20 QUESTIONS: Xenios Thrasyvoulou, CEO, PeoplePerHour

The man behind PeoplePerHour talks pressure from investors, the lure of New York and the three Fs...

by Gabriella Griffith
Last Updated: 06 Dec 2013

1. If you had done something else, what would it have been?

I love to paint and I’m passionate about design so if I had my time again I would become an artist or product designer. In my blog I often try to connect the design world with my own experiences as an entrepreneur.

2. What else would you name your business?

I wouldn't change the name because it describes clearly what we offer and it appeals to the small business community that we are targeting. When we initially launched, we were called PAPerHour for a short while as we offered PA services exclusively. However, we quickly expanded our range of services and now provide a marketplace offering freelance contracts to skilled professionals across many different areas, from design and web development, to copywriting, SEO and project management.

3. If you could be based in another city, where would it be?

New York, where we recently opened an office. The city has a really positive vibe and the feeling anything can be achieved there. Aside from having an opened an office there, New York has a great feeling. People exude such a positive attitude and it's really refreshing. Then there's the diversity, from juice bars to vintage clothes shops, New York really has something for everyone.

4. When you started, how did you raise money?

I turned to the three Fs! Friends, family and (not such) fools, who helped me to raise the initial £35,000 to get going. I really appreciate now that they took a punt on PeoplePerHour in its infancy and am pleased they are starting to see the benefits of their investment.

5. What has been your most important decision so far?

Actually getting started! It was by far the hardest decision and meant going out on a limb but it was worth it.

6. What has been your biggest mistake?

Hiring top management too early because we were too small to really justify the structural restrictions and cost this created. I made these hiring mistakes because I was in a rush to scale up and we had recently secured an additional $3.2 million VC investment.

If I am honest, I felt pressured by investors to make ‘big’ hires, and we were launching a new product, Hourlies, whereby freelancers can offer individually pre-packaged services for a fixed price, like designing three new logos to choose from or writing a blog, based on as little as an hour’s worth of their time.

During that time, our staff count doubled over six months - too much too fast. In retrospect I should have taken more time to hire the right people and scale up more slowly. We probably should have practiced what we preach and used our freelance specialists instead as there are plenty of excellent senior management consultants available.

7. What idea do you wish you had come up with?

The light bulb! I mean who wouldn't have wanted to create what is probably one of the best inventions of all time.

8. How do you handle stress?

By working out. I love to run along the Southbank when in London or Central Park when in New York to clear my mind of the days stresses, and it helps me recharge and refocus. I go to the gym too but it's not as refreshing as a run in the open air.

9. What was your first job?

I was a manufacturing engineer in a factory in Slough. It was as exciting as it sounds! I felt stifled and the role lacked creativity. Ultimately I wanted to be my own boss so really working in a factory in an uncreative job was never going to give me any level of autonomy or make me happy.

10. What was your worst job?

Manufacturing engineer in Slough, it was my one and only job and taught me a lot about myself. I am utterly unemployable and prefer life as an entrepreneur.

11.What was your best job?

I only had one job before I founded PeoplePerHour and that was really not enjoyable... So it has to be entrepreneur. Cliched as it sounds, having the freedom, being your own boss and watching an idea grow and transform into a business has to be one of the most rewarding jobs in the world.

12.  If you were on the Apprentice, what would your team name be?

The Bozos. It stands out and shows we are not afraid of making mistakes, because it means we’re learning.

13.  Which company would you invest in right now?

It would have to be another business that harnesses the power of the crowd to solve problems. I'm a big believer in crowd-sourcing innovation, and Quirky is a leader in that, allowing inventors all over the world to submit their ideas, get feedback and see them brought to reality.

Twice a week the best inventions (voted by the community) are put into prototype production by Quirky themselves. Truly one of the best-case uses of the internet out there and something I'd definitely invest in.

14. Apart from property, what is the most expensive thing you’ve bought?

I don’t believe in buying expensive thing as a rule, it is too easy to become too tied to our possessions. Instead I prefer to spend my money on buying life experiences, travelling, visiting and staying in interesting places. Good life experiences are priceless to me and worth more than expensive the luxuries some people value.

15.  Suits or jeans?

Depends on the occasion but honestly it has to be jeans. I don't wear a suit to the office, I prefer to keep things casual and hate bureaucracy.

16.  Flexible working or office hours?

We always practice what we preach and I wouldn't be a good advocate for PeoplePerHour’s model if I didn't say flexible, it is ingrained in our company culture. We are a small business, and we help other small businesses to grow – they have to work flexibly to survive and compete against the bigger players.

17. What is your favourite thing about your office?

My air conditioning unit and fridge – they are both orange, to match our branding.

18. What app can’t you live without?

Gmail, I know it's a cliche but I’d be lost without it. What businessman doesn’t need to access emails on the go and rarely a week goes by when I'm not travelling out of the country too so it becomes a lifeline when at the airport or in a cab.

19. Who is your business idol?

Steve Jobs - because he is a perfect example of an innovator who wasn’t afraid of being the underdog. He was in a David and Goliath situation and won. We face a similar battle against more established operators, but our focus on serving our audience of SMBs with an affordable offering will help us achieve our goals.

20. If you were Prime Minister for the day, what would you change?

I have to say the Government does seem to be working hard to support enterprise with different tax efficient finance incentives but more can be offered. If I were Prime Minister I would do more to equalise the playing field between small and large businesses. If you consider how much tax SMBs pay compared with larger multinationals, it is imbalanced and this needs to be addressed.

Yes the multinationals do a lot for the economy to generate income and jobs, but so do small businesses. SMBs are the backbone, its the freelancers and start ups out there that are innovating, creating future jobs and reducing unemployment. Freelancers are self reliant, creating their own jobs and becoming financially independent, they need to be rewarded for having the guts to do this.

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