Valerie Cagnina is a 14 year old Italian travel blogger, and she happens to be the youngest in the nation! Her successes include teaching herself to code, building robots, speaking at Tedx conferences, and many other exciting adventures. She has also recently been accepted to an entrepreneurship program for the summer, Leangap, where I will be mentoring!
How could such a young girl travel the world? Well, her father works in refrigeration systems and her mother has an e-commerce platform for home and garden furniture; together they are able to travel all over the world with their work and explore new places throughout the year. The blog started as a family endeavor, and as Valeria grew older she came to have her own designated section for her and her adventures!
Valeria has traveled all over the world; including Berlin, Rome, Paris, Iceland, Finland, Holland, Nepal, Austria, and many many more. However when asked where her favorite places to visit was, she stated none of the aforementioned. Instead, Boston and Sri Lanka topped her list. She said that visiting NASA and seeing the incredible technology in Boston was both memorable and inspirational. However, Sri Lanka had its own specialties. The people, wildlife, and scenery she exclaims were spectacular. Her favorite experiences while visiting included riding elephants, seeing pods of dolphins, and coming close to the over 30m long blue whales in the region!
She says that her favorite part about travelling is that she can meet other teens with different life experiences, see new technologies, experience new cultures, observe diverse wildlife, and take part in unique ways of living.
In addition to blogging, Valeria has also spoken at numerous Tedx events. She relates her experience,
“During my Tedx, as an innovation ambassador, I discussed how I held a Coderdojo event, made a robot with ArduinoUNO, began teaching myself programming and learned from online videos, and about how I wrote 6 chapters in the book Guida ai Viaggi Cost (The Low Cost Travel Guide).
A little background, Coderdojo, is an after school program that I branched into the town of Alessandria to teach children from the ages of 7-14 how to code. We utilize Scratch, Arduino, CodeCombat, MakeyMakey, and others to give children the satisfying experience of creating their own digital animations and eventually a video game. I hope to be able to also utilize the iPad’s ScratchJr in order to teach 4-6 year olds, still unable to read, how to code.”
But how did she first get the opportunity to speak? “After my thesis and my nomination like Digital Champion there was a big event in Rome at Tempio di Adriano, we created a Coderdojo in Alessandria and from there I went on a lot of newspapers ( I went on ANSA news) and from there someone came to me with a call and request to participate at TEDx. Imagine my happiness!”
In addition to discussing the successes of those I interview, I always like to learn about how young people overcome trials on their path to early success. When chatting with Valeria she said that her biggest trial was when she began public speaking. Connecting with a large audience of primarily adults was difficult, and Europe (especially Italy) wasn’t like the US in terms of technology. Schools and day to day life in Europe was not run and guided by technology as in the US, and she typically found herself being the only teen in the adult world of the Italian tech field. Overtime, she said she learned to overcome the communication barrier between adults and teens in the tech industry by finding new ways to relate to them.
Though Valeria is surrounded by adults in her work, she likes to keep a balanced life. She enjoys hanging out with friends at rhythmic gymnastics and teaching other young girls how to do gymnastics as well. She thinks it is important to stay rooted with others her age both while travelling and at home.
Her motivation stems from the desire to find and create new innovations that can help make an impact on the world.
Additionally, I asked if she could have dinner with anyone living or dead, who would it be? “Leonardo da Vinci.” Why?” Because he had an open mind and desire to go against the norm in every aspect of life. She states that he was a real revolutionary for his age, without tools, without the support of people surrounding him, risking so much for his work… he really changed the world with inventions and discoveries that we still use today.”
I imagine that Valeria will be very similar to her idol as she continues in the field of robotics, technological education, and public speaking. It is easy to see that this young traveler, blogger, gymnast, and programmer will be making large strides in the technological community one day, and she is one to look after!
Additional & Closing Questions:
If you could give girl's three pieces of advice for life/ happiness/ success what would they be?
1) Always try new things, and don’t be afraid of getting things wrong.
2) Be curious and attracted to things that are unknown.
3) Believe in yourself and in your potential.
Do you think that female empowerment is important? Why?
"After having visited so many different parts of the world, I dream of a balanced world where opportunity is based solely on merit and not gender, nationality or religion…."
How would you like to become involved in female empowerment?
"I would like to teach girls, starting at a young age, that the world can be theirs. I’d like to teach them that by believing in themselves and having a hard work ethic can help you accomplish any goal. Nothing is impossible if you really want it!"
