Although somewhat outdated here’s a brief run-down of the startups that presented in Open Coffee Athens XVIII. Be sure to check out doxaras‘ view 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”