What I learned from being both a full-time student and a CEO

My path to the C-suite level hasn’t exactly followed a usual route, I’ll admit. I believe that’s where my strengths lie: I don’t mind doing things a little bit differently than you’d expect, and my unorthodox journey has been full of surprises.

At thirteen, stuck in a small town in Northern Italy, I started teaching myself coding and experimenting with building websites in my childhood bedroom. It wasn’t anything serious, I was just a kid having fun ––but I did learn how to apply complex Python scripts to my math homework! If you’d told me back then that in less than a decade, I’d be the young CEO of a million-dollar e-commerce startup, I’d have laughed in your face.

In its first two years, my company processed $75 million for over 2.3 million customers and 2,800 merchants. At the very same time, I was studying for my linear algebra and functional programming exams at University. My grades are great, thanks for asking.

The truth is, I didn’t choose to become a CEO. If I had, I would have probably waited until I was done with my studies and had more free time. Juggling both roles isn’t easy, and it presents both logistical and emotional challenges ––have you ever had to skip a school day to attend a regulatory attorney meeting? I can count quite a few in my short time.

I believe school is important, and I didn’t want to sacrifice my learning ––or the experience of being a normal 20-something living the university life–– to follow my dream. On the other hand, I really believe in my company’s potential, and how quickly it’s grown in just a few short years has been a testament to how right I was to trust that it would all pay off. That left me with one choice: to do both, at the same time.

You may have quit a job to pursue your dream, as is so common in the startup world, but get this: I quit my first ever job to start my own business. Looking back now, I have so much admiration for that eighteen year old kid. He was afraid of nothing, and just kept going time after time whenever life dealt him a tough hand. Perhaps that’s why I’ve managed to build a successful company and accelerate its growth so dramatically in such a short time: I just have too much to do, so I can’t really take time to wallow or panic when things get tricky. I keep my head held high and put one foot in front of the other, simply because I have to.

Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t do it all on my own. That’s actually one of the main things I’ve learned on this crazy journey, and the one thing I would tell my eighteen year old self if I could give him some advice: surround yourself with a great team of experts. Hire talented people you can learn from, and ensure they have the best possible environment in which to flourish. If they succeed, you succeed. The more you let people support you on your way to the top, the more you can trust that you’re on the right track.

When I started, I didn’t have any experience managing large sums of money, acquiring software, or negotiating with lawyers. How was I supposed to oversee something like a platform’s UI and UX design, when the only design I’d known up until that point was that of my own lesson planner? All I knew was I loved computer science, and I loved getting a product to the very best it could be. The rest, we’d have to figure out together.

I don’t mind working hard, but I love working towards a goal. All this time, my only goal has been to keep building out my skillset to the best of my ability, so I can get my company to the next level ––so we can keep expanding, and become the leading e-commerce platform I know we can be.

It won’t be easy to explain to my professors, but then again, the best things in life can sound crazy the first time you say them out loud. Maybe they should read this piece, and then they’ll understand why I’ve missed so many classes ––it’s all worth it, I promise.