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The enthusiasm that exudes from Elisa Rossi when she talks about her new company, Rossi & Rei, is comparable to the enthusiasm you find when you visit Silicon Valley. That’s not a coincidence given that she has worked in the Valley for over a decade at companies like Steve Jobs’ Apple, Eventbrite, Square and most recently Yik Yak. While working during groundbreaking product launches like the iPhone and the iPad has taught her an obsession with details, you also get a sense of warmth when talking to her that is not usual in tech executives. And this is probably be a key skill in her mission to create a global marketplace for custom luxury goods.

Cardigan by Maglificio Tomas

Elisa grew up in the Marche region of Italy. Unbeknown to most, Marche’s economy is dominated by luxury manufacturing shops, with a particular excellence in shoe-making. Back then, she would be able to walk into an artisan’s workshop and have boots custom made and talk to the artisans, which eventually became family friends. When she moved to the US though she realised that what was normal back home was rare and highly sought after by many, in particular bymiddle-upper class urbanites in search for meaningful, long-lasting products that go beyond consumerism at all costs.

“Life is bigger than the stuff with which you fill it.”

In the long term, Rossi & Rei wants to become a marketplace for such talent, the world’s destination for custom luxury, with a particular focus in the markets of the USA, Asia and Russia. In her ambition and market potential, Elisa Rossi reminds me of Eataly’s founder Oscar Farinetti, who’s shops feature small Italian producers that follow the Slow Food movement precepts.

Hat by Veronica Marucci

To launch, a public beta release in tech lingo, Rossi picked a limited number of artisans to feature in a series of trunk shows across the US, including pop-up shops in New York and San Francisco. These are milliner Veronica Marucci, bag makers Le Panier and knitwear producers Maglificio Tomas. Starting small allows the young company to generate awareness and start fostering a community around their offerings, get feedback and improve the service. Eventually, the next steps are to build the supply side by adding more craftsmen and scale to the right size and not more, nor less. This last thing is important as way too often companies with a Silicon Valley mentality stretch themselves in search for more scale, which ends up watering down the offering, and when it comes to Italian luxury craft, that’s the one thing you don’t want to do. The good news is that it has a long list of amazing candidates to feature on their platform, the kind that offers products that once you touch them, you feel the difference.

Elisa Rossi, founder of Rossi & Rei

Working with artisans might seem as a far stretch for someone who’s forged most of her professional experience in the tech industry, but according to Rossi traditional craftsmanship and hi-tech work are not as distant as one might think. She finds that working with artisans relates very well with her past as a Product Manager. Artisans are very good at what they do and have an obsession with details, something that Steve Jobs and Jony Ive became famous for. This strong focus on the product though often neglects everything else, especially business development. And here is where Rossi & Rei comes into play. Rossi translates this attention to details into great storytelling online, and for its initial batch of videos it has recruited Fabrica, the communication research centre established in 90s by Luciano Benetton and Oliviero Toscani. Making a video showing how a product is made, unlike photography, is one of the best ways to really show the high quality of the product.

Handbag by Le Panier

Against many common myths, Rossi has found that so many modern craftsmen are not the old person in the shed hunched over. The artisans at Le Panier are all in their twenties. More so they are even tastemakers, like with Paris based Veronica Marucci, who’s an aspirational model to many of her customers.

And these craftsmen understand that the market is changing and they can no longer cling to the fate of the big luxury brands that often employ them as contractors. Some of these big conglomerates are struggling and often, due to the big difference in negotiation power or how easy it is to move production to cheaper markets, are not treating their suppliers fairly. They know that at the end of the day all that matters is building their own brand. Rossi & Rei is providing them with a global marketplace with a strong focus on provenance and transparency, that celebrates the story of each individual artisan instead of hiding it, and is allowing them to be more resilient and expand their businesses into markets they would hardly reach on their own.

All photos courtesy of Rossi & Rei.

Takahiro Yagi, sixth generation shokunin and owner of Kaikado.

Takahiro Yagi, sixth generation shokunin and owner of Kaikado.

I’m often asked where did I get a particular fountain pen, where to eat authentic food in Tokyo, what’s the best coffee in London or where to get eyeglasses like mine, so I’ve decided to start curating a monthly newsletter called The Craftsman containing these kind of things.

I’ve always been fascinated by the work of craftsmen/craftswomen and artisans, or what the Japanese call “shokunin”, which in essence a extends beyond mastering the mere technical skills to include a social obligation to work their best towards the general welfare of the people. When I think of a shokunin, Mr. Jiro Ono (from Jiro dreams of sushi) is one of the first that comes to mind.

Once a month, I’ll be sharing a collection of products, services and experiences from craftsmen (craftswomen!) and artisans from around the world. Pens, notebooks, restaurants, clothes, books, documentaries… that kind of stuff.

