OpenCoffee XXII – the minutes

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Plexscape consists of two applications – the Plex.Earth and Plex.Mark! tools which enable mosaic creation and coordinates transformation for AutoCAD using the Google Earth platform. Basically this startup allows you to identify a plot of land on Google Earth given an AutoCAD file of the area, gather all the required images and create a mosaic. It’s a project aimed at engineers, research programs and environmental scientists with little competition (primarily by AutoCAD itself which also offers an extension with similar but buggy functionality). Plexscape is approximately three months old and is already looking for partners to develop and promote the product. Its main use lies in identifying whether changes in the physical space has been correctly reproduced on the blueprints given that Google images for Greece are relatively recent (2006-2008). The business model is based on a subscription fee and has already resulted in some customers.

skroutzstore – an offshoot of skroutz – offers the tools to quickly create an online store: there’s a 1′ signup and within 10′ you can be receiving product requests. Their niche market is about aiming for Greek e-shops and making the store creation simple and without many options to decide on (although it is customisable to some extent). Payments are handled via credit card and all bank and courier related processes are streamlined by the store to alleviate the user. All issues that such a stand-alone site has to face are compressed in one fee. As such site creation and hosting costs, certification, maintenance, updates to the platform (as well as some price reductions in skroutz.gr) are all offered to the user for a range of flat fees (in contrast to a percent of exchange which introduces maintenance overheads). They soon plan to introduce an API to allow users to export and most importantly import products massively using an Excel or CSV form – and even to connect the platform with an ERP (which sounds like an all-around neat idea).

Rate Solutions
is an Estonian company with  a social network which is localised in every country it’s implemented on with wraia.gr being our local version. The concept involves having a centralised platform (ensuring all countries run the same social network basically) while the databases are local (to ensure responses’ speed) and the interface localised of course. Half the Estonian population uses the service in Estonia while half the site was sold in the largest telecom in Estonia. Rate Solutions are behind the top social networks in many European and Asian countries. In Greece they have achieved 325K average daily page views and 30K users. The main target group is ages between 16 and 27 and the mentality is more centred in user profiles rather than the social aspect and friends. Their revenue model is 30% advertising and 70% micropayments (in exchange for virtual gifts, a rating system, customised backgrounds etc) which are done via credit card and SMS which results in a revenue of 4$/user/year on average. The global empire is maintained by just 8 programmers, 2 designers, 5 expansion people and 20-30 country managers. παλιοίφίλοι.gr is also launching in Greece in August (and they are looking for partner).

feeds2.0 is one of the very early Web 2.0 startups – having started at 2006. It’s a Google Reader look-alike but before Google Reader came about (only bloglines was around then). Feeds2.0 has some cool features that actually work such as learning from user behaviour, auto-tagging of articles and grouping of articles by subject among others. Their business model is based on advertising including personalised ads, delivery of RSS in the entreprise and delivery of RSS to the mobile. Having started at 2004, development took place throughout 2005 and it was presented at Innovate!Europe (the European version of DEMO) at 2006. That resulted in lots of promotion and additionally their business plan was awarded at the 8th VC Forum in Athens. Despite the promotion, the good business model and the working idea, still Feeds2.0 managed to generate no income. The reasons are that apparently Greek VCs like to give awards but not capital; no VC contacted feeds2.0 after the 8th VC Forum. Also, European and US VCs give no money abroad – for example, Saul Klein asked them to relocate to the UK in order to move from running ‘a project’ to creating a business. Other reasons also were important such as that too many resources were spent on traveling for promotion and negotiating deals that never happened. Currently feeds2.0 is trying to take the technology and apply it to another platform: the blogosphere for sentiment analysis, in a corporate environment, in music suggestions in your mobile etc.

odesk is well-known as one of the top employment services for online collaboration for employers and employees. Its innovation lies in that it allows sending snapshots of the employees desktop to the employer at random intervals so that the work progress can be monitored. That allows for charging by the hour and guaranteeing that a worker gets paid – advantages not existing in the competition at least when the company appeared. odesk launched in 2003 and in 2008 grossed 30M (3M profit), while in 2009 it is looking to double it. Although initially it took them 4 months to develop a working prototype 5 months later they had just 2 customers and that was it. The break came when a simple Google AdWords campaign attracted many small enterprises as customers to odesk. Although that indicated a revenue stream, funding was still sorely needed. After many failed attempts, a VC showed their idea to a staffing entrepreneur – who liked it and the VC decided to invest. Currently, they have 200K registered users (and that so far has landed them to be 2nd in terms of market share.) who have formed an open and transparent marketplace so that free-market forces can take over with odesk limiting its mediation and instead becoming just the enabler of the platform. America, India, Russia and Ukraine are top for workforce while in Greece they have very few members as employees and no employers. Their business model is based on claiming 10% of wages between contractors and by basically avoiding any other interference with them.

