Open Coffee Athens XVIII – the minutes

Although somewhat outdated here’s a brief run-down of the startups that presented in Open Coffee Athens XVIII. Be sure to check out doxarasview too and the conversation that follows.

Presencespace was presented by Giannis Georgiads and is a startup providing an online, ‘nearline’ (that’s almost online) and offline customer support platform to businesses. Their service is open source and open standards and features among other things secure encrypted chat, multiple chats per operator, canned responses and geolocation capabilities. Pretty standard but important stuff. Integration with a website at the moment takes place manually or with certain plugins – but from what I could gather the process is straightforward. So far its main customers are mainly e-shops, hotels and tech support sites usually with 1-3 people working the application. Current licenses go for 5 euros per operator per month and presencespace already has about 50 clients – which amounts to a nice monthly income but not much more – for now. Needless to say, all customers are from abroad.

lostinmarket is an idea that grew gradually and eventually became a company for Dimitris Kourouvakalis and Fotis Zantzas. It’s a comparison of four types of products from the Greek market: banking, mobile, broadband and automobile. They aim to save their broad audience time, money and provide reliable information. Their customers are basically all the possible consumers that want to research the market before they buy. That’s an advantage in terms of the sheer numbers they can reach but also a disadvantage since it is hard to categorise customers into target groups. Still, they aim to make the experience personal (personalised like Amazon perhaps?) and create a platform for user-generated content (the comments and ranking Web 2.0 startups tend to offer).

The next stages of expansion of lostinmarket.gr will include insurance and travel-related projects – probably a good idea to avoid putting all the proverbial eggs in one basket. And although a comparison marketplace for insurance products will be both helpful and original, the market of travel is quite saturated (albeit by mediocre attempts generally speaking). And as for the fun bit of where the money will come from… it’s a 3-tier process. The idea is that the firms offering the products will pay lostinmarket.gr in order to have access a. to the traffic of people ready to buy (which I suppose has a premium compared to regular traffic) b. data mining results from the browsing habits of lostinmarket.gr visitors (probably the most important asset if used well) and c. the ubiquitous ads. It’s also interesting to note that the information on their website is updated both manually and automatically every week – which as was accurately pointed out in the Q&A that process may not scale when the products compared increase. Not so accurate however was the argument that ‘if companies will be paying a website to display their information won’t that make that website not independent and as such unreliable?’ Fortunately for lostinmarket.gr that has been answered – by none other than Google. Without reliability and transparency they will lose all customers rapidly and go out of business – and the internet market/culture identifies such ‘cheating’ startups very fast. On the other hand, the audience rewards honesty – so that won’t be a problem for lostinmarket.gr. Getting to a critical mass (both of products to compare, visitors and business they strike deals with) in the Greek market might be more of an issue though.

Aristos Doxiadis from Notos Associates was a much expected talk that started by outlining the VC situation in Greece – which is mostly what abroad is called private equity (and translates in virtually no seed financing). Before 1999 only a few tech investments were made from Commercial Capital where AD was working (and I guess that’s understable given the dark ages Greece was at tech-wise then). In Notos Associates (2000-2009), around 500 projects have been reviewed and only 15 were invested in – out of which only 1 a startup – which serves only to confirm what we already know. The reasons why ‘VCs’  in Greece don’t invest in early stage is that there needs to be a lot of decent companies to choose from so that at least one will succeed to pay off the rest who fail. And apparently the VC mentality is that Greek startups are inadequate both in numbers and quality. Furthermore, Greek projects are usually focused on the Greek market and as such unlikely to go huge – and have considerable earnings – as the domestic market is rather small. According to AD most Greek startups copy foreign models and the teams are just not good enough to provide a minimum of confidence to the investor. And of course, having an exit strategy is very hard in Greece as there are a few if any options for an investment that has underperformed to be sold to another funding body or to somehow return its money.