If you want to join the list, you can do it here: http://TheCraftsman.email

The first email will come out in a week or two (it’s my holiday break pet project).

You can share your feedback and favourite shokunin here or via twitter you can find me as @gchicco)

postcards_web
“Slowing down could be the single most effective action to save the world.”

Donella Meadows

During a recent lunch with a good friend who works as a digital strategist, I casually mentioned that I like to send postcards, to which she commented quite baffled “you still send postcards?”. My natural reply was “dozens, probably hundreds, of them each year”.

I’ve been consistently sending postcards during my whole life and that behavior accelerated when I moved out of my native Argentina back in late 2001. I guess that before social media and constant connectivity, sending postcards was a normal thing to do. Despite the fact that I can poke any of my friends in real-time through Email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and what not, I find myself sending more postcards now than ever.
Reflecting on this practice I came to the conclusion that the main reason why I send so many postcards is because we are so digitally connected and constantly multitasking that receiving a slow, old-school, message from somewhere around the world has become more significant than ever before.

I actually like to take time to think of whom I’d like to write to, purchase the rectangular cardboard cards and write down on them with one of my favorite fountain pens and even mark them with one of the several rubber stamps I buy throughout my travels (my preferred ones tend to be Japanese).

It’s a way for me to say “I’m thinking about you” and have it randomly show up in your mailbox.

While we might be more digitally connected than ever, we’re still made of flesh and bones and I think there’s some value in receiving a physical object to remind us of our connectedness beyond bits. Writing a postcard is not multitasking-friendly, requiring dedicated time and full attention to manifest your thoughts and the recipient’s full address on paper, walk to the post office to buy a stamp and finally insert the small piece of cardboard into a mailbox that often looks as if it belonged to a long forgotten Universe. An added bonus is that post offices still produce stamps with different and often limited artwork, which adds a bonus to the object being sent off. The fact that it might take days, weeks or months for your object to reach its destination – if it ever does so – proves the whole ritual with a wishful patina.

Sending physical postcards is a way to reconnect with friends and family. For example, in Japan the practice of nengajō (年賀状), sending New Year’s postcards, is still quite popular and if the postcards are presented in time to the post office, they will be delivered during the first day of the year all at once.
So friend, if you’re traveling somewhere interesting or maybe you’re just at home but we haven’t connected in a while, then why don’t you send me a postcard and I’ll certainly reciprocate sooner than later! (For practical reasons I rather not write down my home address here but reach out in private if you need it).

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clouds

My work requires to be connected all the time, or at least that’s what I have made myself to believe. Running my own company and collaborating with colleagues and clients in different time zones blurs the difference between work time and personal time and it’s easy to catch myself writing emails at the wee hours of the day or in the middle of the weekend.

But I believe this constant, mindless, connectivity is detracting from my time in this world. After all, life is short and it’s defined more by the small things we do everyday – what I like to call ‘the small rituals in life’ – than by the highlights or peaks that fill up a CV (get a degree, get married, have children, change jobs, moved to new city, etc).

In 2015 my personal pledge is to be more mindful of life and my surroundings, connecting better with what matters most (to me) and disconnecting as much as possible from what’s not important, what wastes time and anything that does not make (my) life happier.

To do this, I’m following a few personal guidelines (calling them ‘rules’ would be to pretentious) to drive my way through a year of connecting and disconnecting better. In essence, I want to pay more attention to what I’m doing and be more present wherever I happen to be, celebrating the beautiful minutiae of being alive, while not getting stuck (too much) on the drawbacks that living itself entails. To avoid living my life distractedly and not enjoying it for what it is, restraining from living too much in the past or too much in the future.

Mindfulness and Meditation

At the base of my old and new behaviors are mindfulness and meditation, two overly abused words these days, especially in the tech industry and in cosmopolitan cities like London and New York.

My curiosity in Buddhism and meditation started somewhere in my late teens back in Buenos Aires. In those early Internet years I could only access such topics via books, but I lacked people in my network that could point me to the right ones, and I felt that I was missing something regarding what meditation was.

In the last few years, mindfulness has creeped back into my life through daily experiences and a renewed interest in the everyday practice of meditation. My sabbatical in Japan in 2008, my erratic martial arts path (mostly Aikido, suspended now because of back issues) and the easy access to content and people via the internet has fuelled what has now become a daily meditation habit, which I intend to keep and grow by visiting a local Zendo here in London and occasional retreats to learn from/with others.

Connecting and disconnecting while practicing sports

I like to run, especially in parks and on trails here and there. Running is a way to relax, mature the occasional idea and in general the only sport that I can regularly practice, as I travel often and it just requires packing running shoes and light clothes. Not only I find it and excellent way to disconnect from the daily hassles but also to explore new places. Istanbul, Tokyo, Madrid, London, Amsterdam, Bilbao, Milan, Rome, Buenos Aires… running has allowed me to see them from a different point of view.

