Reflections on 2017

 

Once again, albeit perhaps more than any other, serendipity was the champion of my year, and its ultimate driving force. A chance visit from someone I’d never met before – Andy – to our Athens office for a day’s consultation ended up him joining us later in the year as Chief Operating Officer and driving so much positive change in the company and hopefully much more to come (note: I was not looking for a COO); a chance meeting with the hilarious and formidable Rob Lynch  @Ko_Lynch aka the ‘Robbinator’ back in May made me get back into boxing & Muay Thai training which I’m now totally addicted to, doing daily and even twice daily lately, feeling so much better for it (aside of losing 13kg and getting back into shape); a chance meeting with a random guy in a brasserie in Paris one weekend yielded a new friendship with a fellow entrepreneur who later invited me to his fabulous Christmas party in Brussels which I duly attended; and a very last minute invite to a group trip to Cuba back in February with a bunch of people I’d never met before, from all different walks of life and age groups,  which I impulsively attended, has been the bedrock for numerous new friendships, with truly amazing people with whom I now share cherished memories both during that trip and after.

 

All a derivate of chance.

With the Cuba gang @ Habanos national festival, Havana, Cuba. Feb 2017

 

These are just some of the serendipitous stories that stand out in 2017. Every year that goes by, I learn again and again, in an increasingly refreshing and enlightening fashion, the importance of just being ‘tuned in’, to have your ‘receivers’ on when seemingly random events happen, because catching – or missing – any one of these chance occurrences can, and will, change your life.

 

Everything happens for a reason – I truly believe this, and more so every year that passes. But we only live to realise it if we are tuned in enough to grasp that chance moment. People whose lives are not influenced by chance are simply those who let it pass by them unnoticed. Who don’t grasp the moment.

 

Following our instincts when life just rolls the dice at us makes all the difference. And it’s a hell of a lot more fun than following a ‘grand plan’. As one of my favourite quotes goes: “life is what happens to you when others are busy planning it.” Especially in my personal life, I never was a big fan of grand planning. I just go with it.

 

2017 began on the beautiful mountains of Courchevel, France and ended in Tokyo, Japan, from where I then went for a few days of amazing fresh powders skiing in Hokkaido. My trip to Japan truly changed my outlook on the world. The extreme order, the discipline, the addictive hospitality, the cleanliness, the sincerity of the people, and of course the insanely delicious food. On top of all that, skiing in Hokkaido set a new standard altogether. Despite skiing as a kid in numerous places in Europe and America, I’ve never experience this kind of alpine skiing in light powder snow, which gives you the sensation of simply floating in nature amongst white picturesque landscape and spectacularly winding terrain. The whole thing was just another level to anything I’d experienced to date.

 

Below are some of my fav pics from that trip.

So much fresh light powder.. never experienced anything like this!

 

Tokyo in the morning, view from my hotel room.

Outside one of the 80 Buddhist temples in Tokyo

Prayers road, Fukagawa Temple, Tokyo

 

In between those far flung places my year was characterised by unusually little travel compared to past years. Particularly in the autumn months I deliberately wanted to stay put in one place, regroup with myself, get into a regular routine and focus on the things that matter to me the moat: my work, friends, family, health, fitness and, much less than I’d have liked to, my Art.

 

Work-wise, in the year where the company I founded impulsively as a whimsical experiment  a decade ago- PeoplePerHour.com –  turned ten, we had our best year to date by a long way, both financially but also operationally. We surpassed the $100m mark in payouts to freelancers on our site which are now scattered pretty much in every country in the world, we built the team considerably across our two main hubs, London (where the commercial centre resides) and Athens (where the technical team is mostly bases), did some painful but much needed rejigging and consolidation of functions, launched our Enterprise product TalentDesk.io and signed on our first corporate clients, and more importantly, had some really fun moments on the way.

 

In October, almost a month after our actual birthday, we had a great 10th celebration with a very vibrant and passionate community present, sharing stories which inspired us all and will carry on doing so for years to come. I gave a short talk at our celebration to reflect on some of the highlights of that decade-long journey which you can watch here.

