BOSTON Some startups in Boston are breathing a sigh of relief after Greek lawmakers voted in the early hours of Wednesday morning to approve new austerity measures designed to put the country on a viable financial path.
Why Boston startups? Because they’re also Greek. A growing number of Greek startups have been setting up shop in Boston.
One of them works out of three narrow offices just off Fort Point Channel in South Boston’s Innovation District. The desks are cluttered with oatmeal packets, computer cords and Post-It notes. By the looks of it, it could be any startup in Boston. Called Workable, the startup makes software that makes hiring easier for small businesses without HR departments, helping them to keep track of job openings and applicants. Sales manager Myrto Antonopoulou is Greek, and so is Workable.
“Most of our development department is based in Greece,” said Antonopoulou. “And that’s where our company was founded. But since November, we moved to Boston and started hiring people here. And now this is our commercial headquarters.”
Workable is one of a handful of Greek Internet startups that have been moving here to reach the U.S. market. They choose the “Athens of America” to keep the time difference to their Athens to seven hours and to keep their flights home shorter, too. Antonopoulou said Workable is safe from the bank and cash restrictions that have been plaguing other Greek businesses. After all, more than half of Workable’s clients pay in dollars.
“Less than 3 percent of our revenues are coming from Greek companies,” she said. “And we did make sure to help the companies in Greece now by giving them our product for free until the whole situation gets a little bit better.”
Still, Antonopoulou is anxious. She talks to the team in Athens via phone each morning and follows their discussions over collaboration software. All the news in Greece has been troubling her.
“You know, you never really just think about yourself,” Antonopoulou said. “You think about your friends, you think about your families. What’s going to happen with them, with their jobs? Scary, really.”
“It’s like, every day, this is the most important day,” said Boston investor Marina Hatsopoulos, who visited Greece recently to mentor young entrepreneurs. “And then hour-by-hour, everything’s going great. ‘Oh my God, the world’s falling apart!’ And then, just this roller coaster hour-by-hour.”
Hatsopoulos said it’s no coincidence that the Greek startup sector has been growing at the same time the Greek economy has been crashing.
“What has made life so difficult here over the last seven years is very high unemployment,” she said. “But if you’re an entrepreneur, high unemployment is exactly what you want, because you can hire people.”
Christos Perakis agreed. “You can pretty much hire five [people] instead of one” for the same amount of money, he said.
Perakis is the CEO of Zoottle, another Greek startup that has expanded to Boston. Sales reps are in Boston. Low-salary developers are in Athens. Perakis normally works in Boston, but he’s been in Greece for some meetings and also to vote in the July 5 referendum. He said the trying situation is at least spurring positive changes in young Greeks.
“Maybe five or seven years ago, if you would ask what they want to do with their life, it was always, ‘Oh, I want to work for the government,’” Perakis said. “Government could mean the power company, could be the phone company, could be a teacher. This crisis changed the entire mindset of an entire generation, into: ‘God, there are no jobs. We need to do our own thing.’”
Workable sales manager Antonopoulou says austerity measures will be painful, including for her company, which will probably have to pay more taxes. But she’s grateful to have a job, and work for a company that’s hiring. Workable plans to add 20 more people by the end of the year.
“Being able to build a company that is based in Greece and you know, gives great opportunities to people that are looking for a job and you know, they can actually do something worthwhile, that’s what’s going to help the country get back on its feet,” she said.
If Antonopoulou has her way, startups will give Greece a lift, and strengthen the Boston economy, too.