Open Coffee Athens XV: the minutes

Open Coffee Athens XV – photo by nsyll

E. Politakis gave the first presentation on their startup MobileFX which is all about mobile and proximity marketing and digital signage. Their clients include an impressive list of names like Pepsi, Village Roadshow, Pizza Hut, NatWest etc and they have a definite global scope in their business. Examples of their services include Bluetooth modules in advertising stands contacting mobiles of passer-bys to offer opt-in advertising, gaming apps for mobiles, mobile ticketing (purchasing of tickets online, use of scanned tags and airline check in) and various other services sold to advertising companies (which are then in turn offered to their clients). Overall, in two short years of existence, MobileFX seems to have established a strong presence in their niche market using collaborations with foreign clients.

M. Rizos was next on the stage with an outline of the new media campaign by MTV.gr. Their Online program is the internet counterpart of their On Air (the actual TV channel) and their On The Ground (concerts and events) presence. It included MTV Search, an effort to find VJs for the channel by urging the community to upload their own videos, a site for voting for the MTV playlist, TV schedule info, music charts, events and media galleries and other mainly informational content – instead of more entertainment oriented material. These early projects showed however that the Greek audience MTV.gr is aimed at is both eager to generate content (the MTV search campaign resulted in 1567 submitted videos out of which 385 were from the dedicated MTV Search microsite) but still rather immature in terms of tech-savviness. This negative result combined with the facts that the online ad market in Greece is not an easy one to survive and that legal downloading of content has gotten off to a bad start in the country overall make an online marketing campaign and ad hoc digital advertising projects rather difficult to be successful. However, MR was clear that they would be supporting strictly legal content and the local music business industry with the integration of digital content in MTV’s platforms (internet and mobile). MTV will also develop projects that include user-generated content as well as a special project with Microsoft’s MSN Messenger.

Next up was Kyriakos Mitsotakis, with his role as former CEO of the first Greek VC fund which had been set up approximately 8 years ago using National Bank of Greece monies in order to stimulate startup growth. His speech (video) centered around the question why there were not many startups in Greece and he outlined a number of reasons. Firstly, cash flow for that sector is rather low and there isn’t any significant VC activity in the country – even though last year some such funds were created. Secondly, he mentioned the usual suspects of bureaucracy, the assumed lack of meritocracy in the field and the associated issue of most young Greeks aiming for the attractive but unambitious civil service. He also talked about another culprit – which often goes unmentioned – that Greece had until recently one of the strictest bankrupting processes. This has improved but there’s room for making it even better.

And finally, in stark contrast with the previous speaker’s conclusions, Jason Calacanis came on stage for what was probably one of the best talks in OpenCoffee Greece (video). Overall, he shared his wisdom regarding entrepreneurship both based on his personal ventures but also from processing over 250 business pitches for Techcrunch50. He compared Greece with Israel that has half our population but managed to get 7 companies in the final 50 of the Techcrunch competition and urged everyone here to get started as he believes that the internet is only about a third in its growth cycle – and there’s plenty of opportunity for a business to use it as a platform. This is a result of the current situation where in order to startup there is no permission required, no need to secure VC capital and no subsidy of other kind is necessary: we are at the age of the 0-cost startup and there’s no excuse any more. The only cost is our time and energy. (Which by the way means that every idea will be tried – even the craziest ones.)

So what will differentiate the entrepreneurs from the non-entrepreneurs will be simply that the former will actually start. The rest won’t because of the natural hesitation we all have caused by our fear of failure. The next 10 years or so however present an opportunity as the market will be on a ‘down’ mode meaning it will be a good time to enter, develop market share, hire good professionals, find cheap office space etc. And given that no Greeks have succeeded in really breaking it to the global market JC said that we should not view each other as a competitor, instead we should all cooperate for our common benefit.

For the end of this summary that definitely fails to inspire as much as the actual talk did – I’ve saved a few of the more or less obvious insights that came up during the Q&A that followed the talk.

  • We shouldn’t worry about the establishment and the older generation – they don’t really have power
  • Technology is where the real power lies.
  • Women are good at understanding and developing insights regarding the market. There is a trend according to JC that despite the current lack of women in the startup community now, this will soon change.
  • Silicon Valley does have the advantage of lots of experience and VCs (i.e. funding) being easily available – but that does not mean we should move there!
  • We shouldn’t be ashamed when we fail – the precursor of success if failure. That’s a change in our mentality we have to achieve in Greece (but also more broadly speaking in Europe).

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