 

Later in the year we had two amazing Christmas lunches, one for each of our offices, involving copious amounts of food and drinks.  The pictures speak for themselves

 

London core team lunch at the Smoking Goat in Soho

Athens team lunch + dinner in one 🙂 .. death by meat! @ Steki tou Hlia (translation: Hlias’s hangout.. not Google hangout, the other type ! )

 

I find these team outings very important, not just enjoyable and fun, even if they do sometimes get out of hand 🙂 They preserve our family spirit and ensure we don’t become a corporate machine as we grow. I do hope we keep doing them and never turn into that corporate gorilla.  My 10 years at PeoplePerHour have seen me go through a lot of  scarring lows – and highs of course  but it’s the lows that truly test  you and end up making you thick skinned, tough and immune to most things.  They numb your senses to a point of healthy indifference and give you a great filter to what truly matters and what doesn’t. You develop a bullet-proof shield almost that gives you the armour and stamina to keep carrying on,  undeterred, untethered. After a decade in the trenches (plus 4 years prior to that dabbling at various other entrepreneurial ventures) I think there’s little I can’t take on the chin and plough through; apart from maybe corporate bureaucracy. The day that happens may be my last. I hope it never comes.

 

Investment wise, I wasn’t as active e as I’d like to have been in the year, investing only in a few  start-ups: VillageLuxe,  Stagedoor and my sisters fashion startup Snazzy. All three consumer internet / mobile businesses appealing to niche verticals that have the potential to be a big niche. More importantly I am a big believer in all three founders,  Julia, Michael and Stefani respectively, whose passion and dedication will help charge through the inevitable road-bumps in their journey.

 

Equally for Art. Despite getting a studio at the end of 2016 I didn’t manage to spend enough time in it in 2017 as I’d like to. I intend to do more so in 2018. Still, I managed to complete a dozen or so new paintings, my favourites being the ones below. I’m particularly happy I rediscovered Oils towards the end of the year, and rekindled my love for them. I intend to do more Oil paintings  – or a mix between Acrylic and Oils – in 2018.

 

Acrylic on primed linen

Acrylic and Oil on unprimed linen

3-piece, acrylic on unprimed linen.

Acrylic and Oil collage on canvas

Another key lesson of 2017 for me, as obvious as it may sound, is that you cannot, you cannot, overinvest in yourself. Whether it’s your fitness, health, knowledge, attaining new skills, developing your hobbies or passions, or travelling which in itself is an education, every dime and hour spent will come back to you tenfold. I intend to do more of that in 2018. More educational / adventure travel,  more training and broader in nature, more reading and working on myself in general, more cooking which I’m passionate for, and Art. My next two adventure trips (still unplanned) will likely be staying in a training camp in Thailand to train with Muay Thai professional boxers, and later on do another safari which I dearly miss, this time to see Gorillas in the wild, probably in Uganda. I can’t wait!

 

My other goals for 2018 are to spend more time forging real connections with special people, and conversely spending less time with a lot of the ’empty’ people  that inevitably, and quite sadly, surround us. Doing some solo travelling at the end of the year (very therapeutic!) I’ve realised how many of those people exist in our surrounding (or at least mine), people who simply suck your energy, people who like to take but don’t offer anything back; who see the glass half-empty, constantly whinge, constantly complain, constantly point fingers at everyone else instead of looking at themselves, people who are never at fault, have no inkling of selflessness  or grandeur in them; they’re self-absorbed, often jealous  of others in malicious ways, and who have this unjustified sense of entitlement that’s almost God-given to them.  They’re unhappy, confuse sarcasm for humour, typically small-minded and expend their and your energy on optimising things that in the grander scheme of things just don’t matter.

 

I was never fond of this breed of people, but may have over-tolerated them in my life, either due to procrastination,  empathy, sympathy even, or just laziness in doing anything about it.

 

As the year turned  I confess that a  switch flicked in my head. I cant, and don’t want to, tolerate this negativity in my life any longer. Life is too short. It sounds bad given that we are, after all, talking about people, but once every so often we do need a ‘clean up’ in our lives. Unfortunately.

 

Conversely, time and time again I’ve found that building deeper connection with people who amplify, instead of drain,  your energy, people who see the big picture, don’t micro-optimise, are generous, giving, open-minded, true optimists with a big heart,  who are happy for you when you do well instead of jealous and malicious; people who never whinge, who don’t criticise you behind your back, who always see the positive in every situation, who give credit to others and put themselves last; who listen and don’t just talk, who don’t take themselves too seriously, who are not too highly strung and brittle,  who have a sense of humour, who don’t feel the need to always have the last word, make the wittiest remark and be the seemingly smartest person in the room… those people may be few and far between but they  are like gold-dust in our lives.

 

Find them, stay close to them, cherish them. F*ck the rest.

 

I’m particularly happy that in 2017 I’ve been asked to be Godfather for the second time (the first being my beautiful niece Athena) to my dear friend’s Alastair and Masha’s gorgeous son Bertrand, and later in the year to be best man (also for the second tome) to a dear friend of mine’s  Artemi and Ana’s (hopefully) upcoming wedding. Both are great honours and deepen those deep bonds I have with each of those four dear people in my life. Thanks folks, you’ve made my year!

