A couple of weeks ago I’ve been invited by Moreno at Radio Sintony, to be part of their podcast “Du scisi cumenti est nasciu” (“Do you know how it was born?” in English). They interview Sardinia-based startups and tech companies to hear the personal and professional stories behind business creation, operations, and growth.
What’s pretty cool and makes me proud about it, is that all is told in Sardinian language, to promote and protect it, as it’s “endangered”; nowadays it counts roughly 1.3 million speakers only.
We had an unconventional chat about Midsummer’s past and future, the startup ecosystem, online advertising trends, technology, tips and tricks, and much more.
My guess is that you’re not on the exclusive list of those 1.3 million speakers (it’s never to late to start learning!, so you can either have fun trying to listen and understand our funny conversation at the below links OR continue reading the English transcript. Either way, I hope you enjoy it 🙂
Moreno: So, tell me something about Midsummer Agency. What is it?
Micky: Well, I don’t know if you did some research on it, on its name. Midsummer is the summer solstice, the moment of the year in which the sun reaches its highest position in the sky, with the longest period of daylight: the sun is really bright, nature is thriving—it has a very mystical note to it. We chose this name because its meaning represents our vision and the way we work. Long story short, we are a performance advertising agency: simply put, we help companies (mainly US and European ones) find new clients and make more money than they invested, mostly on Google, Facebook, Instagram.
Moreno: What’s your story? You are young, this job is about advertising and involves technology. How was Midsummer Agency born?
Micky: Our company was created out of the blue, I was working alone as a freelancer, and the company had another name at that time. By sheer coincidence, we registered our company on the 21st of June, so we had to listen to this message. I have been working in this field for 12 years now, before graduating I started working in the digital industry, and I specialized in web marketing. It was a one-man company at the beginning, but then a second person came in to help, and a third one… some have come and gone. We are now
four five, and we are looking for more people to join our team because there is of course a lot of work to do. I also want to say that this name and the whole concept were born thanks to the people that worked with me at the beginning, we all did this together. It was called “MickyMereu.com” at first, then we rebranded the company, kind of like an evolving process or renaissance, almost 2 years ago.
Moreno: Easter has just gone by, the word “renaissance” fits perfectly right now! Have you had any financing from Regione Sardegna, the Italian Government or the EU to create your company?
Micky: Nope, we have never had any funding. All of this was born from my work, I invested my earnings to buy more tools, computers and of course, hire new people to help me out. This technique of building a company is called bootstrap in English: it is the loop at the back of a shoe used to pull the shoe on. We just got some reimbursements for a couple of notebooks and other equipment, but nothing much in terms of funding.
Moreno: How many people are on your team, and what kind of skills do you have to do this job?
Micky: We are now 4 team members, plus some freelancers that help us sometimes. About our skills—well, I studied Economics, Fabio studied Foreign Languages, Francesca Political Science and the Vale he’s an accountant, he doesn’t have a degree. To work in our industry you “just” need to be passionate about technology, marketing, and all things Internet-related. Knowing the numbers well is also very important—you need a good brain to do the math. The third and last thing is a good knowledge of the English language. And I mean “good” in the sense that you must be able to talk to English-speaking clients, present results to them, and so on.
Moreno: How is your work organized at Midsummer?
Micky: I am the one who works cross-departments: business development, admin, accounting, management—all the boring stuff, basically—and I oversee the high-level clients’ strategy. Then there are Vale and Francesca, with 4 and 10 years of experience respectively, who manage ad campaigns and clients’ strategies. The fourth and newest addition to our team, Fabio, just joined our new starter program and is learning really quickly, helping with clients, and supporting the senior team with client management.
Moreno: And how do you promote your business online? It is the biggest channel to introduce yourself, especially when it comes to a Sardinian business, or people just contact you?
Micky: A Sardinian proverb is coming to my mind right now. It says “in sa domu de su ferreri, su schironi est de linna” (“the cobbler’s children are the worst shod” ) We use our website to showcase what we do and how we do it. It’s useful to make ourselves known and to let potential clients contact us. But the fact is that clients come through word of mouth, networking, or even through partnerships with other marketing agencies. Sometimes we also do online advertising to bring potential clients to our website, but we don’t do that a lot for ourselves. That’s why that proverb came to my mind.
Moreno: What results can these businesses achieve with your help? Do they really sell more and market themselves in a better way? And what do they—and you—have to do to achieve these results?
