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This month we sat down and talked to Rafael Citadella Daron – CEO and Founder of Tog Design, a board member of the, as well as a start-up mentor,  professor and facilitator in the areas of design, innovation, and technology. Read the interview to find out the expert opinion about the importance of empathy and being unbiased when it comes to your own business. Rafael also shared with us the story of his entrepreneurial journey and his opinion about Volvero. Scroll down!


Tell us about your entrepreneurship journey: the idea behind your business, the obstacles on your way.

I think the main purpose when I started was connecting design, technology, and people. After having worked for a while in different companies, I realized that one thing that made me grow as a professional and as a human is the cultural exchange that I got during my journey: coming from a small village, living in different cities, working with different people… I think that made me grow a lot. I was living in Europe, and then I had to come back to Brazil. And back then, after working for consultancies, I realized that the job I do wasn’t just about the money. So I decided to challenge myself and start a company: my idea was to make something better for others. So, connecting a little bit of the academic background and the business side, I wanted to work with something quick, like design technology but also meaningful and international; I wanted to create something where people could have the cultural exchange. I hired some people and we started as a digital marketing agency but at some point, we had to let go of things that we were doing in the past and concentrate our efforts on the digital product, our main offer nowadays. We work in Brazil, Portugal, and have some projects across the globe as well. [Rafael is a founder of Tog design: a design and innovation consultancy company that helps to build better experiences for brands, products, and services, following a human-centred design approach. They work with Strategy, Brand Identity, and UX & UI Design, and Development.]


What was the reason for this change of the service you provide?

I understood that it is not rational to blindly sell service design and digital product development solutions to people who are not aware of its principles. I had to explain and add some strategy, then some tech parts as well, like UX and UI, and we started consolidating all these parts for more and more customers. We had this migration in mind since the beginning, it just took a while until we got to see that clearly. 

“Probably, the most common mistakes I see start-ups do is a lack of empathy towards the customers and not understanding their needs deeply.


What’s in your future?

We are looking for opening different markets, developing new business in new countries. We’re aiming to start something later next year in the US and we are talking to some potential partners around Turkey, South Korea, and India. We approach this very responsibly, as we want to grow in a sustainable way, to have enough knowledge for different projects, areas, contexts that we get. One important thing is that I understand that people who work for us would like to create their own businesses as well. For this reason, we have an internal lab: Tog Lab, which we call as a “serious playground” for working on internal products, process and experiments that our team believe and see as opportunities – that’s our intra-entrepreneurship initiative. So before recruiting we want to be sure we can say that we teach employees how to make an impact on the business. We really like to listen to others. And not only clients but also internal people that we have. And let them be free by creating new possibilities.

As a start-up mentor, what would you say is the most common mistake or difficulty that start-ups are facing? Is there a common pattern?

I am not sure it exists because everyone is different, it also depends on the stage of the start-up. But, probably, it is a lack of empathy towards the customers and not understanding their needs deeply. You should dive deep, learn about their behaviour, and try again and again. Speaking about the super early stage, it is the love that each CEO has for their start-up. It is great and important, regardless of the purpose of the business, but at the same point, it can blind them. While they should think rationally if they can transform the business into something sustainable, profitable, and if it brings value to the user. 


When starting a company, you have to work a lot on your mental health to be able to stay positive-rational on challenges and push up the team as well. So be sure you work on leadership skills and self-development.


Then how could start-ups understand their customers better?

I think the main way is validation. Because, you know, with all the market data you have, all those hypotheses, you can’t truly build more unless you test what you have. So, develop prototypes, validate, talk to people, make them interact with something. And set small targets. To give an example, think of global products: it is kind of risky to launch globally, so we must validate a product in a specific country or, set a specific smaller target to get understand if that target is aligned with what I’m looking for. All in all, first do research and then validate, it is one of the main ways that can actually bring you something. And, of course, during the validation, it is better to use a prototype that is as close as possible to the real product. However, we know that getting closer to the real product costs way more, so there is always a balancing between the efforts vs the results we get.


What would be your advice to anyone starting a company?

Well, I think I have to mention empathy again, it is very important. Then, depending on your intentions,  it is important to understand that there are rational and emotional sides when you start. So first of all, define clearly what market capabilities you have, what are the opportunities, challenges, for what positions you need to hire people first. And then you should know that you have to give up a lot of things and not everyone is ready for that. You should understand that today you can be in this nice coworking space with a view and tomorrow face some troubles and it’s okay. You have to work a lot on your mental health to be able to stay positive-rational on challenges and push up the team as well. So be sure you work on leadership skills and self-development. 


What is your opinion about Volvero? Anything that comes to your mind about the solution, team etc.

Oh, I think the team is great, even though we didn’t have the chance to meet in person, when we first met with the team we discuss a lot of inputs regarding the customer experience and the way they could enhance the product, very receptive and warm team. And I think Volvero are on track to their journey to explore an incredible market. The way Volvero has planned the business strategy, the application experience, the sustainability behind the scenes for the owners, for sure makes me look forward to Volvero’s truth curve. 


What about yourself? Do you use car sharing or any other sharing services?

I’m a big fan of the sharing economy: right now I’m working from a coworking space, that’s what I use for Brazil and Portugal’s office. In Brazil, I do have a car for long-distance trips as the market does not offer appropriate solutions with national covering yet. When I am around Sao Paulo, I’m not using my car, only sharing mobility services. So yes, I’m a big fan of sharing products and services, even though there is still a lot to unblock in the way people understand and interact with sharing economy.

Indeed, it takes time, but we are moving towards it. Thank you Rafael for the insights!