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Athens Amazon Web Services meetup #2, the aftermath

Following the second meeting on the Amazon Web Services I’m posting the material from the presentation here. You can watch the details in the video or skim through the slides alone.


Video by blogchannel

At this point we’d like to thank Simone for joining us in this session. Much of this material is already published in various places, but getting to watch it and ask questions interactively is a much more gratifying experience.

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Open Coffee Greece goes… Stanford!

It is my great pleasure to announce that the author of this post will have the honor and privilege to present the humble story of Open Coffee Greece, in an event entitled “Bridging the Gap – High Tech Entrepreneurship in Greece and Synergies With Silicon Valley“.

If the title is appealing to you, let me also state that the event takes place within the Stanford University Campus (Room 101, Packard Bld, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, 350 Serra Mall, map) on Saturday, May 2 and it is organized by the great guys behind the Hellenic Association at Stanford, in collaboration with the Corallia Clusters Initiative, Hellenic Semiconductor Industry Association, TANEO and Silicon Valley High Tech Professionals.

The full schedule goes like this:
Keynote: L. Stavropoulos, Special Secretary for Competitiveness, Ministry of Development

Speakers:
– Prof. V. Makios, Managing Director, Corallia High Tech Clusters Initiatives
– Prof. N. Haritakis, CEO, TANEO (New Economy Development Fund)
– Dr. N. Zervas, Member of the Board of HSIA (Hellenic Semiconductor Industry Association), CEO at Alma Technologies S.A.
– Dr. Y. Koutsoyannopoulos, CEO at Helic, Inc.
– G. Tziralis, Principal Organiser, OpenCoffee Greece
– G. Papadopoulos, CEO, Attica Ventures
– A. Stavropoulos, Managing Director, Draper Fisher Jurvetson

Panel: Visibility, Networking and Collaboration to drive innovation and growth in Greece

The event fundamentally targets at presenting the current entrepreneurship status in Greece, in an audience interested in exploring and taking advantage of potential complementarities and synergies.

In this context and under the fairest of auspices, the plan is to present the greek Open Coffee story so far, next to the traction reached and promise of the local start-up community, while trying to shape out the shortest path to maximizing this latent potential. Your ideas on enhancing the content are welcome.

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Open Coffee Athens XXI – the minutes

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moviepeak is a company providing satellite telecommunication services since 2003. Their track record includes bringing the Greek national channels via satellite TV to US and their current product is none other than video on demand via satellite. They did a soft launch in February 2009 and they aim to center the service around the user (as they should). The point is for the customer to have immediate access to the content and only pay for what they actually watch – there are to be no added extra costs. The way it works there are constantly 200 films received in the customer’s hardware along with a summary, film details and a trailer at no cost. It has all the familiar DVD functionalities and a relatively easy to use interface (which also comes in Greek) – although my first impression was that the initial setup might not be straightforward. The films are auto-updated via satellite – every week 10 old films leave while 10 new arrive. Their prices vary from 3 to 1 euro depending on popularity while the cost of the hardware is approx. 200 euros. The film arrives in 1′ or so when authorised via the local ISP or a customer sent SMS and is available for 24 hrs. Moviepeak has agreements with most major studios (e.g. Warner, UIP etc) and as such their niche is blockbusters exclusively: they package all ‘current’ films of major studios also taking into account the Greek market. Other than the obvious B2C revenue stream they allow for separate B2B deals available for hotels and other similar businesses.

Total Eclipse is one of the few if not the only casual games company in Greece. They have managed to secure funding from RealArcade and their niche is casual gamers. The casual gamer profile means basically people of ages 35+ and mostly women (74%) – based on international statistics. Casual gaming is a cross platform industry including PCs, Macs but also the Wii and the iPhone and of course social networks. The current pricing of casual games is approx. 20 euros while such productions cost more than 100.000 USD to make.

Total Eclipse started of as a two-brothers company back in 2004 when the market was still relatively easier to enter. Now times are harder and only 1 out of 4 games is accepted in distribution portals. Their company has released four games so far, two of which were self-funded and the other 2 were funded by RealArcade. I particularly liked their goal of embedding the company’s identity on every game as a means to make their brand known and recognisable. Their latest release, Clockwork Man launched 2 weeks ago and we were proud to hear the exclusive announcement that in all likelihood a sequel is coming up. They make basically PC based games although they aim to release for Macs and the iPhone soon. RealArcade handles all the publishing and delivering of their games to a large number of portals where they are showcased to a significant audience. All of the development happens in Greece (Thessaloniki) with some freelancing from Hungary and USA. Currently, and with the clockwork man’s success behind them they are looking for more staff (developers, graphic artists and others) so if you always wanted to work making games visit their site and make them a call.