Micky: Most of the time they make more money and more clients—or better clients—and more sales, when it comes to eCommerce businesses. Sometimes it also means investing less money and achieving the same result in a more efficient way. Did you know that more than 90% of Google and Facebook revenue comes from advertising? If that did not work well, they wouldn’t have made as much money.
Moreno: It is like the 80’s—90’s Italian television.
Micky: Yes. In the past, you wouldn’t sell anything if you weren’t on the television. Now it’s a bit more complex, there are a lot of things that a customer can do and see thanks to the Internet. Think about it, everything is being always connected: TV, Internet, newspapers, radio. Brands need to be good at creating an omnichannel strategy that considers all of these elements. Clients have to keep up with all of this: if the product or service you’re offering isn’t good, nor working, you won’t be making any money even if you advertise it. If your website takes a lot of time to load or even worst is broken, you won’t make money even if you do advertising. Brands need to be aware of this and so do we. We work closely with clients because they are those who know the most about their business, but they also need to give us the information and the news for us to create a good advertising strategy. For instance, if there is a new project launch or an offer going on, we need to know that to achieve greater results.
Moreno: Tell me about Open Campus Coworking. I know it because I went there and visited the place. I already know some people who work there, but I would like to know what Open Campus is, and how it works from your point of view.
Micky: It’s a coworking space that counts 100+ people working there in technology, IT, start-ups industries, both small companies, and freelancers. There are a lot of young professionals who can help each other find new opportunities and share experiences… it’s really great. As I said before, in the beginning, it was just me, and Open Campus really helped because I could ask other entrepreneurs practical questions, like what kind of company should I create, or what type of funding is there—things that I didn’t know, and for which I thank Open Campus. And even if you work alone, you are never alone! There is always someone to drink a coffee with, have a chat or a laugh, play cards at lunchtime or have a glass of Sardinian Mirto—that also happened sometimes. It’s very good for a lot of reasons, and for me, it was great because it is far from Cagliari’s frenzy, with beautiful olive trees, a huge garden, the lagoon, flamingos…
Moreno: Michele, what advice can you give to those who want to create a start-up, or an innovative business just like you guys did?
Micky: Well, three things are important, in my opinion. One: don’t wait for perfection before you execute—you need to go fast, as the faster you go, the more you make mistakes. The more you make mistakes, the more you learn and improve. It’s a fast-paced environment, and if you think about it too much, you risk not achieving your goals. An idea by itself is worthless. Two: you need to learn how to do the math. A start-up is still a business. You need to understand how finance and business management work. The market is damn cruel, if your company is not working out it will throw you out and—I don’t know if I can say it, but you’re on your ass. Three: my gut feeling worked out really well for decision making. There is always that voice inside your head that says “do this in this way, or in this other way,” and then you go out and completely change your mind—in my case, my instincts were telling me the right things, most of the time. So, listening to them and trusting them is another piece of advice I can give.
Moreno: Was it difficult or easy to create Midsummer?
Micky: There were both easy and difficult aspects. Being an ever-changing industry, you always need to update, study, and innovate. The most difficult part was to find the right people, both because there aren’t many professionals in Sardinia who do our job—and we prioritize working with local people—and also because it’s not always possible to train them when it comes to senior professionals. We are a people-centric business, brains are our assets, so we need to choose the right people to fit with our culture and values. Bureaucracy, the law, and all things Government-related is also a bother. Other than that, our industry is full of opportunities, there’s a lot of work out there.
Moreno: Are there any risks when opening a start-up?
Micky: Well, to go bankrupt just after you started is always a possibility, especially if you aren’t able to get the business up and running, and you have neither financing nor savings in the short term. Another thing that could happen is that you fall too much in love with your idea, and you’re not able to understand that it will never work out, and that’s very risky. Another one is to get mad or “burnout”. It happened to me the other day—I had a terrible headache after a couple of months where we worked a lot. Luckily, we live in a place with an awesome work-life balance where you can chill and have fun, and that’s the most important thing.
Moreno: Let’s go back to a couple of years ago. Tell me more about your group before creating Midsummer Agency.
Micky: We all have different stories that are similar in some ways. I have a degree in Economics, and I studied and worked in the web-marketing field in Belgium, China, and the UK. As for the others—there is a Lithuanian guy, Vale, who moved to Sardinia when he was 15 years old. He started playing around with computers, freelancing and creating websites when he was 21 only. Francesca has lived and studied for 7 years between Sweden, the UK, and Spain, and she also worked in the Digital Marketing field. One of her last jobs was for Google. Fabio studied Foreign Languages and was the owner of a comic-book shop, he’s always had this entrepreneurial spirit. He also loved and studied online marketing, then we met and he started working with us.
