Open Coffee Athens XVII – the minutes

In what was probably the OpenCoffee session with the most startups or projects (to play along with recent complaints that the term ‘startup’ is used rather loosely) presenting, here’s what you missed if you didn’t make it to the event – nor tuned in its live coverage.

First of all, there were 3 presentations from the by most accounts successful Athens Startup Weekend. Blognudge to begin with is trying to solve the problem that some bloggers (hint, hint) fail to update on a regular basis and (nudge, nudge) even weeks intervene between their posts. What this service does is that it simply allows you to install a widget/button on your blog that visitors can push to urge you to write a post. Although this is the only feature offered at the moment, future versions will allegedly include the option of suggesting a topic, donating to the blogger or donating to a charity. A number of revenue streams have also been thought of for Blognudge including a monthly charge on bloggers using it, requesting a cut from (non-charity) donations and also exploiting the statistics and the data generated by the ‘nudgers’.

howsocial.ru is a service that aims to measure the combined social impact users of social media have on their online environment of followers and connections and rank them accordingly. Their goal is to include all important platforms starting with Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and the blogosphere – although at the moment the service operates using just Twitter as a proof of concept. The business model is based on the fact that knowledge of the most influential nodes in the social graph (i.e. how people are interconnected in the various platforms through following etc) is highly valuable to anyone who would be interested to get their message across. As such possible paying customers of this service are marketers, startups or even individuals willing to identify who to approach for their promotion goals. At the same time, analytics on particular topics/keywords will be provided under the lens of who propagates such information – and their importance. (Disclaimer: I am a member of the Athens Startup Weekend team that put together this project.)

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OpenCoffee Athens XVI: the minutes

Full crowd
Full crowd at beginning of OC XVI

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.

Stratos Provatopoulos of Foinikas
Stratos Provatopoulos of Foinikas

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 Salias-Faseas from Google Hellas
George Saliaris-Faseas of Google Hellas

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.

Arvaniti Natasa of the GIVE fund
Arvaniti Natasa of the GIVE fund

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.

Panayiotis Vryonis talking about e-go travel
Panayiotis Vryonis talking about e-go travel

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.

Stellios Kouloglou of TVXS.gr
Stellios Kouloglou of TVXS.gr

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.

Wrapping things up
Wrapping things up

Many thanks to JKarakatsanis for the pictures.

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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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Open Coffee Athens XIV – meeting notes

Last Tuesday the 14th OpenCoffee meeting took place at the usual place in Bios. There were 4 talks and in this post I’ll put down some of the things I noticed in them – mostly stuff that never made it to the slides. The presentations themselves and videos of the talks will follow in separate posts for the more visual types of people.

First talk was by Alexis Mpallas of Cytopia.org, a website that does online music distribution for psychedelic trance (psytrance) and progressive labels. They cover an impressive (for the genre) tally of 50 labels while their site features an online radio station and brings in about 1000 euros a month in sales. One thing to take away from Alexis’ talk is that the reason they can survive in a market otherwise dominated by big players like iTunes and Amazon is the fact they aim in the niche market of their particular genre and even their website design aims to fit in with their particular audience. Their best promotion is – probably as expected – from online marketing, mainly in forums – compared to physical world efforts like fliers and promos. Main sales come from countries like the US, UK, Brasil and so on – but not Greece.

The second talk was by V.Trip‘s Dimitris Tsigkos who parted with his life’s wisdom for someone who would like to startup in Greece. Even before the business plans start a life plan is necessary – and the various alternatives one has right after finishing school are limited. A significant amount of risk-taking is required – but that’s made even worse by the fact that in essence no high-risk VC’s operate in Greece. Those that are here realise their limitations and decide not to invest in our kind of startups (early stage and high-risk). That alone but also the presence of a magnitudes’ larger market abroad means that to find success you most probably need to look outside the local markets. He made it clear that if you manage to come up with a product (and not just services!) that demonstrates the necessary volume (and as such value) for a foreign VC, they will not hesitate to invest – even on a Greek-based startup.

V. Trip’s course in particular included initially some subcontracting in public portals and then some subsidised research work. Presently, they still base their income on services and grants and subsidies while they also sell products on a global scale such as e-front, open source e-learning package, video streaming apps, etc.

The third talk was by Andreas Konstantinou by VisionMobile a small team of mobile market analysts spread all over Europe and working from home. Although the company started for the sake of teamwork it has evolved in the sales of a wide range of products including consulting, reports, market-how maps and seminars among others. Andreas underlined that a good business environment as the one offered in the UK (where good startup infrastructure, transparency and market information is available) is a plus but what’s really important is to get together a good team that share the same values and can bring knowledge, passion and innovation in the startup. An interesting approach he stressed is the need to answer 3 questions before implementing your idea:

  • What exactly is the problem you are solving?
  • Who pays to solve this problem?
  • Is there another way to solve this problem (that would make yours irrelevant)?

Finally, it was the turn of Anna Diamantopoulou, State Secretary of Development to take the stage. She also stressed how important it is for ideas and businesses to become competitive beyond the strict confines of Greece’s borders. Her main premise is that for that to happen three factors are required:

  1. an idea accompanied by an advantage
  2. a high level of technological infrastructure
  3. a helpful environment in terms of institutions

She gave a few examples from her book of how this happened both abroad and here. Perhaps the most descriptive was about how Sweden managed to turn a province known for its steel-making industry which was however decaying into the best location in the world to test cars against problems resulting from low temperatures. The cold (exploiting the idea of the low temperatures as an advantage) aided by top-notch scientific research on the matter and the relevant infrastructure managed to transform the province within 10 years with the help of everyone: the workers, the unions and the government.

Greece according to AD needs to work towards extending internet access, increasing public spending in research, improving the banking system to encourage investments and strengthening small enterprises, to increase the number of patents produced and to actually reward the best businesses to provide further incentives for growth.

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