By Daphne Matziaraki
Four young Greeks who live and work in Silicon Valley talk about the culture that made possible the production of the first personal computer in Palo Alto, California. It is a culture of technological progress and a unique economic and work ethic that keep feeding the constant stream of ideas.
Zissis Konstas, Andreas Nomikos, Dimitris Koutsogiorgas and Konstantinos Karanasos arrived in this mecca of web start-ups during what many here see as Silicon Valley’s second-biggest boom period. They are inspired by and free to create on the cutting edge of technological innovation. Inspired by their experience in Silicon Valley, they envisage a Greece that will rise from the ashes of the financial crisis.
The best thing about Silicon Valley, they say, “is the ecosystem that has emerged between the companies in the pursuit of and funding of innovation which is the basis for a successful business model in the future.”
Twenty-seven-year-old Stanford graduate Nomikos recently got a job as a Facebook engineer. Facebook, now the world’s biggest social networking site with millions of users, was just a start-up only a few years ago, but with the right funding it flourished and today it has changed the way people interact all around the world.
“There is no room for arrogance in this culture. A firm can suddenly emerge and turn everything upside down,” Nomikos said. “Any technologically innovative idea stands a good chance of being subsidized,” he said.
This business and funding model follows specific stages that make the start-up ecosystem accessible, profitable, functional, efficient, exciting, meritocratic and transparent.
“The ecosystem provides a great monitoring mechanism and creates new value in the market,” Nomikos said.
Koutsogiorgas, 28, a graduate of North Carolina State University, works for Square, a fast-growing mobile payments start-up. “Square presents a new way for people to make and accept payments from a credit card via a smartphone or simply by using their name,” he said.
Square aims to compete with conventional ways of carrying out transactions. The firm’s ultramodern offices reflect the spirit of the company. “Every employee is made to feel important. One of your ideas can become a priority for the future of the company. You feel that your efforts do not go to waste,” Koutsogiorgas said.
Firms at Silicon Valley are like communicating vessels. The success of one company depends on that of the others. Konstas, a 27-year-old Stanford graduate, works at TrialPay, a payment and promotions platform that works according to the “Get It Free” model.
“TrialPay is one of the most successful start-ups of its kind because it has created a way that benefits all parties involved in the transaction: customers, advertisers and game developers.”
Apart from social networking these companies constitute huge databases. Karanasos, 26, has a PhD from France’s National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control and works at IBM’s research center. He says we are living in the age of big data. Every day we upload huge amounts of data. These data are a huge power that can be used to maximize company profits and also serve the good of humanity, the improvement of the health sector, the protection of the environment and transparency.
Despite the excellent working environment and the rewards for hard work, all four said they plan to return to Greece.
“A big chunk of Greece’s most productive population is moving abroad,” Karanasos said. But “those who return will help Greece rise from the ashes,” he added.
They all agree that the start-up ecosystem, the ability to create new businesses, the promotion of fresh ideas, transparency and meritocracy to be found in Silicon Valley, combined with the technology and know-how, are useful tools for Greece.
“Not in order to create a Silicon Valley in Greece but rather to strengthen the country’s existing qualities. Young people must take the initiative and work on ideas that don't require big capital investment,” said Konstas, putting emphasis on farming and tourism.
“Failure is part of success and we must let ourselves fail sometimes,” said Koutsogiorgas, adding that it was important to bring education closer to the labor market. “Greeks have the brains as well as the knowledge,” he said.