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'I chose Italy because I know the culture'

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Gilad Uziely (L) with a Mekomy guide in Rome. Photo: Gilad Uziely
14:40 CEST+02:00
Tourism in Italy is big business, but it’s not always easy for visitors to find out how best to learn about the vast culture. As the website Mekomy expands into Italy, we spoke to its Israeli co-founder, Gilad Uziely, about how it's challenging traditional tourism.

How did you get into the Italian tourism business?

I did my bachelor degree in Australia and one of my flatmates was Italian; his mum used to rent villas to tourists in Italy. When I graduated in 2007 I had no idea what I wanted to do, so along with Rebecca, now my wife, I launched Villa Italia.

We rented out villas in the less well-known parts of Italy, such as Abruzzo and Marche.

How did you move into guided tours?

Our clients used to come back to us and say, “I really love wine, my passion is art, what can I do?”

We put them in touch with local guides, experts who could give them an extraordinary experience.

But this quickly started taking up most of my time and it exposed two needs: firstly, the traveller looking for unique experiences and secondly, guides who didn’t know how to market themselves.

So we started Mekomy a year ago and now have almost 50 guides. We’re gradually putting them on our website, where travellers can book tours.

How does Mekomy work?

We are a platform and give our pre-screened guides the opportunity to market themselves and their tours.

We are a carefully-curated marketplace, we don’t let just anyone join. It’s free for pre-screened guides; we send a photographer to take photos and videos and take a commission on every successful tour.

We have a few guidelines; it has to be a guided tour, no classes, with a maximum of 20 people and for no more than a day.

I look at Mekomy as a lifestyle product, not a travel agency.

Where did you find inspiration?

We looked at examples such as Airbnb, the accommodation company, and the taxi firm Uber. They are disrupting very old industries and the main thing I learnt from them is the way I look at my business.

It was easy to get meetings with Uber and Airbnb, they were extremely helpful and shaped our vision.

How have you financed Mekomy?

We got a place at The Junction, a hub for start-ups in Israel where we spent three months.

At the end of the process we gave five-minute pitches to investors. I was really nervous! We got $300,000 (€230,000) from angel investors; two-thirds of the money will go into marketing. 

In the next year we’ll be in eight European cities, including Paris and London.

We are now looking for $2.5 million investment to help us grow more quickly; I would love to get investors from countries other than Israel.

Was it difficult to open a business in Italy?

We don’t have a registered company in Italy, because it’s really hard and really expensive. Before you even get one euro in your pocket you have to spend crazy amounts.

Mekomy is registered in Tel Aviv, Israel, as all of our intellectual property was created there.

Our representative in Italy, Marco Massa, is registered with a business number.

Now we are moving to new destinations in Europe, however, we will need to create a business entity in Italy.

Have you experienced any culture clashes?

I chose Italy because I speak Italian, I’ve lived here, I know the culture and how people think.

But the Israeli culture is very different - people love to work - in Italy it’s not like that and I respect that.

The biggest challenge is to allow yourself to understand the cultural differences. So instead of being really rigid about how I want things to be done, I understand why things are done differently and life is much easier. 

What other advice do you have for start-ups in Italy?

Italy is very diverse, people in Veneto are not like people in Calabria. When you’re setting up your office in Italy, think very hard about where you’re going to do it.

That’s why it’s a good idea to get the opinion of locals. 

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