When ecosystems meet: Hootsuite + AdEspresso

A few days ago, AdEspresso – an ad tech company based in Milan and San Francisco – and Hootsuite – a social media management company headquartered in Vancouver, with offices from London to Singapore, from Bucharest to Sydney – announced that AdEspresso is joining the Hootsuite family. This is fantastic news for both, and I want to celebrate this moment myself as a mini-angel, because together with a small group of angel investors, notably Andrea Rota, I backed AdEspresso starting in 2013.

It is true that AdEspresso was accelerated at Dave McClure’s 500 Startups in late 2013, and that the special sauce in the San Francisco Bay Area was an important ingredient in brewing the deal. But Ryan Holmes, Hootsuite’s CEO, is passionate about rekindling a tech future in Canada. Massimo Chieruzzi and Armando Biondi, AdEspresso’s founders, point out that the AdEspresso product and design are “Made in Italy”, and the company has always kept its Italian heart.

Are we at the point where we will see more deals like this? Digital platforms with hundreds of millions, soon to be billions, of people using them every day are indeed based in the Bay Area (and in China). But while they are creating unprecedented wealth concentrated in their corner of the world, they also create unprecedented opportunity for companies to be built by “riding the tiger” of those platforms, pretty much from anywhere. The Bay Area has a huge concentration of talented and ambitious people; but it does not have a monopoly on ideas, on technical talent, on the ability to serve customers, on hustle, on grit. I would not be surprised at all if the next Hootsuite and the next AdEspresso were born out of Poland, India, Portugal or Ireland.

In the meantime, congratulations to Massimo, Ryan and Armando (pictured below) and a few more of my thoughts on the deal (in Italian) in these media interviews:


Image: Massimo Chieruzzi (AdEspresso), Ryan Holmes (Hootsuite) and Armando Biondi (AdEspresso) celebrate the announcement. 

On prostheses, gold medals, dinners, and trolls

She wore not a prosthesis, but four. Quadruple amputee athlete Bebe Vio, 19, who lost her limbs to meningitis at the age of 11 and last month won a Paralympic gold medal in women’s wheelchair fencing, walked on her own two lower limb prostheses when joining Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the State Dinner hosted by Barack and Michelle Obama two nights ago in Washington. And what did she get out of it? Glamour (she wore an evening dress donated by Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior), fun (at least judging from her selfie with Obama), some food prepared by celebrity chef Mario Batali, and a lot of vitriol poured onto her from all corners of the Web. In the last couple of days, online armchair critics have accused her of the most bizarre sins, such as flying to Washington to have fun at the expense of taxpayers, neglecting the plight of the unemployed, wearing an expensive dress by a French brand, being “politicized” in support of the embattled Renzi, and worse. Countless online trolls over the past two days have let out their own frustration against Bebe, as they have in the past against many women who have, for example, spoken out against misogyny in videogames, called for historic women leaders to be portrayed on banknotes, or written about contemporary feminism.

Bebe, who only recently won her Paralympic gold and is not a feminist campaigner by any stretch of the imagination, pays for two original sins. First, she never let herself become a victim. Life gave her a shitload of bitter lemons, and she built a factory of very sweet lemonade: the non-profit she started with her family, Art4Sport, has helped dozens of amputee children practice sports instead of languishing in their wheelchairs. Second, she is a young woman: and women who are proud of any achievement – technology, entrepreneurship, politics, sports – end up being attacked, insulted and threatened with the worst sexist and violent attacks if they so much as dare to share their pride online. The torrent of insults unleashed on Bebe is just the latest example of how the basic rules of civil discourse seem to be suspended when it comes to criticizing women. What is to be done if we are to neutralize poisonous threats against women? One might follow the example of journalist and podcaster Alanah Pearce, whose anti-troll technique became famous after this tweet: “Sometimes young boys on Facebook send me rape threats, so I’ve started telling their mothers.” If you are disgusted by the trolls who attacked Bebe, finding out who their moms are and sending them screenshots might not be a bad place to start.

The beauty of living in Italy

A few days after the end of a fantastic Milano Design Week, where Milan blossomed around the world leading event in furniture and home design, let me reflect on one of the reasons why for me there’s no place like home: the quality of our homes.

