First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ilias Vartholomaios: Thankfully, we are healthy and safe – and that’s the most important thing. We are trying to stay as vigilant as possible in the face of the pandemic in order to protect those we love; whilst trying to remain cool and collected despite the circumstances.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Owiwi.
Ilias Vartholomaios: Coming from a vanilla Business & Management background, I co-founded Owiwi back in 2014 when I was attending university for my master’s degree. It is there I met my future co-founder, Athina, and our wonderful journey would begin. What started as a class project would end up becoming our respective brainchild after Athina asked me if I was interested in turning our class project – into reality. At this stage, despite not knowing Athina very well, I didn’t hesitate as we complemented each other extremely well, and the idea itself was too interesting to not give it a shot! The unlikeliest of friends at first and 6 years later to today, we have managed to build a successful and award-winning business, but also an incredible friendship that will stand the test of time.
How does Owiwi innovate?
Ilias Vartholomaios: Truth be told, we are a little unorthodox in that department…much like our product; we blend science and art. We are very grounded individuals, but we question and challenge everything – especially the status quo. Data and market trends can be very compelling, but they’re not everything. We rely on our intuition, vision, and team to navigate these unchartered waters as best we can.
On a more practical level, we utilize design thinking, agile development, and product-led growth practices as much as possible – but more interestingly, we maintain very lean operations as we believe that a resource constrained environment is the perfect environment for innovation to take place. Having said that, we also believe that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel in order for something to be considered innovative. It’s a very ambiguous term, but at the end of the day, it’s all relative – whether that’s the industry as a whole or the market/client base you serve.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Ilias Vartholomaios: As a digital SaaS business, we are fortunate to be able to remain less affected by the pandemic and any subsequent economic shock. We keep very lean operations and a small team, and that has definitely helped to weather the storm better. We take small, calculated risks, and thus far, it has prevented us from becoming over-exposed in an otherwise volatile market. Despite all the obvious negative effects…we quickly came to see the pandemic as an opportunity (silver-linings and whatnot) and tried to make the most of it.
On that note, we adapted to the pandemic extremely quickly and worked on providing some helpful tools and materials to the general HR community; as well as offering our solution at a highly discounted rate to help companies in distress – but also to help those who were let go, find new work opportunities.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Ilias Vartholomaios: I once read that startups are not built in Silicon Valley, but between a rock and a hard place…and there’s a lot of tough decisions to be made in that department.
For myself, the short answer is a resounding YES, and ALL THE TIME. Truthfully though, I pursue those hard decisions as much as possible as I firmly believe that making difficult positions is an important part of being a leader and that they give you the necessary experience to build resilience, expertise, and wisdom… key ingredients for success. The most important lessons I’ve learnt have come from those same decisions, and those are to trust your gut (seriously, listen to it!), never repeat the same mistake twice, and adopt a growth mindset. So far, they’ve worked out pretty well for me.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Ilias Vartholomaios: For better or worse, stress and anxiety are inherent elements of entrepreneurship, at least for those who actually care about building a successful business. And while it can be brutal at times, it can also be incredibly rewarding. It’s just a matter of perspective and the narrative you give to the journey and the experience as a whole. Specifically, I adopt a stoic approach to these elements. I have ultimately come to realize that they are great tools to build resilience, which in turn becomes an incredible competitive advantage.
With that being said, I am human – and just like everyone else, I have days where stress and anxiety may get the better of me. In those cases, I turn to my friends and family, basketball, yoga, long drives, video games, and immersing myself in nature. They always seem to do the trick for me—also, food. I love food.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ilias Vartholomaios: As with most businesses, we too have our competitors, both indirect and direct. For context, our indirect competitors are traditional assessment/psychometric providers, such as SHL, Thomas Profiling, and more – while our direct competitors are other game-based assessment providers like Revelian. However, in our case, we actually consider the likes of SHL as direct competitors, as they are the ones that possess the greater market share – which we are trying to capture.
We are continuously investing in our thought leadership in the field of game-based assessments research and positioning ourselves as the most valid and reliable tool out there that can accurately measure soft skills in prospective and existing employees. Our biggest advantage is that we are lean and agile, which gives us a tremendous advantage as we can adapt & respond quicker to the market’s needs.
Your final thoughts?
Ilias Vartholomaios: Remember to stay humble, be kind, and give yourself a break every now and then. You deserve it, and no amount of money ever bought a second of time.
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