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Recently, I was approached by Filina Georgiadou, a student of Business Administration in a local university, and was invited to an interview about entrepreneurship and the impact of education to it.
Filina was seeking out young and successful entrepreneurs (it seems I am both!) in order to learn about their journey and share their lessons and insights from the business world. She compiled the interviews and relevant data for a paper she was doing for her class.
We sat down for a coffee and we talked about entrepreneurship, business, education and lots of other interesting topics. A few days ago, she sent me the transcript of the interview which I have prepared and I am sharing here for your reading pleasure.
To give you a better context, note that the purpose of the paper was to provide some real life examples to the aspiring entrepreneurs of the class.
Also, remember that both she and I are living in a country which approaches business with great scepticism, and where people have only recently started warming up to the idea of entrepreneurship, impacted by the devastating recession that has been running for several years now.
So, check out the interview, you are going to learn some extra things about my life too!
Whenever appropriate, I have added extra notes and comments. Let’s kick it!
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What does your business do and why did you choose that industry?
My partner and I have founded a company that is more modern compared to the traditional ones. It comes in contrast to the usual approach of starting a business where you have to rent a space, set up your store and wait for customers to come.
Our concept is quite different. First of all, our company is purely online, we are only doing business on the internet. We started this business a few years and at its core we are offering advertising and marketing services to a specific market, that of software developers.
We own and operate web properties that are targeting people from the software development industry, and our clients are operating in that industry too.
For this purpose, we have a holding media company which is the owner of the web properties. We are also utilizing some other assets, like the huge mailing lists of subscribers we have built over the years, and which we use to run campaigns.
Apart from the various way of providing advertising to our clients, we are also using some standard platforms (like Google Adsense) for additional monetization.
Due to the nature of our business, which is online, we are very flexible and nimble as a team. One important point, is that all our clients are from outside the country, and especially the US, since there is where the largest software companies operate.
How did you start out and what was the journey of your business?
First of all, I have graduated from the National Technical University of Athens, and I hold a degree in Electrical Computing and Engineering. I also obtained a post-graduate degree which combined both technology and finance.
My next step was to work at a major technology company in the telecommunications industry. There, I started honing my programming skills working as a software engineer, something that influenced my future moves.
The progress of our business was as follows. Initially, we launched our first website as a hobby. We did not have any aspirations that it could evolve into a business opportunity. What we did was, to share on our blog the knowledge and insights we had gained from our day to day experience with programming.
The programming language of our choice was Java and we provided articles, guides and tutorials about it. As I said, it started as a hobby. We were writing tutorials and sharing them with our colleagues and on other larger websites. We did not have any financial or business motive.
As time passed, we continued to work on the blog/website and improve it. Simultaneously, I started feeling that I could accomplish more than just working as an employee in the same company for years. The working environment was good and all, but I believed I could do so much more than that.
Thus, we started viewing our blog/website from a different point of view. We noticed that traffic was growing and it seemed to have the potential to grow to something significant. We decided with my partner to grow it, develop it and see where it could lead us. We started shifting things towards a more professional and business approach.
We reached out to companies in the industry to let them know of our existence and growing audience, and to let them know that we could help them reach their target audience (software developers). We started taking the marketing of our website more seriously, and also to develop a sales strategy. As we grew, we were into a positive feedback loop where traffic was going up, we “closed” more clients, we could do better marketing, and so on.
This continued until we realized that the whole concept had massive potential, so since we were running it as a side project, we decided to drop our day jobs and go in full time with our own concept and develop it even more.
Why did you choose to become an entrepreneur? What factors contributed to that decision?
I think there were two main reasons. The first one was that the project we had already launched was showing signs of great potential. The other reason was a more personal one. I believed that just being an employee was not enough for me. One quick escape from that was to grow our hobby project to a business.
Did your studies play an important role in your decision to start your own business? If yes, in what way?
One way my studies helped in the whole process was that they helped me to develop self-confidence and a sense of professionalism. A second way was that due to them I had built a technical background, something that was quite important since our website was about software development, and it was also easier for us to build the technical infrastructure for it.
Overall, my studies played a major part. But another major factor was that, outside my academic studies, I have studied tons of books in various topics like business, marketing, human psychology and more.
I am not sure what I would have done different if I hadn’t any academic studies. Perhaps it would have been enough to study on my own and skip the 5 or more years. Perhaps I could have started a different venture that might have had an even better outcome.
Everything played a part in my journey. What is certain is that, having a solid technical background due to my studies, it helped us both with the topic of the website and with setting up the infrastructure to run it (Note: My partner had a similar academic past).
What was your vision when starting the business? What was your goal?
Our initial, immediate goal was to build a business that would allow us to have a decent income that would allows us to be independent and would permit us to quit our day jobs.
When we achieved that initial goal, what we wanted to accomplish is to build a family of websites that would cover the needs of anyone that wanted to learn about programming, whether that was programming ATMs and bank systems or just building websites.
After that, we plan to expand to a different industry, one with a larger addressable market, something that lies in the future and we have not yet planned.
Did you face any obstacles when founding and running your company? If yes, what were those, and how did you overcome them?
I think the main obstacle when starting out is that you have never done something similar before, and thus there is great uncertainty.
We had some technical issues, like learning what is needed in order to legally set up a business, how to open the appropriate bank accounts, etc. And of course, more business related ones, like how to set up goals, how to execute to reach those and so on.
This is to be expected of course, since this is the first time you are doing it. What you have to do is study how business actually and technically work, what are the legal processes you have to follow etc. You also need to find the right people (e.g. lawyers and accountants) to guide you, and even better to reach out to other business owner who had done that before.
But those are “technical” obstacles, which can be surpassed just by being persistent and finding what are the steps to follow. The biggest obstacles and challenges are to actually run the business, in the practical sense. Meaning, how to build processes within your company, how to create an appealing product, how to gain exposure, how to build awareness and so on. Those are issues that can be tackled only by reading and studying a lot, from marketing, to sales, and more.
In the beginning, we had no idea what we were doing, but being persistent we managed to crack that. Gaining experience makes things easier, so now that we are past that phase, we can grow our business more rapidly and look more strategically into the future.
What were the main funding sources of your business? Did you have any obstacles funding it? If yes, how did you overcome them?
Our business was actually bootstrapped. What that means is, you start with a small amount of capital (usually from your own savings) and then you quickly try to generate some revenue from the business, which you then reinvest in the business to grow it even further.
We did just that. We put some initial capital which was very low due to the nature of our business, we managed to get some revenue as fast as possible and from there we invested into the business to grow it.
Don’t forget to check out Part 2!
100+ lessons learned and insights shared.
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