A Year of Struggle and Growth

It has been an exceptional year for CoContest; The startup that I have founded with my architect brother Filippo, and my life-long friend Alessandro. We have raised a significant amount of funds by involving international investors, we have participated at 500 Startups, and consequently, moved a part of our team to Silicon Valley in order to reinforce our growth in the US market. Moreover, thanks to our fundraising, we have managed to build our team by hiring professionals in various sections and consolidate the roots of our company.

In the previous 12 months, our platform has become more international. As a matter of fact, we have a 50% of international clients, of which a great part comes from the US. There is a fast growing market for the new startups in the United States. These startups are economically supported by the venture capitals of Silicon Valley, which aim to revolutionize the market of interior design, by using the internet and innovative business models.

This tendency proves our initial vision when we founded CoContest: The interior design market is progressively moving online; transforming a section that historically has depended on geolocation and the word of mouth, into an international and dynamic market based on merit.

In fact, thanks to services such as CoContest, nowadays more designers (the younger ones, in particular) have the opportunity to cross geographical barriers and find new clients out of their city and their network. They can work from home and manage their own hours of work, with no economical and ecological impact.

CEPS (Centre for European Policy Studies), a European Economic Comunity’s think tank, confirms these facts in a study on CoContest’s data. The study report explains how a full-time participation on professional crowdsourcing platforms is already becoming a structural alternative for the traditional labor market in developing countries such as Serbia, Ukraine, India, etc. Furthermore, the study reveals that professionals working full-time on crowdsourcing platforms can reach a higher monthly income comparing to the average, with a reduced marginal cost of the profession.

We can deduce from this study that in near future, and by raising the prize for the professionals to win, crowdsourcing platforms can become a serious alternative to traditional jobs even in the developed countries.

The statistics from CoContest confirm this analysis. In fact, the number of our contests and the average value of prizes have grown constantly, increasing from $200 in 2013 to $800 in 2015 (+400%).

This year we have also sealed an important partnership with Intesa Sanpaolo Casa, the real estate agency of Intesa Sanpaolo, the largest bank of Italy with more than 11 million clients. In fact, for the past months these clients have been able to access our innovative services directly from the website of Intesa Sanpaolo Casa.

Italy is a conservative country where innovative startups face more obstacles than support. For this reason, Intesa Sanpaolo’s decision as an important Italian bank, to collaborate with startups such as CoContest and Habitissimo should not be taken for granted; it accounts not only as an act of courage, but also as a new vision of the development of the market.

Such initiatives that involve young and innovative companies with big corporations, leave a positive message for the growing startup ecosystem, and could actually result in the much needed push towards the ongoing digitization of our country. It would also speed up and simplify the access to web 2.0 services for elder people, decreasing the digital divide in our society.

I have been particularly struck — though not much surprised — by one specific incident in 2015; the corporatist resistance of the National Order of Architects and some architect Members of the Parliament towards CoContest. These institutional figures, use “the defence of their category” as an excuse to systematically block CoContest’s access to the market, which would cause a harm to the customers, by limiting the competition and therefore the number of their choices, and would also cause a harm to the professionals who are already working profitably on our platform. As a matter of fact, thanks to CoContest, many Italian designers have been hired by international clients, which would have been otherwise improbable. It is hard to imagine that these institutions have failed to notice such an important detail, in the crowded Italian market of designers (10% of the architects in the world are Italians).

For these reasons I find it absurd and contradictory that the National Order of Architects has reported CoContest to Antitrust, charging us with the violation of the norms of competition. When in fact, it is the resistance of the Order and the parliamental Architects, and their attempts to remove a pro-customer and innovative service like CoContest from the market, to drastically reduce the competition.

This sequence of events can have a negative financial impact, especially in on the fragile Italian economy that already has many difficulties in taking advantage of the revolution of digital economy. Take this example to get a clear picture of the situation; in 2015, in Italy a total of 133 million euros have been invested in high tech startups, while only in the United States, Zenefits.com, an online software to manage HR, has a fundraising which is 4 times more than the fundraising of the sum of all Italian startups!

In this picture where there’s little investment and the mindset of the Italian venture capital investors is miles away from the international ones, a categorical resistance supported by public institutions, can be an obstacle way too hard to overcome.

Nonetheless, the situation seems to be getting better. Our economical ecosystem is finally and slowly growing. But if investors, companies and institutions don’t change their mindset profoundly about web startups, we risk to talk a lot and do little; we may not be able to take advantage of the wave of digital economy.

In a decade, we might find ourselves overtaken by other economies that in the meanwhile have valued their innovative businesses. However, there would be a greater risk; the risk of letting down thousands of young people who are currently working hard on more than 5000 italian startups. Young people who instead of becoming successful entrepreneurs, might wake up some years from now in a collapsing society and very little prospect for the future.