Tomaso Rodriguez is more than your usual entrepreneur. Problem-solving seems bred in his bones, even if it means emerging from the deep end against all odds, whilst still managing to keep up a contagiously positive attitude.
At least, that’s the impression Tomaso elicits when he begins a talk he recently gave at the AUC School of Business on his “Being There First” strategy. Tomaso’s credentials boast graduate and postgraduate Engineering degrees from Italy’s historic Università degli Studi di Padova –an institution where the Western father of astronomy Galileo once taught. In parallel with his master’s degree, he started a successful customer engagement company called Agency Management with his best friend, honing his entrepreneurial toolbox from a young age by building his skillset and offering a much-needed service.
Speaking at the School’s Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation CEO Talk on November 8, Tomaso’s spirit for imaginative leadership, creativity, and ambition shine through as he narrates his career journey. His passion, he explains, is the “launching phase” of new business, a challenge that could make or break a business, and when done right, takes it to new heights. From working with Uber, where he helped make UberEats happen, to later joining Southeast Asia’s superstar app Grab once it seemed like a bigger challenge, there seems to be little limit to Tomaso’s ambition.
In 2020, Kuwaiti food ordering app Talabat rebranded from its former name, Otlob, Tomaso had joined as CEO in 2019, with ambitious plans to spearhead the company into its next growth stage. “I know it’s kind of the opposite journey most people have; I started with my own company and then moved to more established companies, but I was always tackling the launching phase, this 0-1,” he explains. Talabat might his only exception to this; in his journey with Uber and Grab, he was part of a key team handling trailblazing expansion strategies, most notably when he joined Uber as one of their first employees in Europe.
Tomaso also speaks about his time in the cut-throat world of venture capital, where he worked for about three years. “Working in VC is super fun because you get to meet hundreds and hundreds of entrepreneurs every year, and out of probably one thousand companies you’re going to see, you’re probably going to invest in 10. And whenever you meet one of these entrepreneurs, your mission is to understand whether their company is going to be one of the one out of hundred you’re going to invest in, or one of the ninety-nine you’re not going to invest in,” Tomaso elucidates. It might be a heart-breaking insight to hear, but it’s also the truth of an ecosystem where most new businesses fail within the first year.
Offering his advice to an audience of university students, Tomaso explains a story from African folklore and the motif he holds true, “You better start running…if you are the one who gets there first, you will set the path for [the others].” He also argues against the common belief that starting a career in corporate settings only to quit after a few years to start a business is somehow of monetary, entrepreneurial or career value. Instead, Tomaso holds firmly the belief that it’s best to take risks when you’re young.
“The best piece of advice I can give you [as students] is to take risks. The earlier you start to take risks, the easier it is. The more you progress, in your life, in your career, and once you have a family, the more difficult it becomes to take risks. If you are thinking about starting a company, start your company now. I don’t believe in spending a few years in consulting or banking before starting your own business. Take risks early on and think about your career with the end in mind. Think about where you want to be in 20 years, and work backwards from there,” Tomaso affirms, having never spent a day working in a corporate environment, instead opting to apply his relentless growth mindset to helping other businesses succeed.
Yet another tip he has for budding entrepreneurs is to step out of their comfort zone. While it might sound cliché, Tomaso entirely lives it, with his career taking him from living in his homeland of Italy, to Greece and later, Singapore, and now, Dubai. At one point in his career, Tomaso says he was hopping on up to 200 planes a year—and while he doesn’t recommend going as far as that, he does credit his success to his agility, capacity to live internationally, and to always move on to the next challenge even if the circumstances haven’t fully fallen into place.
Entrepreneurship is more than a career path, it’s a key character trait. Whether or not he knows this, Tomaso embodies it.