Matteo Stifanelli graduated with an MBA at Business School Lausanne in July 2017 while working at Airbnb. He has been the Country Manager of the Italian business for the past 5 years and worked at the company since its very early stages.
Almost a year after his graduation, his bags are packed and he is ready to embark on an intercontinental learning journey he calls the “Impact Sabbatical”. He’ll be in Lausanne, San Francisco, Seoul, Berlin and Cape Town for a purpose-driven trip, with the goal of finding his own mission and purpose in life.
Rules of the game? No expectations and one main question to answer: “How do I apply what I learned at Airbnb and BSL to a problem I care about and make a positive impact on the world?”
We had the pleasure to have him here at BSL, where he told us all about his journey.
D: Ciao Matteo, it is a pleasure to have you! Exciting times ahead of you. How do you feel?
M: Definitely excited. I finished with Airbnb just few days ago. I’ve emptied my apartment in Milan, and sold, gifted and donated everything I have, except a suitcase and a backpack. Everything is moving so quickly, I don’t even realize my trip has started already!
D: Let’s start from the beginning: who is Matteo Stifanelli?
M: I’m a 32 years old lucky Italian guy who loves entrepreneurship, technology and making an impact on the world around me. If I rewind the film of my life, I can clearly spot my initial interests in human interaction and storytelling. This led me into literature, as I wanted to know how people think and communicate. I then went to film school to understand how I could use media to tell my stories and influence the world around me. I later realized entrepreneurship and technology were a better way to achieve that, so I learned to code and launched my own internet startup. And that’s how I eventually discovered Airbnb back in 2009, when it was just a very small startup that nerds knew about.
D: Lausanne, San Francisco, Seoul, Berlin, Cape Town. What is the elevator pitch?
M: After Airbnb being at the center of my life for almost 10 years, I’ve embarked on a journey to find my own mission and purpose. For one year I’ll travel the earth, meeting with passionate people, experts and entrepreneurs who are committed to making a difference. The goal is to understand which issues are most important to me and how I can best apply what I’ve learned at Airbnb and BSL to make an impact. I’ll start my journey in San Francisco, the cradle of technology, then move on to Seoul to discover Asia. Berlin, the capital of Europe, will be my next stop and I’ll finish my travels in Cape Town to find out more about the African continent.
D: That sounds quite exciting. Let’s break it down. Walk us through your destination choices. Lausanne is your first stop. Why?
M: Carrying out my MBA at BSL has been an important trigger in my life. I chose BSL (and Switzerland) because of its very international environment and its tailor-made approach to the needs of each student. For example, it was quite easy to move classes around when my work agenda went rogue. I was always able to accommodate both work and study commitments efficiently. Also, given its small size, the school enables the creation of strong relationships among staff and students, which to me is the most important thing.
BSL did a great job at giving me a solid business education and helped me put in place the foundation for what I was learning in practice at my Airbnb role. In addition, it developed my sensibility for sustainability and made it flourish. At the end of the MBA program, the only business decisions that make sense to me are the ones that are good for the balance sheet as well as the world around me. These two things can’t be separated or be in conflict, and it simply makes sense.
I now want to meet with passionate people, experts and entrepreneurs who share similar views and are already dedicating their lives and companies to making a positive impact on global issues. I want to explore different places and cultures to get different perspectives. I’ll be in a different city and continent every few months, starting in San Francisco and then moving on to Seoul, Berlin and Cape Town.
D: So after Lausanne, you’ll be in San Francisco for four months. Tell us more about that.
M: I am excited to spend some time in SF. It is a unique and very controversial place. When we think about the city, there are a few words coming to mind: ‘“tech’, “start-ups”, “venture capital”, “Silicon Valley”. On the other end, having been there many times through my past job, I’ve been exposed to the many widespread issues that are less popular but nonetheless important, such as homelessness, gentrification, and widespread drugs addiction. While being there, I want to better understand American society and get in touch with innovative companies that are focusing on global issues, and leveraging tech and venture capital to make a positive impact.
D: You will then be in south Korea… why?
M: Seoul, South Korea and Asia in general represent a brand new world for me and I believe there’s a future in which world leadership could potentially come from that region. I want to dedicate time to study the culture and values of the region, to try and understand what that future could look like. I also have a personal connection with Asia since my girlfriend is Korean. So I look forward to learning her language and culture.
D: After Asia, you are coming back to “your” continent…
M: Yes, I’ll be back to Europe and specifically in Berlin. I worked there for Airbnb at the beginning of my career and had a great time in the city. There’s so much history and culture given its troublesome past, and Berliners are my kind of people: open-minded, multicultural, efficient but with a twist of art and romance. It’s a place where I’d like to live. I also believe that after Brexit, Berlin has a chance to become the cultural, political and economical capital of Europe. The start-up scene there is also booming, which makes it a great EU base for entrepreneurs.
D: Last, but not least, you will visit Africa, being based in Cape Town.
Africa is the place I know the least, and definitely would like to learn the most about. If we talk about innovation and sustainability, I believe Africa is the region in need of the most attention and with the biggest potential. I have not figured out yet the final leg of my trip but I will be based in Cape Town, with the objective of exploring the continent and better understanding its issues.
D: What are you going to do in these cities? Which kind of people are you trying to meet with?
M: I will be looking for experts, entrepreneurs, investors and passionate people in general who are already studying world issues and trying to make a difference. In San Francisco for instance, there is a community of people dedicated to “impact investing” and “social impact entrepreneurship”. My goal is to meet with these people, interview them and collect their thoughts, while forming my own point of view.
D: Any fears?
M: For sure. I’m leaving everything behind: a safe job and all its comforts, an amazing company, my country as well as my routines. I’ll be travelling around the world and visiting many new places. There will be many opportunities to lose drive and motivation and it’s easy to go back to what I’m comfortable with when things get tough. But I want to stick to the plan, and allow myself some time to truly think about what I want to do with my life.
D: We certainly wish you success with that. Do you have anything to say to our students who will be reading this interview?
M: Stand by your values and passions, strive to make a positive impact in the world and never settle for anything less. If like me you speak English, have access to the internet and are getting an education, then you need to realize that we are privileged. The question is, what are we going to do with such privilege? The Impact Sabbatical is my personal attempt to answer that question. I invite you to think about it too.
I would also recommend a book: “Never eat alone”, by Kate Keith Ferrazzi. An eye opener about how important relationships are in our lives and career. It’s a principle that has greatly influenced me and helped me through my journey.
D: Thanks Matteo, it’s been a pleasure having you with us today and good luck with your journey on behalf of BSL. How can people follow you on social media during your trip?
M: Thanks Daniele, my pleasure as well. I’ll document my journey online and create a dialogue. Here are the channels I will use to do that:
Medium: I publish here all my reflections and stories from the “Impact Sabbatical”
YouTube: I will publish here my interviews, vlogs and other creative material
Instagram: Follow me here to know where I am in the world and what I’m doing
Facebook: I use facebook to interact with my audience and create an online community
LinkedIn: I share here my industry views and career development reflections