 and 2002. But Dario and his team tried to keep their nerves steady. He and his partner Simone Fubini, a former Olivetti engineer, put 1.5 million euros into the company over that period.
By 2016, Calogero realized that he would need to take Ubiquity to the next level. His competitors were scaling up, consolidating and going public. He realized Ubiquity needed to become a global player, and with his partner Fubini decided to take that step. The first stop was Switzerland, where however their organic growth was unsatisfactory. They needed to grow externally, and Dario spent 2015 travelling around the world scouting for acquisition targets.
In October 2016 he acquired a company called Solutions Infini in India, chosing that market for its potential in terms of size and growth.
In February 2018 Ubiquity bought US-based mobile messaging company Hook Mobile, giving Kaleyra a significant presence in Europe, Asia and the Americas, with combined revenues of over $100 million and a team of over 200 people across 12 locations. An IPO is now in the cards.
Any advice for a young entrepreneur? “It’s important to have passion,” he said. “That’s the only way you’ll be able to face the challenge of responsibilities, sleepless nights, and promises to suppliers.” His Bocconi degree helped him prepare for entrepreneurship by giving him both the ability to scan the surface and to do a deep dive. And of course, a feeling of being part of a club.
“There is no such thing as a ‘former Bocconi guy,’” President Mario Monti quipped to Calogero recently when they crossed paths at an event at ISPI, the Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale. Dario would agree.
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by Jennifer Clark