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INNOVATORS VS COVID 19

Beat – the top ride hailing app in LATAM shifted its focus during COVID-19 and launched delivery services to support local communities! CEO Nikos Drandakis explains how they did this.

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Nikos Drandakis Beat scaled 1

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?

Nikos Drandakis: The COVID-19 pandemic has been uncharted waters for all of us. Everyday has been a new lesson learned, being presented with a different set of challenges. I feel grateful that all the people I deeply care about are healthy and safe, protected at home.  All of our team members in Greece, Athens and in Latam have been working remotely for the last four months, and are safe and healthy as well. I want to take advantage of the opportunity and express how positively surprised I am by people taking the responsibility of their actions and do their part in the battle of flattening the curve.

Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded beat

Nikos Drandakis: I founded my first tech startup in the late ’90s, followed by many other projects. My first startup was suppline.com, a B2B marketplace helping businesses order their supplies online. Within two years, suppline.com was sold. Few years later, in 2006, I launched sync.gr, a blog aggregator and social networking app for bloggers which was active until 2009.

Most recently, along with a small team of three co-founders, we founded Beat (ex Taxibeat), connecting millions of passengers with nearby available drivers in real time, 24/7. Beat is an unlikely success story. It was founded in 2011 during Greece’s worst recession in decades, but has since become the country’s most popular ride-hailing app and number one startup success story.

In 2017, Beat was acquired by Daimler Mobility Services and since February 2019, the company is part of the FREE NOW Group, the ride-hailing joint venture of BMW and Daimler, leading the group in growth.

On an international level, Beat is the fastest-growing ride-hailing app in Latin America and one of the biggest success stories in the region in the ride hailing sector. We are currently present in Latin America’s 5 biggest Spanish speaking countries (Peru, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina) and in 27 cities.

How does beat innovate?

Nikos Drandakis: At Beat, we exist to build technology for a better urban life. It’s been about 9 years since we started bringing to life the dream of a better transportation option and we haven’t stopped ever since. The ride has been full of challenging and rewarding times. Our main focus and non negotiable priority is the development of cutting-edge technologies in all markets where we operate in.

We invest in hiring world-class talent, constantly upgrading our systems, having dedicated teams working in Machine Learning and Big Data among others. We believe in great teams that can both identify gaps in the market and markets in the gaps.

Our Headquarters, based in Athens, Greece, along with our Tech Innovation and Engineering Hub in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, are the heart of the company’s product development, research and innovation.

Innovation is at the heart of everything we do. Being an app focused solely on the region of Latin America, we invest in understanding local culture and local drivers’ and riders’ needs like no other. Our presence in the region has been followed by the launch of different services to address every need of our communities, providing fast, safe, reliable and affordable transportation – and most recently – courier options.

The list of our services currently includes: Beat Core service, Beat Plus, Beat Lite, and our newly added courier services, Beat Envío and Beat Envío Moto. During the curfew application and lock-downs due to the health crisis, committed to keep our communities connected and safe, we launched a series of emergency services such as Beat Mission, Beat Bus, Beat Envío and Beat Envío Moto, to proactively manage risks of exposure to the virus and help people properly address the situation.

Our near future plans include the exploration of more, new services to provide support to our communities and address every need.

How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?

Nikos Drandakis: The impact of the crisis in people’s everyday life has been tremendous, with most of the public sectors being inevitably affected, including public transportation. Our industry could not be an exception. My team and I were and still are 100% focused on overcoming the global financial crisis we had to face, as we saw 80% to 90% decline in our business across all markets.

Inevitably, our offices across the world could not operate without incurring substantial economic losses. Our driver centers were not operating and our service had to be temporarily disabled in most of the markets we operate in due to the State of Emergency. Still, from day one, our number one priority was to preserve the job of our employees and avoid layoffs. I never was so determined to see our company getting through this. I am looking forward to a very bright future right after we exit this crisis and I wanted each of our people within the company to be with us the next day.

Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?

Nikos Drandakis: Paraphrasing the words of Theodore Russvelt: “in a moment of crisis, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” We all had to make choices and so did I. My main goal when trying to do the right thing was to preserve our capital so as to be able to preserve our employees. I had quite a few options available.

One option was to do what every other ride-hailing company did: lay off 25% of the personnel and make a new, fresh start with the rest. This was the “wrong thing” for me. I decided to go with the “right thing” and preserve the employees. But this decision required a very complicated mix of actions; from implementing temporary voluntary salary reductions for a limited amount of time to part-time work. Still, the dedication and hard work of our teams allowed us to get back to our full salary and work one month earlier than anticipated.

How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and beat in the future?

Nikos Drandakis: It really depends on how one defines stress and anxiety. Anxiety for me are the butterflies when working on a new concept or idea. Anxiety is the intoxicating “insanity” that allows me to dream out of the lines and get closer to my full potential. Anxiety equals creativity for me thus I am worshiping and taking full advantage of the moments when creative stress knocks on my door. For the rest of the moments, what really soothes me is reading as much as I can, every book that comes towards my way and staying informed on all the new technologies.

Allow me to reply to the second part of your inquiry with a question I enjoy asking myself in difficult and challenging times as the one we all experience nowadays. What advice my future self would have given me if he had the chance to meet me in the present moment? No matter how often I ask myself that, the reply I get back is constantly the same: “Trust your instincts and take the plunge”.

I guess what I am trying to say here is that, even though the future is charmingly uncertain, I will keep having as a north star and advisor my rooted belief that taking chances can lead to excellence in all forms and applications. From inspiring others to live the best versions of themselves, to being an exceptional and inspiring leader for my team and ensuring excellent customer experience on cutting-edge technologies for all passengers using Beat around the world.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Nikos Drandakis: At Beat, we fundamentally believe in our ability to grow in South America. We are an app focused solely on the region of Latin America and we are proud that we managed to keep our hyperlocal approach and mentality to all countries we are present. Agility is our north star and our secret weapon against our larger global competitors. We intend to differentiate ourselves from other ride-hailing apps in the region with our super user-friendly app and an excellent customer service.

Our priority is to maintain a hyperlocal approach in everything we do, from product to operations and marketing. While other brands focused on Asian, European and US markets, Beat took a unique approach in serving the under-served Latin American markets, becoming one of the leading ride-hailing apps in the region. We achieved this with much less capital via a deep, obsessive focus on offering our customers a more efficient localized service, ruthless execution and preserving our product-driven, engineering culture like a holy grail.

Your final thoughts

Nikos Drandakis: Thank you for interviewing me! Let’s all stay positive and have in mind that Shakespeare wrote the masterpiece, King Lear, while quarantined for plague. During these times, the human race has a proven track of performing greatness both independently and collectively. COVID-19 illustrated that there is an expiry date on blaming others for steering us in the wrong direction. It is our time to take the wheel and take actions to make our future brighter.

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