Written by Demetrios Pogkas on 04 June 2016.
The following article was written in greek in March 2016 and was published in May in the 2016 edition of Career Guide; a Careerbuilder Greece/Kariera.gr annual publication on career development and entrepreneurship for students, graduates and young professionals. I'm publishing an english version of the article below
One of the biggest challenges a tech company with high-growth potential is facing is going international.
The lack of internationalisation as a common characteristic between the greek tech startups is certainly dropping off, as the ecosystem is growing and maturing. However, we do observe companies in earlier or more mature stages participating only occasionally in key international exhibitions or festivals, lacking the knowledge of the trends and the needs of their markets in a global scale, or having troubles finding professionals with international experience.
That should be expected for companies coming from a country like Greece; where a tech entrepreneurship scene has risen only recently, but that is also geographically distanced from the startup hubs of Europe. For example, visiting London or Berlin is a 3 or 4-hour flight for an entrepreneur from Athens, while a 1 or 2-hour train ride for an entrepreneur from Paris or Amsterdam. A frequent physical communication with the european ecosystems and their stakeholders - an interaction that social networks still cannot fully replace - is harder.
I consider myself lucky that doing the job I do I have the chance to travel outside of Greece once or twice every two or three months in order to attend startup events or big tech conferences. I’ve travelled from Tel Aviv to Dublin and from Barcelona to Trondheim (next goal is the US!). Those trips might not be adding something to my “everyday life” as a journalist in greek media, but they do “equip” me with insights and experiences about “what’s cooking” in the sectors I’m following as a journalist, as well as connect me with people that I might need or they might help me in the future.
In the same context, I believe that startups should be doing the same thing; travelling, no matter how small or inexperienced they might be - on the contrary, it should be especially those companies. As the co-founder of one of the most well-known greek startups once put it, the best advice to a young entrepreneur is to travel as often as possible. A trip at least once a year could help you identify:
- the new technologies in the sector you’re operating
- the business models around the market you want to disrupt
- your competitors - given that you want to build a global startup
Moreover, it could help you connect with people that might:
- invest in you
- widen your horizons in multiple ways
- and of course get to know or listen to founders or executives of big startups or companies, whom you would unlikely get to see in person in Greece.
Your trip doesn't necessarily have to do with a conference or a festival; however, around these events more relevant people and companies are gathering in the same location, giving you more opportunities of seeing things and meeting people.
One would argue that taking trips or attending conferences is too expensive; a conference pass or an exhibition booth alone might be off the limits for a boot-strapped company. This argument is absolutely right, but an option could be the missions to exhibitions and conferences in Europe and the US that the last 2-3 years are being organised by associations, incubators and other initiatives. Joining a mission like that could significantly reduce or zero down the costs for a startup.
If you too think starting your internationalisation from a conference outside of Greece might prove useful, a few suggestions would be Mobile World Congress in Barcelona for those operating in mobile, apps and telecommunications, Pioneers Festival in Vienna for those running a tech startup, Technoport in Trondheim for those developing a high-tech startup or a hardware product, Pirate Summit in Cologne for ‘alternative’ startuppers and South Summit in Madrid for those sseking to connect with the ecosystem of Europe’s Periphery.
However, you still need to have in mind that when you are in a big festival like the ones mentioned above, either as attendees, exhibitors or contestants, you will have to compete with dozens or hundreds of other startups, all looking to catch the spotlight. In order to make some impact:
- Organise your visit several months beforehand
- Identify the rest of the visitors or attendants
- Arrange a meeting with them beforehand
But first and foremost, don’t skip parties and other happenings.
That’s where all the deals are being sealed!