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Konstantinos Stroumpakis: Apifon’s response to the pandemic challenges

Apifon founder and CEO’s interview with Fortune Greece.

Konstantinos Stroumpakis, CEO and founder of Apifon, spoke to FortuneGreece.com right after his inclusion for the third consecutive year, in Fortune’s 40 under 40 list, a prestigious annual selection of the most influential and innovative Greek young leaders under the age of 40 whose impact leaves a significant mark in local as well as global business.

FORTUNE GREECE INTERVIEW

Apifon’s response to the pandemic challenges: Opportunity for more and better communication

Apifon’s CEO and Founder, Kostantinos Stroumpakis, on the occasion of his inclusion for the third consecutive year in Fortune Greece 40 under 40 list, gives his perspective on the emerging challenges and adjustments mandated by the pandemic, the impact on the business messaging industry, and the company evolution and growth through synergies and expansion into new markets.

2018 was the first year Fortune Greece included Konstantinos Stroumpakis, founder and CEO of Apifon, in its 40under40 list featuring 40 Greek outstanding entrepreneurs and innovators under the age of 40. Back then, the small startup company was counting only four years of successful operations, making the difference in the Greek business environment. A year earlier, Google had recognized young Apifon as one of the world’s top 100 business messaging companies, inviting it to join its revolutionary RCS research program.

Apifon has received numerous accolades including the Hellenic Entrepreneurship Award by the Envolve organization, while building successful collaborations with global companies such as L’Oreal, IBM and Vodafone – all testaments to significant recognition of the company value added proposition, whose scope has a global outlook.

Through the Apifon platform, marketers, entrepreneurs and businesses use multiple communication channels to easily create customer campaigns via SMS, Viber and Email. Business messaging plays a key role in the strategy of a company and the indicative data of the market dynamics speak for themselves. It is estimated that in 2021 alone, the global user base utilizing messaging apps will increase to 2.48 billion, while time spent on messaging apps will increase by 394%.

Moreover, one must take into consideration the new trends that emerged during the pandemic, showcasing the market’s shift to technological solutions that can facilitate service, product promotion, sales and payments while maintaining a common key feature: distance.

Stroumpakis emphasized the rapid pace of Apifon’s adjustment to the “new normal” of our times post COVID-19. In spite of the mandatory lockdown, the company achieved significant growth as business needs for customer communication increased exponentially (message consumption has tripled).

In the following interview, Konstantinos Stroumpakis talks about effectively dealing with the pandemic and its challenges, the company’s expansion into international markets and the rapid change in the business environment.  He also discusses what his inclusion in the list 40under40 really means for him and his team, sharing his insights on business leaders’ required skills in the age of digitalization. 

Mr. Stroumbakis, the Covid-19 pandemic has already led to significant changes in the way we work and operate. How does Apifon fit into this new landscape and how did you adapt to the new conditions?

Following the development of the Covid-19 pandemic in China in the beginning of the year and the devastating spread of the virus in Italy last February, we began to look into possible scenarios for managing the impending crisis very early on. Naturally, the pandemic – a term we were all unfamiliar with until recently – was unprecedented, but in such crises our top and only priority is human life, the health and safety of our people, and that of our customers and partners. So, long before the state lockdown and the social distancing measures were imposed upon us, we started implementing Apifon’s roadmap for remote work.

The new reality, even for people like us who are technology savvy and more than familiar with the digital world, was something we had to get used to, as it radically changed the way we operate. Thankfully, the adjustment process was smooth leading to the mantra “Working remotely is the new trend!” Maintaining caution, we continue to give the option to those team members who wish to work from home to continue doing so. All this is done on a basis of mutual trust that is facilitated through technology, in an open and two-way communication process that allows us to solve any arising issues.

Another key element we needed to address was the necessity to further enhance cybersecurity, heightened at all levels, to ensure smooth and uninterrupted data processing – management. The main priority remains vigilant security of information, a key pillar of our platform reliability, critical in our focus and attention to our customers and their continued trust in us.

The company has grown from being a startup to the point of employing more than 50 people in 2019. As a leader of this group, what were the first actions you took to “shield” Apifon’s prosperity during the pandemic?

Keeping the spark alive, inspiring top performance in our team, requires effort, perseverance and commitment to the company mission and vision. At the core of Apifon lies our anthropocentric philosophy with a focus on customer relationships and their needs to communicate with their own audiences. During the lockdown, we did not stop addressing our clients’ communication needs, allowing them to continue  “talking” with their customers. In early April, we launched a customer initiative (#Menume_DIPLA, meaning “we stay by your side, doubling your gain”) to support all business owners affected, offering a combination of services that would increase /maximize customer interactions.

In a similar manner, we made sure that contact with our staff working remotely was on-going with daily communication between managers and their teams, weekly meetings-reports, so that all issues were discussed and rapidly addressed and resolved. Recognizing the emotional pressure due to lockdown and compulsory social isolation, we offered our teams support at all levels through training, appropriate equipment suitable for their home environment and continuous open lines of communication. 

The pandemic has served as an “accelerator” for the country’s digital transformation, both in the public and the private sector. Is it time for companies to invest in new digital tools?

One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic is the acceleration of digital transformation of the public administration sector as well as the public at large. We have witnessed impressive results in the digitization of key state functions which have greatly expedited and cut red tape for individuals and legal entities. Several companies have also taken actions and acknowledged the urgency of the current need for digital transformation.

