Tuesday 18 October 2016

Vleepo: An international tech startup based in Larissa

Editor: Gogo Dimopoulou
“This is a community of collaboration, innovation, culture and integrity whose exclusive aim is to propose, to create and present ideas and projects. At the same time it is also to educate, inspire and motivate”. This is Linto Org. Linto’s goal is to offer a “community” of people interested in culture, technology, education and more. One of the start-ups that with pleasure we have hosted in Linto is Vleepo and it's pioneers- the Larissian Harry Kalogirou and the Greek/Canadian Matthew Staikos. The company is based in Greece and to be more specific in Larissa! Vleepo is a mobile application, which is to consist the evolution of search and communication tools. We met them so that we discuss about their new venture.
G.D.: How did the two of you meet?
Harry Kalogirou: Actually, I met Matthew because of the game I was building at the time. I came up with a game, Pop Corny, which was a great success abroad. In the beginning the game was supported only by Apple and Android mobile phones. Blackberry, for which Matthew was working at the time, was interested in endorsing the game and helping in transferring it to its platform. Through this project I met important Blackberry executives. Later Matthew left Blackberry to pursue his own things and we ended up here today to be working together. Pop Corny also brought me close to another employee at the firm today. I met him because for a long time he was the best Pop Corny player in Greece.
Matthew Staikos: We had an idea of creating a software in Toronto. We were looking for good engineers to do this, but more than that we ideally wanted to find some engineers in Greece. So, when we met with Harry we decided to start working together. We were building something different from what we came to build now. Not only did the product change but also our professional relationship. That’s not how we started but now we are a team.
G.D.: What is Vleepo?- How did you get the idea and what’s your aspiration on it?
Matthew Staikos: The idea of Vleepo is something I thought of a long time ago but it was far from what Vleepo is today. In a few words, it is a new search tool that allows you to search for things going on around you, around the world or even contact with your friends and much more. It makes it much easier. If you look at technology landscape you can see that there are a lot of discovery tools like Google, Opentable, Eventful and also a lot of different social applications that try to make your search easier but unfortunately some times they fail to do so. On the other side, you have a bunch of communication tools, like What’s up, Messenger and iMessage. So what we've done is create a platform that tries to unify the above services.
Harry Kalogirou: When people think of startups and new ideas they think of someone relaxing on an afternoon coming up with an idea that they immediately set out to materialize and the details from then on are a trivial matter. However, the true process is always a bit different. In the particular case of Matthew and I, we had begun a year before we actually started materializing some of our ideas, trying to figure out ourselves where the solution to the problem was. So at some point we came to what Vleepo is today. The idea was formulated about January 2016 at a meeting in Larissa. It was quite different to what we had been planning so far, and I was really concerned on whether I should present it or not. Finally, I decided in doing so, so we all came to see what the solution we were looking for was. We have been going on on that since then.
G.D.: What is your target audience and what would one gain from Vleepo services?
Harry Kalogirou: This application addresses everyone. Everyone will be able to come in contact with their family, friends, whoever. Its target is to be the next generation of communication tools. How does it do this? …. Unfortunately we cannot disclose it yet. It will combine communication and discovery and it will make you able to do things in a more organized manner through Vleepo app for which so far you need various apps.
G.D.: What made you choose Greece instead of Canada?
Matthew Staikos: We wanted to do this here long before. We felt that there was a lot of talent here and we wanted to do something good for Greece. We wanted to built something and show the world that awesome things can come out of Greece and not just bad things. People don't know that there are a lot of talented tehnical engineers here. Haris basically confirms excactly this thing. Of course, we could work in Canada, we could work in the U.S.A., but we wanted to do something that is more than that.
G.D.: What were the difficulties you came across starting up Vleepo?
Matthew Staikos: There are a lot of differences in legal, employment and cultural issues when you start a business in any other country- not just in Greece. You meet these things wherever you go. We had the same issues with one of my previous companies in Beijing, China. At least the cultural differences between Greece and Canada are not that big, so that helped a lot. Things move very slowly here comparing to what we are used to. But, in the same time, we employ some very good advisors, accountants, consultants, lawyers who have made it I think as easy as possible for us to structure things. It's not just the company in Greece, we also have a company in Canada and the the two of them should work together. So there is a bit of a complicated structure there. But consultants helped very much, same with Harry and the team who were giving us advice on how certain things can be done more easily. To tell you the truth, event though in Larissa things are gone pretty smoothly. Now, we have also built our office here. I don't thing we've had too many problems overall here in Larissa, except some delays. In general, in order for Greece to become more attractive and accommodating to investors coming from abroad, things should change economically, legally, structurally and become simpler and move faster.