Another subject AD touched upon was the common mistakes startuppers make. Anyone who’s watched the community abroad and watched his Google Reader unread items soar to the hundreds, will have stumbled upon similar blog posts and won’t be surprised by the wisdom AD shared. So just to repeat, a great idea is unimportant the execution is what matters, it’s not about the founder’s brilliance, it’s about the team’s completeness and chemistry and finally it’s not about the wonderful, potentially hot-selling product but the actual users or customers the company has. Pretty obvious stuff (although remembering them when starting up is another matter of course). By the way, that’s another advantage web startups have – apart from the relatively low threshold of entry: information is so abundant that you don’t necessarily need a mentor – although personal contact with one is obviously not the same as reading a blog.

AD also pointed out that in order to have a decent chance before knocking at a VC’s door you basically need to already have immediate profits, a good hold on users (whether its 100.000 or one good license) and a comparative advantage – otherwise, just bootstrap it. This perhaps illustrates what some other people on our side of the funding fence have said: if a startup has reached these milestones then no VC money is needed. Personally, I’d say that no seed money is needed once there. To get there though you do need seed capital (a few tens of thousands) and once there you need expansion capital (a few hundred thousand euros) – spread over a period of years of course. And we should not forget AD’s offer to start a workshop – a great chance for startups to rack his and other experienced professionals’ brains. Sign up here!

Following A. Doxiadis’ talk Tasos Flambouras VP of the Darkfall MMORPG spoke about another much expected arrival – if we are to judge by the huge inflow of traffic from the game’s forum. So, this is for you too people. Darkfall is where all heads are turned towards especially now that big names like Warhammer Online and Age of Conan have launched:a 30-programmers’ project 6 years in the making born from a collaboration with a Norwegian company with Germany based servers that even managed to invert some of the brain drain and return Greek professionals back home in order to create a game that started from the premise of fulfilling users’ needs, working backwards and offering what existing games didn’t. So far about 300,000 people have been beta-testing it and 10.000 simultaneous users can play over each one of the hundreds of servers.

Darkfall has secured collaboration for publishing in Europe with audiovisual.gr (I’m very curious to see how well that company will do their job on the scale that’s anticipated). The price to play will be along the usual lines (10-11 euros/month) and Darkfall will be available in 22/01 both in Europe and the US. It’s important to mention that they’re not going head to head against giants like World of Warcraft – instead their niche seems to be players that appreciate non-linearity and freedom of actions (for example that could mean WoW users that want to be able to do their thing and are constrained by that game’s mechanics). Darkfall was very lucky to not only be able to find sponsors when they were beginning but also to be able to pick and choose who would fund them. Due to its size (and age) comparisons with current Greek startups are difficult but nonetheless a company we hope becomes a showcase for what Greek talent can achieve.

Speaking of which, Fanis Rigas of kariera.gr was our last speaker to describe how a small site which began in 1997 with 0 funds was 10 years later bought from careerbuilder.com for an undisclosed sum – but we can imagine many digits in it. kariera.gr was funded by an incubator-like body named iven in 2003 which was subsequently shut down due to lack of deal flow (!) and following that kariera.gr was bought by careerbuilder in 2007. Before the 2003 funding all their revenue came from a single customer. There are 48 people working in it in Greece and a few people abroad while they make a good 4 million euros in turnover.

So what were Rigas’ lessons from this experience? Firstly, failure is considered an evil thing in Greece and something that you should avoid by all means. This is literally hardwired in our mentality – but also in our laws which allegedly do not allow us to start again if we go bankrupt. Secondly, for a startup to succeed it needs to have a clear mission statement that can identify it among its competition and guide it along the way. It’s also very important to be very clear about how you will make money (what are you selling, to whom and why they will buy it). I guess that’s a no-brainer – what’s really hard to achieve is to honestly convince yourself (the funders will be easy then) with real data and case studies that the revenue model you have in mind actually works. Once there, get together the best team you can and create the accompanying culture to keep them in your company. And of course, since the road is long and you don’t know when success will drop by (or what it will look like) you need to commit to the end if you believe in your idea.

