ΤΕΛ. ΝΕΑ
26 Νοεμβρίου 2017

Κώστας Μάντζιαρης και Γιώργος Βαρέλογλου σε νέες περιπέτειες!

Η απόφαση έχει παρθεί από καιρό - είναι πλέον όμως επίσημο. Δύο από τα γνωστότερα ονόματα της Ελληνικής digital σκηνής αλλάζουν ριζικά την πορεία τους.

Ο Κώστας Μάντζιαρης και ο Γιώργος Βαρέλογλου αποφάσισαν να κάνουν το μεγάλο βήμα και να βουτήξουν στα βαθειά μετά από μία άκρως επιτυχημένη (όσο και δύσκολη) πορεία.

Με μια αναλυτική περιγραφή του στο LinkedIn, ο Γιώργος Βαρέλογλου μας εξηγεί τι συνέβη μέχρι χθες αλλά και την τωρινή τους κατάσταση.

Ας μας τα πει όμως καλύτερα ο ίδιος:

Foreword

The last time someone asked Costas and myself to tell the story of Mindworks was in 2009. it was an invitation to an Open Coffee talk when Open Coffee was making its baby steps in Greece. 8 years later we had so much more to share, so here's a long read with everything that preceded the writing of this article and brought us here. Why now? It’s a chapter closing for myself and Costas, and as we move to the next one, there might be a few things we learned down the road that might help someone starting his own venture.
These thoughts are the long summary of a keynote we gave with Costas inDisrupt Cyprus in 08.11.2017
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Mindworks was born in 2003 in Thessaloniki, our hometown in Northern Greece, against all odds. (Below you may see mindworks first "headquarters")
It started as an all-things-advertising agency, founded by two 20 year old kids (Costas & Vivi), with absolutely no idea about advertising, with zero clients, no business network, and no start up ecosystem at the time (funds, VCs, community etc). Putting your money on such a venture had significantly less potential in success than betting on the Greek National Football team to win the EURO a year later.
In 2005 I had a meeting with Costas Mantziaris, the founder of Mindworks, as an intern that wanted to work for free in any ad agency out there. Fortunately, after sending my CV to almost every ad agency in Northern Greece, the only answer I got was from Mindworks. I agreed to work for free for 2 months. Has he liked me, he would have to pay me something after the 2 month trial period. That was the deal.
Since then, it's been almost 13 years that we are together, as equal partners. “Equal partners”: This is something to notice. A shared leadership model that has no flaws for more than a straight decade. Literally, not a single fight.
Now you may think it's luck. In a way, it might be. But keep in mind that, I sent my CV to EVERY agency out there saying "I want to work for free". Costas the owner of a tiny ad agency, drown in cash flow problems, not making a decent salary even for himself, agreed to hire an intern he wouldn't actually need in terms of workload, just because he saw something there. Also, keep in mind that the only understanding I had of the internet back then was Dating in mIRC and Porn. Believe me, you wouldn’t hire me.
So, you might think we were lucky but we weren’t. We simply went the extra mile and made the most out of randomness.
Our partnership was the beginning of a great story I'm happy to share.
Costas had this idea: Making yet another ad agency would not get us anywhere. He had given two years restless effort to build one and saw that there was no chance in competing the established players, with no cash, no network and no Unique selling point. He thought we should pivot.
Pivot to what? Pivot to build a Search Marketing Agency.
Now let’s take a minute to give you some 2005 context.
In a post-Olympics Greece, Advertising was a flourishing business, Google was making its baby steps (there was
actually a pretty established rival in Greece, the search engine of in.gr called Trinity), no Google adwords yet, and the internet penetration in Greece was below 30%. Oh and most SMBs didn't even have a website.
Yet Costas had this idea. To help businesses find more customers through increasing their visibility in Search engines.
This was an idea against all odds. Trying to enter a nonexistent market, with no critical mass on the web, from our hometown, far away from where the things were happening at the time (Athens).
Passionately believing in Costas' idea, we started cold-calling businesses from the yellow pages, offering to build their websites (the hype at that moment) for free and get paid per click for organic traffic. Despite the thrill and the hours we put in our vision, almost a year later we had no more than 3 or 4 small clients that could barely cover the office expenses.
This is when we decided that Thessaloniki was far from a mature market for search marketing services at the time. We decided to go big and pitch the big guys. Companies like Aegean Airlines, Vodafone, Germanos, and others.
But again, we didn't know someone that knew someone that had any access to any of these organizations. Naive as we were, we were looking on Google for their board members, cold calling their secretaries to get a meeting with them. Again, we blatantly failed. Almost a year passed trying with no luck to set-up a single meeting.
At the same time, we started corporate blogging about search marketing, entering a growing network (no more than 20 business blogs at the time in Greece) of business bloggers.
This is when we met a few people from Athens, some of which became our friends and our biggest competitors a few years down the road. This gave us the reason to start same-day-road-tripping to Athens to meet potential clients.
Take another pause with me here. Back then, No GPS, No Google Maps and two kids that haven't been to Athens more than a handful of times in their life. Imagine that.
