Fred Magnanimi is founder and CEO of Luca + Danni, one of the fastest growing jewelry brands in the United States.
In May 2012, Fred’s younger brother Danny was diagnosed with cancer. Through that difficult year of chemo treatments, Fred and Danny would often talk about the things his brother dreamed of doing with the company once he got better. Danny’s dream was to create a unique line of handcrafted, American-made jewelry that inspired others through their journey of life.
In April 2013, Danny lost his difficult battle with cancer – he was 33 years old and left an incredible mark on the world. Inspired by his brother’s desire to help revive the family’s jewelry manufacturing business, Fred left a lucrative career on Wall Street as a successful investment banker to reconnect with his roots.
Fueled by his brother’s passion and a burning desire to carry forth his vision, Luca + Danni was born in 2014.
Your journey from successful Wall Street trader to CEO of a jewelry company has been pretty dramatic. How has the experience changed you?
The tragic events that I went through changed my life in a lot of different ways. Not all of it is bad in hindsight as it’s instilled some amazing life lessons in me – you really need to take a step back and enjoy living in the moment as it can all be taken away from you at any moment.
I’ve been pretty vocal about my story. If my brother had won his battle with cancer I’d still be sitting in front of a computer screen on a trading floor and in hindsight, I’d give anything for that. But today I have this amazing business that we’re all so incredibly proud of yet there is a part of me wishes I didn’t have it… that my brother should be the one doing this.
You’ve grown Luca + Danni exponentially in 22 months with little resources and no experience. What advice do you have for others?
From day one, the plan was that the plan was going to change.
You have to believe the way you’re doing it, while not perfect (because nothing ever is) is the right way to do it and you’re doing it for a specific reason. We’ve always tried to be innovative and, in a way, disruptive with our business from the very start. So from day one, the plan was that the plan was going to change! We knew that we were going to make mistakes along the way but we’d be fluid enough to change things and adapt as the market grew.
How do you overcome unexpected challenges?
In 22 months we’ve had a name change and we had our largest competitor try and carve us out of the market. So you need to be able to deal with things and adjust on the fly. I’m a firm believer in making the best decisions you can, based on the information you have at the time and then adjusting the approach as you go. We have an amazing team, an incredible product and a killer culture…add an authentic marketing approach and we feel like we’re in a really good place.
As a CEO, what are your top 3 priorities today?
We started the business for a certain reason and I want us to remember that as we continue to grow. When you hire people, I think the difficulty is in preserving that culture of the original business and idea as you grow. Culture evolves and I think that can be a really good thing but I it’s also critically important to remember why you did something in the beginning. Culture for us isn’t just isn’t internal thing. When we partner with a retailer, we want to make sure they are telling our story and representing us in the correct way. So as we’ve gone from 50 stores to 850, we’ve paid particular interest in making sure that our partners understand that this is our brand, this is what drives us, and this is our culture behind it all.
Good product almost always starts with something innovative. I don’t want to have “me-too” products. When we approach product development, we almost always what to develop concepts that are intentionally different. As we bring out new products, we want to make sure it’s a reflection of our business and our brand, that it’s something we’re proud of and authentic to who we are as a brand. It may sound a little bit silly, but sometimes I don’t think some people are strong enough gatekeepers for their products and their brand.
On the ecommerce side we’re competing with tens of thousands of other jewelry companies that are all trying to do the same thing. They’re all trying to tell their story and showcase their products. So it’s important we find a way to differentiate ourselves from a branding and marketing perspective. There’s great power in a great brand – I think that’s the coolest aspect of what we’re doing. We’re learning that creating a great brand takes a lot of hard work, outside-the-box thinking and a team of great people. Marketing – in particular digital marketing – has worked exceptionally well for us and we’re dedicated to continuing to do more of those things that have worked well for us as a brand.
Those aren’t the typical priorities CEO’s talk about.
I think in some cases people focus on the wrong things. I’m pretty steadfast in my belief that if you get culture, products and marketing right, everything else eventually falls into place. I think in some cases, people put the cart before the horse in accepting the end result without actually putting in the work to build things. I’m definitely guilty of this myself but you need to have conviction the end result you’re looking to achieve. I’m certain that if someone came into our company and didn’t understand the inner workings of our culture, I’m sure their top 3 priorities would be very different. And I say this somewhat jokingly, but that’s why I’m the CEO and someone else isn’t – the brand is truly a reflection of me and my team.
Why do you like working in a start up?
When you ask someone to go from 12 hats to 8 and they don’t want to – that’s a great start-up culture.
