Greek Tech Entrepreneurs Enhance the Wider Ecosystem Narrative
By Endeavor Greece Feb 17, 2022
This interview is one of many seen in our Greek Tech Revolution report. Check out our report and stay tuned with our channels as we publish more interviews featured in the 2020 issue.
“One of the things that a future entrepreneur should be aware of is that they should not expect everything from the ecosystem,” Ioannis Martinos, founder and CEO at Signal Group, pointed out at the “Innovative Greeks” event (March 2-3, 2021) organized by Endeavor Greece and SEV. “Paraphrasing JFK, ask not what the ecosystem can do for you – ask what you can do for the ecosystem.”
First of all, one thing that would spur the dynamic growth of the technology ecosystem so that it entered the next stage of its development involves Greek Tech entrepreneurs talking about the difficulties they came up with and still face at present – on a business level, in fundraising, in marketing, in team development and in the global market penetration. In this way, they would benefit from sharing experiences, look into synergies and enhancing the wider ecosystem ‘narrative’ with their own individual stories.
In a sense, our ecosystem cannot afford not to perform a long-jump towards growth. Spyros Magiatis, founder and CTO at Workable, mentioned at the same event: “Nine out of ten largest companies in the world operate in the field of technology. Zoom alone is worth more than the seven largest airline companies in the world. Tesla is worth more than the nine largest traditional car manufacturers. In Marc Andreessen’s words, “’Software is eating the world’.”
All the World, a Small village
A central issue, that seems to concern tech entrepreneurs and definitely arises from the discussions we carried out during the preparation of the current report and various events organized by Endeavor, is how an entrepreneur could aim at the global market from the very beginning, and not be limited to the boundaries of a small market, such as the Greek one. In any case, “the internet has turned the whole world into a small village,” Mr. Thanos Papangelis, cofounder and CEO at the software company Epignosis, points out. “WIth a good technology product and by adopting a decent go-to-market strategy, it is easier to attract customers from all over the world than ever before.” With regard to the global prospects of a Greek startup, Mr. Thanos Papangelis comes to the conclusion that, although it is a complex issue, it is not “as complex as most people think.”
George Hadjigeorgiou, founder and CEO at Skroutz, refers to an advantage arising paradoxically from the immaturity of the Greek market itself, which could potentially spur the global prospects of the Greek startups. “The truth is that Greece lacks some fundamental infrastructure for e-Commerce. In my view, this can turn into an opportunity. When someone has difficult problems to tackle, it is probable that they will be the first to find the solution. This could give them the competitive advantage.”
From his point of view, Alexandros Chatzieleftheriou, cofounder and CEO at Blueground, a Greek company with a global presence in nine cities and three continents, believes that due to the size of the Greek market Greek startups are forced to think of their expansion earlier, but this provides them with a more accurate picture of the product-market fit and the unit economics. As a result, the organization is well-prepared for future expansions to other markets. Another advantage of launching a company in a small market is that it is easier to become a leader and be profitable earlier, which can be used as valuable evidence to investors. He also points out that Greece is an exceptional “launching pad” for anyone who wants to prove their success locally in a very short time.
People are the Key
As an ecosystem grows bigger and a company is expanding into distant markets, one could benefit from the advice provided by those people who went through this same process. In an episode of Endeavor Greece’s podcast series “Outliers,” Nikos Drandakis, current founder and CEO at Sync, speaking of the challenges he came up with when he attempted to expand Beat in the Brazilian market, said that he had not realized how big the market was and the number of funds he had to raise to come up with its requirements. As a result, local competitors with a better understanding of the market emerged and started growing faster. “As my team was located in Athens and we did not have the necessary resources, I assigned the management to my associates. I soon realized that the numbers were falling. I lacked the people who would help me understand what went wrong. The most important lesson I learned is that one has to be close to their team.”
Nikos Drandakis also highlighted that it is important to choose suitable people and manage them in the most proper way. “All the lessons I learned have to do with the management of people,” he pointed out. “People are not generally and vaguely the most important asset of a company. However, the most suitable people are,” he added. According to Mr. Drandakis, what is of utmost importance is the company’s culture. “A company’s culture is not the privileges that an entrepreneur grants to their employees. It is much more than that,” he insists. “It has to do with who you hire, who you promote and who you decide to lay off. In this way, you set the tone for the sort of people you would like to have around you and the kind of company you want to create.”
Panayiotis Vitakis, Chief Customer Officer at Celonis, participating in one of the Ask Me Anything sessions of Endeavor Greece, referred to the increased management requirements of a scaling company, the processes that become more complex and to people with different mentalities. When asked how a company can preserve its culture while it scales, Panayiotis Vitakis underlined that “business culture tends to cause less diversity.” In his opinion, all employees make up a team that is united by what they are trying to achieve. In small teams, it is not necessary to build a business culture, as all the members of the team have the same focus and culture comes organically. However, when a company scales, it is important to have the company’s values defined and what makes it single out. It all comes down to sustaining the initial spirit that made the team succeed, as the company scales. “That’s how you bring people from different backgrounds to believe in the same vision.”
Camels and Unicorns
In his book “Out-Innovate,” which Alex Lazarow presented at an event organized by Endeavor Greece (“Redefining Innovation Outside Silicon Valley” – January 27, 2021), he brings forth the question of whether an entrepreneur should build a “camel” or a “unicorn”. “Unicorns are billion dollars companies. This is merely a number, but it comes with heavy “baggage,” as to how one gets there.” It is associated with a philosophy of business creation that supports growth at any cost. Why is the camel strategy preferable to a unicorn? “First and foremost, because a camel is a real animal,” he says humorously. Secondly, in good times camels can cross a whole desert, and drink water faster than any other animal. “Companies that follow this model focus on growth and build industries that change the world, based on sustainability and resilience.”
Are camels farsighted? Maria Katris, cofounder and CEO at Builtin, maintained that vision is the number one feature of an entrepreneur, who singles out, when she talked at the Outliers podcast series. She also identifies other factors, such as work ethics, competitiveness, the desire to win, the need to care. And being a good leader, of course. “One can build a unicorn without being a good leader. However, in order to lead a company through the ups and downs of a long journey, one has to care about their people, and needs to have high EQ and empathy.”