A Greek start-up goes global

More than 3,000 com­pa­nies in 52 coun­tries use Athens-based Work­able’s soft­ware

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY YIAN­NIS PALAIOLOGOS

In the spring of 2012, 35-year-old Im­pe­rial Col­lege grad­u­ate Nikos Mo­raitakis was an Up­stream ex­ec­u­tive in Dubai, far away from the noise of cri­sis-stricken Greece, but when a new round of elec­tions was an­nounced back home in May that year – a sit­u­a­tion which would lead the coun­try to the brink of Grexit – he de­cided to re­turn and set up his own com­pany to­gether with fel­low Up­stream ex­ec­u­tive Spy­ros Ma­giatis. Per­haps as a re­sponse to those who felt his de­ci­sion was “crazy,” Mo­raitakis had al­ready cre­ated “The Drachma Start-up,” a blog with a telling sub­ti­tle: “Di­ary of an En­tre­pre­neur with In­cred­i­bly Bad Tim­ing.”

Three years later, their com­pany, Work­able, which de­vel­ops soft­ware to fa­cil­i­tate the hir­ing process for com­pa­nies, is reaf­firm­ing its rep­u­ta­tion as the coun­try’s most promis­ing start-up firm. Re­cently, the com­pany an­nounced it was set to re­ceive the largest amount of fund­ing ever given to a lo­cal startup – 27 mil­lion dol­lars. The fi­nanc­ing comes from core in­vestor Balder­ton Cap­i­tal as well as No­tion Cap­i­tal and 83North (for­merly Grey­lock IL, the ven­ture cap­i­tal firm which headed a pre­vi­ous round of fund­ing).

Work­able cur­rently em­ploys 48 peo­ple, com­pared to 30 at the be­gin­ning of the year, while its turnover has risen five­fold in the space of 12 months. Mean­while, the com­pany’s client base is in­creas­ing by 15 per­cent ev­ery month and, ac­cord­ing to Mo­raitakis, the tar­get is for rev­enues to quadru­ple by the end of 2016.

More than 3,000 com­pa­nies in 52 coun­tries use the com­pany’s soft­ware, which, ac­cord­ing to Daniel How­den, Work­able’s vice pres­i­dent for mar­ket­ing, “de­moc­ra­tizes hir­ings” by al­low­ing small to medium-sized com­pa­nies lack­ing spe­cial­ized hu­man re­sources de­part­ments to com­pete with larger firms in the head­hunt­ing process.

The com­pany op­er­ates pri­mar­ily in Athens – with a staff of 36 – as well as Lon­don and Bos­ton – now the compa- ny’s head­quar­ters. “We hope to con­tinue with the ma­jor­ity of em­ploy­ees work­ing in Greece, as we plan to in­crease our staff to 150 peo­ple within the next year,” CEO Mo­raitakis told Kathimerini. Most of the mem­bers of the Greek team, “who are earn­ing salaries that are con­sid­er­ably higher than the mar­ket av­er­age,” be­long to one of the age cat­e­gories worst hit by the cri­sis, 25- to 35year-old grad­u­ates, said Mo­raitakis.

Now the fresh fund­ing will go to­ward the com­pany’s growth plans.

“We will triple the R&D team in or­der to speed up prod­uct de­vel­op­ment and we will fur­ther in­vest in mar­ket­ing and sales net­works to gain ac­cess to a broader au­di­ence,” said Mo­raitakis. The po­ten­tial au­di­ence is vast: In the United States alone there are 22 mil­lion small to medium-size firms with less than 500 em­ploy­ees.

A lot has hap­pened since the “Drachma Start-up” days. While Work­able has been steadily grow­ing, the lo­cal startup ecosys­tem has also been send­ing out some hope­ful mes­sages. What lies at the heart of this ecosys­tem is an al­ter­na­tive en­tre­pre­neur­ial phi­los­o­phy.

“When em­ploy­ees are stock­hold­ers they have a very dif­fer­ent ap­proach,” said Marco Veremis, CEO and co-founder of Up­stream, out of whose ranks com­pa­nies such as Work­able and Per­sado emerged. “It’s ben­e­fi­cial for the com­pany they work for, but it also pre­pares them to build some­thing of their own one day.”

In the mean­time, Greece has made very lit­tle progress dur­ing the same pe­riod. Three months ago, the coun­try was again on the brink of ex­it­ing the eu­ro­zone, per­haps closer than ever be­fore. Though young in age, but not nec­es­sar­ily in ideas, Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras has set the re­ver­sal of “cap­i­tal flight” as a pri­or­ity, while re­cently he talked about the im­por­tance of startup com­pa­nies. What would it take for these tar­gets to be mean­ing­ful?

“Po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sta­bil­ity,” said Mo­raitakis. “Start-ups don’t re­quire im­me­di­ate as­sis­tance and we don’t ex­pect the prob­lems of the Greek econ­omy to be solved overnight. How­ever, ex­treme in­sta­bil­ity does not make for an at­trac­tive cli­mate ca­pa­ble of lur­ing ex­ec­u­tives back to the coun­try. We man­aged to do this. But since last sum­mer, all those who could have re­turned felt a sense of in­creased dan­ger. It’s more likely that they will wait for the sit­u­a­tion to be­come more sta­ble.”

Work­able co-founders Nikos Mo­raitakis and Spy­ros Ma­giatis in a re­cent photo. Three years since they set up their com­pany, Work­able is reaf­firm­ing its rep­u­ta­tion as the coun­try’s most promis­ing start-up firm.

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