The Megabuyte Interview: Costis PapadimitrakopoulosJanuary 9, 2015
He may have started Globo as a one-man show, but Konstantinos Papadimitrakopoulos is by no means surprised to be where he is today. After all, he wouldn’t have named his company ‘Globo’ had he not had plans to go global. “I really wanted to build something very big” says the CEO, who goes by the name of Costis, referring to the company’s beginnings in 1997. “The potential of the internet had got into my veins. I thought, this could be a global business! I didn’t know how I would do it and whether I could do it, but I wanted to build a big company.”
Now, 17 years later, Costis has come a long way from his home office in Athens. Today Globo has over 460 employees, including two who were among the three friends Costis hired to help him in the earliest days. This autumn, the CEO made Silicon Valley his permanent base, as the enterprise mobility and messaging company pulls out all the stops to solidify its position in the US. “In the enterprise mobility market, it’s a mandatory element for Globo to become a US-driven operation. We have been working on this for 1.5 years,” says Costis. “My presence in the US is something we can’t avoid. There’s a huge benefit for the company and its shareholders to develop the company from here.”
Then there’s the fact that living in California means Costis can enjoy a much less hectic travel schedule. The time difference to Europe brings with it a sleepless night every now and again, but overall it’s better for everyone: “Now, I’m where I need to be! […] We’re sitting on a huge opportunity. Enterprise mobility and mobile application development is a $12-13bn market – those are the projections – and we think that’s conservative. Most of the market is surfacing day by day.”
After boosting its US presence by bringing onboard Notify and Sourcebits, the company is now developing its sales and marketing capabilities. And Globo absolutely remains in an acquisitive mode: “The enterprise mobility management market dictates that the leader will be the one with critical size and the skills to offer a complete and powerful solution to the customer,” says Costis. “Generally, we are looking for technologies that could augment our product set. We are also looking at skillsets that could provide abilities to execute in different markets and customer areas.”
The Globo business has gone through several iterations since the start-up days, when the focus was on e-commerce and search engines. But there are two or three things that have always remained the same: “The name, first of all!” Costis laughs. “And the DNA of being innovative, bringing new ideas to the market. Being agile and flexible. Those are the same elements which helped us in the beginning through to where we are today.”
Not to mention a passion for technology, which for Costis pre-dates Globo: “I was into computers since my very early days. I was 12 years old when I got a ZX Spectrum and started developing programmes. I was doing machine code and assembly, and I really loved it.”
The route to Globo had a few detours though – starting when Costis, then a student at the National Technical University in Athens, had the opportunity to turn his windsurfing hobby into a paying job: “I became a windsurfing champion! That gave me a lot of confidence and put me in a competitive mode. But then I was called back by my family when our business, a fruit processing company, ran into problems. As the oldest kid in the family, I was called upon to help revive it.” He was 22 years old.
“I was running all over Eastern Europe developing relationships and selling product. This gave me a lot of know-how and confidence, in what was a very difficult situation.” Growing up in a business family had provided some insights in how to do that kind of work, though: “I’d witnessed all aspects of running a business, how a businessman reacts, from my early days. So when I built Globo I was already a businessman. I didn’t have to learn anything – I had it all.” He laughs: “Now, if you ask me today if I think I have it all, I would say no!”
Being too young to realise how hard it would be to build a global company was probably a blessing for young Costis. He is cheery about it now, when talking about the bust-up over direction that lead to him leaving the family business, when everyone expected him to become its next CEO. But he’ll readily admit it was his biggest-ever crisis point: “At that point I was an ex-businessman without a business, an ex-windsurfer, and I had no university degree. I was nowhere.” So Costis decided to finish his degree in electrical engineering, and by the time he’d served out his army duty, he had the idea for Globo ready to go.
Not that the chain reaction that created Globo was the only crisis point in the company’s history: “One of the most dramatic points for Globo was our listing process,” says Costis. The management started the process at the beginning of 2007, and was almost ready to go to market when AIM peaked in June. But internal problems at the Nomad meant postponing the roadshow until October, when the broker lost its Nomad status and forced Globo to find a replacement in just two weeks. The roadshow finally took place in November, completing the IPO as the financial crisis was just starting:
“We managed to get the IPO through, so we succeeded in one way. But we’d raised only half the money we needed to execute our business plan.” Some tough decisions had to be made, and the management repositioned the company to become more mobile-driven, instead of developing Eastern European subsidiaries as was the original plan. “This saved us a lot of money, but also helped us look in a different direction. Today, mobility is 100% of our business.”
An athletic approach
Costis (46) is now settling into life in Palo Alto with his wife. Their twins, a girl and a boy, are getting used to American middle school: “The transition has been easy, but also bumpy. It was our choice to come here, so we’ve had all the privileges of a nice environment. The kids are adjusting to the language, and I really admire them for their hard work. My wife also had to give up her own business and interests to come here with me,” says Costis.
While both places enjoy the same good weather, Silicon Valley is different from the family’s previous home in cosmopolitan Athens: “Palo Alto is a small city in many ways. It’s mostly about family and business. It gives you focus.” As the CEO of a Greek technology success story, Costis also serves as Chairman of the Hellenic Association of Mobile Application Companies: “I think Greece has a true DNA around mobility. There are many startups that we are now helping in this area.”
Not that Costis is tempted to start over with any of them; the CEO remains deeply committed to Globo as the company continues to grow, intending to stay “as long as they let me”. Maybe he’ll be the Chairman one day. “I’m very happy at Globo, because the company continues to provide excitement. It’s a competitive company, like I am. It’s an innovative company, like I feel I am,” says Costis. “But being in charge of the business is mostly about continuing to develop the company, about retaining our DNA and enthusiasm as we grow.”
For any company, gaining in size and scope means moving a little slower than a startup, but Costis is committed to keeping Globo’s agility as it bulks up. And this should be easier now that he’s on the ground in the US: “Because I’m here, I can actually move things when I see obstacles. I know the business inside out, so whenever we get into a challenge, I’m in a position to move things along. […] Being an athlete has provided a certain mindset for dealing with difficult situations. I’m not windsurfing too often anymore, but I’m still in a competitive mode.”
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