The Man Who Decided to Stay
A young computer engineer, Alessandro faced a difficult choice when his company decided to re-locate: either leave his beloved Sardinia to continue his steady work on the mainland, or give up income security for an uncertain future as an entrepreneur on the crisis-stricken island. Because he knew that was the only alternative – no attractive job offer would be on hand if he decided to stay.
Alessandro’s luck was that he had a passion. A former motor cross rider, he had discovered, some years before, the thrill of mountain-biking, a bike that you could continue riding as long as you wanted without ever fearing lack of petrol ! Since that day, a lot of his spare time was dedicated to the sport, as leisure but also in competition.
So, the engineer decided not only to stay but also to try to live on his passion, and to open a store in his hometown Cagliari specialised in state of the art mountain bikes.
Today, 16 years later, he doesn’t regret a thing. The very hard work has not made him a millionaire – but money is not the most important thing. There is quality of life, closeness to family, and the pleasure of working with what he enjoys.
Closeness to family is important on an island. But Alessandro’s decision provoked quite some uneasiness in the beginning. Even though it was his father who provided the funds to start the business, the padre was sceptical of its potential success and the choice to leave the job Alessandro was educated for to become a bicycle sales-and repairman. He was not the only sceptic, not least since there was already an established mountain-bike shop in Cagliari.
When I asked Alessandro what made him make the decision anyway, he gave me about the same answer that I got from Frank, one of the initiators of Lofta Caffè (see earlier article): because he wanted to. He knew it would be hard, he knew it would take time to earn a living, but he also knew it was worth a try. “Take small steps with a lot of passion” he advises those who would like to follow in his example, “and the energy you get from people who support you is very important, it’s reassuring when times are tough”. In effect, Alessandro’s parents, Franco and Antonietta, and wife, Patrizia, have been a very important fan-club of his, allowing him to see the bigger picture and struggle on when everyday annoyances tend to discourage.
Engagement is an undervalued commodity. Looking at Alessandro’s business from the outside, it seems to have made the real difference. Because “eXtreme bikes” is much more than a shop. From the beginning, Alessandro offered full service with the sale of the bike, fixed bikes bought elsewhere, gave professional advice on tracks and geography, helped organising competitions around the island…This, and the fact that he continues practicing – he is a four-time champion of the island – has made him an authority in his field and a name as someone offering top notch service, may you be a passing tourist or a professional biker. “You have to take the time”, Alessandro’s collaborator Carlo says, “You can’t be in a hurry to obtain this kind of success. Too many entrepreneurs believe in quick gain, but real confidence is built with a long-term mentality. You want people to be more than satisfied and come back, again and again.”
When I ask if there, in parallel with the slow and determined build-up, has been a turning point for the business, a defining event, Alessandro answers immediately with the story of “Specialized”, an American bike. Alessandro had one very early on, and he loved it. But the brand, created by another bike passionate, was little known at the time and not that well distributed. People tried to convince the young entrepreneur to promote a better-known brand, but Alessandro wouldn’t hear of it. He contacted the founder of the make who decided to take a risk and work with him. With time, “Specialized” has become the very sought-after first brand and Alessandro says that he can’t stress enough the importance of working with it since the early days. Also, because of the clout that this clairvoyant choice has given him, Alessandro was contacted by Cannondale who asked if he would like to work with them – please?
eXtreme bikes is a bustling place any day. Alessandro and Carlo, as passionate as his boss, have their hands full, but no extension of the shop is planned. Alessandro feels he would lose control of things, “big shop means big problems”, he says. The past has proved that he extends his activity in other ways, though, and one of those ways is the recent involvement in “Scuola mountain bike”, the mountain bike school, together with two other professionals of the island. “The development of networks is crucial for a place like Sardinia”, he says, “we are many small entrepreneurs but together we can make a big difference”.
Alessandro’s goal was to be able to stay in Sardinia and to make a living out of his passion. He probably did not count on the fact that he would help making his island a reference in the mountain-bike world, and thus also contribute to the development of a new kind of tourism in the region. Today, he is part of a task force put together by the local government in order to explore new economic orientations for the island. For Alessandro, tourism is the future for Sardinia, but not any kind of tourism. “The mentality of tourism is changing. People don’t just want to sit on a beach any more, they also want to take part of the history and enjoy the landscape in different ways. We have an extraordinary natural environment to share – but in order to do so, we need to preserve it. It is a good thing that the Sardinian region is inviting us professionals [in different nature activities] for a dialogue. The preservation of the nature is an absolute priority here for the future of the island!”
Alessandro’s story is a success story. But it hasn’t come for free, giving up an advanced job in a telecommunications company and start his own shop. He readily admits there have been sacrifices: he has too little time for his family and friends and he still has sleepless nights and tax pressure stress. And there have been deceptions, like the ending of the “King of Castle” race, the popular and spectacular urban down hill race of which he was one of the founders, and for which the region stopped the financing.
But that’s the thing with real success: it doesn’t come for nothing. No one is more aware of that than Alessandro.
He knows why he decided to stay, and his dream now is that it will be possible for more Sardinians to do the same. “My sister Susanna had to move to France in order to find an occupation corresponding to her level of studies and aspirations. I would love for her to be able to come back here and use her talents on the island.”
Apart from that, there are no regrets whatsoever. “Only”, he says, “I would like to have more time for my other passion, music…” Well, who knows what the future will bring…