Moreno: How was 2020 for you?
Micky: It’s weird to say it, but it’s been our biggest year ever. Our crisis, our “Covid” period started in late 2019 and ended in March 2020, when we rolled up our sleeves and started delivering like crazy—it’s been great. We haven’t really been hit by the pandemic, a couple of projects did not start, while others really flourished. At the beginning of March, we celebrated one year of working remotely. We meet once a month, sometimes once every three months. There are its ups and downs of course, but we have found the right balance now.
Moreno: Who are your clients? You can also tell me about some other Sardinian projects.
Micky: As of today, 90% of our clients are International—we mainly work with European and US-based online businesses. Most of them are in fashion —they sell jewelry, sunglasses, clothes. Here in Sardinia, we worked with start-ups that needed to grow nationally or internationally. They mostly are travel businesses, but we also helped tech companies that needed to scale. Soon, we will start a new project for another Sardinian eCommerce.
Moreno: Let’s talk about the Sardinian language. Before this interview, I learned that you speak it fluently. How did you learn it, and with whom do you speak it?
Micky: I learned it thanks to my grandparents, my parents, uncles, and cousins, and when I was a teenager I spoke it with my friends sometimes. I speak it even more than other people since I live in a small village. It’s a language that I have always spoken, but fewer and fewer people are doing so. That’s why these broadcasts are great—you’re trying to carry the language on. I have a 2-year-old daughter and I’d hate it if she wouldn’t understand Sardinian, we need to speak it more.
Moreno: What are the new projects for Midsummer Agency in 2021?
Micky: We have the goal of 80% growth for this year. This means that we need to work harder than last year, and double in size, but still continuing to have fun while doing our job and learning new things.
Moreno: What’s missing from Sardinia for it to be Europe’s Silicon Valley? I’ve asked this question to many other people that were on this show, and they all told me the same thing. What do you think?
Micky: Well, we’ve got both silicon and valleys, so… (laughs) I think we’re missing skilled people, companies, and investments. We’re missing a system. Things would be very different if all the Sardinian people around the world working at big companies would return here to work. We should also bring outsiders, to live and work here. Because we’re isolated also in our minds. There is no contamination from other cultures, or ideas, and other things that are crucial for a system to work. Since we’re working remotely, we have more chances for new people to come now. In my opinion, this problem is not only for Sardinia but for the rest of Italy as well. We need laws and a bureaucracy that helps companies grow more easily. The government needs to make these decisions, not the people.
Moreno: How has advertising changed over the past 10 years? At the beginning, it was only on newspapers, then on the radio and television, and now it’s on the internet.
Micky: It’s actually been 20 years already. The type of technology that we use on Google has existed for the past 21 years if I’m not wrong. It has changed a lot since then, but still, ads on TV and newspapers exist because they work for some parts of the marketing funnel. Smartphone and computer technologies have become very powerful over the years, and our lives have changed because of them; the advertising industry has gone hand in hand with this change. What makes digital advertising technologies really effective is that they let you track your returns on investment in a clear and accurate way, which does not happen when you advertise in newspapers for instance. Let’s imagine that you own a shoe store and you put an ad in a Sardinian newspaper. If you want to know how your returns on your ad investment, you’d have to ask every client visiting your store if they saw the ad. In doing so, you would understand your campaign performance. That’s obviously not possible. Things really change when you use internet technology because you can understand better if you’re using your budget in a good way. Right now, even more websites and new social media platforms are being launched, and everyone is living surrounded by ads: and there is more data. Nowadays, data is more important than oil—they even call it “the new oil”. The thing is, data is renewable and never-ending, while oil is not. Just to give you an idea of how big it is, 90% of all existing data on the Internet has been created in the last 5 years or so. It’s crazy. It’s huge.
Moreno: Can this data be sold? Does it become a tradable commodity between companies or data managers?
Micky: Technically, Google and Facebook don’t sell data, but they provide a platform and a service that helps the company reach people thanks to their data. We all give them this data for free.
Moreno: Are you talking about Google Analytics?
