Interview with Dimitris Tsingos, CEO of StartTech Ventures

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About two weeks ago, I had the chance to meet with Dimitris Tsingos, the CEO of StartTech Ventures, during his travel to Munich. We had some Radler, ate a Weiswurst, and talked about startups and Europe.

Dimitris Tsingos is a tech entrepreneur and early stage investor. He’s the Founder and CEO of Starttech Ventures, a Greek micro-VC, but also of Virtual Trip, one of the first tech startups in Greece. Political by nature and a passionate European federalist, Dimitris has been the President of YES for Europe – European Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs, the Founder of the Hellenic Start-up Association, and a Board Member at EBAN – The European Business Angel Network.

After our meeting in Munich, I suggested Dimitris to do a little interview for EU-Statups, since I think he has a lot of valuable insights to share. And here it is:

Although you’re a serial entrepreneur, your current focus is StartTech Ventures – a mixture of a micro-VC Fund, an Incubator and an Angels Group. What do you enjoy more? Being on the investment side or being a founder?

Nothing really compares to forming a team and giving all of your efforts and energy in realizing an idea, in creating an organization that adds value to the individuals, the businesses and the society. Without any second thoughts, being an entrepreneur is far more interesting than being an investor.

On the other hand, being an entrepreneur is anything but easy. It requires a tremendous effort and devotion of energy and focus, which can be exhausting. Becoming an angel investors does give an entrepreneurial flavor to your life and the pleasure of the giving-back feeling which is very important. Also, it gives the luxury of being part of multiple project teams at the same time.

In few words, once you’ve made your milestones as an entrepreneur, becoming an angel investor is probably the wisest choice you can make! ‎

What kind of startups (niche, stage, location) are the most interesting ones for StartTech Ventures?

Our criteria for working with a startup are the following:

  1. The competitive advantage should lay in software, since software is our core expertise
  2. Starttech Ventures should be either the first or one of the first investors. A founding investor, practically.
  3. We never invest in single-founder startups and we shall refrain from investing in a startups with four co-founders or more.
  4. We shall invest in teams that have come up with a truly scalable business model
  5. We shall invest in a team that targets international markets. No matter how attractive it may be, we shall never invest in startups aiming to a domestic market only.
  6. Starttech Ventures shall refrain from investing with convertible notes; we greatly prefer equity financing

All these rules made crystal clear, it goes without saying that we are open to exceptions, should an extraordinary opportunity arises.

What kind of value are startups getting from StartTech Ventures?

Starttech Ventures is an incubator fund investing in very early stage. We invest in cash, up to €50,000 – or even €100.000 in exceptional cases, our model however is based on investing also in services – which is by far the most important part. We employ a team of 10+ full-time, experienced professionals in areas such as growth marketing, UX/UI design & development, business development, accounting & finance, legal advisory, HR, business administration and IT support. These professionals work with our startups, literally sitting at the next desk to them, making sure that our portfolio companies do not have to re-invent the wheel, do not have to suffer the time, cost and energy of managing freelancers nor to wait for ages till some kind of mentor has a bit of time for them. This investment in services comes together with the investment in cash and is included in any equity deal we do – there’s absolutely no extra cost for the portfolio companies.

How do you see the development of the Greek startup scene?

The Greek startup scene has made remarkable progress over the last eight years. There has been a handful of successful exits (Bugsense, Crypteia Networks, AbZorba Games, e-Food.gr and others) and significantly increased availability of seed capital. More and more young individuals consider entrepreneurship as a viable and exciting career choice. On the other hand, the scene is still small; much smaller than what is expected in a country which after the six years of tough financial crisis still has a GDP of more than $200 billions. The cultures of failure and risk financing are yet to be well developed. The most significant weakness though is the practically not existing culture of collaboration. Once the Greek ecosystem improves on these aspects it will get able to leverage the excellent human capital of the country as well as the international commercial network, largely thanks to the Greek diaspora.

Between 2010 and January 2016 you were the President of YES for Europe (The European Confederation of Young Entrepreneur). What are the key learnings you’ve taken away from that time and which achievement are you most proud of?

The five years I served as President of the European Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs have been the most important experience I have had in my life so far; I had the opportunity to connect with some of the most brilliant entrepreneurial minds in Europe and the World as well as to work with the EU institutions, national governments and various international organizations in our efforts to connect young entrepreneurs of Europe with these stakeholders. The most important learning out of these years has been to realize that entrepreneurs face the same kind of problems regardless the maturity stage of their respective ecosystem – although with different intensity. To be a successful entrepreneur you have to find first what really motivates yourself and then to try to excite those working with you in order to do excellent things. This is anything but easy. It also is one of the most interesting things one can do in their lives.

A second learning, possibly of equal importance, has been the realization that Europe will either turn truly united to a federal republic or else will soon turn to a huge open-air museum being unfortunately irrelevant to the economic, scientific and political developments of the World. Being actors of positive change by nature, entrepreneurs of Europe have to stand-up and ask for faster, deeper and better European integration with a loud and clear voice.

Which three Greek startups do you currently see as some of the most promising/exciting ones?

Workable.com and TalentLMS.com are IMHO the most ‎successful scalable tech companies out of Greece, which could fall into the scale-up definition. TaxiBeat has been considered a Greek startup champion for quite a while and I’m sure that they will make a success story at the end.

Besides these three, there’s a plethora of upcoming scalable tech companies like resin.io, incrediblue.com, elorus.com, mist.io, reembed.com, yodeck.com and others.

‎What is your experience with Athens as a city to start a tech company? Would you advice young founders from Athens or other parts of Greece to start in a bigger startup hub like London or Berlin?

Athens is a city offering a great quality of living combined with a very competitive cost of living. Given the availability of tech talent and the very competitive cost structure, I can hardly think of a city which is better for launching your startup. There exist of course certain limitations, largely related to the availability of venture capital, but with international hubs like London, Berlin, Paris and Tel-Aviv being a couple of hours away, ‎I can’t consider that a blocking issue. A startup entrepreneur should be prepared for heavy travels at the end of the day!