A couple more interesting tidbits were that FR actually hopes that more players appear in the jobs market – so that it can actually broaden up and generate more revenue for everyone but also what a huge lesson it was to see how things are done right by careerbuilder who acquired them. Being able to realise and also to admit these is I guess one of the characteristics you don’t see that often – and which may make the difference between success and failure.

(all images kind courtesy of johnkarak)

Update: a few of the participants follow…

  • Salvator Levis, partner 7L Capital Partners, www.7lcp.com, “Great event. Congratulations.”
  • Nikos Patsiogiannis
  • Constantine Dokolas, http://cdokolas.blogspot.com/, twitter: cdokolas
  • John Karakatsanis, founder of xblog.gr, http://www.xblog.gr, twitter:johnkarak, “Το Open Coffee χρειάζεται μεγαλύτερο χώρο :-)”
  • Grigoris Skoularikis, admin of RunningNews.gr, http://www.runningnews.gr/
  • Chrtistos Papadimitriou, www.meenix.eu business development, http://www.sogo.gr, twitter:sogoster, “ligo megalitero meros please”
  • Dr.-Ing. George Vardangalos, http://gvard.wordpress.com,,”Kali prospatheia,alla o xwros mikros.Ksexaste trapeziki xrimatodotisi gia start-ups.Ouk an laveis para tou mh exontos…”
  • Charalampos Konstantinidis, Foracamp.gr Webmaster”, http://foracamp.gr,charalampos
  • George Anagnostopoulos, General Manager of Amaze SA, http://www.amaze.gr/
  • Yiannis Doxaras, CTO OSIS Ltd., http://fluxqubit.wordpress.com, twitter:doxaras, “longer Q&A sessions next time”
  • Jon Vlachoyiannis, co-founder of KarmaEffect.org”, www.karmaeffect.org, twitter:jonromero, “όσο πάει γίνεται και καλύτερο! Well done!”
  • Katerina Karagianni, Co-founder of Days4u.gr”,www.days4u.gr, twitter:Days4
  • George Symeonidis, http://www.linkwise.gr, http://twitter.com/linkwise
  • George Sotiropoulos, Head of Affiliate and co-founder of Linkwise, www.linkwise.gr, twitter:linkwise
  • Alex Christodoulou, founder of izzyrace.com, www.izzyrace.com
  • Theologos Kelesoglou, Technology Consultant
  • Christos Stathis, http://www.chstath.com, twitter:chstath
  • Yannis P. Triantafyllou, marketing & business development consultant”, toatomo.blogspot.com & toatomoconsulting.blogspot.com
  • Antigoni Lymperopoulou, www.taneo.gr
  • Haris Aslanidis, www.opadoi.gr,Redman,”Wraia htan k x8es! Axize h broxa! Eyxaristw gia thn boi8eia sas!”
  • Lefteris Heretakis, Heretakis & Associates, http://blog.heretakis.com/, twitter: heretakis
  • Paris Apostolopoulos, javapapo.blogspot.com,javapapo, “: )”
  • Haris Spinthakis, www.jadehellas.eu, twitter:haridimos,”OC’s back! Η χθεσινή ήταν επιστροφή στις καλές συναντήσεις.”
  • Haris Zampoyras,www.moda.gr,Commercial Manager
  • Charalampos Oikonomidis owner of c2bii, http://www.c2bii.com
  • Στράτος Προβατόπουλος
  • despoina dimitriadou dr.,
  • Spyros Papaspyropoulos, co-founfer of x2interactive.gr and webdesignblog.gr”, www.webdesignblog.gr, twitter:spyros,”Keep up the good work. We will try and be there (Athens) every time”
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Dimitris Glezos joins Fedora Project Board

Dimitris Glezos presenting Fedora & transifex
Dimitris Glezos presenting Fedora & transifex

It is with our great pleasure and excitement to announce that our member and principal organizer of Open Coffee Patras, Dimitris Glezos, has been selected to join the much respected Fedora Project Board. Dimitris has been tirelessly contributing to the local Open Source and Open Coffee efforts, while now working on the equally promising Transifex, and such an appointment clearly serves as a huge boost for himself and the community at large. Let the good times roll!

