When the popular, reputable Italian financial magazine Panorama Economy placed then-20-year-old college student Matteo Achilli on its cover in March 2012 with the headline "Italian Zuckerberg," he became a media sensation. Soon every major Italian news outlet wanted to cover the kid who'd started a professional networking website called Egomnia. Their interest, along with that of national politicians and business executives, expressed the hope that this young entrepreneur could become Italy's version of an American hotshot tech CEO, one who could rub shoulders with the real Mark Zuckerberg. Outlets outside of Italy have caught on to the hype as well, including the BBC, which just included Achilli in its new documentary The Next Billionaires.
Achilli, whose site won't be available to an international market until October, already has a dramatic biopic scheduled to premiere on Italian television next year and has made deals with Microsoft and Google. All of this was over the beta version of Egomnia—its name a portmanteau of ego, "self," and omnia, "everything"—a site that arranges users' online resumes, much like LinkedIn does. It also assigns them a grade and directly connects them with potential employers. These companies can search for a specific kind of employee and find a ranked list of candidates.
The hype may have been inflated and premature, but Achilli is now in a position to leverage it. Achilli tells us over video chat from his office in Formello, which is just north of Rome, that when Egomnia launches internationally this fall, it will have an interface as good as major sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. He explains that even though he can't yet reveal specific details of his business arrangements with Google and Microsoft, both companies have invested in upcoming marketing for the company, and Microsoft will also be providing cloud-based services for Egomnia.
Microsoft's Anders Nilsson tells the BBC that Achilli is the type of entrepreneur his company looks for, and Microsoft wants to accelerate Egomnia's growth while the time is ripe.
Achilli also says that he is in talks with well-known, powerful venture capitalists from the U.K. and U.S., but can't reveal more. He says his site currently has over 700 Italian companies, including multinationals like Vodafone and Generali, and 330,000 job seekers registered. It had 500,000 euros (the equivalent of about $700,000) in revenue last year. The numbers are notable, but nothing yet suggests Egomnia is the next big thing in the international tech world.
If Achilli were just another 22-year-old American with a social networking startup, few would have noticed him. But because he lives in a country with an unemployment rate of 12.6 percent —twice that of the U.S.—where over 40 percent of people ages 24 to 35 struggle to find jobs, the fact that he's a charismatic young guy with a job-search platform has made him a symbol of growth for Italy's lagging tech startup scene.
And Achilli recognizes this, at least to a certain extent. He tells us that when he visited Silicon Valley last summer he felt "normal" instead of like a celebrity, since everyone was young and pushing a startup. "I wasn't happy," he says, smiling. "In the United States, everyone has a startup. If you have one in Italy, you are special."
Achilli first got the idea for Egomnia during his final year of high school while applying to colleges and looking at their rankings. He wondered what it would look like if this method, through a process similar to Google's page ranking system, was applied to job candidates based on how impressive their resumes were. Companies could search for the type of employee they were looking for and select them from a ranked list, and employees could do the same for employers.
He says he wrote the algorithm and then searched for a site developer. He wasn't able to afford a full-fledged team of professional coders, but he found a young coder named Giuseppe Iacobucci who was willing to freelance for 10,000 euros. Achilli's dad, who is a partner in a small telecommunications company, helped him pay this developer, marking the only investment Egomnia had before it launched. In March 2012, after a year, Iacobucci finally got the first version of the site running. Achilli, who was then attending the prestigious Bocconi University in Milan, struggled to find any company willing to join a 19-year-old student's new project, and so he tried his luck pitching to Bocconi students directly.
Antonio Aloisi, a student liaison to the school's board—which includes power players like former Italian prime minister Mario Monti and Pirelli CEO Marco Tronchetti Provera — became excited with the project and wrote about Achilli's site for the Italian blog Linkiesta. The post went viral, largely because the story of an ambitious young entrepreneur wanting to help his peers get jobs was so appealing during the severe recession. Egomnia crashed because one server wasn't enough to handle the flood of traffic as thousands of job seekers signed up, Achilli says. In a couple of months, he got the Panorama cover and was dubbed the "Italian Zuckerberg."
Achilli has also benefited from political support. Recently, he was awarded the gold medal of the President of the Italian Republic for his service to Italy's economy, and the province of Milan is using Egomnia as an employment portal. Since he first caught the media's attention, Achilli's been focused on growing his team (now 20 employees) and planning how he would expand beyond Italy, which he is almost ready to do. Come October, Egomnia will open an office in São Paulo, Brazil, and expand in Europe and select markets in Asia and the U.S. Achilli says that the upcoming version of Egomnia will have a premium look and feel that will make it stand up to American sites likes LinkedIn. It plans to make money from advertising and charging companies for job postings beyond a set allotment.
Achilli has a ways to go before he lives up to the nickname that's brought him so much attention in Italy, but now, with the support of two of the most powerful tech companies in the world and potentially some big investors, he'll soon have an opportunity to make a name for himself.
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