“Being Cheap” – the wrong path for the Greek tech ecosystem.

cheap

I hear many opinions and stories according to which Greece has many more economical software developers, designers and technical professionals than many other mature tech ecosystems. Many argue that this is our competitive advantage and we can leverage it, in order to produce successful starts ups successful businesses and successful companies.I will analyze what the limitations are with this type of mentality.

1) It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going if you are headed in the wrong direction.

We all know that the main cost of a  software related startup, is mainly the cost for human resources. The biggest portion of the budget in today’s tech startup companies goes to technical people . However as we know, a startup is a temporary organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. Having great technical people, can sometimes make you move quickly in the wrong direction.  You might forget that the essence of business is not only to move fast but mainly to move in the right business direction.

Why might you forget that?

Because you get very excited by the product and less by the product – market fit. You are excited and not realizing that you have reached a local maximum.

 2) Startups do not need only technical talent.

A startup needs mainly technical talent. However it also needs  great operations people, salespersons , marketers , product managers etc. Without them we cannot build a company. Without them we would always have to sell successful products to foreign companies and this will weaken the Greek ecosystem. It will happen because most of our successful teams will migrate to London, US,  Berlin , Tel Aviv etc.

 

3) Having more runaway for the same money doesn’t guarantee successful taking off

Self Explanatory

 

4)  Sometimes smaller teams can do the same and even better job of much bigger teams

This is the idea that smarter, more agile teams can be more productive, efficient and effective than  much bigger ones. In order for this to happen, technical people also need soft skills. I think that soft skills are not a competitive – advantage of the Greek technical talent.  I don’t mean that our technical people do not have soft skills but I am saying that soft skills are not their strong point.

To summarize, I don’t argue that having economical technical talent is not a good start for playing ball ( positioning the Greek startup ecosystem ). It is an advantage when we are producing tech products. However, as we all know, producing a tech product is one thing,whereas making this a successful product, a successful business and a successful  company, is another thing. There is a limitation with this mentality when we are dealing with innovative and growth companies. So, I propose to use our advantages , play with them and at the same time be thoughtful about their limitations.

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Software revolution, the new industrial revolution !

Monemvasia - Greece

Monemvasia – Greece

This is one of my talks. The inspiration came from this post .The duration was 5-6 minutes so I had little time only for the basics.

Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last week a great event took place. Facebook acquired Whatsapp an application for sending text messages from mobiles. The cost was 19 billions. Yes 19 billions not 19 millions but 19 billions. To have a perspective of this amazing deal let’s compare it in a different context.

The GDP of Greece is 250 billions Euros.
This is the market capitalization of some other well-known companies
American Airlines – $12.3B
Campbell Soup – $13.6
Expedia -$10.2B
Harley-Davidson – $14.1B
Hertz – $11.5B
Marriott International – $15.4B
Ryanair – $15.5B
Starwood Hotels & Resorts – $14.9B
Tiffany & Co. – $11.4B
Whole Foods Market – $19.3B
Xerox – $13.2B

Even microsoft paid only 6 billions to buy Nokia. Nokia was a company with 101,982 people across 120 countries.I produced out of these numbers an amazing number. Each and every employee in whatsapp produced 172 millions dollars each year he worked in this company. This means around 100.000 dollars each hour an employee worked in this company.However I am not here to talk about Whatsapp. I am here to talk about Software and how Software is eating the world. Let’s see how some industries got disrupted by software during the last decade.

Hotels industry – Booking.com , Expedia, etc
Communication industry – Skype is the largest communication provider company in the world
Apple and Google – 2 software companies have the majority of market in smartphones.
Books – kindle from amazon. Ibook from Apple
TV, Movies, Shows- Youtube,torrents,Netflix
and many many other examples

There is not an aspect of our lives that hasn’t changed because of technology. There is not a single sector that hasn’t been affected by the rise of software industry. We are dealing with a new industrial revolution. The means of this revolution is again the machinery under a different form. Instead of machines we have now software. Software can automate nearly all the information flow in every industry. And also takes a big chunk of the revenues.

This is very very good. We all share every day the advantages of technology.For example we can all upload a video from Youtube or watch something for free. We can all find a cheap hotel or a cheap flight. We can all communicate through skype with people all over the world.We can all buy any book from amazon or any item from ebay.
We all know very well the progress and the benefits of technology. However we must also understand what that progress means to employment. There are millions of jobs that are automated because of the rise of software. There are millions of jobs that are lost every year. What was actually a job for 10000 people it is now a job for a team of 3-4 people. Kodak had hundred of thousands of employees around the world. Instagram has only 20-40 of them. There were thousands of people working in small travel agencies around athens, now there are only 3-4 online travel agencies.

We are seeing the same shift everywhere.We are seeing a tremendous shift in the productivity of people.

