VIKTOR’S BOOK OF IDEAS
Viktor Calabrò, the visionary behind the largest online platform for flexible work, talks about his career, the development of his company and his book of ideas. An exclusive and candid behind-the-scenes story about the founder of Coople.
Childhood and early days
Viktor Calabrò was born in Schlieren in the Canton of Zurich as the younger son of a so-called “secondo” family. His parents arrived to Switzerland in the 1960s from Italy with not much baggage but with the determination to work hard to make a living for themselves. From an early age on, Viktor was interested in computers and technology having programmed his first computer game at the age of 11 using a Commodore 64. This would be one of the first indicators that young Viktor would find his passion building things from scratch. He went on to completing his education and moving up to grammar school, only to quit within a year simply because he didn’t want to learn Latin! He decided to instead pursue a more practical training and completed a commercial apprenticeship in the automobile sector.
Founding his first company
At the age of 17, Viktor was selected amongst only a handful of trainees for a slot as a programmer at UBS – one of the largest banks in the world. He quickly demonstrated that he had a talent for process optimisation and visionary thinking. He was full of ideas but without the an outlet. Many companies were not open to creative ideas that would potentially disrupt existing business practices. Viktor recalls, “I pitched suggestions for mobile payment systems to a leading financial institution and wanted to develop a patient’s card in the health sector. Eventually, I grew tired of constantly putting ideas forward that fell on deaf ears. So I had to ask myself: What’s next?”
The events sector sounded like fun, despite the fact that he had absolutely no experience in this field. He wanted to accelerate his learning curve even further and money was never a primary consideration. At La Folie, an event agency and his first company, he did just that: Instead of ploughing money into further training, he learned his trade in the office, day in day out.
Viktor, the visionary
Viktor began to keep track of his visionary thoughts in a book of ideas early on. One of the many ideas was to revolutionise and transform the labour market. He first encountered the challenges of human resource management at UBS, where he noticed that many employees were not performing at their maximum potential and that the right tool did not exist to manage them. It was at this time that he made his first entry in his book of ideas. The second entry about the exact same topic came while he was busy with La Folie: Viktor himself desperately needed staff with flexible availability…
STAFF FINDER is born
He attended courses at the Swiss Agency for the Promotion of Innovation, picked up the idea of flexible work and ultimately discovered the massive potential it offered. The next step was to apply for the KTI business models support programme for which Viktor and his idea were accepted. Because implementing his vision occupied more and more of his time, he decided to appoint a new director for his event agency.
In 2009, he co-founded the company STAFF FINDER. Initially, it didn’t go as planned. However, in 2011 he and his partners, Fabrizio Turdo and Stefan Rast, made a second, more successful attempt: “Everything was new and so exciting. Moving into the first office, recruiting the first employees and welcoming the first customer. We had our first contracts without even having completed the platform, so we did everything manually,” smiles Viktor as he recalls his company’s first steps. Viktor ads that, “growing by doing – that is the extreme achievement of entrepreneurship. You do everything at the same time and in parallel.”
STAFF FINDER becomes Coople
In 2017, the company went through a rebranding exercise and STAFF FINDER became Coople. At the same time, the company entered a successful financing round with investors while expanding to London, UK. The question was: Grow slowly with little funds or go big and get investors in to fuel rapid growth. Asked if the decision was hard to make, Viktor replies, “No…I saw the opportunity and preferred to have less from something big than to have big parts of something small. Nowadays, there are very few ideas with that much potential and such a big market where, even as a small player, you can play a leading role. Your only protection is speed.”
When asked what he considers his greatest success, Viktor states, “seeing the huge team of talented people fighting for something, day in day out, and believing in something that was once no more than an idea in my little book. Today, this vision has become reality. For employees and for people who can make a contribution and gain the freedom to enjoy a lifestyle they previously couldn’t even imagine having. My other great success is my son,” he adds, having become a father recently. “That gives you a completely different footing. You suddenly notice how beautiful the simple things in life are, such as going for walks. You lose sight of that in the business world.”
On the present and future
In October 2018, Viktor Calabrò took up the position of Executive Chairman of the Board, appointing Rinaldo Olivari as the new CEO of Coople. The setting and the role of the CEO had changed over time. In the beginning, the task required an extremely hands-on approach but over time, this changed: “It simply no longer involved all the things I enjoyed. I drive innovation, develop what doesn’t yet exist and need to be close to the customer,” explains Viktor. The other things aren’t part of his genetic make-up and he would only have held the company back. In the role of Executive Chairman, he once again has the opportunity to intervene from time to time in the operational sphere. He has immediately taken the chance to do so with his Accelerate Team at Coople. The aim of it is to disrupt the disruptive company in the different departments in order to continue driving innovation forward.
Viktor still has a great deal planned for the future and first and foremost sees Coople as a player which will develop an ecosystem conducive to flexible labour. There is still an on-going debate against flexibility at work, for example by insurance companies that do not provide an appropriate model. “In this respect, Coople can provide a platform for finding work. I nevertheless also see the chance for us to understand the specific needs of each of our target groups. Further training and continuing education, accommodation, social benefits, transport – there are many aspects which currently place those looking for greater flexibility at a disadvantage. These disadvantages must be eliminated, and the costs should be the same for everyone, regardless of whether they have a permanent job or a more flexible working relationship. The quicker we are able to remove such barriers; the more flexible work will become an attractive alternative.”
Asked whether he has more ideas about how to change the world, he laughs and says, “My book is full but our time, unfortunately, is limited.”