Dear fellow Italians, stop being so… Italian.

Michele Riva
8 min readFeb 4, 2024
Photo by D A V I D S O N L U N A on Unsplash

I was born in a small city near Milan and spent most of my life there. However, once the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted and travel was allowed again, I started to travel more frequently.

As a public speaker, I have had the opportunity to participate in dozens of conferences worldwide. This has allowed me to travel to different countries, immerse myself in various cultures, and learn more about myself and the world we live in.

As I traveled more, I realized that the world is constantly evolving, but as an Italian, I noticed that we are not doing enough to participate in the technological and cultural revolution despite having an incredibly talented pool of individuals, great schools, and skilled people.

I want to clarify that I do not consider myself a nationalist. In fact, I strongly dislike the term and its connotations. The people who tend to proudly identify as nationalists are usually the ones I dislike the most. I feel it’s important to mention this to ensure that there are no biases in the rest of my post.

The two faces of the Italian excellencies

As Italians, we tend to present ourselves as a caricature of what foreigners expect. It’s never appropriate to stereotype entire nations, yet we’re doing our best to be that stereotype.

We have a remarkable country, and it is hard to argue against that. However, our national identity appears to be more closely tied to our traditions, natural beauty, and (for some reason) cuisine, rather than our significant technological advancements, exceptional universities, great researchers, impressive skillsets, and healthcare system (that we’re trying to destroy in every possible way), etc.

It’s always all about “we have the best food, the best monuments, the best music, we’re charming, we’re funny”, and so on.

This is the typical perspective of individuals who have never ventured beyond the confines of their own homes. For those who have traveled extensively, my words may strike a familiar chord.

And that’s the same for all the other countries. We all think we’re the best for some reason. And we don’t even seek confirmation.

We certainly have some excellencies. No other country has beautiful monuments such as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

But it’s also worth mentioning that no other country has beautiful monuments such as The Sagrada Familia, the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids of Giza, etc.

And that’s the same for our natural beauties. We don’t have the Grand Canyon, we don’t have the Mount Everest, we don’t have the Waitomo Glowworm Cave, and we can’t see the Aurora Borealis.

This distinction does not make Italy better or worse than other countries; making it is simply a sign of ignorance.

I cringe every time I hear “We can only survive thanks to tourism!” because that’s what we would do then. Survive.

Relying solely on the hospitality and food industry for income can lead to short-term and low-value solutions. It is common knowledge that many people working in these sectors do not have regular contracts or declare their income. Additionally, there is a strong connection between the Italian Mafia and certain activities within this industry (source: IlPost, Il Sole 24 ore, Corriere della Sera).

In 2021, in Italy, we lost almost EUR 200,000,000,000 (two hundred billion) because of tax evasion (source: Università di Padova, ISTAT), and this industry is responsible for a large portion of it (source: Italian Ministry of Finance and Economy).

And we’re not even talking about all the businesses that are collateral to tourism. Try to take a taxi in Italy and pay with a credit card.

Some industries have a reputation for offering irregular contracts, having employers who refuse to pay their employees’ taxes, and requiring workers to work excessively long shifts without receiving compensation for the extra time. In some cases, employees may even be expected to work for free. This is particularly true for younger people who lack work experience and may be more vulnerable to coercion into unhealthy work practices.

I want to clarify that I am not implying that every restaurant is mistreating their staff or that every pub in Italy is not paying their waiters. However, it is true that many people, myself included, have had or know someone who has had a negative experience with employment in the food/hospitality service industry. Let’s be honest about this issue.

The unspoken Italian excellencies

While our political class (from left to right) keeps talking about how beautiful our country is, and how exceptional our cuisine is (and Italian cuisine it’s not even Italian, source: Financial Times), Italy is developing an impressive culture in high-value sectors that remains largely unknown to the average Italian — including myself, until recently.

I have always believed that Bending Spoons had the potential to represent Italy in the international tech scene. Maybe it’s because of my background in tech, but I think they are doing incredibly well. They are a shining example of Italian talent, entrepreneurship, and innovation. They raised more than $770M in funding, making them one of Italy’s greatest unicorns.

Another big company working in a high-value market is certainly Leonardo. Previously known as Finmeccanica, it is one of the leading players in the aerospace, defense, and security industries, and it operates in various fields such as helicopters, aircraft, aerospace systems, land and naval defense electronics, security, and information systems.

Just so you know, Leonardo has more than 50,000 employees worldwide, with more than 30,000 of them in Italy, and operates in more than 150 countries worldwide (source: LinkedIn). Whether you like it or not, this company provides high-impact, technologically advanced, and high-value solutions with world-class professionals and research.

