“The application and adoption of digital technologies is no longer
an optional action for businesses but a key survival factor”
An in-depth interview with Charalambos Dimitrakopoulos,
CEO of Softweb, and Teti Igoumenidi from Mononews.gr
| Please describe us how Softweb started
You take me back in 2008 when Softweb was established by two young people, 23 years old back then, who used to be classmates in Thessaloniki. Alexandros Asimakopoulos and I made the decision to create our own company with zero capital and with the only supplies, our passion for creation and the few knowledge we had. Obviously, we did not have much experience, but Alexander's technical training in IT and my background in "Business" were enough to make Softweb a reality.
Softweb is a child of the crisis. Company was born and raised in the crisis. It is true that the financial crisis has knocked on the door of many Greek companies. Softweb had not yet established itself in the field and the competition already had a large market share, thus increasing the risk of our entire venture. Although the conditions that prevailed at the beginning of our company were difficult, we took advantage of the fact that the competition would be pressured due to the impending crisis, which would create growth opportunities for start-ups such as Softweb. In other words, we used the momentum to our advantage and our choices justified us from the result.
| What are the key services you provide?
We provide integrated Web and Mobile business software and specialized technological solutions, in order to contribute decisively to the optimization of the processes of every demanding organization that is called to meet the increased needs of its customers and partners.
Softweb currently has 9 product solutions, which focus on the fields of new technologies. Their purpose is to help businesses in the field of sales, to optimize relationships with customers and their partners as well as to reduce their costs by operating more efficiently across the range of workflows they may have. Briefly, let me tell you that we provide solutions that horizontally cover all sectors of the economy in terms of retail and wholesale as well as solutions that are more specialized in the HO.RE.CA. sector, in service companies as well as in companies that want to modernize logistics and warehousing processes.
| Which companies are you addressing?
Softweb is a strategic technology partner for any business that wants to enhance its digital transformation regardless of its field of activity. We address, therefore, every modern business that is called to carry out complex daily processes, having provided solutions to more than 700 customers. Most of them are Leaders in their market. In addition, our customers includes start-ups with innovative ideas that choose us for our experience in new technologies, such as AR, AI, IoT and more. We act as consultants, we are by their side in their first steps, we bring them in contact with VC funds, accelerators and Marketing Agencies.
| What is the evolution of your size so far?
The company started in Thessaloniki and along the way we expanded to Athens. Today, we employ 40 people with this number increasing by an average of about 20% per year in order to continuously optimize the quality of our services. 2020 was another difficult year for the economy. The market and the majority of businesses were tested by the new reality created by the pandemic. However, I remain very optimistic as despite the particularly difficult economic and health environment in which we were called to operate, we fully implemented our investment plan resulting in an increase in Softweb turnover by 44% compared to 2019.
| What are your estimates for the evolution of your size over the next five years?
Every year the organic development of the company is at high levels, ensuring its smooth operation and the necessary funds for investment. We operate with a specific model where the company's goal is to shield an annual growth rate of over 30% in our financial figures. So our estimate for the next five years is that we will have increased our financial figures fivefold, resulting to become by far the company with the greatest dynamics in the field of new technologies.
| Where do you operate outside Greece?
The company has a presence through partners in several countries abroad such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Romania and Bulgaria. We are particularly interested in the markets of Cyprus and UK with a significant part of our turnover coming from these countries.
| Do you notice differences in the treatment you get from your companies – customers, now after more than one year of pandemic?
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest - if not the biggest - influence on culture change with new technologies is COVID-19. From our experience, we see both our customers and potential customers realizing the need for digital transformation of their companies. Prior to the pandemic, many of them had incorporated new technologies into their investment planning 2-3 years later. The new situation forced them to accelerate these investments but unfortunately in many cases without a clear direction and goal. Maintaining the profile of the technology consultant, Softweb together with the respective client formulates a strategic plan with specific steps in order for the company to incorporate every investment in new technologies to the maximum extent.
| From your experience, how ready are small and medium-sized enterprises to adapt to the new era imposed by technology?
Businesses in Greece have not been able to integrate digital technologies to a large extent in their internal operations, ranking our country low in the digital maturity of businesses. Although in some cases Greek companies show a satisfactory degree of adoption of solutions that are part of the early stages of a company's digital transformation (eg. ERP systems, use of social media, etc.), they lag behind in other aspects of digital maturity with the most significant deficit as towards the adoption of new technologies (eg online stores, mobile applications, etc.). Softweb has as its target group the SMEs with a special focus on medium-sized enterprises which seem to have the necessary dynamics and will to adapt to the new circumstances.
| It is said that if a business does not adapt it will eventually "die"…
Here I will answer briefly. Strongly Agree! The application and adoption of digital technologies is no longer an optional action for businesses but a key survival factor.
| To what extent do you deal with public sector projects?
Softweb operates mainly in the private sector. We claim only specific Public sector projects which are covered by the services we provide with the aim of gaining further experience and expanding our solutions.
| How do you see the ongoing debate on digital transformation of the public and private sectors?
First of all, it is important that there is this debate as well as the fact that steps are constantly being taken in this direction. According to a study, one in three companies has the internal capabilities, infrastructure and staff to develop digital technologies. Personally, I believe that a key factor in the digital transformation of a business is its culture. The culture in the business is a consequence of the general market in which a company operates. Therefore, if the public sector manages to increase the rate of its digital transformation, this will have the effect of being an "example to imitate" for a change in the culture of many Greek companies.
| What advice would you give to young people considering starting their own business?
At first I would advise them to be sure of their project as it is a marathon. If they really feel confident then they should dare to listen to anyone and anything that may distract them from their goal. You make your fortune by working hard. Nothing will be given to them. But when they manage to establish their own business they will see their efforts rewarded (I'm not just talking about financial reward) and I hope they feel proud that they dared to do so regardless of the outcome.
| How easy is it for a business like yours to find the right staff?
In general for companies of our size but also especially for Softweb which has an annual growth rate of its executives by about 20%, I would say that it is quite difficult. That is why we have invested in the development of our own executives. Our philosophy is to constantly train them with the aim of taking on new tasks and moving them to positions of responsibility. So it is as if one "pushes" the other resulting in both the personal development of the executive and securing the right staff for the company.
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