While Greek companies have taken several steps due to the urgency of the situation, the penetration of more advanced digital technologies in their daily operation remains low and further steps need to be taken. The adoption of new technologies depends on the size, age and developmental stage of each business and it turns out that most companies have to go a long way to reach a full transition to the digital world. We still need a lot of upskilling and re-education for both the workforce and businesses.  We need to rethink our processes and adopt new systems, but most of all we need to integrate digital culture into our daily lives. We have had a good start, yet now we must keep it up and move further.

“Extroversion” has been in Apifon’s DNA since day one. Now the company has moved on to new growth paths, opening branches in Madrid, Spain. How did you decide to enter this market and what is coming up next?

Our platform and services are globally competitive. Messaging (viber, whatsapp, sms, email) has now become the preferred mode of communication and the language is platform “agnostic.” So why not expand to new markets? Spain is an important market with several dynamic multinational players. The significant awards and honors we have received, are testaments to our high level of customer service thanks to innovative research projects such as “Smart Water”, an IOT Project in collaboration with the Centre for Research and Technology-Hellas (CERTH) and the Thessaloniki Water Public Utility (EYATH SA) which won the IMCL 2019 International Scientific Conference award (Interactive Mobile Communication Technologies and Learning).  Another project “Prime-Predictive personalization of conversational customer communications with data protection by design” won the first prize at the International Scientific Conference Web Intelligence 2019.

At the same time, the company is working on new solutions aimed at small and medium sized businesses in order to enhance their direct marketing effectiveness. What do companies gain when they go down your road for their business needs?

Through the Apifon platform, businesses can use multiple communication channels easily creating SMS, Viber and Email campaigns. Our solutions enhance marketing and sales, as companies can automate the process of acquiring new customers while easily designing attractive links for these new potential customers, without any specialized programming skills. Tracking and optimizing results becomes an easy task through our analytics, while the process of connecting to any system, using a ready-made plugin or API is not complex. As a result, customers such as Zenith, AB Vassilopoulos, L’Oreal digitize their customer communication and “build” brand loyalty, achieving cost reduction and at the same time reducing their carbon footprint, achieving sustainable and environmental objectives.

From Apifon’s foundation until today, to what extent has the volume of messages sent through your platform increased and at what rate is the company growing?

Apifon is growing rapidly due to the endorsement of our customers and the market that trusts our services. The message volume sent through our platform, on behalf of our customers, has seen tremendous growth since our inception. We estimate that  this year, the total amount of sent messages will exceed one billion. Apifon’s growth rate exceeds 50% year after year. In the period of the lockdown, the increase exceeded 100%, as company needs for communication with their customers were heightened. Among our most important clients are companies such as Google, IBM, Viber and Vodafone.

What is your comment on the successful handling of the pandemic in Greece, but also on the active response of entrepreneurship and technology’s ecosystem? What are the upcoming challenges for businesses?

The Greek state addressed the crisis in a collaborative spirit, taking necessary mitigation measures, and trusting the experts. This led to the effective management of the pandemic so far. During this time, we witnessed an unprecedented private mobilization and cooperation between state, scientific community and businesses which lay the foundation for the “day-after” of Greek society and economy.

Referring to the business side, I believe that such crisis serves as an opportunity to integrate sustainable development into overall business strategy. Brands need to connect deeply with consumers’ minds and hearts, enhancing their social footprint. Also, the investment in digital skills training and reskilling/upskilling is essential in the new set of circumstances. I hope that this cooperative spirit will stay alive as the risks of the pandemic are still high.

Your personal path so far could be described as unconventional. At a very young age you got involved in technology and your transition to the business world was quite fast. Looking back today, at the age of 31, what do you think you have gained and how do you foresee your future?

I believe that we are the sum of our choices. I was never afraid of hard work, always diving into difficulties not afraid of the possibility of failure. If someone has the strength to bounce back after a blow, damage or failure, then his/her chances of success are really high. Resilience and perseverance are critical and I do not give up easily. The future is always something you choose to build. I believe in Apifon and in our capabilities, as technology has no boundaries. I totally agree with what Winston Churchill said: “never let a good crisis go to waste”.

For the third year in a row you have made it on Fortune’s 40under40 list. How do you feel about this distinction and where do you attribute it?

I am grateful for being chosen – for the third year in a row – to the ranks of the 40under40 Fortune’s list. There are few things we can do on our own. I strongly believe that modern and true leaders have the courage to be honest with themselves so that they can be open to other viewpoints while asking for collaborations and team participation. This is how they adapt, change, add value and have the flexibility to reach their goals no matter how hard and difficult the circumstances are. So, this distinction is not mine alone, but it belongs to the entire Apifon team. The transition from “I” to “WE” requires determination and persistence as the business environment is ever changing and only through teamwork anything is possible.

Konstantinos’ productivity tips:

-Focus on extroversion and innovation.

-Try hard and consistently to build new products and services, responding to the expanding needs of the market.

-Adjust appropriately and swiftly to the current market conditions.

-Form a corporate consciousness that is orientated towards teamwork and a collective mindset.

-Consider the attributes of Environmental, Social and Governance criteria in all the business processes you follow.

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