Interview with Alberto De Gioannini
We have interviewed 12 different athletes, clients, and friends of Effetto Mariposa to tell us everything about their love for bikes. To end this series of interviews on a high note, we had a little chat with the boss himself, Alberto De Gioannini. “The only Boss worth interviewing is the Cake Boss”’, he said. Alberto started Effetto Mariposa from his garage, following in the footsteps of the MTB pioneers. He wanted to create products that could serve him first-hand. The outcome is a great story of passion, engineering, and a lot of cycling.
Alberto with the logo of his beloved Effetto Mariposa
Alberto, or rather “Alberto from Effetto Mariposa” as many in the cycling world call you, you originally started as a materials engineer…
“Yes, I took my engineering degree at the Polytechnic of Turin, Italy, and Politech’ Montpellier, in France.”
When did you decide to start working in the bicycle industry?
“Since I was a kid, I had always been passionate about bicycles. As a teenager, I remember epic train rides with friends from my hometown Bra (a town in the Piedmont region, North West of Italy ed.) to visit Eicma in Milan, at the time the most important international bicycle exhibition. We were excited to meet the pioneers of MTB, Gary Fisher, Ross Shafer from Salsa, a young Hans Rey… That was my chance to meet all my heroes in person, I was a real bicycle nerd. I knew all the weights of the bikes as well as the technical specs of the most exotic components by heart.”
I guess you also took part in several races…
“Yes, mostly mountain bike, although at low amateur level. Even today, when I find myself completely slammed in a race, I tell myself how lucky I am as I don’t have to do it for a living (Alberto laughs, ed.). I took part in many Gran Fondo too.
In a later time I started doing triathlons, as I was able to train for those with shorter sessions squeezed between work and family commitments: one hour of running here, one hour of swimming there, and perhaps a bike ride at the weekend.
My peak event was the IronMan in Nice in 2011; I went, finished it and enjoyed it. For me, competing is a gift: participating is already winning, and it really motivates me to keep on exercising.”
At a Cyclocross race in 2013.
Had you already started designing bicycle components as a boy?
“Somehow yes. I started when I was at uni, while taking a course in composite materials. I designed and machined an aluminum stem with a Nomex insert – Nomex is an aramid material with a light and torsionally stiff honeycomb structure used in Formula 1. It was a great opportunity to start working with bicycles. And I still have that stem today!
Did you start your own company right away?
“No, I started with a job in a sports flooring company, which also supplied Olympic running tracks. I was assistant to the director of research and development. I spent most of the time in the lab doing very fun things like designing and testing products. The call of the bicycle, however, was strong. I started applying for different jobs and I finally landed at Vittoria, the tyre manufacturer. For my placement test, they made me draw a bicycle tyre, which was my bread and butter … I got hired.”
Alberto with a Tyreinvader
Where does your passion for bicycle tyres come from?
“I’ve always liked bike tyres. As a boy, I used to ride with friends on the hilly trails nearby Bra, a magnificent town in Piedmont, UNESCO heritage site. The soil there is very clayey and the tyre tracks were clearly visible. I particularly enjoyed recognizing the type and brand of tyre by looking at the tracks left in the mud, just like an ethologist does with animal tracks.”
That’s incredible! You followed in the tracks like a hunter, except that you hunted bikes. But what was it like working in a large company like Vittoria?
“At first it was tough, I had to adapt to large workloads. I didn’t just develop tyres but also all the accessories: the rim tapes, the first Inflate & Repair sprays… I really enjoyed it as it allowed me to combine the technical aspects with marketing. In this way, working became a creative process, and it still is part of what I do today. The Tyreinvader, for example, could be a simple pinch-flat-protection insert, without the need for any design as it is hidden inside the tyre. Instead, we chose to improve its appearence by adding a pattern inspired by Space Invaders.”
After working at Vittoria, you started your own company…
“Yes, I did. I spent 6 years at Vittoria and, in the meantime, my life had changed a lot. I got married, I had my first daughter and I was always travelling for work, going between the headquarters near Bergamo, to fairs, events, competitions, and the factory in Thailand. I felt guilty for not being present for my family. Being close to my wife and my children is one of the best things I have. So, I decided to change my life, with the aim of being closer to home while working. I had to think of something different. In 2007, while working as a consultant for Vittoria and some other bicycle component companies (3T and Mavic), I registered the “Effetto Mariposa” brand. That’s when I started working on my own products, in my garage.”
Alberto in his first warehouse where he stored products until 2013
You started from your own garage, just like a Silicon Valley start-up?
“That’s true, it sounds like an American story. I started Effetto Mariposa alone but, as business kept growing, in 2012 my wife Barbara joined me. She used to be in charge of major sporting events for a large local company, a good job, so we thought about it a lot before taking the leap.
Working with your life partner can be difficult… but she believed we could make it work, she resigned and joined Effetto Mariposa. Since then, Barbara has been crucial in the growth of the company, bringing her own perpective and commitment: it’s difficult to slow down when your partner works as hard as she does!
We have overcome many professional obstacles together, simply put I cannot think of Effetto Mariposa without her.”
Alberto and his wife Barbara working at Effetto Mariposa
Your company is now successful but, as far as I understand, it all started from your seeking personal fulfilment.
“That’s correct. Working as a consultant was limiting, I was still working for someone else. I wanted to take on the burden and the honour of my product choices. I liked that feeling of being the one in charge of decisions… so I started with my own torque wrench, the Giustaforza.
