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About my new company SottoCasa, blaming visual designers and how to save the world
S01-E05 (27 March 2021)
it's been a while since my last newsletter, but sometimes finding the time to organize thoughts and write isn't always easy. In recent weeks, I have devoted almost all of my time to starting my new company SottoCasa.
During this time I also had an interesting conversation on Linkedin on the relationship between UX and UI design and read several books. The most interesting is undoubtedly How to avoid a climate disaster by Bill Gates.
From Daje to Sottocasa
Over the last few weeks, I've been transforming the Daje experience, which I talked about in the previous issue of this newsletter, into a SaaS (software as a service) implementation that will allow anyone to create a proximity marketplace. This will make it easier for families to do online shopping from small shopkeepers and farmers markets in their neighborhood.
Local grocers, fruit and vegetable shops, butchers, fishmongers, bakeries, restaurants and bars are fundamental elements that keep a neighborhood alive and prevent it from becoming a depressing dormitory. But they do much more than that: they sell products from small companies that cannot reach supermarkets because big retail chains always buy on the downside, throttling producers who are forced to sell off and lower quality to survive.
The active presence of individual food artisans, small production companies and local distribution networks are a fundamental factor in the economic and social well-being of a community: they are families who do their jobs with passion, generating additional local jobs, and keeping the food traditions of a community alive. The biscuits made by an in-house baker are always better than the industrial ones, even if they may cost a little more: they're fresh, made with the best ingredients, and no preservatives because they don't have to remain good for months on a shelf. Their sale generates income for families living in the same neighborhood.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of small agricultural, artisanal and distribution companies do not have the skills to sell online and therefore are destined to suffer unfair competition. They're pushed out of the market by Amazon, supermarket e-commerce, delivery services such as Instacart, and a new generation of dark stores (companies with networks of warehouses in the area that sell only online) that can afford the millions of dollars necessary to develop or purchase the technology and logistics services for online sales and delivery.
SottoCasa was created to offer small shopkeepers all the digital tools necessary to sell online, as well as build merchant communities where families can buy the products grown, created or carefully chosen by those neighborhood merchants.
Our model is designed for a local entrepreneur who manages the neighborhood's proximity marketplace with the support of our software. This manager:
helps shopkeepers to manage their e-commerce by explaining how to take product photos, promote their shop on social networks, and manage orders through the SottoCasa app;
organizes the logistics of home deliveries;
promotes the service in the territory.
This local entrepreneur is essential, because someone is needed to teach the shopkeepers how to sell online and provide them with ongoing in-person support. The SottoCasa software does the rest, because it incorporates all the knowledge and processes necessary to make online sales successful: easy catalog management, automations to encourage customers to buy, transaction management, etc. Without our SaaS, organizing an online sales and home delivery service for small neighborhood shops would require an exorbitant investment.
The proximity marketplace is an alternative model to the other four online spending models that households can use today:
Proprietary E-commerce. Many supermarket chains have developed their own e-commerce and home delivery services. In Italy, for example, customers already served by an Esselunga or Coop supermarket can order their shopping from the store they're used to, using services that offer a decent user experience.
Third-party delivery services. After Instacart launched in the United States, many other third-party home delivery services have emerged. These are not managed directly by supermarkets but by independent companies who employ their own delivery people (shoppers) who do the shopping for the customer. In Italy, the most important of these is Everli (formerly known as Supermercato24).
Dark stores. This category includes all e-commerce companies that do not have a street shop and only sell online. These companies are in direct competition with supermarkets, and they use a network of local warehouses to meet their goal of delivering their customers' shopping in a very short time. It's a model very similar to that of delivery services for restaurants. In this category we find already established companies such as the Dutch PicNic, along with very aggressive startups such as the German Gorillas and the English Dija.
Boxes. Subscription boxes, either with fruit and vegetables and other grocery items, or with portioned ingredients to prepare recipes, became popular in the United States seven or eight years ago, thanks to companies such as Blue Apron and Good Eggs. In Italy, the most relevant companies in this sector are probably Cortilia and Quomi.
All of these e-commerce models allow families to buy their groceries online, but none of them allow customers to buy from small stores in their neighborhoods. It is a fact that people will use e-commerce services more and more for their shopping, because it is more convenient. Small shops have begun to seriously consider this option due to the pandemic, but they will not stop when everything returns to normal. An increasingly important part of their turnover will depend on their ability to bring their offerings to the screens of their customers' smartphones.
SottoCasa will be the marketplace that allows families to buy quality products from the shopkeepers and artisans in their neighborhoods with the same convenience of home delivery that they've come to expect from the large supermarket chains.
Let’s blame the UI designer
As a product manager, I always have to interact with designers with different specializations and - sometimes - it's very frustrating. In fact, in recent years, there has been a polarization: on the one side, graphic and visual design has become almost a commodity mainly due to freelance sites that allow you to easily purchase designer services in emerging countries at very affordable prices; on the other side, the need of interaction design and UX design in software development has multiplied.
The inevitable consequence is that many visual designers have reinvented themselves overnight as UX designers, attracted by the possibility of having better pay and a more stable job: a software project can last for years and always needs a designer on the team.
Recently, I worked on a project with people who were great visual designers, but who were hired as UX designers to participate in the design of a very complex SaaS. The consequence is that they had designed an aesthetically very nice interface, but the product was basically wrong from a conceptual point of view: a disastrous result and a huge waste of resources. In a moment of frustration I wrote this post on Linkedin:
I didn’t expect 280 interactions and 81 comments: it is an interesting conversation between experts that I invite you to read because there is a lot food for thought, which go far beyond the polemical tone with which I wrote the post.
How to avoid a climate disaster
In the last few days I have been reading How to avoid a climate disaster by Bill Gates and I have learned two important things. The first is that we produce 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases a year and we must reach zero by 2050. Doing so requires a global consensus and I have to confess that I find really difficult to be optimistic about the ability of men to have such a far-sighted view of the future.
The second is that greenhouse gas emissions depend on many human activities (see figure) and to solve the problem we will have to change many habits.
I recommend that you read it and take a look at Breakthrough Energy, the Gates fund that finances startups that produce solutions against global warming.
Bonus Track. Two very interesting readings about marketplaces from a16z and Samaipata that you can’t miss: