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Aroma, the words of Caterina De Mauro for Ernesto Tarchi

The 'About Us' pages of corporate websites often tell the origin of a company, the year it was founded and its goals, but rarely explore the emotions behind those words. Too often we forget that companies are not just made up of processes and automatisms; we overlook the fact that behind these activities are people with fears, hopes and doubts.

It is in this spirit that our CEO, Caterina De Mauro, contributed to the book by Ernesto Tarchi, telling candidly what goes through the mind of a young university student on the eve of her new life as an entrepreneur.

Here is an excerpt from the book "Selling Coffee 3 - All the secrets of pod, capsule and espresso bar machines for perfect espresso“: 



Seven years ago, when I walked through the university portico, supported by the tufa columns, fragmenting the scorching afternoon sun into beams of light, I would never have imagined the challenges, mistakes and achievements that would describe the years to come. Looking back, the floor of that portico, which alternated light and shadow, was premonitory. But let us go in order.

In these pages, I do not want to write only about what is already known about our company, agreements, partnerships, products, in short, what you may read on the internet or what may be rumoured. I don't want to talk about numbers, turnovers, or commercial choices. I have decided to write from the spur of the moment, and I probably won't correct anything or cut out parts that I felt like writing on impulse. I want to tell you about the other, what is really behind the visible things, and what has always guided our choices and actions. I want to tell you what is really behind Aroma: heart and family.

I like to remember my beginning as a real leap in the dark. No member of my family had ever worked in the coffee business. No roaster, no raw dealer, no barista, no technician, no shopkeeper, no taster. There was only my father, with that designed brewing unit, a patent pending, and a great optimism in his eyes, the optimism that has always accompanied him in his many and varied projects.

I was attending university, I was now in my Master's degree. If I didn't attend classes some days, or if I decided to stay in bed in the morning, it was unthinkable to get through lunch without a phone call from my father to wake me up: 

"we good morning, please search for a thermostat supplier and then email for an order?", 

"Dad I don't know what thermostats are",

 "eh but I don't have time to explain now, you see". 

I remember how much I hated sending those e-mails and how much it weighed on me to open my white Lenovo, a gift for my first exam at my grandfather's university, and do those little tasks, the purpose of which I often did not even understand. 

My father was looking for help on the one hand and to give me stimulation on the other. But on the other hand, I had my own plans, my university course, a PhD application, why would I know what a thermostat was? Within a short time, those emails were accompanied by phone calls, day after day more and more frequent. I was given a tablet that Christmas 2014, it was meant for playing games with my friends, but it soon became my portable office. By now while I was attending classes and taking notes, answering emails from suppliers and couriers, during breaks from classes I was answering phone calls, which I kept silencing as professors noticed my hyperactivity between the desks, which stood out from the general monotony of my colleagues. I was always multitasking and this worked in my favour. Who doesn't experience this every day? Everyone is swamped, often until late in the evening. Well, I was experiencing that adrenaline rush that would not leave me for years to come.

I remember 2015 very well. I made, arguably, the most important choice of my life. Who among you has never found himself obsessively thinking about the pros and cons of a particular decision, paralysed by the fear of making a mistake? I think everyone. I was at a crossroads: on the one hand, an academic career with a good chance of success, with a future that was certainly tiring and precarious in some respects, but certainly clear, marked and traversed by others before me, who would have followed and advised you; on the other, a father, a project, so many risks and so many question marks. 

Needless to say what the choice was. My love for my family made me take that leap in the dark, without protection.

Have I ever regretted the choice I made? No. Never. 

Why? Because when one is about to make a choice, one has to stop for a moment and analyse the pros and cons of both paths. To this day I still try not to give up on anything, because by character I don't accept 'it can't be done' as an answer. But ... spoiler alert. Every choice inevitably involves a renunciation. 

Having accepted this unavoidable condition, you have to rely on rational analysis and, when in doubt, a little on instinct, which is always that final kick that convinces you to do things.

It is this time spent in evaluation that allows you to have no regrets. Just repeat to yourself: 'at that moment I made this choice, and not another. It means that I could not have chosen something different". 