For two years we were road-tripping to Athens, for one day most of the times, for a single meeting, with no tangible results. There was one trip Costas made to Peloponnese, 13 hours driving during a storm for a Client in southern Greece for an annual contract of 3.000€.
Despite the fatigue, we got used to these trips. We spent hours on the road, dreaming of our future. That was probably the best and most creative time of our lives.
For 4 years we didn't stop trying.
4 Years is quite a long time in Startup time. For 4 years we could barely make a living, making a salary for less than 500€/month, and the failures we came across were one after another.
It took us 3 years to sign our first "big client" contract. It was Vodafone. It was a friend, who later on became a respected competitor that gave us the job. Ogilvyone and Giorgos Saliaris Fasseas gave us the chance to work with what later became our most trusted client, until today.
That was the point that we decided that one of us should move to Athens.
It was May 2008 and our efforts were starting to gain some traction, as in "two crazy guys from Thessaloniki doing stuff on Google that actually works", when we built our home in Athens. It was a home literally since there was no money for offices other than the living expenses of one of us in Athens.
A year later and after 3 other acquisition offers, we met with Atcom's founder Kostas Theotokas. We chose to partner with Atcom not for the money they offered but for their culture and the freedom we had working with them. It was the same company that bought Skroutz, the leading Greek price comparison website when Skroutz had less than 100 visits per day, and Linkwise the first affiliate network in Greece.
We wouldn't stand before you sharing our story if it wasn't for Atcom. Atcom not only supported our efforts in Search, but it stood next to us when a year later we decided to pivot (again) to a full-service digital agency, competing with the rest of the market in the digital ad agency business.
By taking that decision, Atcom risked it' s business, losing all its agency clients which at the moment, accounted for more than a third of its revenue.
Remember what to look for, when discussing with investors and VCs. It's the people onboard, not the funds that make great companies thrive.
Again we were in front of a new pivot, which was once again, against all odds. During the worst economic recession Greece faced in its history, we decided to pivot our business to a declining market, competing with our existing clients at the moment, the rest of the ad agencies.
Mindworks counted back then 8 people. In the following 4 years, we entered a work frenzy that I wish we won't have to go through again in our lives.
Pitching one client after the other, we worked 14hrs a day for 4 years straight. Presentation by presentation, we didn't lose a single pitch (OK, I think we lost one or two). Mindworks boomed from a 7 people small shop to a leading player of 40 people in 2014.
In this period we took a number of bold risks. From 2010 onwards, we started bringing in talent from the traditional advertising industry, hiring copywriters, traditional PR people and film directors. We built capability that brought us eye to eye with our competitors and gave us the chance to launch one new service after the other.
We were the first company to run a campaign on Facebook, one of the first to offer digital reputation management services, and later on something that others suggested as crazy:
We built an in-house team of video production in 2013 to tackle the challenge of the lower available investments for video content in Digital platforms. It was a team of film directors, motion designers and 3D artists. That move helped us better understand and integrate interactive experiences and technology with Video content.
But it wasn't all for profit.
In June 2013 we decided to incubate one of the first innovation labs in Europe, focusing solely on RnD, separate from client business. We hired 3 people (two software, one hardware), working passionately on new ideas, and technologies that were completely new. It was a €100.000 investment that gave us a firsthand perspective to everything new happening with IoT, but also a series of fun projects that put mindworks on BBC news, in a 3' feature.

By the way, it was a completely useless interactive aquarium where you could feed the fishes from your web browser, yet it made news on BBC.
And then a huge problem came in front of us: Aggressive growth.When you grow unexpectedly fast, there are two major obstacles in front of you.
The first is structure. We were never ready for such exponential growth. When a flat system with no structure, complete lack of process and no financial control, grows at unexpected rates it's like an Icarus flying closer to the sun every day passing.
We entered an era of structure.
We started using tools, we restructured the company into departments, we started training people to fit in the new reality and we finally started seriously monitoring finance.
The second is cash flow. The thing with services is that you may not need any stock to stay alive, but you always need to stock intellectual capital (and pay for it) before you sell it. Put that in the context of Greek recession, where the banking system collapsed, and with absolutely no credit line available.
The liquidity wall was ahead of us, and we were lucky enough just 3 months before capital controls imposed in Greece, to finalize a 3 years negotiation and sell Mindworks to a leading multinational media conglomerate.
Dentsu Aegis Network, looked into the Greek market and acquired the leading independent digital agency to future-proof itself in the Greek market for the years to come.
The Mindworks acquisition was one of the biggest acquisitions in the history of advertising in Greece.

