The story of the startup Ex Machina has to do with the search for a solution to a very common problem which many of us have faced. What will the weather be like tomorrow? Can I be sure that my outdoors plans won’t be ruined by a sudden storm? These questions were also asked by the Greek entrepreneur Manolis Nikiforakis, an ambitious engineer who thought that he could improve weather forecasting. And that’s what he’s been doing since 2013.
Throughout all this time, Nikiforakis has been half way between a private company and his own startup. It hasn’t been easy, but in 2015 this entrepreneur decided to bet all of his knowledge on his idea, together with three other entrepreneurs who make up the Ex Machina team. They are the people behind Weather Ex Machina, “a solution that analyzes the accuracy of weather reports through the Internet of Things and analysis of Big Data.”
Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean conforming
“We liked to do activities outdoors and we were interested in how precise meteorological forecasts were. That’s when we realized that many weather forecasts contradicted each other,” so they decided to create the own innovative startup to predict more accurate weather forecasts. “We were confident that our idea was going to work.”
Nikiforakis refers to himself and his team of three engineers who already had previous experience in private companies. Their knowledge and later their desire to start down their own path to entrepreneurship came out of those years of work; they thought they could do it better. Nikiforakis admits that “moving forward with a startup by working on it part time is impossible.”
The upside of starting up in ICT entrepreneurship, explains this Greek entrepreneur, is that even if their startup doesn’t end up getting fully developed it’s really easy to go back to the private sector. “All of that knowledge doesn’t go away, on the contrary, with each failure your knowledge base grows. If you decide to leave your job to become an entrepreneur you can be sure that in the future you will have the opportunity to go back to working in the private sector. The risk is very low and I would even say that there isn’t any risk since every experience teaches you a lesson. “
Those are the words of Manolis Nikiforakis, who intends to drive away the fear that society has instilled upon us. He recognizes that at first some people, from “older generations,” advised him not to start his own business. In that situation, Nikiforakis asked himself that if he didn’t agree with them on social topics, why should he follow their advice on business matters? “It’s about doing what you want with your life.”
A long way to go to help entrepreneurs
Nikiforakis knew for sure that in order to start his business venture he was going to need the help of someone else, so he got his startup involved in an incubator. Like many other entrepreneurs, the incubator gave him a wealth of advice and knowledge that helped him to launch his project. “I found several mentors and counselors, although it took time to find them.”
The help that accelerators and incubators offer, points of Nikiforakis, is different to the help that is offer but public administrations. For this Greek man, there is still a long journey ahead because “in Europe the support for entrepreneurs is still not at the level it is in the United States. We’re behind in terms of financing.”
And it’s not only economic support that differentiates both entrepreneurial ecosystems. It also has to do with basic concepts. “For a long time entrepreneurship in Greece has been considered something you do to get rich, smoke cigars and buy football teams. We had to explain what a startup was.” In those first few months Nikiforakis had the support of incubators, but then he reached a moment that he had to decide if he was going to continue with his normal day job or stake everything on his new company.
For him it wasn’t a hard decision since he fully believed in what he was going to do and he was sure that, if it was going to fail, it was better to do it quickly. “Entrepreneurs need to develop their own business criteria.” That’s what helped him to refine he abilities as an entrepreneur such as, for example, “being able to see the advantages of mistakes and failure.”
In this sense, Nikiforakis knows that it’s important to have experience as an entrepreneur- he counted on 10 years of experience at a private business- but it is not vital. “We could have become entrepreneurs while at university, since we would have had the same responsibilities that we have now.”
Manolis Nikiforakis conveys this ambition that is common among the most demanding entrepreneurs. There’s one thing he’s sure about, “don’t limit yourself to your Minimum Viable Product (MVP).” Even at the beginning, when everything seems like an uphill battle, you have to be ambitions.
In terms of funding, this translates to knowing what you need to survive. “If someone asks themselves how much money they need to get by they’ll probably realize that it’s less than that had expected.”
And contrary to what it may seem, with Nikiforakis being the owner of his own company, along with his partners, it has allowed him personal freedom that he previously didn’t have. And that is the lesson that young Europeans who are thinking about entrepreneurship should definitely keep in mind.