Clearly, because of my previous working experiences, I was familiar with the different markets in which to operate, I knew the most important players… but I had never worked in sales before, it was something completely new to me. I was venturing into a risky world, that of the entrepreneur.
I’ve been quite lucky too. My first big client, buying 100 torque wrenches, was Ernesto Colnago.”
Cavalier Colnago himself!
“He is a great man, all the legends about him are true. I told him about my torque wrench and he invited me over for a coffee… he liked it so much that he immediately placed an order for 100 of them, customised with the Colnago logo! For me, selling 100 torque wrenches was a huge achievement, I couldn’t believe it. Things finally started to move on. I will always be grateful to Mr. Colnago.”
How did you come up with the name “Effetto Mariposa”?
“I wanted to find something that could summon the philosophy of my products. I am passionate about science and, above all, about the chaos theory, which I find very fascinating. The Lorenz attractor, which graphically represents a chaotic phenomenon, has the shape of a butterfly and hence my logo. That famous phrase, ” the flap of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas“, applied to my products, means that by giving an extra turn to a bolt – because you didn’t use a torque wrench – you can damage a component, with disastrous consequences. A small thing that causes a disproportionate effect.”
But how did you start working with sealants?
“As I love both off-road cycling and working on my bike, experimenting with tubeless conversions was unavoidable. I soon realized that all of the sealants on the market at the beginning of 2000 were based on natural latex, with added ammonia. I knew that synthetic latexes performed well without the need for ammonia so I created my own formula and that’s how Caffélatex started. As far as I know, it was the first synthetic latex for cycling use on the market.”
On his MTB with his friend Andrea Chiesa from Yep Components
Caffélatex, Zot, Giustaforza, Carogna, Tappabuco… Effetto Mariposa’s marketing is all based on names that work well in Italian: were you the one to choose them all?
“Yes, I love picking the name of my products!”
You “removed” mastic from the equation of tubular mounting with Carogna double-sided tape. I remember well the very first double-sided tapes for tubulars. People didn’t fully trust them, and they feared they would come off, which wasn’t that uncommon. What was your idea, how did you manage to improve them?
“Gluing tubulars with mastic can be perfected to art-levels, but it takes a lot of time and practice, and – for most of us – you end up getting dirty. This is why I liked the idea of double-sided tapes for tubulars. Unfortunately, those available on the market left much to be desired. Some were softening too much at high temperatures reached by the rim, braking hard on long descents. Others were simply too strong, and replacing a tubular turned into a nightmare. My Carogna is designed for safety, matching or exceeding the heat resistance of the best mastics, as well as offering a “reasonable difficulty” of assembly and disassembly.
We supply Carogna to various road racing professional teams, such as the Bardiani CSF Faizanè Team. “
You have always produced in Italy, but the company is based in Switzerland, where you also live, why is that?
“Since Effetto Mariposa beginning in 2007, I have worked with Italian producers who have been willing to “sweat” with me on innovative products, to be sold exclusively under Effetto Mariposa brand. We have had strong relationships with them for over a decade now. We also work with Taiwanese suppliers for some specific products, but we mainly opt for Made in Italy whenever we can.
As for our relocation to Switzerland: in 2014, after suffering an attempted theft in our company in Italy, my wife and I decided to move our family and business to Switzerland. Ticino, with its beautiful mountains, is now our new “home”.
Alberto in person and “on paper”, at a shop in Taichung, Taiwan
I really like the reuse and anti-waste philosophy of Effetto Mariposa; with the OctoPlus you can literally “save” an old-ish helmet …
“Yes, OctoPlus actually doesn’t have much to do with the other products we make, but the common thread of Effetto Mariposa is often to meet my needs as a cyclist (he laughs, ed.). Once, I picked up one of my favourite helmets and I realized that, after just over a year of use, it was still perfect outside, but totally ruined inside; putting it on my head the padding felt uncomfortable, the foam was flattened and dry, and I couldn’t find the replacement anywhere. Therefore, I decided to create a universal padding replacement kit.
Among my other products, I really like the Shelter: I didn’t invent, it’s more like an “adopted child”. I bought it from its creator, Maurizio Marcarini, a dear friend.”
I saw some photos of DH frames that looked badly beaten – probably ridden through stone gardens. However, after removing the Shelter, they were actually perfect!
“It’s true, it’s a super product, in fact we also sell it to some major bicycle manufacturers, as pre-cut elements for their frames. Let’s say that, for the vast majority of our products, we never receive complaints … “
You have just launched Végétalex, a totally biodegradable sealant.
“The issue of environmentally-friendly products for bicycles is very pertinent nowadays. Let’s face it, current sealants are not very green. Natural latex has long degradation times and there is added ammonia, which is not good for people not the environment.
Caffélatex, a synthetic sealant, works but I wondered “what if I invented a green sealant?” It meant starting something totally new to me as there was nothing like it on the market. After several attempts, we ended up with a weird mix of cellulose fibres, ground olive seeds and xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is also used for food purposes, it is even in mayonnaise. The product Végétalex is totally eco-friendly.
The real question was whether it worked or not; after fine tuning the viscosity and flow behaviour, several puncture tests later, we had a verdict… it worked as well as Caffélatex! “
What’s in store for the future?
“I’m becoming more and more familiar with the world of environmentally friendly products, and I have so many ideas that would allow me to bring more of these products to the market. I’m always looking to explore new ways of doing things. I am fascinated by putting my ideas into practice, that’s what really makes a difference. When a product does its job, it’s a huge satisfaction.”