Until a few years ago I used to run almost exclusively with music. I had a running compilation consisting of mostly hard rock songs (yes, Eye of the Tiger was part of it) and it helped with distracting myself from the effort required to make it through the run. Until one day, running across the beautiful Tuscan hills close to Siena in a sunny day, I realised that the music was obfuscating my senses. I couldn’t hear my own breathe or steps (or for that matter, a car coming my way) but most importantly I couldn’t hear the beautiful sounds of Nature around me. Birds chirping, the wind caressing the tall grass on the sides of the gravel road, the shuffling of leaves made by small lizards shying away from my path, the occasional dog, rooster, goat and what not.

Since then, probably 3 years ago, I stopped running with music (I might consider it for running on a treadmill, which I seldom do). To enhance the feeling of being present, I run mostly using minimalistic shoes like the Vibram Five Fingers, which allow a close sense of connection with the ground and let me feel almost the creases in the terrain, the pebbles and branches that I step on.

Disconnecting in the bedroom

For the last 12 years or so my phone has been my alarm clock. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that except that, being my phone a smartphone, while grabbing it to turn on or off the alarm usually ended with long periods of mindless browsing through social media, the web and email. In fact, it was one of the first things I did before getting out of bed. In recent times I have eradicated the smartphone from the bedroom, and it all started with the “no social media in bed” rule and trying not to pick it up for the first 15’ after waking up. To wake up I bought an old school alarm clock. With rare exceptions, the only gadget I’m ok with in bed is a kindle ebook reader.

Another thing I like to do, alas not frequently enough, is to write down my dreams using pen and paper. It’s easier to write down my memories with my eyes half closed on paper than erratically tapping them on a screen. At a later time I take a photo of these notes using Evernote, which is my platform of choice to keep everything (notes, presentations, ideas, articles, food recipes, etc) with the hope that by doing this I’ll be able to search the content of my dreams too (it has happened a few times, when searching for a specific word or person, that a dream popped up among the results of a search query).

Connecting better with people

I’m blessed by the group of friends I have, and my work and travels makes me meet new and interesting people all the time. Every time I meet them I try to dedicate them my full attention, shunning out any possible distractions. One way to do this is to avoid putting my smartphone on the table during meetings, lunches and dinners unless it’s needed for a specific thing or it is in some way required during the conversation. Same with Skype calls, by closing all other distractions like email or Facebook. (Friend, if you’re reading this and notice I keep being distracted when we spend time together please let me know!).

I usually send dozens of hand written postcards and thank you notes every year and during 2015 I’d like to reach out more to those people I care about with which I’ve recently lost touch. There’s nothing like unexpectedly receiving a physical reminder of our friendship.

Connecting better with food

A famous author (who I won’t name because I couldn’t find his specific comment) said a few years ago that since he had Twitter he never ate alone anymore (reportedly when traveling). I have been guilty of eating in front of some kind of screen – be it a computer, tablet or smartphone – very often but I’ve now shunned them all while having a meal alone at home or at work, in order to connect better with the food and the ambiance of where I’m in. For practical reasons, I can have my device at arms reach but I will keep it off or with the screen facing away while I’m actually eating. (I’m ok with using it while waiting for the food or while still sitting and in need of some piece of information). If I’m very busy, I might take a shorter lunch break, but be fully into it while it lasts.

I also pledge to cooking more (an activity I actually enjoy a lot) and having friends for lunch and dinner more often, which also motivates me to learn new recipes.

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These are a few ways I’ll follow to be more present during 2015 (and beyond). What are you doing to be more present in your life?

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leonardo-digitalI wrote a post on the new publishing platform Medium on the names that several players are giving to Physical-Digital Products, Services and Experiences.

(Why did I write it on Medium? I wanted to try it and that was enough of a good reason for me.)

I’m re-posting it here to avoid the content being lost in case they close it sometime in the near future, like it happened with Posterous, where I wrote about products that I liked, after it was acquired by Twitter. Yes, I did get a backup of my posts on Posterous and Medium does offer a backup tool too (and I believe that also Tumblr does, where I host a couple of micro-blogs for very specific subjects that wouldn’t fit in this or my other blog ConferenceBasics.com), but that’s not the entire point. It’s about owning your own [online] identity (this blog is self hosted), like Marco Arment writes in this article on hi self hosted blog.

Physical-Digital Products, Services and Experiences: There’s a Name for That!

The new terms that describe the physical-digital space

Now that the Internet (especially the world wide web) has come of age, its applications are finally maturing at a more noticeable speed. For the last few years, there’s been an “excess of digital”, with thousands of tools being launched but very few of them sticking.

