Italy's Zuckerberg wants to be himself for now

Italy's Zuckerberg wants to be himself for now
Interview with 22-year-old Italian entrepreneur Matteo Achilli, who was in Singapore to meet investors, incubators and a dean of a university to discuss plans for his professional network website Egomnia. He has been dubbed the "Italian Zuckerberg".

University student launches a social network that takes a country, and then the world, by storm.

Sound familiar?

Start-up-shy Italy has been touting its blue-eyed boy Matteo Achilli as its answer to Mr Mark Zuckerberg.

Although the 22-year-old, who plans to open an office in Singapore in November, has a long way to go to reach the same heights as Facebook's billionaire founder, he is unfazed by the comparison.

"People want me to be the next Zuckerberg, let's try," he told The Sunday Times. "For now, it's a cool nickname. But I want people to know me as Matteo Achilli, the founder of Egomnia."

He was speaking to The Sunday Times during a trip to Singapore to raise funds for the global expansion - a project already backed by Microsoft and Google - of his two-year-old networking site for young professionals.

On Egomnia, candidates are ranked based on their skills and resume.

An algorithm, which Mr Achilli wrote three years ago in high school, lets companies search for candidates and receive a best-to-worst list rather than a random one.

It has been a hit back in his country, where youth unemployment is rampant at 40 per cent. Egomnia has 300,000 job seekers and 810 companies on board, including Bvlgari and Ericsson, and even received political backing.

But why would his site resonate in Singapore, where the youth unemployment rate was less than 7 per cent last year?

Mr Achilli answered: "A lot of people want to change jobs here, and a lot of people want to come to Singapore to work."

Three in 10 employed residents here aged 25 to 29 had changed jobs in the last two years, Manpower Ministry statistics for June 2012 to June 2013 showed.

Singapore-based FFA Asia, a subsidiary of Four Partners Srl in Milan which had a hand in the sale of 70 per cent of football club Inter Milan to Indonesian investors last year, is advising Mr Achilli here.

FFA Asia's chief executive Federico Donato said he had suggested Singapore as a good platform to launch Egomnia's Asian expansion as "the infrastructure is good, and the job market is very dynamic".

Singapore, said Mr Achilli, could play a key role in Egomnia's growth. "You don't have big bureaucracy, and it's easier to find someone to invest in a company here. In Italy, it's difficult to receive money to create something."

The initial 10,000 euro (S$16,500) funding for Egomnia - which was inspired by university rankings - came from his father, a partner in a small telecommunications company. His mother is a housewife.

His big break came when he was featured on a magazine cover under the headline "Italian Zuckerberg" in 2012 after launching the company, which brought in 500,000 euros in the first year.

He was then featured in the BBC documentary The Next Billionaires.

Egomnia's numbers are a far cry from the more than 300 million members LinkedIn has. Still, there is potential, said angel investor Lim Der Shing, who founded the JobsCentral group, which has more than two million ASEAN members.

"A strong algorithm that can accurately match job seekers to employers will be very valuable," said Mr Lim.

"However, it will be only as successful as the size of his job seeker network and the employer numbers."

On a success scale of one to 100, Mr Achilli, who also visited the dean's office of the National University of Singapore Business School to discuss possible partnerships, admits being at 10 now.

But he says he wants to be at the other end of the scale in five years. "Yes there is pressure, but I have the numbers, the turnover, the subscribers and the investors."

joseow@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on August 25, 2014.
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