I had a delightful conversation with Martina Cusano. It was like seeing an old friend and finding out that we have so many things in common that we did not know about. Martina and I met in business school over 10 years ago. I feel like we will be more in touch going forward! We talked about lockdown lessons and the power of adapting – yourself and your business.
Martina is the co-founder and CEO of Mukako, a digitally native brand of children design. Mukako gained #9 position in the FT 1000 Europe Fastest Growing Company. Martina is a rising talent of the Women’s Forum and has been nominated as one of Italian Aspiring50. She holds a degree in finance from Bocconi University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
The onset of Covid-19 in Milan
At the beginning of the crisis, Martina was actually abroad with the family. The pandemic started developing in Italy and Martina and her business partner quickly made the decision to allow people to stay working from home, depending on their own choices. This was well before the government started lockdown but they thought it was best to be conservative. As the lockdown came into place, the team in Italy moved to work remotely and Martina notes that they adapted remarkably well. In fact, she sees it as a positive that they had to do so, given in its essence Mukako is still a start-up and needs this mindset to continue pushing forward.
As the lockdown progressed, Mukako was in a privileged position as their usual distribution channel was online and they had just received enough stock from their producer in China. Luckily, they also worked with a warehouse that could stay open as they had enough space for keeping social distancing, so they were able to keep delivering throughout the crisis. With a product dedicated to keeping kids entertained, it is no surprise that revenues were even stronger than before. Whilst they suffered from being at one of the early centers of the European crisis, the experience also allowed them to learn and adjust their message as the 40 countries they sell in also adjusted to lockdown.
Closer than ever
At the same time, Martina found a customer base that was more than willing to be engaged – they wanted to be engaged and hear from them. The team started curating activities from other online content, but after a few weeks adapted further and started creating their own content for the children and routines that could help parents through their time at home.
As the routines wore off on Martina in her own family, she guessed her clients were probably feeling the same. They adjusted the message sharing more creative and independent activities for children. The customers stayed engaged and this is certainly a new line of thought the company is taking. Martina even gives us a sneak peek that she is working on a book about aesthetic education now, a good surprise to come out of this crisis.
Productivity Tip: No Sleep
Staying home with 2 children age 6 and 7 1/2 and limited school support ended up in a series of long nights for Martina to be able to keep up with work. She also admits becoming more relaxed about some of the housework, whilst teaching her kids more chores in the house. One key thing she learned was flexing some of the rules to adjust to the extreme situation. If some days she was more “desperate” to do work, she accepted that TV limits applied through the week and not to a single day. Martina felt this lockdown was tough in managing many things but also in maintaining patience levels, which are often affected by our tiredness.
Managing Mental Health
On the other hand, as an entrepreneur, Martina believes she is lucky that her start-up experience already built more resilience than many people have. No matter what, she still felt downbeat through times, especially in having to help her team and investors managed through fear and anxiety. She had no tabu to call upon a psychologist to give advice. More than that, she invited her to come and share videos with her community of parents. Talk about bringing your whole self to the workplace! Martina believes this was a unique period in time in time where we were all having shared experiences.
This lockdown was no doubt an opportunity to connect with ourselves and Martina was no exception. She has connected deeply with her values and her long term goals. She spent time re-thinking about what is important and about when to prioritize
Martina’s Lockdown List
- Book: The Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
- Sport: Not a lot, but some Yoga
- Technology: My Phone
- Lesson: Adaptability
- Word: Tiring
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