Dec 2019 Interview with Anastasios Spanidis, CEO, Generation Y
Prisma Reports: Before we dive into the exciting world of Generation Y and your journey as an entrepreneur, I’d like to touch on the subject of digitalization with you, and particularly in the context of Greece. How did you see the progress of the transformation of the country in the area of digitalization?
Anastasios Spanidis: Greece is taking huge steps forward regarding digitalization. We may have started late, however currently we have gained a good pace and I believe that both the government and the private sector have understood the importance of digitalization and what industry 4.0 brings. The leap forward that we’re making due to digitalization is huge, although the crisis caused a short delay. Currently, there’s a very good grasp and understanding of what it can offer the society, the economy, the education, and every other aspect. Right now, there’s a very strong momentum since there is acceptance of what digitalization can bring. This is important because accepting and embracing change is the first step everything begins with. Right now, Greece is exactly at this point. In 2005, acceptance of any kind of change by the Greek society was really low. Now, it’s like the whole society has matured through the financial crisis.
Prisma Reports: How would you describe the role of digitalization in helping Greece out of the crisis?
Anastasios Spanidis: No matter where you utilize technology, you maximize the outcome by becoming more effective and efficient. Digitalization of as many aspects of human life as possible is critical. It’s is not a threat to humans, because with technology at the forefront, human attributes like creativity, empathy, and humor can gain added value, instead of losing it. It’s a hand in hand situation which is very welcome.
Prisma Reports: Your company is part of a select group of Greek companies that were born pre-crisis and managed to successfully navigate the wild storms brought one by one of the worst economic recessions in modern history – one that ripped away more than 25% of GDP in just a few years – and has been recognized with numerous awards. Challenging times are also times of opportunity though – so how did you use this period to regroup, refocus and transform your business to continue growing in the harsh conditions that existed in Greece at the time?
Anastasios Spanidis: Generation Y has already existed for 20 years. It has its own story. When we first started doing business in this field, the term “digital transformation” did not even exist. Now, we have embraced the progress of digitalization and we’ve got it in our veins. As a result, we have reached the point of having offices in 10 countries, exporting to 24 countries and employing more than 230 dedicated people in-house.
As Darwin once said, it is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that’s most adaptable to change. Generation Y has been a little beacon of hope for companies in Greece because it uses technology to either lower their operational costs, sell more of their products and services or help them penetrate new markets. What we always offered our clients, are multiple solutions to sustain, grow and expand their businesses. We grew because our clients grew, which has brought us to where we stand today.
We had our opportunities for mergers and acquisitions, resulting in providing services of a better quality. This was made possible since we had all the know-how. When you operate in 24 countries, you naturally become more multicultural and get more familiar with the way things work.
Prisma Reports: Tell us a bit about your vision for the company. How has it evolved to keep up with the pace of technology? What are some of the newest services that you have developed as part of your suite of eBusiness solutions?
Anastasios Spanidis: Generation Y is a multinational company; however, we started as only 2 people in a garage, like a classic USA start-up story, which is not very common in Greece. The vision was always there. When we started, I remember saying that we would grow to a 50 people company. Everyone thought I was crazy because of my age; I was only 18 when I started. While growing our business, I had to attend and graduate university and fulfil my military service and a few other obligations. The interesting here is that vision has always been my guide.
Our vision has four different pillars. It’s not just about the business but also about the people. I feel great that we are living in a business-human era right now. When we undertake projects, it’s not just about work, but also about the families making a living through these projects – both the families within Generation Y, as well as those of our clients. At the same time, it’s also about the communities and how these projects will impact humanity, society, etc. These four pillars are interconnected. When Generation Y undertakes a task, we take into consideration how we will affect these four pillars.
The vision is to grow even bigger to create a bigger impact on society, humanity, people and businesses. It’s not just about profit. Of course, profit is important to make a change; still the idea is also to take all these pillars into consideration.
Prisma Reports: What are some of the newest services that you have developed as part of your suite of eBusiness solutions?
Anastasios Spanidis: One of the latest services that we offer since we opened our offices in China, is the one we call “phishing”. This type of service allows us to receive any type of request from any company in the world and find the best company in China to match this request, in order to achieve desirable results.
For the reasons of creating these results, we use technology, while utilizing local resources. This is interesting because it’s a fast track to getting to know the Chinese market and finding what our clients need in a really short time.