TANEO is an organisation aiming to fund companies and Nikos Haritakis, its CEO spoke about their latest activity: they help organise the 10th VC Forum coming up in 16-17 June. This is a two day event in which the first day Greek investors and businessmen talk about the market while the second day investores have private discussions on particular business plans submitted by entrepreneurs looking to be funded. Currently TANEO controls 150 million euros of state-related funds which have been matched by another 150 million of private funds. Although so far they have aimed for relatively mature companies (business models of magnitudes 300-500K euros) they plan to put aside approx 20M euros for startups similar to those that can come out of OpenCoffee. There is no lower limit in investments – just an upper limit of 2.5M per year. Their criteria of investment are rather subjective as ‘venture capital is not objective’ and ‘if we like the idea, we like the people’. Other than that they are more interested in small cycle investments which would ensure going through the funding process with an entrepreneur completely rather than investing in longer duration projects. So it’s as simple as that if you want your idea to get funded they are a straightforward option: just give them a call and arrange a meeting with them.

upstream is a mobile marketing company which has been around since 2001 and has actually been funded by TANEO managed to be making a 40m euros turnover this year. They have offices around the world and their main products are related to SMS services, mobile interaction with radio and TV and so on. They are an early player in this particular market and they have managed to secure as customers some major mobile network operators abroad. An element of their strategy worth considering is that they succeeded in making a marketing vehicle out of bundling together gaming, gambling and promotion in a single platform: their mobile products. Although their idea could in principle be easily reproduced as admitted by their CEO, the company’s expertise, connections and current funding allow them to stay ahead of any competition that may try to arise – either in Greece where they started from or abroad.

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OpenCoffee Athens XIX – the minutes


Last Tuesday the 19th iteration of OpenCoffee took place in yet another venue – we believe we are converging to our natural habitat though. Lots of networking between familiar and new faces and in between our select speakers.

megaventory.com is an online service which handles inventory. It’s “a web tool where anyone being a business or an individual can manage and control the availability of an entity being a product or a service and make this information available to others” – gotta love the concise mission statement. The idea is a side project of the previous company the founder, Kostis Mamassis, was a member of: there, they wanted to keep track and minimise their stock in order to cut costs. Megaventory is basically a platform that can handle multiple users and storage points set to capitalise on the notion that inventory keeping is supposedly the next big thing in web and the fact that an inventory can take many shapes and appear in many markets – from your fridge stock to the availability of hotel services.

In the initial stages input in megaventory.com was done using the mothership company’s customers and was manual (if it did happen at all) and the initial feedback very negative. But they pressed on – they being a freelance vb.net/sql server developer plus the founder for all the rest. And so far they have 50 paid visits (coming from AdWords) plus 50 non-paid per day. All their ‘customers’ are in their free version with premium and unlimited paid versions available in which the number of items, users and inventory points increases.

They aim for the approx. 8M customers in the USA, EU and CAN market where the hard-to-believe competition is a single other startup. That does not include of course large packages and companies offering offline elaborate solutions (we’re talking simplified versions of ERP and CRM here basically). megaventory.com aims for the small customers and companies – e.g. one-man companies and startups will find it useful as they can’t afford technically and cost-wise current ERP solutions.

Ioannis Methodios, the VP of KEMEL (Greek Volunteer Managers) started off his speech with a short bio covering his early days as a consultant. ΚΕΜΕL is an organisation with former CEOs of major Greek companies as members who are interested in giving back some of their wisdom and experience to the entrepreneurial community. In particular, they are offering free business, marketing, legal, banking consulting as possible aids for any startup- so if any OpenCoffee people are hesitant about taking the step they now have one more way of coping and asking for help. KEMEL is considering offering their time in the shape of support via telephone, email or even workshops. It’s a 100% free effort and will quite possibly provide a means to access the network of professionals in KEMEL’s disposal. So, if anyone is interested for more information either stay tuned for more information, contact us to bring you in touch or – why not? – contact them straight away.