Betrand (Godson) the day after he was born!

Work-wise, I hope the team will stay as bonded and gelled as it is today, or even more. Never in my 10 years have I felt that bond stronger and it’s something I’m most proud of. Only when really talented people come together with unselfish agendas and collectively outperform their individual talents and capacities, can great things happen.

 

That’s the magic of bonded teamwork.  I believe we are in that position now and I can’t wait for the years ahead to see what we, working as a team, cook up and achieve together.

 

Last but certainly not least, I’m glad and grateful that I managed to spend more time with my family in 2017. Even though my parents travel less these days, I have done 3 trips to Dubai where’s they’re based as well as Cyprus for Christmas. I look forward to doing more of that in 2018.

 

Me and my niece in Dubai

The Reservoir Dogs 🙂 La Familia.. apart from my sister Stef (who was in Cy at the time) and sister-in-law Anna (the photographer)

Me and my niece & Goddaugher Athy in Dubai 🙂

 

The more good fortune life brings my way the more I realise that without close friends, family and people you’re passionate for, be it at work or outside, to share it with, it truly is meaningless.

 

Wishing you all a great 2018, love, prosperity, peace and happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on 2016

2016 for me was, if I had to pick one word to describe it, a year of ‘regrouping’.

 

I had only moved properly back to London end of 2015 from New York. In the year that ensued I regrouped with old friends whom I had partially lost touch with – people with whom I go back over a decade, spent more time with my family and my ‘auxiliary family’ – my beloved colleague PPH-ers.

 

The year reminded me of the importance of having long-lasting relationships in life, people with whom you’ve gone through life-transforming experiences like university or school years, the army, trips or expeditions, or building a startup together. The tough times more than any others are the ones that build long lasting bonds between people. No amount of ambition and the success it fuels is worth sacrificing that.

 

Even though I first moved to London approaching 15 years now, it’s only in this last year, my second spell upon my return, that I got to appreciate how much London is home for me. More than ever I’m in love with its contradictions. Fast-paced yet balanced and civilized; old-school in so many ways yet modern, cool and funky; deeply traditional yet cosmopolitan and international like no other city I’ve experienced; demanding and tiring at times yet forgiving, warm and communal at others; close-knit in its social circles yet easy to meet people and make new friends.

 

Apart from regrouping the things that I’m grateful for in 2016 are having made new friends, build relationships that I’ve learnt from and hopefully contributed to, travelled extensively, grown my company and team, rented a studio so I can devote more time to my art which is my passion, and setting the foundation for what seems a great 2017.

 

By far the highlight of my year was being appointed Godfather to my beautiful little niece (my brother’s daughter)  whom my sister and I  baptized this summer, and more recently being asked to be Godfather to one of my best friends’ unborn child. No honour can be grander or more gratifying to be bestowed with the trust and responsibility that comes with being a Godparent to someone’s child. I feel blessed and privileged to be in that position twice already.

 

The best trips I’ve had in the year include visiting one of my old friends in Mumbai, India, my family in Dubai and later Cyprus for Christmas, spending time in the beautiful South of France this summer and falling in love with the breathtaking Cap-Ferrat. My trips to the U.S. have become less frequent, yet I visited New York twice including spending my birthday there in May. I spent time in Marbella in Spain, Berlin, St Tropez, the beautiful Greek islands, the gorgeous old town of Nafplio in Greece, skied in the Trois Vallees where my year began in 2016 and ended. The symmetry itself rounded up the year perfectly.

 

On the business front, with the exception of a short-lived hit triggered by Brexit, PeoplePerHour has continued to grow strong and unabated. We’ve made drastic improvements to the product and the customer experience and that’s thanks to the hard work and dedication of our team. Team PPH – you rock!

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Reflections on 2015

If there’s one sentence that summarises the past year for me it’s this: everything happens for a reason, and mostly for the best!

 

My key lesson of the year, cliché as it may sound, is, once again, that our ability to turn a negative into a positive in a split second, to drive instant and radical change in our lives when something doesn’t go our way, is potentially one of the most powerful forces in life and a key determinant of success and happiness.

 

A lot has happened in 2015, including moving my base from predominantly New York back to London in September, opening up offices in Berlin and New York, becoming a British citizen, appearing on BBC World news to talk about the sharing economy, hiring some amazing people to grow our team at PeoplePerHour, and having had the luck to travel to some incredible places and meet some truly great people.