I have lived in Germany, United States, Spain and Switzerland, and, outside the very top end of the real estate market – and often not even there, as plenty of Silicon Valley millionaires are known to live in rickety wood-frame houses, whose anti-seismic qualities are their only redeeming virtue – I have yet to see a place where the quality of urban living is as high as Italy. Our architects, designers, furniture makers are the reason why everybody aspires to “Italian living”. And they tell me that their Italian customers are the ones pushing them towards excellence: they won’t tolerate a lackadaisical design, a slapdash assembly, an imperfect color scheme. Having an exacting clientele at home makes our home design industry a worldwide winner.

I also want to take the opportunity to thank the superlative interior design team for the Milan home I recently furnished and moved into. Many people played a role, but here are the key ones:

A few images of the work in progress and the end product.

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Italian politics: more fog

matteorenziTomorrow morning, barring surprises, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano will give Matteo Renzi, who has led the Democratic Party for the past two months, the task to form a new government.

Last year, I wrote that the government formed in the spring of 2013 – whose leader turned out to be Enrico Lettawould most likely have a minimal mandate, in view of its foreseeably short lifespan, and that electoral reform would be its centerpiece. I predicted, alas correctly, that fiscal reform, economic growth, and jobs, as crucial as they were, just seemed too big a mountain to climb in this political weather, and nothing much would happen there. But, as it turned out, we do not even have the much-awaited electoral reform; and while our Constitutional Court hacked away at some of the issues with the previous law, it has de facto reverted us to a proportional system that only the smaller parties really want, and that would merely perpetuate our current political stalemate if we were to vote under its rules.

It has been two years and three months since Silvio Berlusconi stopped being Prime Minister (and almost three months since he lost his Senate seat). While he was in charge, I held out hope that, once he had left power, many things would change; women would feel whole again; Italy would undergo a civic and creative Renaissance. But, in spite of valiant efforts by the capable Mr. Monti and the brave Mr. Letta, we feel like we only wasted more time. Good luck to the bold Mr. Renzi: he and his team will enjoy a very short honeymoon before they deliver – or disappoint.

Major Arcana. Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden, Capalbio

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be in a place I had long wished to visit, the Tarot Garden (Giardino dei Tarocchi) built by artist Niki de Saint Phalle in Garavicchio, Capalbio, southern Tuscany. Go there, by all means.

Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) is easy to misunderstand; her feminism in a pop dress made her somewhat of a niche artist, known for her Nanas and her 1971 marriage to fellow artist Jean Tinguely, but without the gravitas of, say, a Louise Bourgeois. Yet, the Garden is such a masterwork that, after visiting it, it is hard to deny her greatness.

First conceived in 1979, the Garden was completed in 1996 and opened to the public in 1997. The concept for the Garden is a sculptural representation of each of the Major Arcana of the Tarot. Most of the Arcana are cement figures covered in mosaic; some are structures you can walk into, some are mosaics inside another figure, some are simpler free-standing fiberglass sculptures. The choice of the Tarot, of course, carries with it the full weight of their spiritual and esoteric content; walking through the Garden gives you a glimpse of the artists’s struggle throughout the project, her loneliness as she lived inside the Empress for long stretches, and her nightmares as she worked on the Devil.

It also shows you Niki de Saint Phalle’s leadership: for it is not enough to have a vision, it is necessary for the artist to execute it. The project needed fundraising, getting help from friends, dealing with Italian bureaucrats (!), creating a team of artisans, technicians and crewmen ready to commit to the project for years at a time. And the Garden needs maintenance and preservation work every year, carried out by the Fondazione Giardino dei Tarocchi in the months when it is closed to the public, because it is a fragile work and without the necessary care it would be run over by the wilderness in the space of a few years. It is, I think, a triumph: you come out of it a bigger person than you walked in.

Don’t hesitate to bring kids. They will love it and, I hope, they will be able to go back as grown-ups, as they’re playing out the cards they have been dealt.

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Italian politics in the fog

Friends outside Italy often ask me what’s going on in Italian politics, and they know I am rarely at a loss for words. But these days, as the country appears to be lost in the fog, I find it hard to tell where we’re going.

An era ended in November 2011, although some of its protagonists are still stubbornly holding on to whatever consensus they can gather today. But we still don’t know what the new era looks like. We had about a year of Mr. Monti’s necessary but painful austerity; Mr. Berlusconi’s party eventually pulled the plug on Monti’s government, shortening its life by a few months. Campaigning was rough, bitter, and mostly content-free. The only party to campaign on a credible platform of economic liberalism and reform, newcomer Fare per Fermare il declino – which had ignited the hopes of many entrepreneurs and professionals -, was trounced in the February 24-25 elections, did not even clear the hurdle for a single seat in Parliament, and promptly proceeded to succumb to internal infighting; it didn’t help that founder Oscar Giannino turned out to have claimed a Chicago MBA he had never earned. Instead, the emerging force to be reckoned with turned out to be the Movimento 5 Stelle, a “non-party” led by Beppe Grillo, which readers of tea leaves had credited with about 20% of the vote in pre-electoral opinion polls, but which eventually got close to 25%.

