An Interview with Andreas Stavropoulos. This interview is one of many seen in our Greek Tech Revolution report. Check out our report and stay tuned with our channels as we publish more interviews featured in the 2020 issue.
It seems to be self-evident that the Greek of the Diaspora can contribute considerably to the dynamic growth of the Greek ecosystem. This applies especially to those Diaspora Greeks who operate in leading hubs of the world, such as Silicon Valley, New York, London, Tel-Aviv etc. By paying their mindset and their know-how forward, by mobilizing their network and collecting funds to make investments in Greece, they can make the difference, so that the startups and scale-ups in Greece perform the next long jump towards their growth.
Andreas Stavropoulos, Partner at Threshold Ventures and member of the Board of Endeavor Greece since December 2020, is one of the people that generously offer their expertise and experience in the Greek entrepreneurial community.
He gained experience as a venture capitalist, investing in companies, such as Appstream (Symantec), Centerpost (West Corp.), Epocrates (NASDAQ: ATHN), Everdream (Dell), Meetup (WeWork) Mobile 365 (Sybase), Silverpop (IBM), Vizu (Nielsen) and Yodle (Web.com), and through his involvement in various company Boards, such as Balena, CircleCI, Diamanti, Forward Networks, Mythic, NumberAI and Tango. He holds an MS degree in Computer Science from Harvard University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he was a Baker Scholar and graduated first in his class. He has also worked for McKinsey & Company and Cornerstone Research.
One of the first things that one notices when talking to Andreas Stavropoulos is the emphasis he places on the “entrepreneurship culture,” that develops in an ecosystem. “An ecosystem is the outcome of the combination of factors,” he says. “Why is Silicon Valley’s ecosystem so successful? This discussion has been going on for twenty years. One of the things one could answer is that there are good universities, research centers, fundraising sources, a legal framework and a number of lasting state practices.”
Apart from all these factors, some of which Greece should also ensure and will be featured at the present discussion, Andreas Stavropoulos focuses on another American feature that has helped USA lead the technological entrepreneurship scene worldwide. In contrast to Europe’s “collectivist approach” towards success, the American “creation myth” was built around the American Dream. An entire culture “promotes” and sets up the emerging “Steve Jobs” as role models, who do not need to apologize for their success.
One of the things that organizations such as Endeavor can do is to instill a new philosophy in Greek entrepreneurship, which frees success from any negative connotations and allows people to participate in it both psychologically and financially. “This ‘equity economy’ drives Silicon Valley forward.” Such an approach, shaped through actions and initiatives, which help startups and entrepreneurs “open up” to the ecosystem, the wider economy and society as well, is perhaps the best “vaccine” to the negative attitude that our neighbour’s success supposedly diminishes our own success or the attitude that makes us feel inferior to them. “There is distrust, and this is where Endeavor can play a significant role, because it creates networks and connects people within an environment, which, is suitable for Greece and Europe, as it is for the common good and not profit-driven.”
He also communicates a typical example from the years Facebook was taking its first steps. A graffiti artist had decorated the walls of the company, and instead of cash, he agreed to be paid with shares. Some years later, when Facebook went public, these shares were worth about 200$ million dollars! “This is just a story, but it is also an example of participating in somebody else’s success.”
“Greece bears similarities with Silicon Valley, in the sense that it is an amazing place to live. This is also part of Silicon Valley’s success,” Andreas Stavropoulos underlines. “Our country is endowed with a mild climate and beautiful natural environment, extroverted hospitable people who are friendly to strangers, thanks to the delicious food, healthcare and well-being. A large number of the Diaspora Greeks, myself included, have set it as their goal to spend as much time in Greece as possible. It is no coincidence that one tends to focus on the positive features, as one grows older, ”
However, one does not choose to live someplace just because of the good weather. At this point, “immaterial” innovation, along with the fact that part of the work and entrepreneurship are not dependent on physical presence, can play an important role in the growth of the Greek ecosystem. “The time from the conception to the implementation of an idea can be easily compressed, no matter where you live or how you live. Most things are based on technology. This means that a country that has good universities, human resources and good weather, can attract more people. These are great opportunities.”
A necessary condition so that such opportunities emerge is to institutionalize some “standards.” “There is considerable uncertainty with regard to fundamental factors, such as taxation, rules for starting and closing a business, how fast things can move in a judicial or extra-judicial way, especially for small companies. If there is no agreement on such fundamental issues and they keep changing every time there is a new government, there is a big problem.” In other words, if somebody is afraid that in five years’ time the situation is going to be different, they will hesitate to come and work here, to set up a company, or even make an investment.
Andreas Stavropoulos adopts an optimist attitude. “I believe that a significant change has been made. It is now common knowledge in Greece, regardless of one’s political beliefs, that we can no longer do things the way we did in the past. When you go through such a financial crisis, some things, such as a functioning state, the acceleration of processes, the issue of justice and transparency, the land registry and the fight against corruption, are positive developments, regardless of one’s political beliefs. “To succeed in bringing people from abroad, one has to make their life easier. Something is moving in that direction,” he says. “There are more things that need to be done, including tax incentives and turning Greece into an excellent destination for education that could attract investments. It would also be helpful if more bureaucratic processes were simplified, such as over taxation, administration of justice, and dysfunctional aspects of the state.”
The developments of the innovation ecosystem of our country, as well as the success stories of the past years, have definitely contributed a lot. “Greece has a positive impact and, in my opinion, this trend will continue. It is a great opportunity to integrate the success stories in the promotion of tourism and Greece, and we should find ways to connect the Greek diaspora with the local community. What makes the difference is that we have case studies with numbers. The good cases are increasing and, the more they increase, the more people they involve.