Harry Kalogirou: You do face many difficulties. No new beginning comes easily. Desiring to build this business in Greece, we came across the usual difficulties existing here – a state that moves slowly and at times a bit “aggressively” against entrepreneurship…. but we made it in the end. As Matthew already mentioned, our case was even more complex than the usual ones so a little more patience was required.
G.D.: What would your advice be for the new entrepreneurs starting up something in Greece?
Harry Kalogirou: I believe it is important for new businesspeople to find a way to be extroverted - to try finding ways to address international markets, to come up with services and products that can solve existing problems and to turn to new technologies. Finally, I think the most important of all is to develop a cooperation attitude.
G.D.: How can co-working spaces contribute to professional development?
Harry Kalogirou: They can do that in great extend. In our case for example, Linto was a lifesaver. In a way we synced. We set out at the same time Linto did. While we were having delays with our office Linto helped us so that we could have a place to meet and do our job without wasting any time. At the same time it gave the opportunity to daily meet others who, just like us, were after their own visions. That kind of socializing with creative people and the brainstorming of ideas and opinions I would say is something that we miss. Several times we have thought that we should come here (Linto venue) despite having our own headquarters.
G.D.: What's like to work at Vleepo?
Harry Kalogirou: Part of the Vleepo vision was to establish in Larissa a Silicon Valley type of a company. I wanted, when crossing the offices door, to forget that you are in Greece, let alone Larissa. Being completely aware that the soul of new start up technology companies is the people who form them, we wanted to create an environment that every developer would appreciate. We are working in a 410m2 loft that encourages direct communication, next to the ancient theater and next to a very beautiful paved walk that with its livelihood makes our job easier. We make sure that every one of our developers or designers has the workstation that they desire, has creative freedom when it comes to the technologies that we use, feels and actually is an important component of what we are making. Besides, innovation is the core of Vleepo so dealing with the latest technologies consists a great asset to us. We already employ people of high quality, we are constantly in the lookout for more and socializing with them is something that makes you want to be better every day. In a few words, working in Vleepo is for me an exciting experience, a creative adventure. I believe the rest of the team feels the same.
* Vleepo is actively recruiting. For more information click here.
Harry Kalogirou- Biography
He got involved with software development when he was 9 years old, only to be distinguished a little later in the National Competition for the International Olympiad in Informatics. He studied Informatics at the University of Piraeus. Alongside his studies, he worked in IT companies in Athens till 2003, when he started his postgraduate studies in software development at Ioannina University on a scholarship from the SSF. Harry has worked as an application developer, system programmer, system administrator, web designer and computer teacher. He has a wide variety of interests and experience, from design and implementation of operating systems to 3D accelerated graphics and high-performance algorithms. He contributed to several open source software projects, - his participation in the development of Linux and also the Sylphis3D graphics engine being the greatest. Having worked as a consultant in major companies in Greece and abroad, developing not only phone software but also satellites ones, in 2010 he founded the "nlogn" company based in Larissa. Since then, he has created a series of applications and award winning international games for mobile phones with more than one million users worldwide. Finally, he is an active writer in technology blogs and websites and has been a guest speaker in international conferences and events.
Matthew Staikos- Biography
A computer engineer, technology enthusiast and adventurer by nature, he spends his time traveling and creating new technologies to solve interesting problems. The Greek-Canadian is an accomplished leader and serial entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in professional software development. Matthew was co-founder of Torch Mobile Inc., a Canadian company which developed some of the key web browser technologies used in the majority of smart phones in the world today. Torch Mobile was acquired by BlackBerry in 2009, where Matthew subsequently worked as Technical Director of Web Technologies for four years, building the browser technologies for BlackBerry 6 (including the BlackBerry Torch) through to BlackBerry 10, as well as leading the technical partnership between BlackBerry and the Mercedes Petronas Formula One Team. In 2013, Matthew left the company to further pursue his own passions and business ventures. Since then, he has acted as investor, advisor and board member to various companies before founding his latest technology startup, Vleepo, where he currently serves as both President and CEO.
Photo by George Mpontikoulis

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