CoContest‘s target is clear: it aims to revolutionize the relationship between architects and clients, making design more accessible to everyone based on a crowdsourcing model. In order to understand something more about this (for me) unknown world, I asked co-founder Federico Schiano di Pepe to tell us the idea behind the service, and its main features.
Federico, who is in Silicon Valley at the moment, also speaks about some interesting cultural differences between the USA and Italy.
FinSMEs: Hello Federico, thank you for joining us. First, can you tell us a little bit more about you?
Federico: “Hi Ermanno, thank you for this opportunity. I’m Italian and I’m currently specializing in e-commerce law. I previously ran an ad startup, which represented a great first step and made me acquire a lot of experience. I’ve always been fascinated by crowdsourcing business models, that’s why, in 2011, my brother and I decided to start a new (ad)venture and create CoContest“.
FinSMEs: What’s CoContest? Which problem do you want to solve?
Federico: “CoContest is a platform for interior design and architecture, which combines the offline competition system and the power of crowdsourcing to solve the problem of finding skilled, low cost architects fast. Our goal is to make architectural services accessible to everyone through quality improvement and costs reduction. Our service can be both used by private householders who need projects for their houses or a part of them, and by business operators (such as construction companies, real estate and architects) who can outsource their activities through our platform. But CoContest is not only an outsourcing tool: it also represents an extremely effective tool for architects (especially young ones) to reach new clients and expand their business. Most of them already consider CoContest as a revolutionary instrument that can change the architectural world forever“.
FinSMEs: Tell me something more! How does it work?
Federico: “CoContest has been conceived to be a fast, user-friendly platform and our aim is to guarantee the client a fast, high quality service! The process is very simple: the first step is made by the client, through the launch of a contest. He/she has to fill in a short questionnaire, called “The Brief”. The Brief is the core part of the contest, which has been designed to let clients, especially those who lack any kind of competence, express their needs in a standard, comprehensible and detailed manner and provide competitors (architects) with a complete, ready-to-be-satisfied demand.
“Once the contest has been launched, all registered architects can take part to it, uploading projects, 3D rendering and descriptions. The best project wins, the best architect earn money: it’s all up to the client!
“Launched one month and a half ago, our platform can already count more than 3,000 registered architects from all over the world, 16 launched contests, which received an average of 20 high quality proposals each, with an average prize of €300“.
FinSMEs: An example?
Federico: “Yes, a couple of weeks ago, a client launched a contest to renovate his 120 sqm house: in only 7 days and with just a €300 budget, he has got 28 high quality proposals. These are extraordinary numbers, if we considered that in Italy, the price for a couple of medium-quality projects is approximately €3,000. Convenient, isn’t it?!”
FinSMEs: What’s your business model?
Federico: “We have a clear and efficient business model, which I consider as one of our strengths.
“We get a fee for each contest launched on the platform. In addition, we offer:
(i) a package deal for business clients who need to launch more contests
(ii) a premium account for architects who want to use a more detailed profile, and
(iii) an architect board registration check, to provide customers who only want certified architects to take part to their contests with the most experienced and skilled professionals; we are the first to implement this verification program“.
FinSMEs: Could you introduce us the other members of the team?
Federico: “Yes, of course. Beyond me, Our distributed team include: my brother Filippo Schiano di Pepe (COO), an expert architect who has been working in Italy and London, UK; he is also the web designer behind CoContest. Carmine Pasquarelli, developer, who previously worked in Ferrari. Maria Bovi, PR, who is based in London and is currently working to establish partnership with magazines. Cristiano Bellavitis, who is based in London, PHD in Venture Capital. We are also sided by two advisors: Stefano Pighini (M&A Philips Morris and Pirelli) and Valerio Caracciolo (a member of IAG)“.
FinSMEs: Are you seeking funds right now? What can you tell us?
Federico: “We recently raised a micro seed from LVenture, which we used to move our first steps. We are currently in talks with some venture capitalists, who can help us with financial resources and, overall, with their network, that’s what really matters. In a few words, we need investors who believe in this revolutionary project“.
FinSMEs: Why do you need them?
Federico: “We would like to scale fast our tested business model especially exporting it abroad. We also need to hire people that can help us to be faster“.
FinSMEs: I know you are in Silicon Valley right now. What’s the meaning of this journey. What are you learning from this experience?
Federico: “Yes I’m in San Francisco at the moment. Any IT professional should come here, at least once. In a few weeks, we have already managed to increase our business network in a way that was unpredictable just some months ago. Here, people are interested in you and want to listen to your story and help you. That’s something Americans have in their culture, and unfortunately is way far from ours. We got in contact with CEOs and venture capitalists with a simple email, more than once. I’ve been told that here “everyone reads and replies to all email because one of them could be the next big thing”: this is one of the most incredible things that happen here, simply amazing.
“We also took part to some demo days, met founders, and close a partnership with an IOS app developer. What to say…we definitely went beyond our best expectations!”
FinSMEs: What are your future plans?
Federico: “First of all we want to improve our product, perfecting details and finding smart ways to acquire customers. In the next few weeks we will launch a new version of the web site and additional features. Furthermore we are planning to open a branch abroad. Thank you so much and congratulation for your blog“.
FinSMEs: Thank you very much Federico.