Micky: Google Analytics is useful for analyzing website data. What I meant and what we use is called Google Ads. Facebook uses its own platform as well, Facebook Ads. Facebook knows so much about you—when you’re born, so your age, or for instance when you like a picture of some new shoes or Radio Sintony’s Facebook page. It knows so much about you. And with this technology and data, it can say “ok, if you want to reach that guy, you have to choose the most suitable target and age range, 18-35 years, that lives in Sardinia, who listen to the radio and who like shoes. And that’s how they make money. Google works in another way because it’s a search engine. When you search for a product or service, what we do is to show our client’s ads to people looking for that specific word. If I sell shoes, I’ll tell Google to show my ad and my product to those looking for size-13 sneakers for instance. There is a lot of work behind all of this, to understand how people’s minds work, how they search for products, what type of videos they watch, and so on. YouTube belongs to Google, so all of that information is linked together.
Moreno: Which seminars did you attend to let people know about your company? Have you stayed in Sardinia or have you also gone elsewhere?
Micky: We have mostly stayed here, especially at the beginning because I have connections from previous working experience in the industry, which helped a lot with networking. It’s been some time now that we haven’t participated in live events. In the past, we attended some conferences in Bologna, Milan, and Rimini as speakers, presenting clients’ case studies, and showing our methodology and approach to digital marketing. These meetings are very useful for sharing opinions with other professionals, and for branding, but it’s not guaranteed that you meet clients because are not created for that purpose. We have also attended some events here in Sardinia—Open Campus used to do a lot of them in person, now they move everything online for obvious reasons. Then we did a seminar at the University of Cagliari to talk with the students. There’s also a great Facebook group called “Sardegna Networking” which, from time to time, organizes this type of event for Sardinian experts in this field.
Moreno: How is Sardinia doing, in comparison to other places, in terms of digital advertising and social media?
Micky: It has been a while since I have worked with Sardinian companies, as those who need this kind of consultancy are pretty much only travel businesses, which is not our focus. You don’t need big budgets to reach local customers, because we’re a small island—which also means you can invest less money and still do a great job. But, as I already told you, digital advertising alone is not enough. Let’s talk about a small business, for example, a pizzeria or a hair salon. Their clients are near them – it’s not like I’ll eat a pizza 100 km away from my house – so it might be more efficient to put a billboard on the highway than run ads on Facebook. It depends on the type of business, and their location.
Moreno: What advice can you give to companies that want to start advertising? Maybe one could be that they need to talk to people like you, but what else can you tell them?
Micky: Yes, we could say that. It’s easy to burn money when you get the job done by non-professionals. And you also need to make the rest of it work—there is no point in having ads if the salesman at the office is rude. And you cannot improvise because it’s not a game, you need to work hard. A lot of people are unprepared, they lose all their clients’ money, and this makes them unreliable to companies. Google and Facebook also make it look like it’s easy: “add your credit card number here, write a piece of ad copy there, launch it, and you’re done” they say, but it’s not like that—there’s a lot of marketing research on all the different variables. These are the tips companies should listen to.
Moreno: Last question. How do you see advertising in the future? Now it’s everywhere. Can you bring back ethics in advertising?
Micky: It’s hard to tell. Advertising is all about money, and being ethical is hard when money is involved, especially for the big dogs. You can see it when looking at Amazon, Facebook, or Google—their profits are higher every year. Going back to what we were saying before about data, well, technology is trying to be more ethical especially towards privacy. At first, advertising had a very specific method to reach out to people. Now, this is changing the whole industry, and the changes will keep on coming. This change will happen soon and it will be ethical and more privacy-oriented, but the thing is—studies show that people are happy to see ads targeted to their very own interests. For example, I love fishing, I’m a father of a daughter, it makes no sense for me to be exposed to, let’s say, an ad about trucks, I don’t care about that. I’d rather prefer to see an ad that is more relevant to my interests. To do this, companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon need to collect this information. Then they sell it, saying that people want to see more personalized ads. In order to personalize it, they need all the information that we give to them, whether we’re aware of it or not. I don’t see any other methods to being ethical other than informing people, being clear, transparent, and letting them manage consent preferences, so people can say “no, I don’t want to see this type of ad”. Actually, you can kind of already do that—it is a bit hidden, but you can do that.
Moreno: Thank you very much, Michele. Today we learned a lot about the world of advertising, thanks to Midsummer Agency. Thank you, thank you, everyone, who listened to us here on Radio Sintony.
Micky: Thank you, everyone!