The economic crisis has surprisingly played a very important role in the growth of the tech start-up sector, explains George Spanoudakis, whose Pinnatta app allows smartphone users to send each other unique, interactive and personalised greeting cards and messages.
Have you ever thought of starting your own business? The crisis may be rumbling on for most of us, but the Greek startup scene is showing signs of life. A new survey by Endeavour Greece, a non-profit organisation supporting entrepreneurship, has revealed that the number of new startup companies in the country increased tenfold between 2010 and 2013, while the capital invested in them shot from €500,000 to €42 million.
It’s the technology industry which seems to be driving the sector’s growth. Fully half of the new companies work on smartphone applications, or apps, and are looking to emulate the success of Taxibeat, a Greek taxi-booking app which has now expanded its operations across seven cities worldwide.
Such is the interest in the growing tech industry that last autumn the government invited out Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, to discuss how it might harness the sector’s potential. Speaking at Athens’ Megaro concert hall, Schmidt expressed his hope that Athens might become a “high-tech Mecca”. And more recently, the SXSW Interactive Conference, which ran from March 7-11 in Austin, Texas, saw a turnout of 16 Greek high-tech startups – the first time so many newly-founded Greek companies have appeared abroad together.
One of the companies appearing the Austin conference was Pinnatta, whose same-named app which hopes to transform mobile communication. Based in California and Greece, Pinnatta allows smartphone users to send each other unique, interactive and personalised greeting cards and messages. We asked their CEO George Spanoudakis for his thoughts on their app and on the growth of the Greek tech industry:
There are now so many apps that let smartphone users communicate with one other. What is it that makes Pinnatta special?
There’s obviously a huge demand out there for apps that let you communicate, whether by text, voice or video – in fact, there are more than 10 such platforms, with over 100 million users. What they have in common is that they’re free, quick and direct.
Pinnatta isn’t trying to compete with any of them, but to work with them. We give you a way to add emotion to your communication, enhancing your messages, making them interactive and giving you predesigned templates to save you time. If you look at a Facebook wall, most users are struggling to create interesting content – instead, they’re just reposting what they find online. Pinnatta lets you create your own original content and unique messages.
From a business perspective, the huge communication platforms (such as Skype or Facebook chat) are now looking for ways to monetise their service via premium, paid-for packages, with emoticons, mini-games and so on. That puts us in an ideal position and makes us a potential partner for all of them.
Right now, it seems like momentum is building up behind the Greek start-up industry. What do you feel explains the growth of start-ups here since the crisis hit?
The startups scene has really exploded here over the last couple of years, and it’s been a real pleasure to watch. Things were very different when we launched in 2010: there were no funds, almost no events, and only two or three other tech start-ups. It was quite a lonely business.
It may seem odd, but we feel the crisis has played a very important role in the sector’s growth. A lot of very talented and skilful people were suddenly unable to find work, and the success of apps such as BugSense [which gives users detailed crash reports for their smartphone, allowing them to fix and improve their apps themselves] and Taxibeat in 2010-11, along with the establishment of the EU’s Jeremie fund to channel investment to small businesses, gave them to courage to take a chance. And once the initial difficulties of setting up a company had been overcome, the lack of competition and relatively low wages have made it very easy to attract talent.
So something of an “ecosystem” for our industry developed. The truth is that we haven’t achieved that much yet. Bugsense is the only major success story, and while some of us seem to be on the right track it’s still early days. But we’ve taken some huge steps forwards, and it won’t be long before some serious successes come our way.
It’s looking like the tech industry will be central to Greece’s economic recovery. What challenges do you face, and what could be done to make your work easier?
The Greek economy has always been based around small family businesses, and it seems pretty clear to us that startups like ours will form the new backbone of the Greek economy in much the same way. We need a similar amount of capital and a similar amount of staff to old-style family businesses – the big difference is that we do business on a global rather than a local scale.
It’s obviously a problem that Greece is a long way away from the major international tech hubs, like Silicon Valley, Berlin or Tel Aviv, but most of the Greek companies seem to be able to work around that. What’s more troubling are the constant changes to the country’s financial, legal and political framework. It’s extremely difficult to plan for the future in an unstable environment like this. The current framework may be very unfriendly to new start-ups, but a guarantee that it won’t be tinkered with for a few years would at least give us a chance to work around it.