Vangelis Mihalopoulos used a San Francisco-based start-up, Flipnode to create Yodeck and provide a service that offers ease of use and affordability.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Vangelis Mihalopoulos: Thanks for asking. We’re trying to do the best we can, considering lockdown and safety restrictions can be challenging with two young children. Also, working from home, virtual strategy meetings, and bored kids don’t always mix. I think everyone running startups can relate, because of the immense responsibility the executive team carries.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Yodeck.
Vangelis Mihalopoulos: I always found coding compelling. That led me to pursue a B.Sc. in Informatics and Telecommunications and started working as a software engineer at 22. At some point, the business side of the tech industry also called to me. That’s why I did my MBA while working. You can’t run your own company unless you have a well-rounded perspective on everything that goes into it.
My first venture was around Unified Communications solutions for small businesses. It aimed to make this kind of tech available to small businesses. We worked a lot and tried hard for some years, before calling it a day. Back in those early days, we had that “let’s build something great” enthusiasm, which eventually led to Starttech Ventures. My friend Dimitris Tsingos and I cofounded Starttech as a way of helping other startups grow and prosper. We offer initial investment, mentoring, and all the infrastructure, like marketing and accounting, they will need. I also got bitten (or more accurately, re-bitten) by the startup bug and started working on Yodeck in 2014. After all, once you build something from the ground up, you can’t stop.
How does Yodeck innovate?
Vangelis Mihalopoulos: Yodeck is a cloud-based digital signage platform. From the very beginning, we wanted to offer a service that offers ease of use and affordability. And of course leads to professional digital signage, on-screen.
Businesses, like shops, restaurants and hotels, often relied on flash-drive technology to run signage. And it just doesn’t work. Too many errors occur. Another problem lies in the fact that when people think of digital signage, they think of huge museum displays. Impressive, high-tech, expensive. On the contrary, when it comes to businesses, offices and schools, you don’t need that kind of flashy digital signage. These clients need something reliable, professional and easy. And, most importantly, affordable.
With Yodeck, our clients can use the TV screens they already have to display their promotions, images and videos. As Yodeck is cloud-based, all they need to do is go online and log in. They can then remotely update screens all over the world. And our Yodeck Player gets sent to them pre-configured so it runs on Wi-Fi networks. We wanted shops, bars, schools and offices to quickly get their content on screen, without messing with complicated tech. So, in addition to the platform, we also provide content creation tools to make the process easy. These include free layout templates and free stock images and videos, as well as free integrations to display data dashboards, newsfeeds and weather data.
As simple as it sounds, the fact that Yodeck is easy and affordable is the innovation. So, now the next step we will take focuses on AI and audience analytics. That way any promotions or media content gets customized based on demographics. Moreover, we think this increases the impact of digital signage, as people will see content that interests them.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Vangelis Mihalopoulos: Coronavirus restrictions affected everyone – startups, established companies, market leaders. We were no exception. Because the bulk of our clients comes from retail, restaurants, offices and education, business shrank by 3% within a month. As each sector went into lockdown, of course, many deactivated their screens. Overall, our industry was hit hard as we drive screens in places where people gather.
However, because Yodeck focused on being affordable, most clients kept their subscriptions active. And as countries re-opened their economies in the summer, clients that churned swiftly came back. And after that one month, we were back in our growth trajectory. Our Unique Value Proposition literally saved us. Shops, bars, offices, hotels – the backbone of most economies – needed what we offered. Therefore, they returned to Yodeck. I think how startups are surviving coronavirus in our industry depends on their having a rock-solid UVP. Otherwise, any inherent product weaknesses will definitely show up in stark relief.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Vangelis Mihalopoulos: Firstly, my co-founder and I had to go from supporting a strong in-office work culture to work-from-home. Of course, our team members’ health and safety came first. That was a no-brainer. We thought productivity and collaboration would take a hit. However, we happily report that productivity was actually not affected.
Secondly, we decided to keep working as if coronavirus didn’t impact our bottom line. That meant rolling out new features, improving our product and service, focusing on customer support. On the other hand, we listened to our clients and tried to help them out as they faced financial difficulties.
What we learned from this goes back to us having a sturdy UVP. Because Yodeck is both user-friendly and affordable, we weren’t included in all the cost-cutting our clients had to perform. If we hadn’t based Yodeck on these core values, we wouldn’t have retained most of our clients. In fact, I asked fellow innovators how startups are surviving coronavirus in their sectors. They see the same phenomenon. If your UVP holds water, you’ll survive.
In addition, we wanted to give back to the community. With this in mind, we launched our coronavirus outreach program. Any new accounts and new screens that exclusively display coronavirus health and safety information will be free of charge.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Yodeck in the future?
Vangelis Mihalopoulos: I like running and hiking. It gives me a way to unwind and keep those endorphins up. Spending time during the weekends with my two kids also helps me heal after a hectic week.
For Yodeck going forward, we will keep on hiring as we branch into new tech and new platforms. We want to keep innovating in order to offer our clients the features they need. Coronavirus proved to us that the bedrock we built our product on works. Our clients subscribe to our platform because it meets their business needs. That’s the key to success for all startups. In addition, we want to keep meeting those needs as our clients grow and change as well.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Vangelis Mihalopoulos: Everyone has challenges to meet during the coronavirus pandemic, including startups. Our competitors faced big troubles. However, instead of focusing on what our competitors do, we like to listen to our clients. If they come to us with a feature they need, we examine viability and necessity throughout the sectors we serve.
Additionally, our team, partners and customers collectively brainstorm to come up with future features and capabilities. We like to think beyond the “now” and focus on the future of our product based on feedback from all stakeholders. Furthermore, we will try to expand our clientele in other industries, like manufacturing, that require large-scale screen deployment. The coronavirus disrupted startups all over the world, and in all industries. But moving towards your next milestone while strengthening your UVP must be prioritized. Startups in a post-coronavirus world will still need to think big, plan smart, and evaluate extensively.
Your final thoughts?
Vangelis Mihalopoulos: The silver lining in all this, at least for Yodeck, is that it validated our core business principles. Our UVP held up against unforeseen challenges. Most of our clients either stuck with us or came back once businesses opened up. How startups are surviving coronavirus, and the degree to which they will survive and flourish, depends on if they solve a problem their clients have. And startups have to provide that unique value clients can’t do without.