“We are not the only people that see now as something similar to the Industrial Revolution with regard to job and social disruption, secular unemployment and rapid adoption of new technologies. What is new this time is that it is happening in every country, every imaginable political regime, every place at the same time. The Industrial Revolution burned through countries slowly: Great Britain first, then Europe, then the US, etc. Here it is all playing out everywhere at the same time. If software is eating the world, it is eating it at the pace of a World War Z Zombie! […] I don’t know what’s going to happen. Nobody does. We need to just keep innovating for a better outcome.
Source: http://techcrunch.com/2014/02/15/vcs-on-inequality-unemployment-and-our-uncertain-future/

What will happen when there is a true artificial intelligence. For example when software can do any job. A Software to be a Journalist ,a marketer,a politician,a software developer,a salesperson,a carpenter ?

I can think one solution. The purpose of the machine is to free us so that we do something more meaningful. To have a better life – work balance , to make drudgery unnecessary. We must allow the software to achieve it’s purpose. Help our society live in a better world. Otherwise we will live in a state of self-frustration.
The state of self-frustration is that we have allowed technology from a servant to our society to become a master and we have become servants to the technology.

I believe that the producers must share the benefits of this technology with the rest of the society.They must share the profits with the rest of the society. This is also beneficial for the producers because without people’s money software companies will not have any future of making profits. Nothing can be done without a middle class capable to purchase the products and services these companies offer. Companies wouldn’t only have profits they would not even have revenues. I am not arguing for communism here. I don’t believe in ideologies . I am just saying the simple truth. Machines and software exist to assist the purpose of society. We are not here in this life to maximize the efficiency of machines but the happiness of the whole society.

This is the best alternative if we want a more advanced society. A more equal society. It is good for the people , it is good for the rich people, it is good for the middle class, it is good for the poor and it is good for the software producers.

The alternative is again a new industrial revolution and then a new social revolution that will change the way modern capitalism works. I am sure that either way we are going to see a dramatic shift in labour market around the world. We are technologically in 21st century but psychologically in 17th century. We can change that and live in harmony within this new industrial revolution.

The emperor paid 19 billions to buy an empty shirt :-)

the_emperors_new_clothes

Facebook spent 19 billions to buy Whatsapp -an SMS application

The emperor spent 19 billions to buy an empty shirt

It must be obvious… that there is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity. – Alan Watts

IBM – Microsoft – Google – Facebook want to keep their position in a fluid universe, in a fluid market. This flexible and fluid market made them emperors in the first place. When they reach the top  they want to change the laws of universe, market fundamentals.

However if we’ve been in Mark shoes we might have done  exactly the same. So let’s laugh with Mark, with ourselves, with human patterns, with human behaviour,with human nature.

Tech Utopia ,wealth, money and our new Industrial (tech) revolution

Utopia

I love tech. I use it every day. However  there are some issues with rapid tech growth and job replacements due to new technology.  What are the issues with “Software eating everything”?

You can find some thoughts here. ” VCs On Inequality, Unemployment, And Our Uncertain Future “  .

I want to add some thoughts.

Thinking that tech will solve all our problems is like believing that monkeys having smartphones will learn how to read.

Tech is a useful tool. Sharing fairly the resources of our imagination and labour is a totally different problem. A problem of another dimension. Tech can make us more efficient. Tech alone cannot make us more effective, more wise, more happy, more ….

Alan Watts talks about it. His insights are amazing even  though they are made 30 years ago.

Full Video here

 

I love his insights. The cut a long story short.

  • Minimum income needed
  • The machines ( software) will pay the bills. We must share the profits between the community and the producers ( software organizations).
  • Protestant ethics or Christian ethics regarding jobs and wealth creation  is obsolete.
  • We are Psychologically in the 17th century and technologically in the 21st century
  • We need to change our attitude towards money, wealth, pleasure, nature of work

Even contemporary entrepreneurs would agree with Alan.

Thales the first Greek Philosopher was also Entrepreneur

thales

We are in 500 bc in Miletus which is an ancient city in the western coast of Anatolia . A man called Thales is a philosopher. Philosophy at these days is a very new area of knowledge. Every new knowledge area of these days has to be very practical. The practical impact of this new knowledge in the city-state was the main concern.

He was often walking in the city looking at the stars, at the planets and observing the sky in general because he was a mathematician interested in geometry and the movement of the stars and the planets.This habit sometimes had an undesirable result. He would often fall into potholes. These incidents became the anecdotes of his town and fellow citizens were thinking that philosophy was only good for reflection, thinking, contemplation and had no practical outcome.

Thales wanted to show to his fellow citizens that philosophy can change the way somebody lives. Philosophy is the way we choose to live our everyday life, philosophy is another level of consciousness. A consciousness that can help us live happier in the society. It was easy for Thales to find a practical solution to the problem.

