Over the past few years, the Italian press has made the young entrepreneur Matteo Achilli a celebrity.
This hype has culminated in a feature film, “The Startup,” that, ironically, has turned the Italian media against the 24 year old.
Achilli launched the beta version of his professional social network Egomnia — its name a portmanteau of the Latin ego, “self,” and omnia, “everything” — when he was a student at the prestigious business school Bocconi University in Milan in 2012.
At this point his only investor was his father, who had given him €10,000 to pay his only employee, a contracted developer. Achilli begin pitching his idea of Egomnia, which would connect young Italians to jobs, to fellow Bocconi students.
One of them, student liason to the school board Antonio Aloisi, wrote a blog post for the popular site Linkiesta detailing what he found to be an inspirational story of Achilli’s startup dream.
While there’s no shortage of the 19-year-old with a startup story in the US, the story stood out in Italy, which was still reeling from the global recession. And it was especially notable that a young man wanted to help those in his generation find jobs in a country with an unemployment rate over 12%. The post went viral.
It caught the eye of the team at the magazine Panorama: Economy, and in March 2012, Achilli’s face donned the magazine’s cover with the title “Italian Zuckerberg.” Again, the story was still based on Achilli’s potential, rather any results.
Two years later, the BBC included Achilli in its documentary series “The Next Billionaires,” introducing “the Italian Zuckerberg” to an English-speaking audience. In the same way that his Panorama cover story was based on a viral blog post, the BBC documentary was largely based on the Panorama story.
We spoke with Achilli via Skype in 2014, not long after the BBC’s story, and asked Achilli about his rising fame despite the results he had yet to deliver. He noted that when he visited Silicon Valley the previous summer, “I wasn’t happy he says. In the United States, everyone has a startup. If you have one in Italy, you are special.”
When we interviewed him, he had already signed the movie deal that would become 2017’s “The Startup.”
A trailer for the film:
From 2014 to the release of the film, Achilli continued to make media appearances in Italy (and even made BI’s 2015 list of “The most powerful people under 30“). But when the film finally came out this month, it prompted Italian journalists to actually do some digging to discover how much of the dramatic film was real and how much was myth.
The numbers, combined with some questionable advertising, paint a bleak picture for a five-year-old company worthy of a film.
• Wired Italia’s Luca Zorloni found that as of last December, Egomnia had about 847,000 registered users and as of April about 1,300 registered companies posting jobs.
Zorloni also discovered that many of the partnerships proudly displayed on Egomnia’s website are not what they seem: the city government of Milan, advertised as a partner, is no longer a customer; Vodafone, advertised as a customer, once was but is no longer; Microsoft is a partner in the sense that it provides cloud services to the site and allows Egomnia to create apps for its market, but it also decided to pull jobs it listed on the site; Google’s Italian office told Zorloni it had no knowledge of whether Google was still a partner, but saw no evidence it was. Zorloni also noted Achilli’s Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for Egomnia that as of April 21 has raised $54 of its $100,000 goal.
• Business Insider Italia’s Giuliano Balestreri argued that Achilli’s valuation of his own company at €1 billion is based on ego and not numbers. Taking a look through Egomnia’s 2015 financial report, he noted that the company had €314,000 in earnings; €120,000 in debt (€111,000 expiring in 2016); and a little over €100,000 in operating profit. Net profit was just €5,000.
And while Egomnia may have 847,000 registered users, Balestreri noted that site performance tracker Webtrekk registered fewer than 300,000 total visits over the last two years.
He also argued that Egomnia’s user experience is ugly and difficult to use, and is one of the key reasons it can’t compete with the likes of professional networks like LinkedIn or job posters like GiantInfoJobs. For context, the latter company has 80,000 registered companies in Italy, had about a third of all online job postings in Italy last year, and has been adding two million users monthly.
• La Repubblica’s Chiara Ugolini noted that five-year-old Egomnia has fewer than five employees. She explained that there is a backlash in Italy agains the film “The Startup” for being inaccurate and overly dramatized. Its director Alessandro D’Alatri told her that his intention was to use Achilli’s story as a foundation to create a story about all entrepreneurs in their first year, and that he was not going for accuracy.
• Diaro Innovazione’s Valentina Ferrero noted that Egomnia has a very weak online presence. Its social pages have few followers (its Facebook page has about 19,000 likes and its Twitter page has just over 8,000 followers) and aside from the few popular stories mentioned earlier, it barely shows up in searches. Ferrero also noted that much of the feedback from users, which can be seen on Facebook, is quite negative.
Back in 2012, Achilli was a young entrepreneur with a relatively small investment from his dad and plenty of ambition. He soon found himself a celebrity, largely by luck and the media’s desire for an interesting story, a hero for Italy’s struggling economy that had failed its young adults. It turns out that when a feature film came out based on that hero’s life, he didn’t yet have much to show for it.
BI Italia’s Balestreri, translated from the Italian, put it starkly: “Achilli is a celebrity whose story is quite mundane. He’s a young entrepreneur who tried to launch the next big tech startup but failed, just like thousands of other young people.”