Photograph by Francesco Nazardo for Bloomberg Businessweek
What exactly does Taxibeat do?
Taxibeat is a mobile application that helps a consumer easily locate nearby taxis and choose the best available taxi based on the feedback that previous passengers have given. We introduce a reputation mechanism in the taxi industry, which is something that didn’t exist.
How did the drivers react to being rated?
When we launched, the crisis had already started in Athens. And most of the taxi drivers here had lost about 50 or 60 percent of their jobs. So they adopted us, because they hoped for new customers.
Taxibeat is cited as a rare Greek success story. Are you an outlier?
I tend to think of ourselves as starters of something new—not only us, but a small community of people in an ecosystem that is forming right now.
By community you mean …?
I’m talking about startups and people with new ideas. And one driving force for this is this crisis. Sometimes a crisis is an opportunity. You’re with your back to the wall, and you have no choice. So this happens with many people who have lost their jobs here. They try new things and stop being dependent on state money. Most of them will fail, but many will succeed.
You launched during the crisis?
Yeah, if you look back now, it looks crazy. We were just a team of three with €40,000. And I was out on the streets trying to attract drivers by distributing leaflets, out in the heat.
You once said Greece is a bridge between the developing world and the developed world. Is that an advantage?
Many other markets face the same problem—many Latin America markets, where we’re expanding now. Many Asian markets, Southern Europe markets. So we found ourselves developing a really innovative idea because we had this market at the intersection of the developing world and the developed.
Are you turning a profit in Greece?
In Greece, we are profitable, yeah. And we’ll be profitable also in Brazil this summer. Each of our markets will be profitable after the first year or so.
Greeks have always been entrepreneurial, going around the world …
Yeah. And they almost always succeed.
Taxibeat allows you to take your business overseas while staying here.
That’s true. There’s a story behind this, because our first country after Greece was Brazil, and we managed with the help of two Greek entrepreneurs who lived there. Our main investors are people from the Greek shipping business. The shipping sector is the only one in Greece that is famous for being successful internationally, starting from Onassis. It’s no accident.
Your family was in the shoe business. You didn’t want to pursue that?
I did. It was an export factory which I took over with my brother. We had it for 15 years. And then we had problems with taxes and Chinese exports. We went bankrupt in the mid-’90s.
Your career traces Greece’s story.
Yes. But at the same time, the Internet was starting to explode. I self-trained myself as a developer, as an engineer. And then I created my own startup, which was a B2B online supplier for businesses. And then I failed, and I started all over again.
In some countries failure isn’t seen as an advantage, as it can be in Silicon Valley. Was that a problem?
It was. It was really hard. What can I say? I always wanted to do something for myself and solve problems and extract value out of this problem-solving.
In Greece, do you see that as potentially removing the stigma of failure?
Yes. When you see so many people around you having the same problems, you don’t feel this guilt. There are lots of opportunities in this crisis.