Talent Garden cofounder and CEO Davide Dattoli

Davide Dattoli

Davide Dattoli, cofounder and CEO of coworking company Talent Garden (and the callout honoree of Forbes’ European 30 Under 30 Technology section in 2019), has a lot on his mind at the moment. With 23 campuses, 8 countries, and 56 million euros raised, Talent Garden is one of the major players in the coworking and education space in Europe. However, from his home in one of the pandemic’s epicenters, Milan, where he had been quarantined for 50 days, Davide told us how he plans to overcome the challenges posed by the coronavirus and the economic downturn.

1. What is the situation and the overall sentiment like in Milan now, in the beginning of May as opposed to a month or a month and a half ago?

The whole country’s been under full lockdown for almost 50 days (since March 10), so May in Milan is going to be way better. Right now, we’re only allowed to leave the house to go to the pharmacy or the market, but it has to be within a 500 meter (0.3 miles) radius of where we live. On May 4th the full lockdown is ending, so we’ll be allowed to leave the house, but restaurants and such will still be closed. Not having restaurants and bars open for a country like Italy where we are super used to going out every night is a pretty strange normality, but it will be something different and we’ll get used to it.

2. What happened with the Talent Garden campuses as countries went in full lockdown mode?

As far as the educational aspect of Talent Garden goes, we went all online. We have more than 500 students at this moment studying online and we redesigned the learning experience. When you are learning online, you can realistically only be focused for a maximum of half an hour, so what we did is we changed the learning experience: not having the normal lesson of an hour and a half, but 30 minute lessons instead. 

Our campuses are in lockdown, but some of our members can enter because we have companies that are working in the food or in the pharmaceutical industry, we have ones working on grocery delivery, but everyone else has to work remotely. It really depends on the country. Italy and Spain are fully locked down, Denmark already has been open for a few weeks. Across Europe lockdown has a different meaning, so we really adjust to the specific country. 

3. Do you expect that all of these campuses will open again?

Absolutely. We believe that after the crisis there will be a boom because people have understood that they can work from home, but they want way more flexibility. We have many companies that are saying ‘guys before I had 100 employees, I needed 100 desks, now I probably need 20 desks, so can I move inside a coworking space where it is way more flexible?’ 

It is much safer and these people want to put their employees in contact with other companies because they need people who can think in a different way. Many will have to reinvent their business due to the crisis and putting people in a Talent Garden is a way to stimulate new innovation and new activity.

4. Though judging by the numbers Talent Garden is far from a small sized company, many of its clients presumably fall into that category (startups, early stage companies), which would certainly be heavily affected by the shutdown and its economic implications. Do you expect many of them to close?

We are lucky because we are focusing on the innovation ecosystem, but only 30% of our members are startups. We have a lot of freelancers, and a lot of big corporations that put their innovation department inside Talent Garden. At the moment we estimate a churn rate of 10%, which is pretty low compared to the market because we are pretty lucky that we have diversified the members coming up.

For sure I can say the startup ecosystem in the next 2 years will look very different than what it looked in the last 2 years. The first risk is that the governments will try to support traditional industry, but if you want to really support the growth of the country you have to support the innovative eco system because that’s the one that can build the country for the next 20 years. 

5. Once Talent Garden opens, what kind of measures will you introduce to protect clients given people’s growing fear of exposure to large groups, cocktails, work parties? How will life at Talent Garden be different?

What our mission is internally is making Talent Garden the safest place to work after the COVID-19 crisis. We try to analyze what is happening in China as they are 2 months ahead of the world. Now we are checking the body temperature at the entrance of all our spaces,  we are putting putting one and a half meters (5 feet) distance between all the desks in our coworking space, we are putting AI system that understands the body temperature of our members across the campus and analyze if they are staying less than  meter distance between them.

We are starting many online activities and what we often see is that people think that you can’t network unless it’s in person and this is not true. We understood that there are many opportunities you can do online, and the quality of interactions is very similar to the in-person ones. 

Talent Garden Milano Calabiana

Talent Garden

6. As a CEO of a coworking company, what kind of measures do you expect or hope governments will take?

I think it would be great to have some support this month in which the spaces were closed, like tax credit to cover the fixed expenses. Supporting the innovation ecosystem is key both for us as a company and for our clients.

I think overall the economy in the long term will see a big jump because we’ve been talking about digitalization in Italy for the last 10 years and in the last 2 months digitalization became reality. Now everyone is ordering groceries through e-commerce, everyone is practicing smart working. It’s true that this situation is changing and impacting our social life but in a way we really digitized Italy in less than 2 months.

7. You said in the interview that you expect the proposed measures may be sufficient to avoid the loss of confidence that many investors have always recognized in Italian entrepreneurs. What do you, both as a CEO and as an investor (in Instagram-based startup Will), think will change in investors’ approach in regard to deciding where to invest after life goes back to normal?

For sure the main thing that will change will be the valuations. Valuations will be way lower than before. I believe that after this crisis all the investors, including the traditional ones, understand that investing in tech companies is key. I am personally very optimistic about the future because I believe the quantity of investments in startups will be higher with way lower valuation, which can be good because it probably was a bit too crazy.

People understood that tech wasn’t just a trend or something that just looks good, but that it is necessary, particularly for a traditional continent like Europe.

8. At 29 you already have a lot of entrepreneurial and leadership experience behind you. What kind of advice for crisis management would you give to young CEOs that are at an earlier stage of their entrepreneurial lives?

Try to build your company as your grandfather built his. Don’t follow only the Silicon Valley model on focusing only on revenue or growth, and not enough on EBITDA. EBITDA is becoming way more important than before. Focus on building something that is long term, you have to have in mind not just your exit, but rather building something long-term that can change society.

9. Have you felt a sense of unity among the startup sector?

Absolutely, that’s the most interesting thing about crises. We are talking regularly to friends, founders of startups in Italy, Spain and Denmark, and what we all understood was that way more than before is important to exchange ideas. Nobody knows how to handle a global crisis like this, probably nobody has ever seen something similar before, so the best way to react is by collaborating with other people in the same situation and exchange ideas.

10. Does Talent Garden plan on opening new campuses in the near future?

Yes, we are planning to open a very big campus in Barcelona in the second part of the year. We are scouting for a new location, and we think now is a great time because now we can probably get a better deal on the rent than before, and we could accelerate our growth in that market.

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.