27th economia Student Contest

Startup Ecosystem Sustainability: The defining moment of Greece’s innovation capabilities

Georgiou Dimitrios & Chousou Stavroula

 

Introduction to the Greek Startup Ecosystem: A curious case of questionable sustainability.

With the negative impact that the extended COVID-19 crisis had financially, socially and healthcare-wise, the undisputed growth of the Greek Startup Ecosystem is truly a refreshing “anomaly” in the overall glooming domestic and international environment. Indeed, the Greek Startup ecosystem has entered a period of maturity and the empirical evidence indicates an industry of considerable size on its phase of development. Most notably, important Household US-based VC firms such as Bessemer Venture Partners and FJ labs are currently investing in Greek talent, whereas technology giant “Microsoft” completed its first acquisition in the country and plans to expand on its investments in Greece. Moreover, according to data by Crunchbase and Marathon we conclude that between 2010 and 2018, 300 Greek startups raised a total of € 2.4 billion in 500 investment rounds by 268 venture capital funds and that 47 acquisitions and 5 IPOs took place [12].

Various factors have been crucially contributing to the shaping of this fertile ecosystem. First and foremost, the joint action by Greek government authorities and their European counterparts has been decisive. Greece will receive €13.5 billion in grants from the EU Recovery Fund over the next 2 years to support the short-term labour in the face of the pandemic, a crucial element for many seed stage startups [2]. Furthermore, with the program of “Invest Europe 2019” and the “Equifund” initiative, the VC funding was instrumentally boosted, backing three out of four Greek companies in 2020. Secondly, the crisis acted as an accelerator, highlighting the imperative need for digital transformation of Greek society and economy. More than 60% of Greek businesses retained more than 50% of their employees teleworking and 90.2% activated (or intends to do so) a digital transformation roadmap [2], while the Greek Ministry of Digital Governance presented The Digital Transformation “bible” for the years 2020-2025 outlining the digital strategic axes for Greece’s digital upgrade [9].

 

Despite all the aforementioned in place and Greece’s young and skilled entrepreneurs in great numbers, there is an imperative need for expansion of the startup development basis to ensure greater structural solidity and more provided opportunities. Evidently, Greece falls behind its Southern European counterparts as an innovation center [1]. This has a practical aspect: in a sector where only 1/3 of seed startups are success stories, the active but very few available VCs do not have the capacity to fund approximately 780 ideas per year[1] [6]

This discrepancy constitutes a grave issue. As does another irregularity: the majority of startups, proceeding from their seed stage to their maturity phase do not acquire a sustainable state of being. More particularly, we refer to a post-seed startup which contributes proportionately to its expanding needs, labor positions while maintaining a steady rate of financial success. The philosophy of startups is based on hiring new people, giving opportunities to younger and eager workforce members. Is hiring new people unsustainable or is their overall growth unable to be sustained?

For the purposes of this paper, we will concentrate on the food delivery app sector, which has been on the rise over the past few years and especially during the pandemic. In 2015, Statista [15] reported that consumer spending on food delivery reached 30 billion worldwide, while expanding drastically. In the year 2020, Europe online food delivery market was $13.8B (Uber Eat, Glovo, delivery Club, Just Eat, Deliveroo top 5 highest installed European food delivery apps), being anticipated to be valued $20.27B by 2026, experiencing enormous growth, due to COVID-19 restrictions and the escalating utility of Smartphones. Food delivery is a €1.5B business in Greece, with online orders accounting for 20% of the market (€1.5M). The online delivery business is an oligopoly, based around only two businesses, the German-based Online Delivery (Delivery Hero) and the Patra, Greece-based Delivery. The first controls e-food.gr, clickdelivery.gr and deliveras.gr, which acquires 90 percent of the market, while the second runs the delivery.gr site, getting the remaining 10 percent share of the market.

 

Case study: E-food.gr from rising startup, to everyday necessity.

 

When a marketplace achieves liquidity (supply & demand are solved in a sustainable way that accounts network effects) then a smart business grows easily and can retain its competitive market place. E-food.gr is the #1 online food delivery service in Greece right now, operating in more than 15000 stores in 90 cities, since it occupies the first place in the Greek Google App Store steadily. It started in 2012 and it immediately became a great success. Three key factors and some competition gaps were the main reasons why.

 

Firstly, the supply must be exhaustive, not just adequate, so e-food.gr surpassed its 2 steadily growing competitors that had a limited number of restaurants and types of cuisine, bringing on board as many restaurants as possible. Secondly, the marketplace startup invested heavily upfront on organic search traffic (SEO), compared to its competitors, providing full merchant profiles, pictures and ratings and achieving more than 200 thousands of  organic search visits per month. Today, marketplace’s success explains the surpassing of the “direct” marketing channel (54.61%) over the “organic search”, while achieving more than 2.66 M (total) and (0.4 * 2.66 = 1064 M organic search) visits per month.

While those were the initial causes of its establishment in the Greek market, the overall connection with the public suggests something more than efficiency and proper competition analysis. The “e-food” social media presence is strong. The average user’s engagement rate on optical material in the respective platforms is more than 650%. This activity must be attributed predominantly to the successful, diversified and innovative marketing practices adopted since the company’s beginning, which have since become its trademark.

