Accoona RIP? No, Says Person Answering Accoona's Phone

We got a blast from the past today when someone using SAI’s anonymous tip box told us that “a project manager from Accoona called a recruiting firm this afternoon and said that they were shutting down and going out of business.”

Who’s Accoona? It took a second for us to remember, as well. They’re the would-be search company that was really a money-losing e-commerce company that made a disastrous attempt to go public last August; they eventually walked away red-faced.

We worried about Accoona’s business plan and financials last summer, so the tip seemed plausible enough. But when we called Accoona’s Jersey City HQ today, we found the company up and running. Or at least, answering the phone.

After we identified ourselves as reporters (or whatever), we were transfered to someone named Ralph, who told us the company was doing just fine. We asked for more details, but Ralph said we really ought to be talking to someone else. We suggested CEO Valentine Zammit, who Ralph said was indeed still around, so we’ve left a message with him. We’ll update with more details if we get them.

Update: Mystery mostly solved by the NYT’s excellent Saul Hansell, who directs us to this report from last week by… Saul Hansell. Accoona has “scaled back” from about 200 employees to 8 and is shifting focus again, to something called “Twing” (Ralph mentioned this as well). It’s an great read, which we’ve excerpted here:

Even though he had just announced a big round of layoffs, Valentine J. Zammit, Accoona’s chief executive, was as cheerful as Pumbaa the warthog when he returned my call Monday afternoon.

Economic times are tough he said. Yes, the company is suspending development of its ExchangePlace division that had been working on a system to trade “leads” inquiries by customers for mortgages and such. And yes, it is also seriously considering shuttering, the search engine that is the company’s original product. (It hired Bill Clinton to speak at its launch, amid great claims for its artificial intelligence technology.)…

Accoona has been trying to sell stock to investors for several years. It tried to offer shares in London. Then it dropped that bid and filed for a public offering in the United States. Last August, as I started making inquiries about Accoona’s ties to Marc Armand Rousso, a penny stock promoter who has pleaded guilty to money laundering and securities fraud, the underwriter Maxim Group, pulled out.

Accoona could never find another underwriter and it withdrew its public offering in December. Mr. Zammit, said the company has borrowed some money to stay in business, but he declined to say how much it borrowed or from whom…

“I do not know about technology enough to be able to explain it,” said Mr. Zammit, a former advertising industry executive who has been running Accoona for about a year.

Mr. Zammit implored me not to even mention Mr. Rousso, the stock promoter who is still a large shareholder. He said that Mr. Rousso has no contact with the company any more.

“We are a totally different business than we were a year ago, ” he said. “Please don’t bring him into this.”

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