By: Sylvia Klimaki*
In the finance world, a “plum” means an investment which has performed extraordinarily well over a prolonged period of time, without being considered a risky investment. An investment proposition which sounds even sweeter than the eponymous fruit itself.
A plum investment is what the company Plum is now offering. Is it too good to be true? A safe investment with long term returns. Being safe might be true of Plum’s value proposition, but it is not an attribute of Victor Trokoudes’ character.
Trokoudes is Plum’s CEO and the person who founded the business alongside Alex Michael, who serves as its CTO, just two years ago.
Describing someone as a “serial entrepreneur” has become a bit of a cliché but if there is a description which accurately portrays Victor, that is it. Despite his young age, he has already had more successes and failures setting up businesses than most people have in a lifetime.
Trokoudes tells the Greek Reporter, “I started my career in finance where I worked for two years at Morgan Stanley. Only three weeks into my fledgling career at Morgan, Lehman collapsed, and I along with many colleagues was told that we might not last the next month.
“I somehow survived, through and stayed there for two years; but in that time I steadily realized that trading wasn’t for me. I saw it as a game, and if you know how to play the trading game you can do well, but you don’t feel like you create stuff. I liked the idea of building something that would have value,” Trokoudes explains.
It is this added value for both himself and his target customer that Victor clearly strived for in his next three ventures after departing Morgan Stanley. “I first tried launching my own hedge fund, and managed to raise £1 million. I traded for a while, but then I realized that despite having raised £1 million, it was very hard to continually raise money.
“My partner and I at that time were very young and a bit naïve in terms of how fast we thought we could raise money,” he says. So his first entrepreneurial endeavor faded away.
While he was pursuing an MBA at the international graduate business school INSEAD, someone from Paypal came to the university and gave a talk about the (then) innovative and revolutionary platform, which was changing the world of online payments.
That was a turning point for the Greek entrepreneur. From then on, he gained an interest in “fintech” or finance technology. After his time at INSEAD, and before joining TransferWise, Trokoudes founded Bluebird Global, an ipad-PoS reseller, which he sold three years ago, making a profit on his first “tiny exit” as he describes it.
He then moved to “TransferWise,” where he helped build and lead a team of 25 people, helping the business expand across twenty-five markets. TransferWise (which includes Richard Branson and the PayPal founders amongst its investors) is a money transfer service supporting more than 750 currencies. It had an estimated $4 billion worth of monthly transfers and a reported £9.5 million in profits in 2018. And all this from a company which started up less than a decade ago!
However, despite his successes at TransferWise, working there didn’t quench Trokoudes’ thirst for creating something by himself, and he made the brave decision to leave. He says, “I joined TransferWise in its infancy. I wanted to learn how to build a company and grow it. Once I did that, I wanted to take the next step.
“When I started, we were five people, and when I left the company it had 500 employees,” he states, a fact he appears extremely proud of, perhaps because he had clearly helped build something of real value.
Speaking to the Greek Reporter, Trokoudes told us he came up with the idea of setting up Plum in his early thirties after feeling guilty for not saving any of his income. This is a common occurrence in the consumer environment millennials are now growing up in, but it contrasts dramatically with the world his Greek-Cypriot father had grown up in.
The entrepreneur’s father constantly encouraged him to better manage his money. “When I met Alex (Plum’s co-founder), we wanted to build the easiest way for people to save up money, and this is what Plum does: it is helping our customers save and invest their money,” Trokoudes states.
Plum identifies bills where people are getting overcharged, a very regular occurrence in the UK at the moment especially with gas bills, internet providers and other such expenses. Plum makes it easy to manage the entire process of identifying the bills the consumer is overpaying for, and identifying solutions to reducing this cost.
In addition to this, Plum’s algorithm automatically saves a tiny proportion of peoples’ monthly income while simultaneously identifying and suggesting suitable investments. The results so far are impressive.
Trokoudes tells us, “Since January 2017, when Plum was launched, we have been growing by 20% a month. We currently have 270,000 users in the UK as of March, 2019. On average, our algorithm helps save from £20 to up to £500 per month for each customer,” he adds.
Plum recently completed their series A funding led by VentureFriends, a Greek-based €70M venture capital fund. “We decided we wanted to expand the team and build a tech hub, not in the UK, but in Athens. We are Greek Cypriots, and we truly believe the young talent in Greece is great,” Trokoudes explained.
“We currently have eight developers in Greece and Alex, the co-founder and CTO of the firm, moved to Athens full-time to run the office and hire more people,” he added.
According to the entrepreneur, the Greek “start-up ecosystem” has fantastic potential to grow and flourish, even though it is still very much in its infancy. For this very reason, he feels it is now a good time to be in Athens.
When asked whether he would consider moving there permanently, Trokoudes’ response is ambiguous. “This is hard to say, I am going for a month in July but I am not sure I would be able to move to Cyprus or Greece full time. I would miss London’s buzz, and that there are constantly things going on here, but you never know.”
When asked for advice to young aspiring entrepreneurs, he said, “Find something you are passionate about, go for it, build a good team, learn from others and try hard.” Trokoudes has clearly taken his own advice, because he has typified all of these traits, including passion, a desire to create a strong team and a motivation to work hard to achieve his goals.
Let’s hope there are more entrepreneurial Greeks abroad who share Trokoudes’ faith in the Greek workforce and who will help attract international business back to the shores of Greece. Could this “start-up ecosystem” he describes mature into a flourishing Hellenic fin-tech hub? Only time will tell.
Sylvia Klimaki is a writer based in London.