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The LeWeb08 tribes

Having attended LeWeb08 and after talking and interacting with a few of the people there, here are a few of my insights from mingling with those of the startup community that managed to make it to one of the most important such European events. Hopefully this will provide an indication of what the competition in starting up is about.

The bloggers/content-generating people: Perhaps the most conscientious attendants from the crowd. The first couple of rows before the stage which were reserved for them never really seemed to empty – despite the online connectivity issues. I can only imagine they were able to use twitter during the slivers of internet uptime. A few of them – the more brave or better organised ones – were in the back rooms and quite corners with cameras and microphones holding interview sessions with ‘celebrities’ and others. The whole conference was a cauldron of user-generated content, mainly due to them.

The A-listers: They were quite a few of them and all seemed to share a common characteristic: too busy to do anything. I distinctly remember noticing Mike Arrington talking half-distracted with someone while walking towards the startup booths, breaking off the conversation and literally running towards where he was going – only to be stopped mid-stride by someone else wanting some of his time. I always think it’s a sure sign of intelligence to actually stop and be polite (even if to the point) in such circumstances and he indeed did do that.

The startuppers: Split between the startup booths and pitching their project for a few minutes I suspect their day varied from extreme boredom to absolute anxiety. The lack of an internet connection on stage made their work even more problematic but I think most lived up to the expectations – startup style. Videos and snapshots were introduced as a plan B, while perhaps the startup booth that attracted the most attention was by no coincidence the one that offered free popcorn. Overall, I’d say that a decent number of startups were of above average quality while a few had a bit too ‘corporate’ approach on things. Having said that, I think that if you plan to startup, I’d say that competition is stiff but not mind-blowing.

The PR people: A subset of startuppers and also others playing the role of minions sent to the conference by large companies to evangelise their brand/goals/products. How to recognise them: usually late 30s or older, clean cut or sharply dressed, knowing their lines well but also not showing exceeding enthousiasm about whatever they represent. Perhaps a good PR person is as rare as a really competent programmer.


The faithful:
I was amused to find a room in the lower section of the LeWeb venue doubly-curtained off to create an approximately 30 people presentation room with plastic chairs arranged in two neat sets and opposite them a projection surface. Day one held a Google workshop and day two a Facebook one. It didn’t seem like stuff you could not have learned online – I could be wrong though – but the faithful congregated to listen to the preachers of their respective cults. The chapel of Google and the church of Facebook were only a few prayers short of becoming a cult.

(Notice the lack of a speakers category: I didn’t watch that many of the talks – I thought it best to spend my time mingling and talking rather than just listen.)

(last image by DanieVDM)

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Le Web 08, the review

a guest post by Yorgos Dedes, winner of the contest for a semi-free LeWeb ticket

Another LeWeb has reached its end. LeWeb 08, Paris – the major annual international internet conference in Europe, organized by Loic Le Meur (founder of Seesmic) and his wife Geraldine, has been a controversial event. More than 1700 participants from all over the world, a cast of international names, a start up competition, big sponsors, demo rooms-workshops, two French government ministers and two after-show parties can sum up what Le Web 08 was all about.

Criticism

This event didn’t meet the expectations of many of its participants. That was obvious. Some people called it “No Web” since you had to pray for some minutes of internet. Room temperature for the first day was too low to survive without wearing your coat. The food was really tasty if you had the luck to taste it. Loic describes the problems much better than me and I really like the way he does it. Except for the infrastructure issues, Loic got critised about his softball interviews, especially these ones regarding the sponsors.

