A father, a manager, an entrepreneur. This is the essence of Sotiris Makrygiannis, founder and CEO of CBTec, the Helsinki, Finland-based company behind Eliademy, the free online classroom that allows educators and students to create, share and manage online courses. Sotiris told us a bit more about the project.
FinSMEs: Hi Sotiris. First, can you tell us a little bit more about you? What’s your background?
Sotiris: I’m Greek, 40 years old, father of 2 wonderful girls and started my career in ICT when I was 11. My first start up experience was one of the very first MOOC service called Odyssey.com.cy back in Cyprus 1997. Long before the Americans coined the name and made it a globally recognized acronym.
It was a failure and moved on to Finland to join Nokia, worked as Solution manager planning the demand/supply network, Solution Manager for Social Phonebook and Real time Communications the equivalent of Facebook and Skype. By 2006 I started creating the future of Operating Systems for Nokia, what we call Meego, and I had a sad moment to ramp down the operations in 2012 by laying off the majority of the employees after the infamous “burning platform” memo by Nokia CEO S. Elop.
I took 26 of the very best Meego developers and we created CBTec OY in August 2012 with an original capital of €2,500.
By the end of the year we made €500k in turnover and a very good profit.
FinSMEs: Let’s speak about Eliademy. What’s the issue you wanted to fix?…And what’s the opportunity you found in the market?
Sotiris: Education is a huge market and there 2 major issues: accessibility and quality. We want to solve both problems and the best way is to crowdsource the solution of the problem. Let the mass create a huge amount of courses, let the mass review the quality of each course material and way of learning. Not limited to the information and knowledge that prestige universities want to pass to the students but based on the collective wisdom of the crowd.
We strongly believe in the emerging economy of collaborative commons and there is room for a positive disruption in many fields. Our initiative will force, will be part of the process of making education accessible to all and at low or reasonable price. Is what you call economies of scale and minimal marginal production cost, that opportunity is huge and we see that more and more start ups see this opportunity so the competition will intensify for the benefit of the society.
FinSMEs: How does Eliademy work? Tell me something about the features…
Sotiris: Eliademy is based on simplicity, one click to register, one click to start creating course and one click to publish. Our course creation editor allows teachers to include text without the knowledge of HTML, include interactive pictures, videos, assignments, or even educational applications like Khan Academy. All within the same course. You cannot create such a course in Udemy or any of the big American MOOC providers. This week will also launch private video storage, starting by giving 1 GB free space to all users to create and store their learning videos and at the same time we will be optimizing those videos for mobile and tablet consumption. So its a truly anytime, anyplace any device platform.
FinSMEs: Where are you now in terms of growth? Some numbers? (revenue, employees, customers, users, etc.)
Sotiris: We have daily traffic from 160 countries around the globe and we grow the user base at 10% month to month, organically. We have a global re seller network selling our enterprise edition to SMEs and good customer cases such Ashotel in Spain and Motiva in Finland where they use our enterprise edition to create a learning organization.
At this point of time we are 8, a truly multicultural team in Helsinki and we will be hiring another 10 in the coming 3 months.
FinSMEs: You just raised funding (read here). What can you tell me about the investors? How are you using the funds?
Sotiris: Inventure is one of the largest Funds in Nordics and we are very happy to have them on board. The investment will be focused on the ramp up plan and hiring new people.
Sotiris: Our plan by December is to attract an additional 4 million euro investment to fuel the international expansion and the 2015 plan is to match the users/content numbers of the biggest competitors in the field. Our current math shows that is very possible even if we use 1/10 of the investment that they have got. At the end of the day all 8 billion people will get training online in the next 5 years so the current numbers are nothing compared to what is coming. Is all going to be about execution and productivity and we know very well that game – we were building mass market products before, its not our first time.
FinSMEs: you are based in Helsinki, a fast growing startup ecosystem. What can you tell me about it? Exciting?
Sotiris: Helsinki is the place to be, if you are a start up. The infrastructure here is amazing, both in terms of technology and in terms of quality of living. You can find good quality people at reasonable cost and you have access to unique innovations in the area of mobility, gaming, telecommunications. You want to have a mobility strategy? there is no better place than Helsinki. Of course you have to learn to tolerate the weather but then again the Greek islands are only few hours away.