Mindworks diluted as a name, but as you may see it's still alive through its people. We launched isobar (creative & Technology) and iProspect (analytics & performance marketing), but name-changing was only a milestone to a never-ending journey to deliver value to our clients through people, ideas, technology and data.
After looking at the bigger picture, in 2014 we decided to move the business forward in two directions, slightly pivoting once again.
We decided to position isobar as a creative agency, rather than a digital agency, as we foresaw a declining digital creative business, pivoting to a 360 communication agency before any other competitor.
At the same time we positioned iProspect, the leading performance marketing agency at the time, to a digital business strategy consultant, going after more meaningful business partnerships, rather than the market's favorite Google Ads agency.

During these two years, we grew even more. We started new services entering more in-depth to digtial analytics services, grew a standalone technology department that deepened our client relationship into more meaningful tech projects and we entered the ad-tech business.
But that's what everyone expects from a leading multinational agency. Emphasis on multinational here as when you turn from an independent startup, to a multinational company there is not much freedom in the things you can do and the decisions you make.
But we kept doing our thing. Our idea of getting closer to our clients' business, was to understand it first. Having that in mind, we decided to start launching our own businesses from scratch, completely on our own, to put ourselves in our clients' shoes.
We started a sunglasses brand partnering with a client of ours, building the entire thing from scratch, it's called weareeyes, it's been less than a year since its launch and we've already sold 3000 sunnies across the globe.
We also launched our own coffee shop, building it again from scratch to offer high-quality coffee at lower prices inside isobar. "The side project" got us once again international exposure featuring isobar Greece to the most prestigious industry magazine AdAge.
Since their debut, the two brands together, became an unbeatable player in the marketing industry, having a strange mixture of creatives, analysts and devs all of them in-house.
Today isobar & iProspect Greece are leading players in the agency business, with more than 80 people, tremendous industry recognition, and a high profile client portfolio of more than 50 active clients, among which Vodafone, L'Oreal, Mondelez, Nestle, Eurobank, Onassis Foundation and many more, that put their trust in our people and our services.
This is our story so far, but it misses one important thing. It's people. For every achievement we had in this 12 year -hell of a- ride, we owe it to the people that were next to us. Some crazy talented group of visionaries that made it all possible.
If we are proud of one thing, and one thing only, is the fact that we met all these amazing people throughout our career, making them believe in what we believed, putting them all together to work in one place.
People were THE one thing that made Mindworks different from anyone that stood in our way. And these people all together created an ecosystem where others were craving to work in. An unbeatable culture, of transparency, mutual respect, justice and of course unlimited passion & creativity, that made Mindworks a unique place to work, during the worst economic recession Europe has seen in the last decades.
But the story is not finished yet.
After 12 years, Costas and myself decided to leave our company at the end of this year, to keep chasing the new, the different.
The moment we are leaving, Isobar and iProspect Greece are going through their most successful era in their history, retaining their rapid growth rates and are left to the right hands; to people that have been by our side since the beginning of mindworks, Giannis AmaxopoulosSofia Gkouzioti, and the rest of the team.
So why we left?
Working in a multinational has also its downsides.
It deprives you of the sense of freedom in risk-taking and decision making, and this was not our way of doing business. Having worked nowhere except our own company, it was a challenging fit.
It's not the people that deprive you of that freedom, it's the system itself. A system that cannot work otherwise unless it's finance-driven, rather than value driven. Can you imagine P&G running 80 markets based on every country manager's intuition? There you go. You can't.
This is why we left to move forward, by going back again, back where it all started. Home.
By the time I write this article, I'm again in my home office next to Costas (he can't have a home office he has two kids) looking at an empty whiteboard, waiting for us to write once again our version of the future. We have no idea what happens next, but we‘re gonna take over the world. Or maybe not, but it's definitely going to be fun. 😂
So this story has no end. It's actually the first pages of the next chapter.
At this point, we'd like to thank all the people that stood next to us all these years, either by working with us or putting their money or trust in our ideas. Nothing would be possible without them.
We'll be in touch."Κάνοντας Like στο Facebook ενημερώνεστε άμεσα για τα νέα άρθρα -->