With a tripolar Parliament, stuck in the sheer implausibility of a trust-building exercise among the troops of Messrs Berlusconi, Bersani, and Grillo (who personally hate each other’s guts), and with the poor showing of Mr. Monti (who only carried about 9% of the vote), it will be a tough task indeed for President Napolitano to pick a Prime Minister who stands a chance of forming a stable government. Napolitano himself is at the end of his mandate, and cannot send Italians back to the polls; his successor, to be elected in May by Parliament, would have to do that. Any government that is formed now will probably have a minimal mandate in view of a foreseeably short lifespan: electoral reform – something the parties could not agree on under Mr. Monti – would have to be its centerpiece, since everybody knows that the system bequeathed by a previous PdL-Lega government (and nicknamed porcellum) isn’t cutting it anymore. Fiscal reform, economic growth, and jobs, as crucial as they are in this emergency, just seem too big a mountain to climb for anybody in this political weather. Mr. Bersani briefly held out an olive branch to a disdainful M5S in the form of an eight-point program to build consensus; trouble is, not even his followers can remember what those eight items are about.

In the meantime, yesterday the newly convened House and Senate managed to choose their Presidents. They are two newcomers to politics, a former UNHCR spokeswoman and an anti-Mafia magistrate, voted into office in the lists of the Pd and its left-wing ally SEL, shrewdly picked by Mr. Bersani but shrilly denounced by Mr. Berlusconi’s people as “occupants”. The Senate presidential election only went through thanks to a few votes by M5S senators, whom Mr. Grillo promptly proceeded to excommunicate, although he cannot be sure of who they are (the vote was secret).

It is hard to tell whether Italians, in voting so massively for the M5S, have merely expressed their angst at the protracted recession of the past few years and their anger at the privileges of the old political caste, or whether they are truly buying into Mr. Grillo’s anti-Euro, utopian “degrowth” ideology. The threat to the European project, though, feels real enough that Giorgio Squinzi, head of industrialists’ lobby Confindustria, was compelled today to warn that its think tank had estimated at 30-40% the immediate GDP loss from a Euro exit by Italy.

This weekend, European institutions are not doing themselves a favor in the popular view by imposing a harsh haircut on bank depositors in Cyprus as a condition of the country’s bailout; and fears of contagion may cause yet more instability in the markets, playing into Mr. Grillo’s hands. True, Italy has a long tradition of short governments, unable to complete their full five-year term; and some believe that an M5S-led government would quickly flounder due to its members’ inexperience. Yet, such protracted instability is hardly to be wished for in a country that stopped growing practically a generation ago, and needs to find a way out of the doldrums more than at any point in recent history. Politics is the art of compromise: we will need all our artistry to pull this one through.


2012 Ada Lovelace Day: two Italian scientists

We honor Ada Lovelace this year by celebrating Ada Lovelace Day on October 16. Here are my two picks among women engineers, scientists, technologists or mathematicians.

Fabiola Gianotti is a particle physicist, Spokesperson (i.e., coordinator) for the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland, which consists of 3000 scientists from 38 countries and is considered the world’s biggest scientific experiment. On July 4, 2012, Gianotti announced that ATLAS had detected a particle consistent with the Higgs Boson predicted by the Standard Model of physics.

Fabiola Gianotti holds a Ph.D. in experimental sub-nuclear physics from the Università Statale in Milan, Italy. A trained pianist, she also holds a professional music diploma from the Milan Conservatory.

(My notes from my recent visit at CERN – in Italian – are herethis video about the LHC is in English).

Carlotta Guiducci is a tenure-track Assistant Professor at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, where she heads the Laboratory of Life Sciences Electronics.

Her laboratory team focuses on the design and application of electronic biosensors and are at the forefront of electronic engineering and bioengineering. The sensors address a wide range of applications, from nucleic acid, protein and drug detection to the measurements of bacterial metabolism. Carlotta holds a PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Bologna.

Is there a woman in science, technology, engineering or maths whose achievements you admire? Write about her and add your story to the directory at FindingAda.com.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!