Test, test, test. We started a long way from where we are now. Without having tested and changed many things, we would not have been able to move forward, even with an outstanding amount of capital or mentorship. You have to test your idea on the field before you ask somebody else to believe in it.
As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Pallas.
Brian Pallas is an Italian entrepreneur, CEO, and Founder of Opportunity Network, a private business matching network for highly vetted CEOs and private investors worldwide. Brian holds a B.S. in Business Management and an M.S. in Economics, graduating with honors from the Catholic University of Milan. He also worked at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), where he gained experience in private equity and investment banking, before being sponsored by them to complete an MBA at Columbia Business School in New York, where the idea of Opportunity Network first began.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
To be honest, I had no idea that I would end up being an entrepreneur. It has always fascinated me because I grew up surrounded by my father’s family business, but I didn’t expect to become an entrepreneur myself. I got my BSc in Business Management and I then went on to complete a Master’s in Economics, graduating with honors from the Catholic University of Milan. Then, I worked at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), where I gained experience in private equity and investment banking. After working for two years, I was sponsored by the company to complete my MBA at Columbia Business School in New York.
While at Columbia, I decided to create a newsletter where people could share business opportunities in order to help my father expand our family business in Milan. He had always refused to create a sales or marketing team, and was relying on his personal network for work. While very successful, this approach never really allowed him to scale. The newsletter wasn’t very sophisticated. People would send me a three-line email about an interesting business proposition. I circulated it in a monthly email to the people in the club who knew and trusted each other. Soon, I found myself with almost a billion dollars’ worth of aggregate opportunities blowing through my business school email, and when I saw people making $10 and $20 million deals, I realized we had something.
I could have gone back to work for BCG or I could have tried to pursue a career in Private Equity, but when I understood that Opportunity Network was turning from an idea into a concrete project, and that it could make an impact on the world, I thought I couldn’t miss the chance to at least try to make it happen. Here we are, seven years later, hosting a network of 45,000+ CEOs from 130+ countries and in 100+ industries, with a total transaction flow of $400BN.
Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
At the very beginning, we were lacking scale and it was hard to match even the most standard deals.
One day a guy sent forward an US$10M project for the prospection of very specific, rare earths in Tanzania.
I thought there was no way that we would ever match that, and wondered whether to even share it. We did, and within a week the guy got two contacts. The second one reverted back asking us to take down the deal as they came in late and the guy had already closed the deal with the first contact.
This blew our mind, until we realized that those rare earths were critical for screening medical devices and that pharmaceutical companies were really struggling to find enough suppliers.
That day, we realized that what we were creating went way deeper than our industry knowledge or capabilities, and could stand to help so many companies grow.
We now have 45,000+ members and are able to match 70% of deals with 4 counterparts in 48 hours. We hear stories like this every day but the sense of wonder never left me.
We feel we’re scaling serendipity.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
In Philosophy, there is a concept called ‘degrees of freedom’. When the degree of an individual’s freedom increases, the opportunity to get more results that are different from the standard arises. My philosophy as an individual, not simply as an entrepreneur (this was one of various options), has always been to keep as many options open as possible. My first job as a consultant expanded the range of options available to me. Similarly, the additional choice of the MBA was made with the idea to continue expanding my optional range further. I believe that, rather than specializing yourself, it’s better to have not only a plan A to move forward, but also a plan B, C and D, even within the same thing that you are doing. Obviously, this requires more time and effort, but it allows you to use the value from the different options and gives you a higher degree of freedom.
Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
We dream of a world where it won’t matter whether you’re located in New York, Bologna or Tanzania. A real global plain level field where every entrepreneur has equal access to business opportunities and grows based on merit. We believe that this will also propel the creation of jobs and increase wages in emerging countries.
Most companies’ success is driven by having access to the right people at the right time.
Finding an investor when capital is needed, new clients to expand, a supplier in times of crisis… These are the things that separate winners from losers, sometimes even more than the quality of one’s product or service.
Our purpose is to foster economic growth through providing all reputable CEOs and investors worldwide with equal access to business opportunities. Our network connects vetted CEOs and decision-makers worldwide with reliable counterparts for all their business needs. We aim to increase global GDP and standards of living in emerging markets as well as facilitate global business transactions by breaking down trade barriers and acting as a catalyst for business and economic growth.