Regarding technology, we have created very advanced algorithms based on artificial intelligence that allow us to match offer and demand so accurately, that we can lower the cost of customer acquisition for our clients. We don’t just use demographical analysis; instead we dive into potential customers’ behavioral characteristics. Imagine offering the right product to the right person, at the right time. That means we can attract any person’s attention, resulting in a higher purchase possibility. Our targeting algorithms are state-of-the-art technology.
Prisma Reports: The company’s name – Generation Y – is another term for Millennials, the tech-savvy generation. What was the inspiration behind your choice of the name?
Anastasios Spanidis: It was 1995, I was 15 years old and I was impressed that there was a name for our generation. It wasn’t a mainstream term back then. We also purchased our domain in 1995 and back then we didn’t even exist as a company yet. It was something everyone was talking about and we were spotted due to our name.
Prisma Reports: You have spoken largely about the role of innovation as a catalyst for change in corporations and society at large, as well as the exponential pace of evolution of technology including AI and quantum computing. What are your views regarding the impact that new these new technologies will have on the world we live in? In what areas will they be most advantageous? What are the biggest threats that you see?
Anastasios Spanidis: I am very fond of technology. I wouldn’t say it hides any threats. Humans will always be in control. The biggest asset humans will gain from technology is advancements in health industry. I believe that we will see many things happening in this industry, which will improve our quality of life. You can already see things happening with nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, quantum physics and computers.
The hard thing is to keep up the pace of understanding all the changes coming. The challenge is to accept how fast things are happening now. Every human being will have to find his or her rhythm. Before the 2000s, this wasn’t a thing. Without technology, businesses were growing at a slow pace of 3%, 5%, 10% per year. Now, they are growing exponentially. The whole idea is that we have to discover how we can use technology to improve our everyday lives. It’s already happening with simple stuff like ordering a taxi or a coffee and will continue at a faster pace in a more disruptive way the following years.
Prisma Reports: What’s next for your company? As a company helping thousands of Greek companies transform digitally, what is your next move?
Anastasios Spanidis: We export 78% of our services and this is interesting because Greece is traditionally well-known for tourism and olive oil. Hence, I’m proud to say that we export technology and we are creators of technology, not just users. We have more than 2,500 clients all over the world and 78% of them are abroad. We see ourselves as a part of the entire globe.
What we wish for is to keep expanding. It’s interesting because when you look at different companies in different countries, you know that initially there was no chance for them to cooperate. Now, we can bring them together. We do use technology and create custom applications. However, what makes us differ is that we look at everything through the business lens of the investment. We don’t do it just for the technology. Funny as it sounds, we see technology as a commodity.
We ask ourselves – why should someone invest in technology? What are their business goals and the bigger vision of what they want to achieve? When we cooperate with someone, first we understand their business, thus we can create better solutions and come up with new, innovative ideas for our clients to make their dreams and goals true.
Prisma Reports: Under your leadership, Generation Y has become a success story of Greek extraversion, having not only racked up awards as a top service export company but also reached a point where more income is generated abroad than at home. Tell us a bit about the company’s organic growth, how it expanded abroad, first to one city and eventually landing in 10 different countries worldwide?
Anastasios Spanidis: The story is pretty interesting because you have to think big but to do so, you have to take very small steps and the steadier they are, the better. Our product has the advantage of not needing a warehouse, nor having any geographical restrictions. It’s a global product.
While my partner and I were graduating our Masters in the UK, we had already created the company and all we had to do was to start providing our services there, the quality of which made the market accept us and push us through word of mouth. Due to the quality of our services and the design and usability of our product, the acceptance by the local market was high. Word of mouth is the most powerful way of growing a business. Of course, you need to use digital marketing and the rest of the marketing channels. But word of mouth and the human aspect is the foundation.
We started by exporting to one country. I remember our first client in the UK was a very small store, but we were very proud having him as a client and we treated him like royalty. And this is very interesting because to this day, this has been ingrained in our DNA, still offering all our clients the royal treatment.
After our first success story abroad, one thing led to another. We started having clients in Germany, expanding there and acquiring knowledge. Then, it became easier and more convenient having presence in any country. And that’s how we grew.
After the 3rd or 4th country that we exported to, it hit us that we had to have some sort of strategy. We started with the domestic markets and each country’s marketplaces and after mapping the competition, we started to think about where we would invest and what type of investments we should make. Should we have a big office with 30 people there to localize faster or localize back in our headquarters and have a few country managers to serve our clients abroad? It became a strategic move.
Prisma Reports: You clearly have your finger on the pulse of tech in the US, having established the company’s US office in one of the hottest tech markets in the US – Austin. What has been your experience so far in the US? What’s the competition like there?
