Alessandro Tommasi is Co-Founder and CEO of Will Media, the first Italian community of users and companies aware of their impact for a more sustainable and enduring world. Will Media aims to raise awareness of everyday facts and inspire change for a more sustainable world.
Alessandro began his career in international relations working for the European Parliament and Confindustria. After that he worked first as a consultant and then as Public Policy and Campaigns Manager for Airbnb and later Lime.
Alessandro graduated in International Relations and Trade at Università degli Studi di Milano, and received a Master in Diplomacy from ISPI School.
Q: You started your career in international relations working for institutional bodies such as the European Parliament and Confindustria, and then for leading companies in the sharing economy business such as Airbnb and Lime. How did you get to the media industry? How did the idea of Will come about?
Alessandro: I started my professional career in the humanitarian field, with two experiences, in Bosnia and in Cuba, where I was involved in the local human development programs. Later, I worked for the European Parliament, dealing with development, economic growth and international trade matters.
After my graduation in international relations, I decided to use the experience I gained in the European Parliament to support private companies, which was something I liked more. I first spent 1 year working for Confindustria, and then I moved to consultancy. I worked as a consultant for 4.5 years, dealing with technological matters of large corporates.
Then, in 2013, I assisted Uber in its complex launch in Italy, and, thanks to that project, I became passionate about the sharing economy. I then worked for Airbnb as Public Policy Manager, and afterwards for Lime, as Government Affairs Director for the WeMEA area, and later as Head of Campaigns.
I was immediately fascinated by the role of Campaigns Manager, it made me realise what I missed from the first experiences in international relations. I missed the possibility to give a sounding board to all pure informative projects of companies, projects that do not have a commercial purpose. In other words, informing about the positive impacts of companies on the communities, and limiting as much as possible the disorganised communication of negative impacts (e.g.: Airbnb revitalised several villages in Italy, but it also needed to deal with trust issues).
Will’s idea was born from this need. Will produces content to inform and popularise complicated matters and help people of all generations become familiar with the speed and complexity of the changes we are living through collectively. To achieve this goal, we need first to disseminate these themes. And today, this is the core of Will.
Today, on one hand, Will tries to make people understand why being aware of certain issues, such as climate change, inclusion, economic sustainability, is important. On the other hand, once the awareness is achieved, it tries to understand what companies are doing on these issues, to give them support. We are not journalists; we disseminate and try to explain why certain issues are important today.
Q: Your business model is very similar to Freeda‘s. What are your real competitors?
Alessandro: Do you want the cool answer? I’d tell you what the founder of Netflix said .. We’re competing with sleep 🙂
If we think globally, our main competitors (which today are points of reference) are Brut and Vox.
I don’t think that Freeda is a competitor for us, for several reasons. The first one is that Freeda is much bigger than us.
Another reason is that they are very good at doing a slightly different job, which is a very strong activism on women’s issues; they are very vertical on that issue, and their target is a very specific demographic. Our target, on the other hand, is linked to values and not demographics. That’s our real challenge.
Because we communicate on social media, 80% of our users are between 18 and 35 years old. The remaining 20% is represented by users aged 35+. And they all have a strong interest in understanding what is happening in the world.
At Will, we are trying to break some preconceptions. Being a young team present on social media does not mean that we are something “from young people to young people”. And it also doesn’t mean that the newspapers are dead. I believe that, around the world, there are best practices of extraordinary publishing, such as the New York Times, as well as the Financial Times. The quality of their offer is extraordinary. I believe that there must be more attention to the product, and in Italy there is room to create something nice.
Q: Therefore, Will has a B2B revenue model targeting corporates. How do you plan to first remain independent and then to keep high the quality of your communication?
Alessandro: Independence is essential for our survival. And to survive we need to give information that is consistent with our values, and work with companies that share our values.
A key role in our company is the person responsible for understanding in advance what are the potential “slipups” we risk by working with a certain company. Unfortunately, there are companies that describe themselves “whiter than white”, and then you discover that they are not. Therefore, it is essential for us to know in advance how real the commitment of a company on certain issues is. If there is a value match, then companies find ease in telling their stories with us. Many people have told me: “Have you already worked with companies? I haven’t seen any projects”. Our users expect us to talk about certain topics, yet we do it in partnership with companies.
Today, I believe (and I hope) that the season of companies which consider CSR as a must-do activity, not knowing how to do it, is coming to an end. A couple of years ago we run a survey which revealed that 40% of CSR managers did not report to anyone, that a large number of companies allocated a budget to CRS that was not used correctly, and that no one truly believed in CSR issues.
Today, many of the companies we talk to, are convinced that without a product that takes sustainability issues into consideration, they would be already dead. And this is a big step forward. I believe that nowadays companies, especially the larger ones, must be able to produce green and sustainable products, but they must also be able to create adequate demand for these products. I believe that today is a crucial moment.
Q: How big are you today? What are the expected developments of Will?
Alessandro: Will was launched in January 2020 on Instagram, and in 9 months we reached 510k users.
We are about a dozen people, plus freelances and external partners, such as authors, graphic designers, a data scientist, a social media manager, etc. And this is the structure we want to maintain over time. We need to grow in the sales function, given the fact that we operate in an extremely structured context.
I hope that the period in which companies are measured by the growth in their organisational structure and in valuations will be soon over. I don’t believe in either of the two metrics. We would like to push by keeping a very lean organisational structure. We are launching a lot of projects together; I think we have enough people to keep up with this pace.
Regarding future plans, we first want to consolidate what we do now, and then expand in new spaces. The challenge we are up for today is creating demand for our topics. And at the same time, we try to satisfy the demand with a proper offer. We launched Will on Instagram, and it’s going very well, we are on Facebook, we have podcasts on Spotify. We want to test other platforms where we can create similar demand for our topics.
Q: Will Media is participated by several investors. What is your relationship with them?
Alessandro: We have investors of various profiles, and I like that. In the first few months, I made the mistake of not calling them enough, I thought I was disturbing. But actually, they were happy to listen to me.
The more time I spend with them, the more I realise the different personalities and the different support they can give me. There’s the former entrepreneur who can understand the entrepreneur’s loneliness; there’s the business angel who fire you up; there is the start-upper who understands your commitment. Having such a variety of investors helps us a lot, everyone has taught me a lot.
Q: One last question: what do you think of the Italian start-ups ecosystem?
Alessandro: I would like to say to “mimic” the Americans less, and to push more as an ecosystem, do less personalism. Anyone who has read a book like The Upstarts is aware that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Everything starts from “stories of hunger”. This is what I feel like saying.
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