PastBook and its rollercoaster ride


The idea for PastBook was born when Stefano Cutello was sitting on the couch with his dad, looking through old photo albums. “I wondered: will I ever be able to have that same experience with my children, now that everything is digital?” See PastBook: a one-click solution for making photo books, calenders, posters and more from photo’s you’ve posted on your socials.

Stefano’s startup has been a heady adventure, to say the least. “It has almost failed three times. I had sleepless nights when we only had a few hundred  euro’s in the bank, now we have more than 10 million in revenue and I still have sleepless nights! I am amazed that so many people are willing to begin a startup. They probably don’t know that they will be in a state of constant anxiety.” Meanwhile, PastBook was chosen last month as one of the Deloitte Fast50.

Stefano had been working as a Tech Leader for eBay since its launch in Italy in 2008, and for himself on the side. When the news got out about PastBook in 2010, he wanted to explore that momentum to attract venture capital. “Italy was too slow, so I looked for an accelerator elsewhere in the world. I got a place in Rockstart’s first group – that’s why I moved to Amsterdam.”

PastBook was one of the first Rockstart startups to close its first investment round. “We got a lot of PR and I was thinking: we made it, everything is going to be great.” But just a year later Stefano split up with his now former co-founder and had to make some very difficult choices. “I was about to go bankrupt and that also almost destroyed me personally: I had to let all 15 members of my team go. There was, all by myself again, back on square 1.”

One of the things Stefano had to learn to distrust was his own enthusiasm. “As the founder you think: this is a great product, people will come. We thought we weren’t selling because there weren’t enough features. But what we actually needed was fewer features and more marketing and acquisition.”

The turnaround came after a Christmas dinner with investors in 2014. “Mostly angel investors, who believed in me, again.” In 2017 the revenue skyrocketed, with 1000% YoY growth – but nevertheless there was only a few months’ worth of cash left to run the business at that growth rate. “Despite having a CFO who was supposed to make sure those things don’t happen, all the responsibility was back on me, again.” Every year there is some crisis or other, says Stefano. A legal issue, or lack of money, or like this year when a core employee passed away.

And the next big step? “That is to make PastBook more independent of me. That is necessary in order to scale faster. The goal this year is to finally make the business profitable.”