ITALY’S DOT-COM DOLCE VITA
Byline: Courtney Colavita
MILAN — The U.S. may be reeling from dot-com failures, but Italy’s cyber culture is chugging along. Within the past several months, a crop of Italian dot-coms have gone live — fusing e-commerce, Italian culture and news. Here’s a look at a few recent arrivals.
Developed in conjunction with the Italian World Trade Center, Madeinitaly.com is an aggressive bid to bring Italian businesses to the world. With more than 2,100 companies, offering everything from Veronese marble to Florentine leather handbags, the portal is Italy’s largest on-line B2B. “This is an incredible opportunity to help launch smaller Italian companies onto the world market,” said co-founder Giorgio Crippa. Madeinitaly.com receives a 1.9 percent commission from every sale.
Crippa along with Sergio Anselmi came up with the idea in 1995, way before Italians were thinking online. “I registered for the domain name back then and it seemed so strange because very few people in Italy were talking about the Web,” he said.
In 1999, Crippa received a cash injection of $2.5 million and formed a partnership with the World Trade Center organization. Less than a year later, the portal went live in more than nine languages, including Chinese, German and English. “Throughout the world Italy is renowned for its apparel and fabrics. What we’re aiming to do is bring the rest of our products to the world,” said Crippa.
While B2B is its primary focus, Madeinitaly also includes a B2C section, offering more than 15,000 products. Within the next two years, Crippa hopes to increase B2C by 10 percent.
For 2000, Madeinitaly spent $1.7 million on print and TV ads in Italy and $750,000 on print advertising outside the country. Crippa say he expects the site to turn its first profit by the end of 2002. Figures are converted from lira at current exchange.
Carlo Auturo Garuzzo, president of AllaboutItaly.com, was hanging out with three Italian friends in a London apartment when he came up with the idea for his Web venture. “We were craving prosciutto di Parma and couldn’t find a delicatessen that had it,” said Garuzzo. “After talking with some other Italians living abroad, we realized there was this niche market.”
Three years and half a million dollars later, AllaboutItaly.com went live last month. Financed by various partners, the portal is targeting both Italians living outside the bel paese and foreigners interested in Italy. “We’re trying to give a complete look of what’s going on in Italy today — from fashion to politics to travel,” Garuzzo said.
The site hosts three virtual communities for Italians living in London, Brussels and New York. There’s information on where to eat, sleep and how to book a train ticket in those cities. Meanwhile, foreigners coming to Italy can download a list of the country’s top ski slopes and restaurant and entertainment guides. “Our content is really for anyone and everyone interested in Italy. There’s no set target,” Garuzzo said.
Within the next month, the site is scheduled to add e-commerce and a business help network. Garuzzo says the site will list 150 shops and predicts that will climb by 30 percent in 2001. The business help network, according to Garuzzo, will mostly likely become a pay-per-service. “Eventually, someone will be able to go to our site and seek legal advice on how to export goods or find someone to translate a contract,” he said, adding the fee will help the site reach its goal of breaking even in 2003.
Owned by 15 private companies and individuals, BravaItalia is proving to be a major resource for small and medium-size businesses on the peninsula. “Many of our clients were interested in going online, but were either skeptical or just didn’t have a clue,” said Andrea Campelli, marketing manager for BravaItalia, during an Internet trade fair held here last month.
The portal features nine different sections, including news, chat, culture and a growing e-commerce component. BravaItalia is currently partners with more than 100 stores. Products range from a hand-painted cherry wood and ceramic clock to a cashmere sweater. “We’ve gotten a really positive response so far. Obviously, we’re still in a beginning phase and are actively searching to bring more mom-and-pop stores to our site,” Campelli added.
BravaItalia also helps entrepreneurs construct their own individual sites, independent of its own. Fees for that range from $1,000 to $25,000, depending on the complexity of the project. “Web consulting does bring in some revenues, but we’re doing it more to help facilitate the growth of small companies throughout Italy,” said Campelli.
With an investment of $23 million, spread out over three years, the company hopes to break even in 2002. Within the first five months, the lifestyle site has received 14.5 million hits. In 2000, BravaItalia spent $3 million on off-line advertising, which included sponsoring runner Franca Fiacconi in the New York City Marathon. For 2001, Campelli says BravaItalia will increase its ad budget by 20 percent.