We all wear 12 hats and we all love every moment of it. You ask someone to go from 12 hats to 8 and they don’t want to – that’s a great start-up culture!
I’m very vocal with my team that they need to enjoy this stage of the business because it doesn’t last forever. There’s something inherently great about a start up because there’s a bunch of people that believe in something and they sacrifice a lot in order to build it. There’s an incredible aspect of ownership what they do because the can look back and say I did X, Y and Z. Contrast that to working in a large corporation, where you’re in silos and if you wanted to go into a different silo you couldn’t for a variety of reasons. There’s something so beautiful about a start-up and that tends to get lost as a company matures. You’ve got to enjoy the process as you’re going through it!
Are you a workaholic?
If you’re an entrepreneur, there are so many things you have to make decisions about. We live in world where there’s no boundary between personal life and work life, everything is on a phone now. I’ve always got my phone on me. I have marketing and social media flowing to it. Emails are always constant. I have a phone app that monitors our website stats and another app to help with wholesale. For me – I like that. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything other than this right now. So I don’t view it as work. But I think anyone who is looking to start a business that it’s pretty par for the course. It’s what you have to accept if you choose to build something. You want to be more and more involved with it in the beginning and then build the team as you scale things.
Can’t you delegate some of those decisions?
As we’ve had the resources to hire good people, I’ve been able to move things off my plate onto theirs. They’ve done a fantastic job and oftentimes, they’re doing it much better than I did. But I realize that if I take X,Y and Z off my plate, there’s another 3 things that I wasn’t thinking about that will now be added to it. Your plate doesn’t necessarily become less full as you continue to grow.
Are sales the most important thing to you?
This year alone we declined 350-400 stores who wanted to carry Luca + Danni because we didn’t feel they were a good fit for the brand.
For us, they’re not. Again, going back to the culture, this year alone we declined 350-400 stores who wanted to carry Luca + Danni because we didn’t feel they were a good fit for the brand. We’re willing to forsake short-term revenue in order to grow the brand the way we want to grow it. So for me, the metrics on pure revenue are not necessarily the most important. Obviously we need to grow and make a profit, but the way that we do that is so critically important to us if you want to stick to the long-term vision of the brand.
How do you continue to learn and stay ahead?
There’s so much information that’s available at your fingertips today that allows you to become more of an expert. It’s radically different than even a few years ago and I think that’s one of the great aspects about starting a business today. From product development, sourcing vendors, funding, it’s as simple as going to Google and starting the process of educating yourself. It’s something I’ve always done and I think it is an under appreciated and underused tool by a lot of people in terms of teaching yourself. I also believe strongly in looking to mentors who have done it before. There are so many individuals happy to share their experience and knowledge if someone is just simply willing to ask.
Do you ever look back?
Now I don’t. There’s a belief in myself and my team on why we are here and why we’re doing this very thing. We’ve been very lucky to have success early. I think things would’ve been different if we hadn’t had the immediate success of people embracing the brand and the products and the story.
What really excites me is that we’re at the tip of the iceberg on what we can do with this brand, especially as it relates to the digital side – we can get our message out to millions of people. So what does that look like in terms of the business? I’ve done some pretty cool things in my career, but for me I’ve never been this excited about anything from a business perspective. Our company has an amazing amount potential and most importantly, we’re having an absolute ball building a brand.
What drives you to succeed?
What I’ve always wanted with this company was to tell my story and what I’ve gone through. People that know me know that I channel all my frustrations about my brother’s battle with cancer into this business, which is why I’m probably seen as a bit of a workaholic. It’s the only tangible thing I can put my hands on where I feel like I’m doing something that’s either in his memory or that’s something that he would have wanted if he was given the chance. I’m not a doctor, I don’t know about cancer treatments, so I couldn’t affect any change that way. But this place was so important to him that my goal is to make it work at any given cost. My healing process goes through this business and I come in everyday knowing that there isn’t anyone who would be prouder than him.
What is your soul legacy?
A lot of the people that work here knew my brother. So as we all go through this healing process, and things become easier to come to terms with, it’s being reflected in the brand and the products and the business. What we’ve always wanted was to bring someone 90% of the way there. Then that last 10% of it – whatever it may be – I want you as my customer to connect it. Maybe you lost your mom or went through something yourself. Or you’re at a dark place in your life. Or maybe it’s a friend whose parent went through something, but to have that connection and make it so personal that helps connect people in an authentic way that’s not manufactured. That’s at the crux that drives us as a group and that’s incredibly powerful.