This is a firm point that I always repeat to myself when I think back. Could we have decided differently? Yes, but we didn't. Full stop. So it means that we did not have the tools to make a different choice.

From this moment on? Those e-mails and phone calls become my daily bread. What was a compulsion becomes a passion, what was the execution of a task becomes an active objective, a project. Aroma becomes my reason for living, so much so that everything else becomes secondary.

I gave up for Aroma? Very many indeed. But everything important deserves its time and care. There is no success without constancy and perseverance.

Like the shadows of the arcade, life is an alternation of light and shadow. The pleasure lies in passing through them.


A woman in a man's world

I have been asked a few times what it is like to be a woman in a working world predominantly run by men. I have gone back over my experience, trying to make sense of what it feels like to be a woman, but I would immediately come up with the answer "I have never been a man, I don't know how it feels". 

Do I think that in the working world being a woman is different from being a man? Definitely yes. Necessarily in a negative way? I think not.

Being a woman unfortunately clashes to a greater or lesser extent with cultural prejudices. For many, there are still jobs 'for males' and jobs 'for females'. Several times I have had to explain that I am not the 'secretary' but the owner. Other times I had to prove that I had technical expertise in my field before I was able to establish a dialogue with some customers. Other frequent times I had to prove that I could be a valid interlocutor and not just the image of the company. I often had to struggle to get that respect and consideration, especially at the beginning of the business, when we used to share tasks with Dad. 

We live in a society that culturally sees the woman as the one who has to choose a subordinate job and who has to devote herself to the family and the home. The woman is inclined to precision and methodical roles. The woman is the one who often serves as the image at a trade fair or acts as an interpreter during a negotiation. A woman entrepreneur is not usual, and I perceive and experience this preconception all the time. Often, when we agree on meetings or appointments with new companies, I notice the astonishment in the faces of those who receive us, when not a man in his fifties, but a girl in her thirties enters the room, with no one to tail her. 

Does this constitute a limitation? Honestly, I perceive it more as a limitation for others than for me. 

Rather, I perceive it as an ongoing challenge, to be able to prove myself and still succeed in my goals, breaking down reticence and preconceptions. Being able to put professional and intellectual skills before physical ones is a continuous job that those who, like me, aspire to more independent roles have to do every day.

I believe that although in this sense the world is constantly changing and that great strides have been made in terms of emancipation not only of women, there is still a long way to go. Before me, women had even more difficulties, and I believe that with the new generations, the instrumentalisation of women as mere objects of desire will fade in favour of greater equity. True, great work must be done by ourselves. It often saddens me to see, that many young girls and women do not particularly care to show themselves different, and indeed, in the role of the trophy they are particularly comfortable with it. So I don't want to make it a general discourse, but only about women who, like me, have chosen different paths. As far as we are concerned, we are forced more than men to prove ourselves, to have more to offer, than motherhood, a good plate of pasta and a nice dress. The woman is not a trophy of the man, to be exhibited, but a protagonist together with him in the beautiful film that is life. 


The key points of Aroma's growth

I have been running the company for seven years, I am 32 years old, and probably one of the youngest in the industry. Therefore, I have little experience compared to many others, who have grown up in the business, both anagraphically and entrepreneurially. However, I can certainly say what I considered to be the key points for the growth of Aroma.

The family: As children, my sisters and I were used to working, to appreciating what we could achieve, to sharing what we had with the family. Aroma was born from a bet, from Dad's ingenuity and from the good will of my sister and me. Three completely different people, from character to flaws to strengths and abilities. The secret? The union. 

This is not the first business that has run in the family in this generation, and their success is due to the virtuous interlocking of our skills. My mother is a force of nature, my father extremely ingenious and creative, my sister a war machine (as she sometimes calls herself to tease me), precise, intelligent and reliable. Today, the company has a larger staff and many external collaborators, but the spirit and values of the De Mauro family continue to live on and guide their work.

Measurability: The Company is based on numbers. Every single aspect is measurable. If it is not, it means it has not been organised. From the number of incoming and outgoing calls, from the number of reviews to service requests, from reliability rates of finished products to semi-finished products, to customer satisfaction, and so on. Everything is tracked and evaluated in periodic budgets. And this process continues to undergo continuous improvement and implementation for ever more detailed reporting. 

