Last Tuesday, November 4th, another OpenCoffee meeting took place in Athens, our 16th iteration. This time the conditions were somewhat different than usual: posher place – a hotel, better infrastructure and acoustics, actual service, seats for everyone and a very encouraging turnout of more than 200 people. While we’re getting ready to improve everything (from the venue style to the capacity constraints) and move the event hopefully one last time where we think it rightfully belongs both conceptually and in terms of its actual requirements, here’s what happened last Tuesday.
First up was Stratos Provatopoulos, representing Foinikas and a team of students from the Athens Technical University behind it. Foinikas is a so-called green startup aiming to make recycling easier and more popular in Greece by removing all the hassle involved in participating in it. Their main functionality is to set up a central point where they will collect items for recycling from individuals or companies and award points to them. Consequently, these points can then be exchanged in their website for gifts from Foinikas sponsors who want to make their corporate profile and brand a bit more greener. That way a motive is created for everyone to participate in recycling. The Foinikas business model is initially based in state and local government subsidies especially set up for recycling initiatives.
George Saliaris-Faseas, country manager of Google Hellas was next to give an overview of his career and the lessons picked up. GSF started off as a fruit importer (!) before moving on to YellowNetRoad a company providing other companies with a hot product at those days before the dot com bust: internet strategy (which soon transformed into internet marketing). The consulting service was very successful – apparently turning down 3 offers even before revenue has been made (which says something about the era). Eventually the company was sold and then re-bought 4 years later only to be resold to Ogilvy. And as is customary in these type of careers (and talks) a number of lessons were learned. According to GSF:
- People are the most important capital – that’s why you should hire people that are smarter than you are.
- It’s crucial to focus on one thing only when starting
- You need to measure what you are doing
- People in startup companies usually do what pleases them – instead of what needs to be done. Do everything somehow – e.g. hire contractors.
And a talk by the country manager of Google would not be complete if he hadn’t unveiled their secret plans for the country. They would be:
- they aim to foster internet growth in Greece
- AdWords and Adsense need to be promoted as useful tools for companies
- product localisation needs to be improved
- their goal is to tap on the huge potential of the Greek long tail and in particular the approximately 350K SMEs
Sadly, in case you were wondering, there are no plans to create a development centre in Greece for at least the next year and neither is it a good idea to pitch your startup to Google through Google Hellas at the moment. You will need to wait for a year and maybe then Google will consider buying you. At a lower price most probably.
And although Google seems an unlikely funder there is someone who even in (or perhaps because of) the times of crisis actually wants to invest. Ms Natasa Arvaniti, investment manager of newly founded fund GIVE presented their project. GIVE (Glocal Investment Ventures Enterprises) is a fund co-created by TANEO and GloCal Systems Management which aims to invest several million euros in promising SMEs and startups – they begin by offering 20K to the best startup that will come out of Athens Startup Weekend. That should make attending SUW an even more exciting prospect! In addition to GIVE, Archimedes, a Center for Innovation and Creativity was presented which seems to have similar goals as OpenCoffee – the blending and networking of professionals. Since it’s creation in 2003 it has been mostly involved with the fields of olive oil and renewable energy sources though and it has ran seminars, summer schools etc.
After all the success and optimistic talks it was time to stress the darker side of starting up with Panayiotis Vryonis who talked about the secrets of his failed company. He started e-go travel (which was actually what yassou.net changed to due to legal reasons) with a friend at the spare space of a warehouse: their startup was about finding accommodation for tourists. They hired 2 people and got going: among other things they got one of the first blogs set up, implemented support for mobiles/palm-pilots, one of the employees was visiting hotels and rooms to let to gather information, they got in touch with telcos, VC’s, a media portal and after approx. 30K spent the project was gradually abandoned… probably a bit too early according to VP. Some of his lessons from the whole experience include:
- burning money in the wrong type of investment (e.g. a leased line back then)
- they focused on raising money instead of making it work and be attractive
- they misunderstood the speed of large competitive companies and acted too fast to try and catch up with them
- overall the experience was equivalent to an MBA course – and probably a great addition to one’s CV
- pretty soon you realise the importance of paying people with your own money
But, whatever decisions you take during your startup you need to have calculated ahead of time how much money and time you will be spending/investing.
And finally it was the turn of another startup albeit from someone who is an amateur in his field only in terms of the medium he will be using. Stellios Kouloglou presented his new project TVXS – something that he had thought of and was already implementing during his last year of working for the national TV channel. It had already become pretty obvious that his work was under pressure from ‘high up’ so when push came to shove he had to ‘leave’. He then took up the only option left for someone to cover the need for news and entertainment outside the stifling TV environment that leaves no room for innovation and fresh ideas: he went online. In just two days after the tvxs.gr launch, they had approx. 7000 unique hits and 1500 registered users, which if anything is an indicator of the upcoming success.
SK is inviting anyone to submit their videos under Creative Commons license be they of citizen journalism content or even of regular shows – tvxs.gr will not only be about the reporting productions his team will be undertaking on a regular basis but will include shows like ‘blogger of the week’, ‘recipes of the g-700’. Advertisements will be the main revenue for the site while some content providers for digital TV have asked for his channel to be included in their packages. For the time being they plan to experiment with using their own servers and promotion method – instead of using sites like youtube.com and blip.tv.
Many thanks to JKarakatsanis for the pictures.