Anastasios Spanidis: I love the US because they move at my pace. Europe moves a little slower but has its advantages. I love the quality of communications in the US. Businesses are always on the front page there, and I love it. If we compare the technological landscape of the US to that of Europe, I would say they are about the same level. They have the same needs and requirements and they are trying to understand how technology will affect them, how they may put it in use and grow at the same time.
I find the US a very interesting marketplace mostly because of its speed and its willingness to embrace anything new. They have the highest rate of acceptance to try something new if they feel that it can evolve their business.
Prisma Reports: Are you locking targets on any new locations in this new decade, starting this year 2020?
Anastasios Spanidis: Right now, we have already set up an office in China, at which we will focus for one year on, to properly expand.
There are plans for the US and we are seriously considering opening an office in Washington DC. There are also talks about San Francisco, but we don’t have a business plan ready yet. It’s something that we will discuss in 2020 with our steering committee, regarding our foreign offices.
Interestingly, the return on investment in the US is much higher than that of Europe for our digital marketing services, since it is a much bigger market. Although you have to invest a lot more money, the return on investment is also much higher, which makes you feel more satisfied when you see the outcome.
I love how think tanks are created in the US. Maybe that’s the reason for this acceptance in the US. In that aspect, Europe is more conservative. I just came back from Zurich, where I met with many tech and industry leaders. I witnessed this reluctance by European leaders to embrace technology, contrary to Americans, who seemed more willing to embrace it from the get-go.
Prisma Reports: I have come to learn that your trajectory as an entrepreneur in Greece, and the many achievements under your belt are a result of the hard work that you’ve put in, but also your keen vision. This might be why you have earned your nickname as the « Wolf of Entrepreneurship ». In your opinion, what are some of the character traits needed to be a successful entrepreneur and what are the hardest lessons you have learned along your journey?
Anastasios Spanidis: Firstly, I strongly believe that’s a huge advantage to be born with a business mindset, although it may be developed also through experience. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur though.
Ethos is a very important pillar in helping one become a successful entrepreneur. Ethos means having clear values. You should then make them clear for your team and align your team on the meaning of these values and stick to them. Ethos includes honesty, passion for what you do and hard work. I’ve never seen a successful person who didn’t work hard to get it. It is a myth that this can happen without hard work.
The second thing is innovation. You need to become disruptive and try new things, even if you fail. Failure is a painful thing but each time we fail, we learn something which allows us to calibrate our ideas and perfect them. That’s the path to reach the destination. And it’s not just about the destination, but the journey. To enjoy that journey, you need emotion more than money and popularity, and you only get it by affecting the people around you. The bigger the impact, the more satisfying it will be for you.
There is a certain level of maturity that someone should have, to understand that only through business and discipline things can happen. Nowadays, everyone is talking about purpose. This is the purpose – how you make people’s lives better.
The size of the project doesn’t matter. There are only two types of projects in this world: ones that you get and ones that you don’t. If you can create a profitable business relationship, everyone will win. Ethos, innovation, and understanding that it is all about the journey are the most important traits in my opinion.
Prisma Reports: As CEO of Generation Y, how would you address the upcoming generation, Generation Z, and share some inspiration with them about taking the plunge as an entrepreneur?
Anastasios Spanidis: What actually grows you as a human is overcoming all the obstacles and making the efforts to reach your goal. It’s good to have the main goals and sub-goals. It’s very important to work on yourself, to find this goal and reach it.
Due to technology, the rapid switching of the mindset and goals that Generation Z has, doesn’t help them know themselves enough to reach their goals. This is a small downside of technology because there is a lack of effort in many things these days. For example, if I want to find a partner, I simply swipe left or right. Gone are the days where you would go to a bar and start a conversation with someone and try again if you fail. This is one small aspect where technology hurts the human race. It’s important to understand yourself, find a goal and be patient.
Failure is just a lesson, it’s not fatal. Don’t change the goal, change the method.
Prisma Reports: What’s your final message to the readers of Foreign Policy?
Anastasios Spanidis: Greece has been here for thousands of years and there is no better time to invest in the country than now. Everything had hit rock bottom and right now, we’re on the brink of witnessing the spark that will ignite everything. You can feel it in the market. We have a very diversified portfolio. We have information from multiple sectors, a better overview of the market and this is obvious, considering all the construction sites and the investments that have already been made. This is something that is happening right now. It is a great opportunity and I strongly suggest that we all identify it as one.