 

Let’s explore some statistics for March 2021[1]. Acknowledging the standard deviation on the numbers, we conclude that people are attracted more with “meme” posts on Facebook, Instagram, with “mention @” posts on Facebook and with “competition” posts on Instagram. Establishing proper marketing KPIs is important for food delivery companies [16], so we constructed the following

 

Instagram achieved the best score on this metric ~ 0.020 proving the superior engagement of Greek community, and Facebook the worst, therefore we assume that common posts do not have a significant impact. Partnering with famous Greek YouTube comedians is a smart strategic marketing option (videos, ads) that helped reaching the brand’s main buyer target groups (male/female 18-44) and achieving a 60% average completion rate, 15% ad view rate and 550% in branded queries [17]

E-food, is ranked #91 in Greece (based on the frequency of visits) [19] and  #1 as a startup leader (based on SR metric reflecting the web and social importance of the startup) [20], uses 43 different technologies to provide qualitative web and mobile UE [18] [21], achieving an average of ~ 125 K monthly downloads (2M in total) [22].

 

Taking into consideration the review (data of 60 documents) [FIG 4], we examine whether efood.gr is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable especially during this COVID-19 outbreak.

 

Firstly, employees are increased from 167 (NOV2020) to 344 (MAR2021) (105% increase) [22] with an average of 10 open positions every time (21 right now [25]) across different fields (Sales, Support, Operations, Engineering etc), while delivery personnel –  are expected to grow from 1000 to 2400 [29], indicating industry’s economic impact. Despite charging each order 12.4% to 16%, e-food.gr is ranked # 5 in the list of top 25 Greek best workplaces [26] and retains 3.8/5 ranking (38 reviews) in the “glassdoor” [28]. The overall performance of a business is closely linked with the dynamic of the workforce’s internal groups [30]. Also, innovations such as the new strategic partnership “efoodtogo”[36] with the supermarket-chain “Sklavenitis”, brings new forms of goods’ delivery in Greece and considerable revenues, especially during the pandemic, as it presents compatibility to key aspects of strategic partnerships: nature of goods or services, partnership’s relative safety and ensuring prospects of shared learning [31].

 

Secondly, efood.gr decently handled safety concerns around both COVID-19 and its delivery people, by making possible intact deliveries (and tipping), by increasing the number of partnering areas and stores, and by offering €250.000 for the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) strengthening. Furthermore, recognizing that huge motorcycle usage by its personnel could affect road congestion and accidents [40], efood.gr innovates once more, by motivating[1] people to explore discounted meals on over 68 categories-filters and correctly estimating delivery times[2].

Thirdly, environmental sustainability seems to be the food delivery apps’ biggest flaw. Although efood.gr’s efforts to raise people’s awareness about food waste are commendable [37], we also acknowledge that people[1] would be willing to eat a more plant-based, low-carbon diet if they know their food choices’ environmental impact. Therefore, efood.gr’s environmental footprint should be at great levels, as Greece is low on the EU’s recycling plastic list [33], although it is second to last in single-usage packaging generation per capita [34]. However the European Strategy for plastic reduction until 2030 issued by the EU in 2018 will ban single-use plastic packaging for all sectors for the period 2021-2025, by June this year [35]. E-food has much room for improvement in this regard. The ecological transition will challenge the food industry greatly, but the sector’s future sustainability seems to depend on the development of relatively cheap reusable packaging.

Concluding: The future of Greek Startups’ sustainability through the food delivery app’s peculiar paradigm 

 

In a nutshell, the Greek Startup Ecosystem is blooming, but that does not guarantee its sustainability, just the rise of opportunities and promising factors. To achieve more favorable circumstances, greater VCs and new funding tools, the performance of post-seed stage startups must achieve sustainable liquidity. As to how, that varies. But lessons learned from the top Greek food delivery app are central in order to achieve key elements of establishing oneself and setting new “norms” in a given marketplace: covering market gaps, app design and digital representation, innovative marketing techniques, as well as strategic partnerships of mutual gain are “key”. To maintain a defensible leader position, exploiting network effects is crucial.

 

All these of course, raise the question: is there any place for new delivery apps in Greece and if so how much time would it take for a newcomer to be established in this particular ecosystem? This answer depends on many unpredictable factors, but if e-food’s and its competitors’ performance data reveal anything, this would be highly unlikely. What is more, Greek society is highly sensitive to change culturally and thus, a well-established, popular cultural “mark”, like the efood.gr has managed to become, would be relatively hard to sway. [32]

 

In 2014, efood.gr had an exit deal of €24.4 M, while its gross earnings increased from €0.7 M. to €43.17 M. (€16.8M net profit) in 2019 [42], confirming that ‘Delivery Hero’ just depreciated the initial investment and started making profit. Exit deals are polymorphic [44] and the ultimate goal of a profitable venture [43]. Efood.gr sees 50000 orders daily, maintaining an extremely profitable business, while contributing socially (COVID-19 handling) and economically (new job positions). Having added the promotion of environmental campaigns as a business value, efoogr.gr will evolve into a sustainable leader, becoming an example to over 500 Greek startups that seek the investment of 16 VCs [44] and exploit the benefits of 31 incubators, 18 accelerators and more than 30 startup competitions [8]. The VC funding and the value of exits account only for ~€480M and ~ €650M respectively, indicating that Greek startups have room to grow sustainably and strategically in an environment in which tourism and logistic represents 25% of the greek GDP, the Millennial generation enters the business world etc.

 

Developing the startup environment and innovation is a field with political, technological, economical, legal and even psychological aspects, and consequently it is imperative to be examined as such. Using audience-involving practice via questionnaires and intersectional approaches is crucial to collect robust data and answer research questions regarding the aforementioned goals.

 

 

[1] 51% of surveyed Americans

[1] With coupons

[2] UberEats uses machine learning techniques to increase accuracy [41]

[1] Manually exported

[1] As in 2013

 

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