You cannot do everything by yourself. You need to quickly build your leadership team with a common vision and complementary skills to drive the company forward — but also to challenge each other, instead of people who agree with your every word.
I had the pleasure to interview Vassilis Seferidis, CEO and Founder of Zeetta Networks. Zeetta Networks is an innovative technology solutions company that empowers clients to monitor, manage and automate the operations of ICT networks — extracting greater efficiency and agility while enhancing the end-user experience and reducing overall networking costs. Vassilis has more than 25 years’ experience in the Telecommunications and Consumer Electronics industry. Before founding Zeetta Networks, Vassilis was VP of Business Development for Samsung Electronics responsible for driving revenue growth and strategic development of Samsung’s Smart TV business in Europe. While in Samsung, Vassilis was included in the Euro50 list of the 50 most influential people in the broadband and Telecommunications industries in Europe for his work in establishing Samsung’s Smart TV platform in Europe. Prior to Samsung, he held executive positions at BT, Toshiba, Philips, QIO Systems and British Standards Institute.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Iwas always fascinated with technology and its impact in people’s lives and my career has focused on using cutting edge technology to solve human problems.
My most recent venture, Zeetta Networks, was started out of frustration. It was not possible to set up the three Wi-Fi access points in my house (purchased over the years from different manufacturers) in such a way so that my smartphone would always connect to the one with the strongest signal.
This seemingly straightforward problem is at the core of the unnecessary complexity of existing networks and the fact that the market is, even today, dominated by a handful of large players. They complicate the market unnecessarily through design and operations, so they can charge hefty fees for their services.
Quite often it is the frustration of restricted choice that stimulates innovation and makes you take a leap into the unknown.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lessons did you learn from that?
Several months after launching my first start-up company, we were running on fumes having nearly exhausted all the friends & family funds we’d raised up to that point. Yes, there was considerable interest from several investors but none made the commitment to lead the investment round.
With only a couple of weeks of runway, I called an emergency meeting late on Friday evening with my team to discuss our options. We decided that if nothing happened during the course of the coming week, we should consider winding down operations. I spend the weekend considering all possible options, and calling everyone I could think of for financial and emotional support!
With a great deal of emotional but very little financial support, we started the week very apprehensively with our regular business review meeting on Monday morning. We had a single agenda item: our plans for winding down the company. Then in the middle of the meeting I received a call from one of the investors. They have been reviewing our investor deck in their investment committee that same morning and decided to lead the round and indeed to put more money in that we thought we needed.
I thanked them profusely and finished the call as quickly as I could — to announce the exciting news to the team. Immediately the meeting was transformed into a celebration of optimism and opportunity. A new agenda was quickly drawn up about the priorities we had to consider for the incoming funds.
What lesson did I learn from this? Well, in life and especially in the start-up universe, things can (and usually do!) change all the time. In such an environment it is important to keep true to your course and never lose hope! Strangely, things often work out in the end.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
I fully subscribe to the notion that determination and hard work are the key ingredients of any success. This has been tested in many environments and circumstances and it has been proven again and again to underpin every single success story, including mine.
This is especially true for a new technology start-up venture where you’re riding a roller-coaster ride with exorbitant highs and abysmal lows. The ability to maintain your sanity at the highs and not lose yourself in the lows is fundamental to your success. You have to keep reminding yourself that the obstacles are there to test how much you really want things.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Failure is not an option. Once you have an “alternative option” your commitment withers. This fundamental mindset keeps you focused and single-minded in pursuit of success.
2. You are always raising funds. At first, I dismissed that as an overstatement. However, the fact is that even between funding rounds we need to keep pitching your business to investors, because it will take twice as much time and will cost twice as much than you thought
3. Make sure you keep a short time every day for yourself. I always find it important to be able to unwind for maybe half an hour every day to consolidate my thoughts and events of the day.
4. Give something back. It is easy to forget that you are very lucky to have people entrusted you with their money and fortunes. I always felt somehow obliged to share my good fortune.
5. You cannot do everything by yourself. You need to quickly build your leadership team with a common vision and complementary skills to drive the company forward — but also to challenge each other, instead of people who agree with your every word.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
You need an anchor, a safe harbor. Someone you can fully trust to discuss and seek advice, but also challenge your perceptions and lending a listening ear. It is a cliché but true: being a CEO is a lonely role and you need any support you can get from mentors, friends and family.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My family has been the most incredible support system. They have been providing bundles of love and support over the years through ups and downs. Of course having another family member as a co-founder in your company is a mixed blessing because they can help you enormously with relevant advice (as they fully understand your problems running the company) but can also be the cruelest critic of your mistakes. Let me tell you, it is not easy to explain to your family why the company is not hitting its targets!
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
On a personal level, I look forward to continuing my involvement with the development of technology startup ecosystem in Greece. Despite the bleak economic situation, there is a growing number of Greek entrepreneurs determined to defy the odds and build high-tech businesses that can thrive in their own right. I am involved with a couple of initiatives in this space as my own small way of contributing to the economic recovery of the country and — most importantly — boosting the confidence of the younger generation.
Professionally, my time is focused on Zeetta Networks. The company has grown substantially over the last three years and it is now in its scale-up phase that requires a new organizational structure to support growth and a new mindset with a longer-term outlook.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I would like to start by making my leadership team financially independent. They are mostly young people with vision and ambition who deserve to be rewarded handsomely for sharing a common vision and staying committed to make it happen. I would love to see them starting their own companies and contribute in a similar way in a kind of “chain-reaction” affecting more people’s lives exponentially .
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I believe in the power of communications in solving a lot of problems in our society because I have experience first-hand how people’s lives can be transformed with honest dialogue and effective communications.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
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About the author:
Carly Martinetti is a writer and entrepreneur who previously founded two award-winning pet tech companies. She loves to explore the intricacies surrounding what makes a successful business leader, their passions, and motivations to improve the world as we know it.