venture capital marathonan Athens, Greece-based venture capital firm, co-founded in 2017 by two representatives of the Greek startup scene, has added €30 million in equity commitments to its second fund about a year after completing the first close with €40 millions.
Sponsors of the vehicle, which is more than double the team’s €32m debut effort, include the European Investment Fund, the Hellenic Bank for Development Investment (which has actually increased its investment, they say) and the European Bank. for Reconstruction and Development.
We exchanged emails yesterday with one of the company’s co-founders, George Tziralis, who said that he, co-founder Panos Papadopolous, and the rest of the team have been issuing seed state checks between €1 million and €1.5 million in a wide range of variety of startups in exchange for a 15% to 20% equity stake. He made it seem on the exchange that the startup ecosystem in Greece is more active than ever, but far from frothy as in many regions around the world. Part of this exchange follows.
TC: Are you exclusively supporting the Greek founders, no matter where they are in the world? Do they have to be native to the country or Greek Americans, for example, or Australian Greeks interest you?
GT: No, absolutely not. [they don’t have to be born in Greece]. If you’re an ambitious Greek founder, we want to chat no matter where you are.
How many female founders have you supported? Are you talking to many female founders of Greek descent? Like many other countries, Greece had a very paternalistic culture, so I wonder what you observed on that front.
We’ve invested in 14 companies so far, and only two have had female founders. There are a growing number of female founders starting out in our wider community, and some of them have been successful. Still, obviously, we have a lot to do on that front and we start tracking the related numbers. [Specifically]we recently launched a compensation report for tech roles in Greece-based startups, in which we also studied gender proportions. The results further highlighted the underlying gender gap, especially in leadership roles. On the other hand, the product and QA/testing functions have proven to be more balanced and we hope they can serve as an example.
What percentage of your founders are based in Greece versus elsewhere?
I would say about half. We’ve invested in founders from Nicosia to Munich, Berlin, Stockholm to London, to San Francisco, and we’re increasingly gaining access to more opportunities in Europe and the US. growing very fast. The next generation of Greeks wants to build a career in startups and not anything else.
It is also interesting to note that a growing number of Greek founders with international headquarters maintain part of their operations in the country. In terms of culture, quality and compensation, this is becoming attractive to more and more companies.
You and Panos are the two general partners of the company, but they have investments in several areas: climate, health, security, infrastructure, finance, education, real estate, productivity, AI, cryptocurrencies. Who specializes in what in the Marathon?
We all focus on building the company – from creating the store, recruiting a team, perfecting the product, getting the marketing and sales right, growing the next round, and so on. These functions are largely industry independent in our experience. We believe that founders know best when it comes to their domain of expertise.
Where does your business flow come from? What kind of outbound work do you do to make sure you’re talking to the right founders?
We started meeting in Greece 15 years ago. In fact, I was holding Open Coffee meetings in Athens every month from 2007 until Covid. We built a vibrant startup community, but there were no investors around and someone had to do it. That’s how I got started with venture capital.
Since we launched Marathon in 2017, we’ve expanded our event presence to destinations in Europe and the US, hosting a sizable group of Greeks doing startups and working in technology. We’ve been to Zurich, Munich, Berlin, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, London, New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, gathering hundreds of participants and bringing together a global community that accumulates experience and enthusiasm about startups. We are on a mission to find all Greek entrepreneurs around the world.
What can you tell me about the size of the market you are following?
It became considerable, fast. In fact, it grew 2.4 times to $4.5 billion last year. You can see our last report hereusing data from CB Insights, to find all the Greek founders who raised money in the last year or who sold their company.
What is your biggest exit to date and what are some of the most valuable companies in your portfolio?
We made ten investments with our first fund, and we already had our first exit. The Lenses.io data streaming platform was acquired by Celonis, a fast-growing enterprise software company with a decacorn rating. Last year alone, half of the Fund I portfolio companies raised a Series A. More specifically: LearnWorlds raised $32 million led by Insight Partners; Causally raised $17 million led by Index Ventures; Hack The Box raised $11 million led by Paladin Capital Group; Augmenta raised $8 million led by CNH Industrial; and Cube RM raised $8 million led by Runa Capital.
Have you raised any side vehicles so you and your limited partners can get a bigger stake in a promising portfolio company (or can you at least keep your pro rata)? If so, were these vehicles registered in the US?
We participated in the Series A and B rounds, keeping our pro-rata with our existing funds. The second Fund II close that we are announcing today is giving us more firepower towards that goal. SPVs are reserved for later stages. A significant number of our LPs are based in the US and participate using various types of vehicles.
Are you seeing more foreign investors verifying startups in Greece than when you co-founded Marathon?
Absolutely. The names in our portfolio speak for themselves.
Are you seeing many more funds formed in Greece?
Yes, activity has increased and we believe there is room for more. Venturefriends announced a similarly sized fund a few weeks ago. Genesis Ventures also recently launched a €20 million pre-seed fund. And there have been several funds originally started in the 2018 crop that are expected to follow up with new funds soon.
What is your newest business and why did you do it?
We drive the seed of maps of Ariadne, a pioneer in real-time commercial property analytics based in Munich. It’s actually a pretty slick affair. Its service tracks the position and trajectories of visitors in an area in real time without the need for an app download, WiFi login or use of cameras. Its adoption by major retailers, shopping malls, transport operators, etc., has been spreading rapidly with benchmark customers including IKEA globally.