Riccardo Zacconi is the CEO of King.com, a company that is pioneering casual gaming online. Prior to coming to King, he was EIR at Benchmark Capital and before that, managing director at Spray, a European portal company that was sold to Lycos in 2000. Before joining Spray, he was a consultant at Boston Consulting Group.
SM: Riccardo, where are you from, and what kind of environment did you grow up in?
RZ: I am Italian. I was born in Rome and studied economics. After I graduated I went to London briefly and then to Germany, where I worked as a consultant for eight years.
SM: Were you with one of the big firms?
RZ: For the last six and a half years I was with BCG.
SM: What happened after you quit consulting?
RZ: In 1995 I started working on Internet projects. In 1998, during the boom, I met some guys in Sweden who has started a site called Spray. In 1999 I joined them as a startup, and we received $100 million in financing from the Wallenbergs [an influential Swedish family of bankers and industrialists] through a company called Investor.
We rolled out a suite of products that included a search engine, community site, and a game site. We released it in Europe under the Spray brand. We acquired a few websites in Europe, the largest email service in France, and a portal in Italy. At the end we had about 800 people and we were planning on an IPO.
SM: How did you raise $100 million for Spray.com?
RZ: It was 1998. I joined right after the money was raised. Two of the founders, who are both on the board of King today, had founded a company which they also called Spray and sold it in 1998 to Razorfish. After that, the Wallenbergs invested $100 million in the new company that they started, and I joined afterwards.
SM: What did you join as?
RZ: I joined as CEO of the German operations. My task was to roll out the business model and product into the different countries.
SM: What was the product?
RZ: The product was a portal through which competitors like Yahoo! could engage the local countries.
SM: Did you get much traction when you started rolling that out?
RZ: We had targets, which were page impressions, through December 1999. From that point to March 2000, we had revenues and did fine. From March onwards the target was profit. We were planning to do an IPO in March 2000. We wanted to integrate the recent French email service acquisition into the company. We delayed the IPO by one month, and in doing so the NASDAQ crashed and we had to postpone. Ultimately, it was impossible to go for an IPO. We then sold the company to Lycos Europe in September 2000.