In Italy, we have a strong tradition of small businesses that specialize in one area and excel at it. Highly technological industries are no exception to this tradition, and we can count a vast number of small-sized companies operating in critical scenarios with their expertise.

As written in this great article from Il Sole 24 Ore:

Indeed, Italy has the complete supply chain in the space sector: from the construction and operation of launch vehicles, to the construction of satellites, acquisition of data from space, and management of images and big data.

Alongside major companies in the sector, such as Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio, both part of Leonardo, there are also specialized areas where small or medium enterprises that also grow in other sectors flourish. An example can be made of D-Orbit, which was founded to try to decrease, if not solve, the problem of space debris and is now present internationally in the field of space logistics, which is significantly expanding.

In the same article, Italy is ranked fourth in the world for aerospace exports, following the United States, France, and Germany.

Why do we always focus on describing our country as the land of good wine and food, when we can actually compete with larger countries that are known for their high-quality products and engineering, such as Germany's car industry and the United States with their tech companies? Why don't we talk about that? Why aren’t these excellencies appealing to the general public?

I could continue talking about companies of all sizes that play crucial roles in advanced, highly competitive fields. However, I'll stop here since I believe you understand my point.

Doing innovation in Italy

I’ll try to be brief now, but one thing that scares me a lot is how difficult it is to start a company in Italy. And I’m saying that as an entrepreneur.

In 2023, my co-founders and I launched our startup in just five minutes. We created an online form on AngelList, signed some papers, opened a bank account, and obtained our stocks in our cap table. With all these done, we were good to go. It was a quick and easy process that took us only five minutes. Of course, we decided to incorporate our company in the United States.

When I was younger, I attempted to launch several startups in Italy, but I encountered numerous obstacles. It's challenging to start a business in Italy when you're only 20 years old, working a full-time job that pays very little (we don't even have a minimum wage in Italy, how ridiculous). It's almost impossible to come up with 10,000 EUR to invest in your company (minimum required to open an SRL), let alone pay for an accountant or notary.

Certainly, there is a program called "Innovative Startup" which enables you to launch your startup without investing capital. However, I was unable to meet some of the program's requirements. For instance, it is mandatory to have at least 33% of your employees be Ph.D. students or researchers, or 66% of your employees hold a master's degree. I don't have a bachelor's degree, but I can write software without one, and I have no interest in pursuing it.

Even when issuing your shares (known as stock options in the States), they must be proportional to your social capital. Issuing 10,000,000 shares means fractioning your social capital into 10 million parts, which is not something you can do with just one Euro.

In the United States, particularly in Delaware corporations, it is possible to issue up to 10,000,000 (ten million) stocks without having to invest any money into your social capital. This can be very advantageous when negotiating with investors, as you can negotiate capital in exchange for stock options right from day zero.

Eventually, I found out that launching a startup in Italy, when you have the possibility of doing so in the United States, makes no sense at all.

Bureaucracy in Italy is notoriously difficult to navigate, and the substantial amount of capital required may not be feasible for many individuals.

We could spend hours discussing the culture of risk and failures in different countries. In the United States, if you fail with your startup, you can easily try again the next day. However, in Italy, failing is much more complicated, with greater implications, shame, and stigma attached to it.

It’s not all about tech

So far, I have the impression that I've only talked about technology, which is my main area of expertise. But there are many other topics to discuss.

Of course, I appreciate and admire small businesses and individuals who create artisanal products.

Of course, when I’m back from a long trip on the other side of the world, the first thing I do is go get a great pizza in my favorite place.

Florence is still my favorite city in the world.

Alps are still the most beautiful mountains to my eyes.

However, where I was born does not determine my identity as a human being. Most of my attachment to certain foods, cities, and natural beauties can be attributed to sentimental attachment and the places where I grew up.

But this is not a good reason for me to become a nationalist, to look at other nations with spite, and talk about Italy in terms of a beautiful nation where the things that make me proud are the things I had no part in creating. This is just laziness.

I was fortunate enough to be born in a country with a rich history and breathtaking natural beauty, regardless of my actions in life. I find no pride in fortune.

I may find pride in leaving a mark, and in making a change, and we can all do that on so many different levels.

As Terence McKenna summarized beautifully: we have to stop consuming our culture, we have to create culture.

Stop praising our country because it has the best food and start creating a new great food. Stop praising our country because it has the best art and start creating new art. Do something new. We’re living here and now, yet often find ourselves constrained by a past that we do not entirely comprehend.

Just… stop being so Italian. It doesn’t really matter. Start being yourself.