 

2015 reminded me that short of our health and time with our loved ones, one’s best investment is in new experiences. They really enrich our lives so much more than anything we could possibly buy. My best ones for the year were: skiing in St Moritz where I started off the year, visiting Art Basel in Miami, (definitely going back!), skiing in Deer Valley (my first time skiing in the west coast of the U.S.) and staying in the super-cute Salt Lake City which I totally loved, visiting Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and the gorgeous Malibu in L.A. (where I managed to find myself – involuntarily- dining at a cute Greek restaurant called Tony’s), followed by San Francisco and Silicon Valley for a tech. power-shot, a rainy yet magical Costa Rica, Montauk, the beautiful Greek islands of Skiathos and Mykonos, Ibiza in Spain, the breath-taking island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean, attending Summit @ Sea on the world’s 8th largest cruise ship with a group of some of the most prominent and inspiring tech entrepreneurs on the planet, attending SXSW in Austin Texas for the 4th time in a row, attending European Young Leaders 2015 forum in Dublin, celebrating my b-day in Vegas and watching what was supposed to be the fight of the century between Manny Pacquiao & Floyd Mayweather, watching Klitschko – the worlds Boxing heavyweight champion- fight in Madison Square gardens, and ending the year with a fabulous family Skiing trip to Val Thorens in France.

 

Things that almost happened and thankfully didn’t: I came a stone’s throw from extended my stay in NYC for another year. On the 1st September I was due to move to a new apartment which I totally fell in love with, whose lease fell through in the final hour. My gut instantly told me it was a sign that my time was up and I literally planned my relocation back to London within hours and left a few days later. I shipped my apartments contents to Athens where I had decided – and again came a stone throw’s away – to buy a place to take advantage of the plunge in real estate prices. That too fell through, or rather I walked away, when the owners – in typical Greek fashion- kept moving the goal post and made signing a deal near impossible. Looking back it was a blessing in disguise, for more reasons than one. Again, a negative turned to a positive.

 

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Reflections on 2013 and resolutions for 2014

It’s been a good year

2014 has began well. Partly because I was skiing with my family as I usually do in the beautiful alps. The fresh air and the mountain always helps me self-reflect and think more. Without a shadow of doubt that one week skiing may be the most productive of my entire year. And whilst I always push myself to self-reflect that time of year – and this year in particular- is the deepest and most meaningful retrospection of all.

As I reflected on the past year I realized how much had actually happened. We started the year on steroids, the typical ‘go go’ top line investor fuelled growth mode. We operated on vanity metrics instead of sanity metrics.  We were fat and over-bloated. We were management heavy and inefficient. We were shooting for the stars and developed tunnel vision.

And then something painful but retrospectively lucky happened. The investor appetite changed, some of the assumptions, promises and myths came out sour. Some hidden realities came out of the wash. The froth came off the cappuccino.

I’ve said time and time again that the true test in life is what one does when that happens. In our case I’m proud to say that we just picked ourselves up, implemented some drastic changes, got real and elevated sanity above vanity.

It wasn’t easy.  We had to let go of team members, change plans and direction, scrap a lot of things that had emotional equity built in, and especially for the guy at the top who gets the shit from both ends – investors on one and team on other – I can tell you I had more than a few sleepless nights.

But we pulled through. We turned the business into cash-flow positive, we became leaner and meaner, the people staying over being part of the earlier hires who had more dedication and passion about who we are and what we stand for. Who share our sense of purpose.

We made drastic changes like moving from two split locations to one, which meant making our support team in London redundant. We dropped a few balls in the process with some metrics temporarily dipping but overall we came out a winner. Our costs overall halved and our revenue trebled in the year.

For this I am most grateful to the team that’s left over. They are warriors, with heart, passion and dedication. To reward them I doubled the stock pool and allocated a much bigger chunk of equity to the team that stayed for the fight. Some of the more senior management voluntarily took salary cuts in exchange for more stock.

The difference I’ve seen in mindset and perceptions is that from night and day. Its almost a different company now. Before I had employees. Now I have partners. Co-owners. And I push them to look at me more as a peer than a boss.

But good is the enemy of great !

Yet with all of that, I was still troubled at the end of the year. I had a niggling piece of the puzzle missing somewhere. I felt we did good but not great. continue reading »

My Top 10 learnings from 2011

I write this from a snowy and beautiful Zermatt, Switzerland on (appropriately) the last day of the year. The snowfall is too heavy for skiing and alas a perfect opportunity for me to compose the thoughts and reflections on 2011 that have been circling my mind for weeks now and finally crystallized in the crisp air of the mountains.

 And I start with this: wow, what a year! Naturally as an entrepreneur the dominant story of my last 12 months is my company that consumes so much of it. What am I saying – hell – PeoplePerHour IS my life.continue reading »