Sun, our sponsors for the night came on next with their important announcement: Sun Startup Essentials is launching in Greece! This means Sun is offering a wide range of services and products free or at a very reduced price for small companies – read startups in our case. It’s really fortunate – and we’re really interested to see what will come out of the move – for the large players in the market to do their bit to stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship. So what does Sun offer? The list is long: Sun hardware and software (for Solaris, Linux, Windows), free tools, community support, free help with technical support – a full portfolio of services, software and platforms. The offered servers are starting at 750$ and there’s 70% off at storage, while hosting goes at 40$/month. The only requirements to be eligible is to have a company (a verified online presence and a legal entity) that has been around for less than 6 years and has a maximum of 150 employees – that probably covers most of the OpenCoffee community. Sun claims it’s a 5-minute process to sign up and 2-5 working days for them to clear the application formalities – you will then be one of the 6000 ventures that have already joined the scheme worldwide. Sun closed off by also announcing the opensource conference they organise for the 11th March.

Speaking of events we were happy to have Konstantina Zoehrer with us who announced the much-awaited second iteration of Mediacamp: it’s coming up 14-15 march!

Also, one of the most important figures in the internet, Tim Berners-Lee will be coming to Greece for the 3-day academic Webscience conference at Foundation of the Hellenic World (FHW) which will cover various internet-related subjects adopting the usual method of presentations, papers and posters. OpenCoffee people can take the option of registering for the Tim Berners-Lee talk at 25 euros.

The story of emarket.gr (formerly fleamarket.gr) is an interesting one as it goes back to 2000 when it was founded and it’s about the best localised e-bay option Greece has. It’s showing a rapid growth as Greeks after all start to feel more confident with online purchases – it reached an impressive 130K+ members and an impressive equal amount of unique visits. They employ 11 staff and handle 5-7K transactions a month resulting from 3.5M pageviews/month and an average time spent on the site of 15minutes. Their business model is currently based on the free submissions it receives and on the 2% commission it receives from sales of 100 euros/month gross. In addition to this revenue stream they have affiliations with eshop.gr, banks and other entities while of course they also display ad banners. Given that everything was free up to 2006 and some revenue streams are still only now coming online, emarket.gr’s course is indicative of the uphill struggle Greek startups had to give to succeed – perhaps it’s easier nowadays though. It’s also important to note that the website was developed on own funds during the first 5 rough years when the internet penetration was small and the potential customers few – while at the same time 2 offers for acquisition were turned down. Their goals for 2009 is to expand their market, visitors and members while continuing to offer excellent customer service (2 1/2 full-time people are currently on it). Prospects to cooperate with ebay or expand in other nearby markets are probably slim due to their current small-ish size.


Contrary to emarket.gr, iSteam is the iPhone app that reached 1M people in one week in the App Store and has become the first app in 40 countries at some point. When they turned their free app to a paid one, Kostas Eleftheriou, Vasilis Samolis and Vasilis Rappos (24, 22 and 22 respectively) grossed 60K sales – not bad for something that had only started in October 2008. As the App Store is already overwhelmed by good things and basically games – developed even by large companies, it’s hard to get awareness for an app, so they wanted something viral. iSteam was the result of two weeks of brainstorming and 150 rejected ideas: they had to minimise the required workhours and maximise the viral effect – and of course to get by the Apple screening. It had to be simple, require one hand to be used and to be possible to play with non-continuously. Once conceived it took them 7 days to make and as soon as it was out the competition was quickly an issue so they they decided to go free to fight it. 600K downloads later they went paid for 1$ – and went to no 27 in the world-wide list of paid apps. That meant 50K revenue in less than a month for 3 people – not bad for a project that requires no infrastructure (Apple handles it), no previous experience with that technology and “just” lots of work after submitting the app to keep the it popular and mentioned in the various points of interest online. The iSteam team plan to start developing other ideas and iPhone apps by keeping it small and simple – we wish them all the best although something tells me that as the market matures it’ll be much harder to gain visibility among the many apps that will be submitted.

That’s all for now – see you all next month…

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Aster Data raises another $12M – call me recession-proof

10 days ago we held an open meetup with Tassos Argyros in Athens downtown, he appeared to be more than sound and confident on moving from great to tremendous success for the company he co-founded.

Today exactly that kind of news broke out (official blog post is here): Aster Data raised a $12M second round of funding (right in the middle of recession), making them $22M in total since they started a couple of years ago. With investors like Sequoia Capital, Cambrian and JAFCO Ventures, already serving customers like MySpace, Akamai and Microstrategy, while standing on the shoulders of open source software and state-of-the-art academic research, we do believe that Aster Data and its 50 employees (core management (update: and development) team located in the Valley, the majority being developers in India, next to a capable sales team spread over the US, with Europe following soon) are on their way to become the next default solution to the omnipresent problem of handling big databases.

So, you’d better get prepared to receive that good or even better news about Aster Data in the near future, till then big congratulations to Tassos and the team for the raise!

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