No choice, decision or investment should be based solely on instinct and entrepreneurial risk. It is important to analyse in order to make decisions. At Aroma, this process is carefully looked after and undergoes continuous improvement for more and more detailed analyses. Basing decisions also on numbers has enabled us to take steps at the right time, and with awareness. The constant growth in turnover is the result of all this work, which commensurate investments and results.

Human Resources: Most probably this constitutes the real heart and secret of Aroma's success. The staff. 

Aroma was born from family. Me, my father, my grandfather. Later my sister also joined in. The family is characterised by different and reconcilable visions, a continuous and constructive confrontation, and by an inseparable bond between the members, which overcomes any divergence of opinions and views, always in search of new balances. 

Over time, one contributor after another, the staff grows. I know very well how difficult it is to find good elements, especially in recent years, and I am not here to discuss the socio-political reasons for this. But I can proudly say that, one by one, today Aroma has brought together some truly valuable collaborators. I am not talking about people who are distinguished by rare and sought-after professional skills and specialisations, but who believe in the company in which they work. I am talking about passionate, diligent people who work with a smile and are responsible for their tasks. Each one of them is a fundamental piece of the whole project. No one is complete alone, but only when part of a whole. I often compare a company to the human body. Each of the members symbolically represents an organ. Each one of these organs has vital functions, which characterise it and make it unique, and it has specific tasks to perform, which only it can do, according to the specific skills it has acquired, with the highest possible performance. Each organ, at the same time, also interacts with the other parts. If each one functions well in absolute terms and in interaction with the others, the organism as a whole is efficient. Ergo, it works well.

Each of the elements of the system is crucial. No one alone is responsible for the success of a company, ever. Everyone must contribute. In an organisation where some component does not work as it should, dysfunctions arise, whereby either some elements work harder than others, causing frustration, or the system generates disservices towards stakeholders (customers, suppliers, etc.).


This is very clear at Aroma, and sharing, listening, and collaboration are daily bread for all of us. We are a team, united and cohesive. We defend the harmony in our environments through dialogue and collaboration.

Sharing is important to me, as is listening. I like to share new projects, ideas, but also concerns, difficulties, risks, even with staff members not strictly related to those specific aspects. I like to know their points of view before making decisions. I like to confront each one of them, to experience them as much as I can in their daily lives. Only in this way can I understand their efforts, and value their work. We make decisions together, and when that is not possible, I share the reasons for those decisions with them, so that they can accept it with awareness. I am proud of our staff. The strength of our company is also this. Each of us feels part of the project. We win together and lose together. Everyone is each other's support. We listen to each other, understand each other, help each other. 

My staff is my support, many times I have walked through the office door, darkened by the weight of the responsibilities I carry, but just as many times I have found a smile to give me the strength to want to overcome everything, once again, together.

I want to tell a fairly recent anecdote. 

I had an important meeting the next day, and I had spent the whole day making final preparations. Many things had gone differently than planned, so I had to find alternative solutions so that everything would still go well. Tired in the afternoon, I received yet another piece of bad news: the company that was supposed to take care of the cleaning and preparation of the spaces would not be coming. It was five o'clock in the afternoon and three floors of offices had to be prepared. Disheartened, I break the news to the guys, by way of an outburst, grab my bucket and mops and start up the stairs to start cleaning myself. After the first flight of stairs, I turn around and find them all with brooms and dustpans in hand, telling me 'don't worry, we're here'. 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my team, from the guys in production, who every day produce the machines with care and passion, to the guys in logistics and quality, who with admirable care and hard work, manage the material assets of the company, with extreme order and organisation, to the sales staff, who with great transport take our products and values outside the walls, to the girls in administration, who every day support the salesmen and customers both in the sales and after sales phase; to the suppliers who have invested with us and put their trust in us and who are always behind us, and to all those who, even if occasionally, collaborate on this ambitious project, full of risks and emotions. Thank you because without you, none of this great show would have been possible.

Study: Unlike fifty years ago, the market today is constantly and continuously changing. It runs so fast that we often cannot keep up with the news. To have the presumption of knowing the answer, or of knowing exactly what and how to do, is an illusion. I believe continuous training and stimulation is crucial, both for me and for the other team members. A cutting-edge company needs cutting-edge people. Investing in staff training means having motivated and always new people who face market changes with freshness and efficiency.

