The DigMyData Blog

How Measuring Italian Tomatoes Leads to Startup Success in Berlin

Posted on April 30th, 2012 by Adam in Blog How do you measure?

The DigMyData interview series reaches out to small business owners to learn more about their company and how they measure success and failure.  Today’s interview is with Francesco Cirillo (@cirillof), founder and owner at FC Garage.

About FC Garage:

  • Process Improvement Techniques, Tools & Consulting
  • Employees / Contractors: 5 people from 5 different countries
  • Founded: 2011
  • Based in Berlin

Francesco Cirillo - Founder at FC Garage

Adam Wride – DigMyData: In a “tweet”, what is FC Garage?

Francesco Cirillo: Productivity tech start up.  We make productivity engines (ie @PomodoroTech) and custom engines for teams with “smoking” engines.

DigMyData: What’s in the name FC Garage?

Francesco: As you can probably guess, FC stands for Francesco Cirillo.  “Garage”,  but we are not auto mechanics.  One time a woman came into the cafe on the corner asking for us: She had found us on Google Maps as the nearest garage and her car had some problems. So, no, we are not that kind of mechanic. Rather, you could say we are “process improvement” mechanics: our engines are capable of improving productivity in a sustainable manner, for both individuals as well as teams.

And no, it is not a football club.


DigMyData: I understand you recently moved from Italy to Germany to be in Berlin? What was the motivation?
Francesco: I have been working on a theme for several years: how to make effective decisions while faced with uncertainty. Why Berlin? Because I am interested in verifying the effectiveness of my ideas in highly dynamic and uncertain contexts, such as those of start-ups. Today, Berlin is the best place to do this. The “start-up scene” in Berlin is full of turmoil and uncertainty. I wanted to experience this firsthand, not only from the outside, but as part of it as FC Garage is, itself, a tech start-up.

Side note: BusinessWeek recently did an article on the explosion of tech startups in Berlin.

DigMyData: Before we get into FC Garage, no interview with you can go without an introduction of the Pomodoro Technique. What is the origin? Why a tomato?

Francesco:  While attending university, I studied economics. The first tests went well, but then I often became distracted and could not focus on my studies. Enter the pomodoro [tomato in Italian]. The pomodoro is a tomato-shaped timer, which I had at home in the kitchen. My first “pomodoro” was one minute: my challenge was to study without interruption for at least 60 seconds. To keep track of these 60 seconds, I used the pomodoro timer. Over time, this became 2 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 10 minutes and more and more, up to 60 minutes.

During this whole process, I discovered many things. I learned the value of breaks. I discovered that one must avoid being interrupted – or “protect the pomodoro”, as we say. I also discovered that you could learn how to improve your effectiveness and be better able to estimate how long a task will take to complete by recording how you utilize your time. After many, many discoveries, I arrived at the 25 minute unit of time for the “pomodoro” and all of these observations coalesced into the Pomodoro Technique.

Francesco Cirillo

DigMyData: What came first: the “tomato” or FC Garage?

Francesco: Although FC Garage is now a productivity tech startup, I think that I’ve always had a garage in each of my companies: A mental place, not just physical, in which to address the issues that we faced with patience, kindness, and fun, improving individual staff and teams with whom I worked as a mentor. Today, FC Garage provides a tangible and concrete place for this concept and its purpose.

DigMyData: Can you give us some way to measure the popularity of the Pomodoro Technique? How has it grown?

Francesco: Back in the 80s, it would have seemed inappropriate for a manager to load a kitchen timer at the beginning of a meeting, especially one shaped as a red tomato. Today, this is not only a widely accepted practice, but one that is often recommended in manager meetings.

WePomodoro Timer have far exceeded a million readers of the technique. The Pomodoro Team receives daily reports from people all over the world and in almost every sector who share their experiences of using the technique. Recently, the Pomodoro Technique was also voted as the most popular productivity technique on Lifehacker.

How did it grow? Word of mouth. The Pomodoro Team has never invested a dollar in publicity or advertising. People who talk or write about the Pomodoro Technique do so because they have used it and gotten some benefit from it. They then want to share their experience with others. In fact, the experiences that we receive are often useful for other Pomodoro users. For this reason, we recently created the Pomodoro World website, where we share user experiences.

DigMyData: What is the most valuable piece of feedback have that you received from a customer?

Francesco: The simplicity of achieving results is the element that always strikes people using the technique. The feedback that has given me the greatest satisfaction: “Finally, a time management technique that can be learned by a person with poor time management.”

DigMyData: How do you evaluate your company and different parts of your business for success?

Francesco: For me, the most important concept in the growth of a business is its sustainability. For us, sustainability is not just an ideal, but a business strategy. The Garage is currently working on thirty projects, from large to small, each of which requires effort (or pomodoros) from the team. It is unthinkable to be ready to make changes required by growth without sustainability.


DigMyData: What is one metric that you track to keep tabs on the business?

Francesco: The primary thing that we want to keep under control is our ability to sustain the growth of our various businesses over time. For each of our projects – productivity products, including desktop software and apps – we compare ROI dynamics and the performance of its denominator (costs and investments) in real time. In particular, as a team we attach great importance to the dynamics of costs and investments over time. All team members have access to this information and have tools such as DigMyData with which to view the data instantaneously and compare them with other variables related to the findings, which is vital.

DigMyData: What are you and your team doing now to improve that metric?

Francesco: Every day we look for solutions that are able to reduce production costs while increasing the quality of products and services at the same time.

This is not about cutting costs. It is about achieving efficiency, regulating our efforts, costs and investments in a conscious way. For us, success means constantly learning to be more effective. Periods of growth and change represent a critical time for a company, and in these crucial moments, we need to be clear and not have to chase after events. In other words, we always try to have the best organization for what we do, and this means that process, organization and tools used by the team may change frequently.  We are currently evaluating a prototype for a tool that will accompany my new book.

DigMyData: Now – some fun questions. What is your browser start page?

Francesco: My start page is a Google sheet where I have a bird’s eye view of the state of each of our projects. Firefox is the browser for the Web Dev workspace: The start page is a page where we manage the operation of our site. Firebug is always active. Right now, I’m with the Pomodoro Team on the home page of the Pomodoro Technique, which will soon release its fourth version.

DigMyData: iOS, Android, Blackberry, other?
Francesco: Currently, IOS and Arduino.

DigMyData: Thanks Francesco!



Adam Wride is a Co-Founder at DigMyData.

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