How Athens helped us build a successful global startup

I started PeoplePerHour.com in a basement in London back in 2007. I had no idea – even in our wildest dreams – that a few years later we would be serving 1.5 million people across 150 countries and be the source of inspiration, financial freedom and independence for so many people the world over. To date we’ve matched close to a million freelance projects with Small & Medium sized companies all over the world, across disciplines such as design, software development, web building, but also translations, data entry and administrative services. Freelancers on our platform, or ‘GiGsters’ as some call them today, have earned over 100 Million Euros to date from us, and growing

 

It’s been a journey blessed by good fortune, a roller-coaster of emotion, a tonne of mistakes from which we learnt from, a lot of laughter, some tears, intense pain at times and great fun at others; all mixed in with a good pinch of faith and luck. Somehow, nine years on, we are still here!

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Least of all we never expected to have – by 2016 – the vast majority of our team based out of Athens, Greece. Without that admittedly the company could not have survived. So how did we end up in that situation?

 

It all started in 2010. Just after we raised our Series A funding round and the first amount from Venture Capitalists (Index Venture) to a tune of c.a. 8m Euros, we needed to expand rapidly. Which in our line of business means hiring more engineers to develop and improve the PeoplePerHour platform. UK at the time was deep in recession, as was Europe, and the startup culture hadn’t yet caught up to the levels it is today. We simply struggled to convince risk-averse people to leave secure jobs to come work for a startup of 4-5 people in a basement.

 

One cold yet sunny Saturday morning in early December, just after we closed the funding round, I was having my usual Sumatran roast coffee pot walking around my flat pondering how to buck this trend when I got on the phone to a good old friend of mine, Spyros in Athens. Spyros at the time was running a small web shop in Athens and coincidentally was also my first outside investor in my previous company (which pivoted into PPH in 2007). Within minutes he told me he could find me 10 -15 engineers by March. Incredulous as I may have been back then, he delivered on the promise.

By January we had crammed into his second apartment which was half refurbished (I still remember the ‘meeting room’ upstairs which had no door so literally someone could just jump in from the balcony if they would be so inclined go climb upJ), and off we went from there.

 

Over the years Athens has been a great source of amazing local technical talent for us that helped us redevelop the platform almost from scratch – we re-launched it with a much better code base by 2012 – in order to be more scalable and modern. Then on we’ve developed the business via technical innovation and delivering better service to the customer: adding new features that improve the customer experience and attract more users to the site to grow. It later on became a great source of customer service agents as well as we moved support from London to Athens too in 2012

 

For me personally this serendipitous turn of events has been a blessing in more ways than one. I love my regular trips to Athens from London not just because it gives me energy to sit down with the team and be surrounded by an amazing pool of super bright and passionate people but also because it breaks the monotony of being in London full time. I love the food, the weather, the local culture, the buzz of the city and the now burgeoning startup community.

 

Since 2010 we’ve probably hired over 100 people in one capacity or another in Athens and it makes me feel proud knowing that we’ve helped the local economy and the talented Greek people in times of need.

 

Of course its not all a bowl of cherries as they say. There are things that as a Greek person myself (originally from Cyprus) I’d like to see change. Less bureaucracy being the first and a more positive attitude towards change and progress would be my top picks.

 

Today we run more than just engineering out of Athens. We run our Customer Support, Product Management, HR, Design and Data Science. We have a core team in London doing mostly Marketing, Sales, Business Intelligence and Accounting / Legal.

 

Whilst we are still a UK incorporated company with the vast majority of our turnover being in the UK and the US (mainland Europe, India and Latin America being the rest) our hub in as far as people is concerned is now in Athens, Greece. All of us from the London office do regular trips there to do road-mapping, planning, brainstorming but also to make sure that we are one company, one culture, all bonded together. We work hard but we also play: we go out to lengthy dinners, drinks, we do barbeques in our veranda which overlooks the Acropolis in the trendy area of Gazi where we now have 3 floors of a building (one short of taking over the building!)

 

2 weeks ago we celebrated our 9th birthday on the 4th floor of our office. It was actually quite emotional to see so many people happy, motivated, invite their other halves over for drinks, food and story telling. Even former employees who’d moved on came over. As I said in a short talk which the team forced me to give (!), aside of building a successful business it also give me great pleasure to see that we’ve done good for peoples lives: that because of us they’ve moved on to other successful endevours. It gives me the gratification that our success aside, we did something right.

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  1. Irene Ash says:

    So glad PPH has gone from strength to strength. I will always remember the wall of sticky notes with suggestions from clients and freelancer for improvements.
    Glad I was part of the journey.
    Here’s to ongoing success.

  2. Thanks PPH

    PPH helps us to build our start up and we are happy to say that we are selling our services on PPH and Xenios thanks man for creating such a wonderful platform.

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