Since the times of Leonardo (da Vinci), our “human interface” hasn’t changed much. Most of us still have two hands, two ears, two eyes, one mouth, etc and our way of interacting with the world around us is still based on our five senses and emotions. Yes, we’ve picked up a few new behaviors (like that of interacting with glass rectangles for satisfying several of our needs, entertainment and work) but all in all, we haven’t changed that much.

The maturity of digital tools and services has reached a point in which now we see more and more of them trying to bridge the gap between physical and digital, often in novel ways and adapt to our natural ways of interaction by involving the use of more senses (not just sight or the so called “touch”).

In the process, we have created terms to describe these new digital tools, like “apps”, which is almost unequivocally used to describe mobile applications, albeit for different kinds of platforms.

Even the usage of the words “real” and “virtual” has taken a slightly different meaning. Until recently, those of us who live and work online referred toa face-to-face meeting as it happening IRL (“in real life”) as opposed to interactions just via digital channels (e.g.: email, chat, Skype, etc). In the documentary TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away From KeyboardPeter Sunde — one of the founders of The Pirate Bay — mentions that they don’t use the expression IRL but “away from keyboard”, because they believe the internet is for real, or in other words, if you spend your time behind a computer screen, that IS your real life too.

What’s in a name

So how do we call this space, those products and services (and why not, experiences too) that merge the physical and digital domain into an unicum?

Several actors have come with their own names for them, whose appication varies depending on the nature of the product, service (or experience). Let’s look at some of them:

Physibles: created by The Pirate Bay and announced on January 23rd 2012, it refers to data objects (i.e. digital 3-D designs) that are able (and feasible) to become physical.

We believe that the next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects. Or as we decided to call them: Physibles. Data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical. We believe that things like three dimensional printers, scanners and such are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare sparts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years. [The Pirate Bay blog]

Phygital: phygital is the concept of creating an interactive user experience through the use of technology to bridge the digital and physical worlds. The term is a trademark of Momentum, a global marketing agency.

PhysiDigital: similar to the previous one, it describes a physical manifestation of a digital experience. The website Physidigital.comprovides inspiration of these kind of experiences and is curated byRyan Bigge from the design and technology consultancy Nurun.

The Internet of Things (IoT): is probably the most famous expression to refer to something that connects physical and digital “stuff”, mainly products or objects connected via the internet (definition on Wikipedia). IoT has been used to describe different kinds of interactions from industrial to consumer goods and is gaining traction. In the mainstream, even though consumers might not refer to it as IoT, which is in fact considered a geeky expression.

Note that while the IoT requires by definition that objects are connected to the internet (or a private network), the others don’t necessarily have to.

What’s the point of coining new words to refer to this space?

Well, first and foremost it helps to better communicate a specific experience/product/service — like the aforementioned “apps” in the mobile space — towards its users.

There are already hundres of products, services and experiences marrying digital and physical and in the next few years we’ll be seeing them grow exponentially and become mainstream as, say, social media related products, services and experiences have become in the last decade.

As for me, I don’t like proprietary names (like Phygital) and IoT is limited to some specific applications. For the time being I’ll keep usingphysical/digital until a better term emerges from the community or market (or I trademark my own name ;-).

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The Magic of Japanese Craftsmanship (Can Italy Learn From It?)

April 22, 2013

[Pictured above: craftsman Yagi-san from Kaikado company, Kyoto] Another edition of the Milan Design Week (or Salone del Mobile) has come and gone. Thanks to serendipity and my friend Nobi I managed to visit what would was probably the most relevant exhibit for my personal and professional interests: the Japan Handmade exhibit that was part […]

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Marketing books in the time of Kindle

November 24, 2012

Have you noticed how over the last few years Book Trailers, a sort of cousin to Movie Trailers has taken a center role in the marketing campaign to promote upcoming books (usually by tech savvy authors, but not only)? I’ve been following this trend with interest trying to answer the following question: how has the […]

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The Story Behind A Tweet

October 13, 2012

During the 2012 edition of the PICNIC Festival in Amsterdam, a video team from GNR8 – a group of media students from the Netherlands – made a series of videos called “Story behind the tweet”. The goal was to interview some speakers and participants that had tweeted using the event’s hashtag to tell the story […]

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Sugru – A New Material To Fix The World

October 9, 2012

I’ve been a fan of Sugru since I discovered it in late 2011. The video above explains what this new silicon based material is all about and what can be used for. The excuse I found to buy my first pack was that the rubber in my iPhone sync-cable was tearing off and buying a […]

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Fake It Until You Create A (Positive) Habit

October 6, 2012

  This wonderful TED Talk by Amy Cuddy is about body language, or actually, “Power Posing” and how it can improve both how other people see us and how we see ourselves. (the video is just 21 minutes long so watch it now, you’ll find it’s useful for your personal and professional life). Cuddy explains […]

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