Company policy: We have always had a very strict commercial policy. What we hold most dear is customer protection. I have never acted in a confused way, and I have never gone down the road of 'I will sell to anyone as long as I invoice'. We have often chosen customers rather than being chosen. Unfortunately or fortunately, we are not the only ones making waffle machines, and to make a difference, you have to do something different. Diversification is necessary to find one's way in the market. I believe there is work for everyone, but you have to find your own space. Price protection, customer margin, consumer satisfaction, after-sales management, are all cornerstones of our commercial policy. Sometimes it leads us not to sell, but I always say that it is better than selling out. These choices, in the short term, seem to penalise. Instead, I can say with certainty, that they have opened unthinkable doors for me. Even in these months, when the market is going through a period of strong transformation, opportunities have presented themselves that I would not even have imagined a few years ago. In the meantime, customers who work with us are satisfied and grow, selling products with passion, because they feel the company is always close by and they can protect their revenues, and we grow year after year. And I hope to always make the right choices to continue like this.

We have many projects, really many, to which we are trying to give a realistic timing. But I can't say much about it, otherwise I would spoil the surprise effect.


In the short time of this experience, I have seen the coffee machine market evolve very quickly. When we started out, coffee was mainly sold on a loan-to-use basis, a very popular technique that had, for at least twenty years, together with vending machines, made many companies throughout the country grow. Clearly, only a fraction of them were using single portion pods. Towards the end of 2015, when we started our sales activity, the companies had already grown, there were many with thousands of pods. At that stage, however, we could fit in as a 'replacement' machine, in case of replacement of obsolete parts, or as a 'choice' in case of conversion from capsule or closed-loop system to pod system. It was necessary to offer a reliable machine, at a fair price, and perhaps with a slightly more sophisticated design. In a short time we created the Mini and the Kicco, from a design of my father's, which offered all this: the former was easy to disassemble and very reliable, with excellent product extraction; the latter also offered a design totally different from those already on the market. 

Within a couple of years, loan-to-use became widespread, which led to lower coffee selling prices and thus lower margins. Many began to find it useful to sell the machines and to tie the customer to a relationship of trust and service, rather than to an electronic chip, which by then many had learnt to pass home made.

Here was the turning point. The consumer, buying the machine for himself, paid much more attention to design and extraction, became more informed about the performance of the machine; he looked for colours and variants to match his kitchen. It was from this need that we created special Kicco lines (such as the one with wood or plexiglass panels) and above all PLUS, our still current best seller, was born. I remember we presented it at our first Venditalia 2016 trade fair, symbolically our market debut. I remember the emotion I felt when I arrived at the pavilion, running through those wide corridors and past those majestic stands, which created, together with the white lights, an absolutely surreal context. My heart filled when I finally saw the 'Aroma' logo at the end of the corridor, and saw my stand. I had designed it, produced the images and written the slogans, structured and graphically set up the catalogues, thought about how to present the products. I had no employees, nor could I afford collaborators, but the De Mauro family was complete, like the Power Rangers. And at that moment everything I had planned was there, realised, in a remote corner of the pavilion, among the industry giants and competitors. I didn't ask myself if I would ever reach the level of the others one day, but there I was, and for the first time Aroma was there.

Household sales in Southern Italy spread rapidly, and many retail outlets opened. The more a sector grows, the more the market demands more affordable products. Thus was born the great SMART project, a patented and innovative unit, which optimises processing times and also maintenance. I remember the stand was packed at Host in 2017 when we presented it, customers and fellow manufacturers intrigued and fascinated by the innovation. My father did a great job, which was a great success. That year began my greatest and dearest collaboration. The one with Lollo caffè, a company to which I am very emotionally attached. Ciro believed in us right from the start and was my work gym. I take this opportunity to thank Ciro and Valentina for the affection, esteem and trust they have shown me over all these years, which I try and hope I will always deserve.

After only two years, we present the CUBIC project, which exceeds all expectations. An unprecedented success. For a number of reasons, mainly related to the priorities I had given myself, CUBIC was only produced in pre-series, but it will be taken up again soon.