Members simply have to post their business opportunity and our matching algorithm will share it with potential counterparts within our network of 45,000 highly vetted business leaders. On average, every opportunity receives at least one connection in the first 48 hours, and the total transaction flow on the platform is $400BN. This offers unprecedented scale and capacity for any type of company to grow faster than any competitor. Our innovation has changed the way business is done and transformed it into a simple and reliable process.
How do you think this will change the world?
All members are vetted by our trusted partners which are all prestigious financial institutions such as Banco Sabadell, The London Stock Exchange, YPO, Alfa Bank, UBS, BCI Bank, ABN Amro, Caixa Bank, BBVA, and Credit Suisse, among others. We believe that a reputable CEO in Azerbaijan should have access to the same opportunities as a reputable CEO from the USA. Therefore, by facilitating global business transactions and connecting vetted CEOs who may not have had the chance to meet otherwise, we are acting as a catalyst for businesses to grow and expand. This, in turn, will increase GDP and improve standards of living in emerging markets, as well as provide more job opportunities.
Well, if we were to onboard a good percentage of all reliable CEOs, rather than facilitating the Enterprise Sales market ($100k — $10Bn market), we would become the main conduit for it. As a platform, Amazon and Alibaba go through significant scrutiny from regulations due to their power to drive market dynamics.
What we would have to face would be even more significant, as the decisions we make as a company would have the potential to shift market dynamics between countries.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
With the goal to help my father expand our family business in Milan, we created a newsletter where the members of the Family Business Club of Columbia Business School could share business opportunities.
We soon found ourselves with almost a billion dollars’ worth of aggregate opportunities blowing through my personal business school email and when we saw people making $10 and $20 million deals, we realized we had something.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
More of the same! We’ve been running this company for 7 years now and have moved from 0 members to 45,000 CEOs using our platform to do business with one another, and a $400 billion deal flow. We’re here fighting hard to add the next 2 zeros to our track record.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Test, test, test. We started a long way from where we are now. Without having tested and changed many things, we would not have been able to move forward, even with an outstanding amount of capital or mentorship. You have to test your idea on the field before you ask somebody else to believe in it.
- Work with potential customers to create the perfect solution they want and ignore everyone else’s opinion. I’ve seen too many companies fail because they would close themselves in a room and come out of it with great, clever solutions that no one really wants.
- If you throw money at a solution, you scale a solution. If you throw money at a problem, you scale a problem. 4 years ago, we did not have our technology team figured out and we threw a million euros at hiring a lot of very capable software engineers. A year later, all of them had left and we were in a worse position. We finally found an amazing CTO who, with much fewer resources, managed to put the house in order. Now our tech stack is top-notch. This applies to teams, products, customer management… Anything.
- There’s a cost to coordination in terms of agility. Minimize your headcount until you have a solid core business that can sustain itself. I know a CEO who raised a 30M seed round and immediately hired more than 100 people. But he did not have a client value proposition figured out. He spent most of his time doing weekly all hand meetings with plenty of people, unable to catch up to the required strategy changes that every early stage start-up goes through.
- The two most important skills for an entrepreneur are Sales and HR. As companies scale, the latter is what makes all the difference. It blows my mind that no MBA offers HR classes.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
Success is a context-related concept. An idea is only a winning one if it serves someone’s purpose. If an idea doesn’t add value, it won’t work. If you look at the whole concept from this perspective, you shouldn’t focus on success itself but on the concept of utility: it’s inherent to the social structure of a country’s economic system and people’s habits. Once your idea creates (or adjusts) a system in a way that adds value, you’ll be successful.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
We’re solving the biggest bottleneck to global GDP growth.
What makes us wake up in the morning every day is the impact we’ll be bringing to millions of people around the world by enabling companies to grow, create new jobs and lift first vs third world barriers.
We operate in a 30T winner takes it all enterprise sales market, vs. the 25T Amazon retail market and 20T wholesale Alibaba market.
We have already reached the critical mass needed to prove that it works, and we now just need to do more of the same.
Will we win? We don’t know, but building our critical mass has been so hard that somehow, 7 years into this we’re the only horse in this race.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.