It is rare to find an MBA working in a takeaway pizza shop. But London Business School grad Corrado Accardi was prepared to do whatever it took to make his entrepreneurial dream a reality.
“I went to great lengths to make this business a success,” he says. “I worked for a takeaway pizza shop in London to learn from within. I was a pizza-maker for three months.”
Corrado is the CEO and founder of Pizza Rossa Ltd – a unique pizza-by-the-slice business that is set to open two stores in England’s capital after securing a record amount of crowd funding.
Corrado has banked £440,000 from over 120 Crowdcube investors, setting a new record for the largest amount of crowdfunded equity raised for a UK start-up in the process.
It is a considerable achievement and Corrado lights up when I ask him about it. But there is more to this tale than meets the eye. He suddenly drops another bomb.
“Just last night, it came out that we won the Best Start-Up Of The Year award from Crowdcube,” he says, humbly. “The money raised will cover the costs of setting up a production facility and two outlets here in London.”
After leaving a career in the construction sector behind – which he was “stuck” in for 15 years – ideas of his own pizza start-up business began blooming. And his business plan has not changed much since then.
Corrado was inspired to launch Pizza Rossa after spotting a gap in the market. The LBS MBA, originally from Italy, has lived in London for the past 12 years and realized there was something missing in the food-and-drinks industry.
“I had the majority of my lunches out, mostly with fast food, and there was always something missing for me,” he says. “Pizza-by-the-slice is something you find on every street corner in Italy, but in London there’s very few - and the quality is generally not great.
“I saw a gap in the market and wanted to see if it was possible to create a chain of restaurants. The idea was always to create a business with the potential to become a chain and expand beyond London. There’s no point in even considering it on a small-scale.”
Corrado is bold and ambitious. There was always an entrepreneur inside him screaming to be let loose.
So, quit your construction job, form a business plan and secure a record-breaking amount of equity. Easy, right? Well, not quite. While he has achieved considerable success so far, it is not his first entrepreneurial venture.
Start-ups are fraught with difficulty and a shocking one in three start-ups in the UK fails within its first three years of business. Yet that doesn’t stop MBAs launching them; by the end of this month, 80,000 more new businesses will have been created in Britain than in 2011.
Corrado has tasted failure, too. It is not a pleasant memory.
“I had my own small consulting firm which handled project management in construction,” he reveals. “But it was going nowhere because of the recession.”
Queue LBS, the highest MBA Ranking b-school in the UK. Corrado joined the Executive MBA programme in 2011, a part-time course that allowed him to stay at his consulting firm – “I needed to keep working, there’s no way I could have done a full-time MBA”.
“I joined the EMBA because I wanted to go up-stream towards project finance. But it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” says Corrado. “The real push for me to start-up Pizza Rossa happened at LBS.
“Although I tried to look for investors for the initial plan in 2010, I lacked credibility because I came from the construction sector. I had to shelve the idea at the time.
“But when I talked to people at business school about it, I got a lot of good feedback. It was the trigger I needed to explore it a little further.”
And explore it he did. Corrado applied for LBS’s Entrepreneurship Summer School – an “almost a competitive process” – which allows MBAs to test the feasibility of their start-up ideas through active research, with the help of a mentor.
“It transpired that the idea was not only feasible, but appealing too,” Corrado says. “LBS were instrumental in putting me in contact with a network of people in the food and beverage industry.
“I had a team of five people helping me develop the business plan and, by the end of the course, we were ranked first.”
He went on to win the LBS annual business plan competition, as well as reaching the finals of another European start-up plan competition. He also utilized the b-schools incubator.
LBS gave him the credibility he needed to get backing from investors – and his record amount raised through Crowdcube is surely vindication that an MBA is not reserved for financiers and consultants. The rise of the entrepreneur is evident across the b-school community.
Corrado is aware of the competition; London is dominated by chains like Pizza Express and Domino’s. But he insists Pizza Rossa is unique. It has few in direct competition.
This all makes for a fascinating read. But so far all Corrado has is a sanctioned business plan, a (highly regarded) MBA and a huge amount of equity. How does he plan to turn this into the success story that so many believe he is capable of doing?
“In London there are only 21 pizza-by-the-slice businesses, and of those there have only been two failures,” he explains. “But the difference is that we have a centralized production system.
“I wanted to find out why nobody had every scaled up these businesses, and the reason was that they had a kitchen in every single outlet. With our system we can achieve levels of profitability that can’t be matched by any competitors.
“The plan is to have 12 outlets in London within five years – which will all be centrally-controlled. But the reality is that when we start franchising, there are no limits. The minimum of 12 outlets is much less ambitious than I could be.”
A confident statement indeed. It has been a long road but all the elements are in place for Corrado to make this business a success.
Someone else will be doing the pizza making from now on.
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