Thales was a good meteorologist and was able to forecast the weather.  Taking advantage of this skill, he managed to gain some considerable profit. He invested in olive presses at low-cost when olive presses were out of season . However this was part of his plan, he forecast excellent weather and better than expected production. When the time came and the peasants needed to use the olive presses, they paid much more that Thales had paid for them, due to increased demand. His intention was to show to others that philosophy was as useful as any other skill and a good profit was the best way to have people’s attention.
Aristotle explains that Thales purpose by doing this was not to get rich but to prove to his fellow citizens that philosophy could be useful, contrary to what they believed. Thales proved that it was easy for philosophers to get rich if they chose so but this was not the point.

What can we learn from Thales?
As an entrepreneur I find this story very inspiring. I consider Thales to have a very creative and flexible mind. Not only he was a philosopher but also a brilliant mathematician, astronomer and generally a man who proved that circumstances don’t matter. The only thing that matters is state of being. This is the essence of philosophy for me. Life is meaningless, this means that every situation, every material, every second does not have any meaning, we provide it’s meaning. We used to borrow the meaning from our culture, society, family, friends, education etc. This is not our own life, this is not our own meaning of life, this is not our own way of life. So philosophy teach us to create our own meaning, our own way of looking life, our own way of experiencing and finally to become just ourselves and one with the rest of the universe. So Thales is a big inspiration because he was the example of man who has one foot in the sky but the other on earth and this is a practical example for everyone.

“Greek startups are Everywhere”

sailboat

My experience of Open coffee LI .

I attended the Open coffee LI and it was a great moment for the greek startup community.It was a surreal experience. Three fund managers  were trying to explain their vision and pitched to convince startupers that they not only had the money but also smart money. One moment was weird, when someone from the audience asked a simple question. The fund manager perceived this question as aggressive and took a defensive stance and presented his past career in order to clear any doubts. We all know that Fund managers are the ones who ask most of the questions but this event was different.

What is changing slow but steady ?

Until now a lot of Greek Startups were seeking for funding in other countries. It was a huge waste of their productivity to spend months and a lot of money in other countries and in another ecosystems. They have invest their energy in other unknown ecosystems with small possibilities of funding.

Our challenges

That means that these funds are a panacea?
Not at all. It only means that it would allow more startups to think Greece as an alternative for funding. Nothing else.
It is just a little more money for the startup companies. It is well-known that just a bit more money does not solve any real problems. We are an ecosystem with very little power in global public relations, tiny to incubate really big and innovative ideas, with very small experience in business development, fragmentation, divided into many camps, with lack of entrepreneurial mentality, with social perception issues towards entrepreneurship etc. To summarise  we are just an infant ecosystem learning to crawl in comparison with other ecosystems which are in their peak productivity and creativity age.

All these and many more will not be vanished by having more money spent. All the money in the world could not solve these infant issues. It takes time and actually sometimes more money than necessary is an obstacle in the development of entrepreneurial mentality like our agricultural subsidies destroyed agriculture in Greece.

 I assume that in the first open coffee when Tziralis said ” Greek start ups are here ” there were just a few startups in Greece. Greek and startups couldn’t go together, could not dance together. There were probably fewer that the fingers of our right hand. Startups were just an idea in the heads of brave people who wanted to embark on the entrepreneurship journey. After many years the ecosystem has involved. Our Perception has changed, lot of failures , some success but what is more important our volition, our will, our decision that we will make greek startups a global product.

Our volition, our will, our determination that we are not in any way inferior to anyone in the world. We may not have the same ecosystem but we have our intelligence, our determination, our creativity, our strength and we are going to do what is necessary to achieve success in this arena. Our decision, our realisation that although we live and breathe in Greece our target is the global market. Our city, our place, our predicaments in this troubled country will  no longer define our destiny.Our city, our place, our predicaments in this troubled country will no longer  limit our ambitions. Our ambition is to create world-class products and services for making our life better and our world a better place to live.

When just one person comes to this realisation, then it is a start, but when a vibrant community has realised this then a critical mass is created. A critical mass for Great teams, great products, successful business. This is the critical mass for bringing the greek startups in a different level. That’s why George next time you must change our definition/slogan ” Greek startups are everywhere”. “Greek startups are here” is already a reality, “Greek startups are everywhere” is the target.

Greek Startups are in the mobiles, Greek Startups own marketplaces for creative people, Greek Startups build great databases utilities, Greek Startups define the next keyboard experience, Greek Startups change the way we share food, Greek Startups change the way we hail a taxi. Our limitations are no longer the limits of our ecosystem but the limits of our imagination.

Ancient Greek spirit is everywhere Ancient Greek philosophy  is everywhere . Ancient Greeks have contributed a lot to our civilization. Ancient Greeks have contributed in  language, Theatre, Philosophy, mathematics, science, communication, astronomy, the Olympic games, architecture, democracy etc. Ancient Greece is everywhere. Ancient Greeks were having long journeys to set up  new colonies. The reason was shortage of land and the need to Open up new trade routes and create a better life for everyone.

I have the feeling that we are not very different. We are building here something global and starting new colonies.

That’s why I am very happy to be in this place, this specific time and I am sure that the future of this community will be brilliant.

Christos Kyliakoudis