….Surround yourself with positive people, or at least with people who are motivated and passionate, no matter the age. What matters the most is love for life, to believe in your dreams, and to want to make them come true…
As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Iginio Straffi.
Creator, writer, director, producer and successful entrepreneur — Iginio Straffi’s creativity has been recognized with countless awards, and Variety has included him in its elite Variety 500, an index of the 500 most influential business leaders shaping the global media industry. Iginio has consistently demonstrated his ability to create relevant international franchises like Winx Club, 44 Cats, Huntik, Monster Allergy, and many others. He has a grasp of kids and adults’ universal feelings, so that his shows are not about any one country or any one language, as he speaks the global lingua franca of human emotion. The recently released Netflix’ original series Fate: The Winx Saga — a live action adaptation inspired by his classic Winx Club series — has become a #1 global hit for Netflix in the U.S., and worldwide, reaching 190 countries in 32 languages.
In the last 25 years, Straffi has built the largest European content studio dedicated to kids and family entertainment, drama, unscripted formats and theatrical movies. From creation to production to distribution, Rainbow is a 360° integrated media Powerhouse. Straffi has also expanded the group with strategic acquisitions. In 2015 Rainbow acquired the 30 years old Canadian Studio Bardel Entertainment, which produces high quality animated TV & Film for Hollywood biggest clients from Disney, Warner, Viacom, Universal/Dreamworks to Netflix.
In 2017, the Group acquired Colorado Film that contributed to the expansion strategy to include new segments of the entertainment, to establish Rainbow Group as a multimedia, multi-genre platform. Straffi’s continual strategic focus on quality, technological innovation and diversified content offering put him as an influential global leader in the entertainment industry.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started drawing short graphic novels when I was a child. My mother has kept my old school notebooks, full of sketched stories, throughout the years. I would write and draw, and then I would pass the sheets of paper amongst my classmates. I was born as a cartoonist. Then, over the years, I acquired all of the drawing secrets and techniques, creating scripts and drawing my own graphic novels. Before my 20s, I was already working for the most important comic book publisher in Italy. From graphic novels, I moved on to animation — from artistic craftsmanship to the animation industry. I gained experience around Europe, and when I came back to Italy, I founded Rainbow, my own company.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I would say my “Aha Moment” came while I was working for European studios. I realized that my vocation for storytelling could be directed towards something much more structured than a graphic novel book. Working in the animation industry made me discover my entrepreneurial skills, of which I was not yet fully aware.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I remember the hopeful journeys to European and American TV broadcasters’ offices, to which I wanted to present my first artworks. I placed infinite phone calls, with secretaries bouncing me from office to office — it was a huge difficulty to try to sit in front of someone who really wanted to listen and consider my creations.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
For certain, the qualities that should go with talent are passion and tenacity, and to firmly believe in what you want to do, even if others do not seem to immediately understand your innovative ideas. But you shouldn’t also rest on your laurels, as that is not enough. New challenges are those that should keep success alive, the ones that must renew success. Things change, and perhaps forgetting the past, trusting the desire to change everything, and getting involved in a new challenge, which is even harder than the previous, could be helpful.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are perfectionists, always trying to improve what we do. I remember that we have been working for months to launch Winx Club, and the first episode was ready to be presented to buyers at the Mipcom in Cannes. I spent an entire evening wondering why I was not satisfied. Every image flashed before my eyes, and I could see that it was not strong enough to be a global success, as I had wished.
I went to work the next morning and called my collaborators — we changed many things. Everyone was unhappy, and was already satisfied with the work completed until that moment, but in the end, they embraced my new vision of the project. We worked day and night on every detail, and I know the audience can feel this, as they always demand the best.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When I was looking for co-producers for my first animated series project, Tommy & Oscar, I had the opportunity to introduce it to a big American group in New York. My presentation was all about the story and the characters — the entertainment value — while they wanted to understand the financial returns. They then asked me to come back the next morning with a business plan. I worked all night to prepare it, but naively wrote what I thought could be realistically achieved, so I considered a return of about 20% as final profit. I remember the embarrassment of seeing four or five people from the company leafing through my business plan, and apologizing one by one for having to leave the meeting, after less than 10 minutes. I was left alone with an assistant who told me: “Maybe you should have expected a return greater than 20%”…I will never forget this mistake due to my inexperience and honesty.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
In my field, our work is constantly evolving, and mistakes are part of the process. Nevertheless, thanks to my knowledge, and a certain amount of intuition, I have always avoided following advice that would have brought extensive damage to a production.
I mainly had bad experiences by following advice in other fields where I wasn’t prepared, like in financial and business relationships, where other dynamics come into play.
To be more specific, I made mistakes by hiring collaborators who didn’t make a good impression during the interview, but because they were recommended by friends of mine — they ended up being a huge mistake.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Being a perfectionist can be a great quality, but often, it can also be a real curse. It makes you continually unsatisfied and looking for something better, so you never get to enjoy the moment, even if successful. However, I am an enthusiastic person, and am curious about the world and people. I consider myself to be very lucky since I get a lot of inspiration from the reality that surrounds me. I like stories, light and dark in people, and I don’t believe in one-way stories. I don’t like banality. Humility is a great value for me, as you never know how the parable of life will develop, and I believe that it is always right to be respectful and open towards whomever we are in front of.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
To surround yourself with positive people, or at least with people who are motivated and passionate, no matter the age. What matters the most is love for life, to believe in your dreams, and to want to make them come true — this is for certain.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The biggest mistake is wanting to keep doing the same things repeatedly, staying in comfortable positions, which unfortunately, don’t last forever. You shouldn’t be lazy, instead, you should be ready to challenge yourself with different experiences.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
There is often a tendency to underestimate the power that employees have in helping you see things better.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- I wish they had told me that to get there, you have to work day and night — sometimes seven days a week, and especially the first few years.
- That no one trusts you when you are a beginner, especially in a branch where Italy has no industrial tradition.
- That sometimes the trust you place in some collaborators who you have given so much to, can be betrayed for a fistful of dollars — and just when you needed them most.
- That banks offer you help when you don’t need it, but deny it when you need it.
- That success creates envies and jealousies that can also hurt you.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like great resources to be invested in researching a vaccine against selfishness. I believe that in about 50 years, it will be possible. A world without selfishness would be a happy world, I’m sure. A more immediate goal could be committing to plant a dozen trees per person — there are various associations that do this on our behalf in the most suitable areas of the planet. The problem of wild deforestation is perhaps the most serious threat to our planet, and we must react immediately, because each new plant takes tens of years to become mature.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
Thank you for being interested in my story, which I hope will inspire someone to believe in their dreams and not give up easily.