But still, Le Web is about networking. Le Web is people from around the globe, gathered in the same place in order to meet old friends and make new ones. A place where you can meet in personal people who you only know through the web, pitch your ideas and get feedback. So, for a newbie like me, Le Web was a great experience! The content may not have been always of high level, but there were times that I really enjoyed being there. I feel really lucky for attending Le Web and I want once more to thank opencoffee.gr who gave me this chance.

Highlights, Day One

So, let’s go through the highlights of Le Web 08. On day one, David Weinberger with his presentation entitled “leadership at the end of the age of information” pointed out that leadership is property of a network. In the past information naturally flowed up to the leaders, at the top. Now information is everywhere and available for everyone. So, a leader nowadays has to get the best of the best network.

Helen Fisher gave a long presentation trying to explain how love works and how important it is for us to clear this out. One thing among the many points that caught my attention was that after experiments, love and coccaine activate the same part of the brain!

Then, Paulo Coelho, the famous Brasilian author and blogger, made clear that “You’ll have to share in order to get some revenue”. He has tested this policy, against his publicers willing, and he found out that people download the book but don’t read it, they just wait for the hardcopy.

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Open Coffee Athens XVII – (few of) the participants

We initiated kind of an experiment yesterday night, trying to come up with a list of the Open Coffee Athens XVII participants and extending the network effect in the dimension of time. So, we created a typical form and asked whoever wanted to go and submit her details (name/title (required), url, twitter and a short message, plus her email if she wanted to be submitted in our mailing list to receive announcements of our future events).

It’s clear that the process wasn’t flawless and the bottleneck in the one laptop receiving all submissions was significant, nevertheless the list of a small portion of the attendees follows here, while the rest of you may submit your details now, or leave a comment (the post will be updated). And, of course, we’re waiting for your feedcack on this very rough idea!

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Athens Startup Weekend: brief recap

Athens Startup Weekend logo
Athens Startup Weekend

So the Athens Startup Weekend came and went and I think it’s left a most positive impression to everyone involved and about all its aspects. Andrew and Alexandros were there with us to show us how starting simply from an idea you can turn it into a startup within 2.5 days. Patrick and Lydia from Microsoft which hosted the event in the offices of the Microsoft Innovation Center made sure all our technical and maintenance (i.e. food and drinks) needs were met – thank you both for that! Apart from the participants, a number of people with a background on business, law and PR (as well as a few possible funders) were also invited to contribute their expertise to the event – ensuring each team had access to all the disciplines necessary to make their product work. And of course, everyone collectively contributed to create an excellent atmosphere choke full of creativity, ideas, positive vibes, effectiveness and above all results.

Speaking of which. the startups that presented in the end were the following:

  1. pettycards allows micropayments using mobiles and scratch cards
  2. howsocial.ru calculates the total social impact of individuals in a number of online communities
  3. Digital Rights Protection collects all legal data on various worldwide legal systems and allows search for patents aiming to help interested parties look for infringements
  4. rentawife.gr outsources household chores to others so you can regain your quality time
  5. blognudge allows you to put a button on your blog so that people can suggest that you should write something and perhaps include a topic or send you a donation
  6. mobcommerce.com allows e-commerce store owners to create mobile stores automatically
  7. freecycling FB app helps people organise giving of stuff they don’t want to people who ask for them instead of throwing them away
  8. mydoulapa FB app organises your wardrobe and allows you to donate some items to charity while fashion houses can also create an identity in it and tap their demographic of interest
  9. beeshopper presents an array of e-shops in a single interface categorised per field
  10. uArt looks like a deviantArt clone… only with a monetisation model for the artists’ works
  11. betcafe is an online gambling site

And of course we’d like to wish all the best to pettycards who managed to stand out from the rest and attract the promise of the GIVE fund to take a closer look in their project and hopefully invest seed money in them. Congratulations guys! And congratulations to all who participated and helped make the weekend a success.

(Tag for content on twitter, flickr, YouTube, etc is #asw – and sometimes #aws)

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