* If you had no limitations, what would you do?
"I’d like to study at MIT and create my startup in the robotics sector that cooperates with NASA; which focuses on space exploration with the use of robotics."
Hope you enjoyed, and learned a thing or two from my talented young friend! She truly inspires me to never let age get in the way of my success.
Until next time-
Kaeya Majmundar is a self starting CEO and the founder of BZbox and ZipTanks. She has appeared on Shark Tank, WGN, and NBC for her companies. To find out more (visit: http://kaeyosinc.com/ )
We first met at the entrepreneurship program Leangap. She the mentor, and I the student. However, we didn't connect until afterwards when I realized how truly amazing her story actually was. I mean what young adult can say that they have ditched the low income just out of college job market hunting to work for themselves? Very few (successfully at least). She continues to slay the market with innovative and socially trending products that keep her on top of the curve. And I wanted to interview her to get to know a little bit more about how she took and idea and made herself a career...
Where did you grow up? Chicago, IL
Has that influenced your city style and Zip Tank collections?
Absolutely, the first pieces I did were Bulls themed for two reasons. First, obviously I wanted to represent my city and see how it sold here since I could be hands on and on site. And second, Bulls team merchandise is the highest selling NBA merchandise.
Where did you go to college? Emory University in Atlanta, GA
Major? Economics with a minor in Sociology
Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur? No
Brief description of how you took your idea and made it a company… (calling manufacturers, meeting someone to collaborate with?) ex. How did you meet Derrick Rose? I have a step-by-step formula now that I use for anything new I venture into. With ZipTanks in particular, the process of creating the product was nothing new, but the marketing of the brand has been totally different than any other thing I’d been doing before. I started by doing collaborations
with big names like music artists etc. because I had a feeling that would take the product to the next level and I was fortunate enough to be in a situation where I had access to these people.
When did you figure out that you could work for yourself, and earn a living? After I started getting so many orders and realizing that I was making more money than any entry level job could offer, I realized it could be a full time effort.
What character traits do you look for in someone to work/collaborate with? First, I look for someone whose eyes light up when I show them my product. Then, I look at their potential value added. Lastly, I look at previous collaborations they have done to see how engaged they were in those engagements. If I feel like I can check off those three boxes, it’s a go for me!
How do you know that a person is someone that you want to partner with?
Entering a business partnership is like entering a marriage, or at least what I would think getting married would be like. You need to casually date to see if you vibe together. You need to get engaged to get deeply acquainted and make sure your visions and work ethic align. And THEN, you can get married once you’ve established that you’ll have each other’s back for the lifetime of the company. It’s also really important to understand that getting a “divorce” from your partner is mentally and financially draining and is also very time consuming. So, to answer the question, I’d say you can determine whether or not you can enter a business partnership with someone the same way you would know if you could enter a marriage with someone.
Your company has a lot of fun and unique designs in your collections. Where do you draw inspiration from for your designs? I draw my inspiration from what’s hot in the social media sphere. I look at social trends, study hashtags on instagrams, and take a look at what were the videos and images that went viral. I try to capitalize on that as soon as I possibly can.
What has been your biggest obstacle and how has it influenced how you are today? Sustaining the momentum I get from major injections of hype I get from things like my appearance on Shark Tank and Steve Harvey show, or celebrities wearing my merchandise has been the biggest challenge. I am working to maintain consistency in sales rather than the fluctuations I experience right now.
What motivates you in life? (happiness/security/adventure/helping others) My biggest motivator is knowing that my paycheck is entirely a result of how hard I work. I don’t get paid if I don’t perform whereas if I had a job, I’d have a steady paycheck regardless of my performance one day. That drives me to continuously push forward, and establish new relationships that will lead to higher sales.
*If you could do/accomplish anything without any setbacks what would it be? My ultimate dream with no setbacks would be having a TV show of my own like Marcus Lemonis’s “The Profit” and do exactly what he does but rather than fixing broken businesses, I would want to mentor brand new ones and share that mentorship with the world. I currently do a lot of mentoring for young entrepreneurs because I really feel that starting a business is so empowering and mobilizing. More people being able to see the process in works means that more people can start businesses of their own with less hesitation.
Who is your female role model? (historical, friend, family?) Beyoncé. I think she embodies everything that I want to be as a female entrepreneur. She is a trendsetter, a fierce competitor, but also a role model for so many people and a loving person.
Thanks again for such a wonderful interview Kaeya, and to check out more of her work and products check out the links below!