With that project I believe we pioneered a very strong concept: the coffee machine is no longer just a business tool, dedicated to experts, appreciated for its intrinsic technical values. There is now a need for a design object. CUBIC revolutionised the way we see the coffee machine, it made it clear to everyone how much the consumer needed something beautiful, a real furnishing accessory. It also made it clear that for beauty the consumer was willing to spend more, bucking the trend of what was in demand at the time. This would allow manufacturers to have a higher margin on the product, which they could invest. 

I have made this excursus not to remind everyone of the well-known history of this sector, but because I have been asked several times why so many models have been produced in so few years, an aspect that has strongly distinguished us from our fellow manufacturers. I contextualised the birth of each model, each of which was in response to a market demand or need. 

I have never agreed with the idea of a single-product company, which would set the selling price based on the day-to-day meeting of supply and demand. For too many years, I have seen confusing price lists, non-linear negotiations, commercial contradictions. I have always understood the reasons, but I have not agreed with them. I have always wanted consistency, I have always wanted to differentiate myself, trying to offer different products at different prices, which actually offered different comforts, commensurate with the price paid. This policy of coherence and protection towards our customers and consumers, has been hard to build, to defend and to follow. It was the longest and most tortuous road we could have chosen: not to be a mere sub-contractor, but the owner of a brand and a niche and specific product, such as the made-in-Italy pod machine for domestic use. A risky focus, but I am of the opinion that you have to do few things and do them well. This choice has led me to give up many sales opportunities, but what comforts me is that every year we experience strong growth, both in terms of numbers and turnover. I can only thank our customers for this, without whom we would never have been able to build this business, which is very closely linked to its territory, generate work and profit, and above all a forward-looking project that excites each and every one of us. Thank you, because without your support, suggestions, advice, criticism and encouragement, we would not have been able to be what we are today. 


After two years of a pandemic that gave a huge boost to the mocha conversion, our industry is going through a period of major restructuring and change, which I expected and for which we need to be ready. More than ever there is a need for innovation and new projects to respond to the constant changes. We have a clear idea of what to do and how to proceed, and we work hard every day. What I certainly do not agree with is responding to periods of falling demand by lowering prices. Making 'promotion' a constant strategy, I believe, is detrimental, for the company that applies it, for the competitors who do not follow it, and for the work of all players in general, which is simply distorted and debased. Our work has so much to tell, it has so much to offer, and it really has so much to build. During my career I have seen many companies come into being and produce coffee machines of the same type, emulating some aspect of existing products, to put it mildly, but almost none have managed to carve out significant market shares. This reminds me that what we do should not be 'taken for granted' and should not be 'devalued'. The day my company finds itself only able to offer the best price, it will be a company that has nothing left to say and that will have customers who no longer know how to listen. It is only then that any company can be called truly finished.

Work fills our lives, we devote most of our time to it, often neglecting our affections, passions, care for ourselves. Why not give it its due value? Our time and our skills do. And only we can communicate it and make it perceived by others. Giving value, triggers a virtuous circle, in which all parties benefit, and the market as a whole is enriched. In the most complex moments we can open up to collaborations, even between colleagues, join forces and benefit, creating something new and profitable. I think you have to be good at making a difference and not at overlapping, at carving out your own specific slice of the market, which you have targeted from the beginning. It would be nice to join forces to bring made in Italy, a timeless brand that we often undervalue, beyond our doors. Changing horizons, opening our minds to new perspectives, being flexible and multi-purpose, can give us the chance to face even moments of transformation such as these. We feel strong and motivated, and we will continue to work in this direction.

I am satisfied. And it is right to say it, it is right to stop and enjoy what you have built as well, and to smile about it. There will always be something we could have said or done, something we could have anticipated or backlogs to catch up on. There will ALWAYS be. But we will not be there forever. I have realised that when you are doing business, the word END never comes, there is never a moment when you are freer and things 'go on their own', as I often hear people say. So we might as well, stop step by step and say, you did good today, keep it up.

I also say this to you who are reading me. YOU HAVE DONE WELL. Enjoy this moment, it is yours alone.