Kimon Fountoukidis: Translating Success for Krakow
He went from selling t-shirts door to door to running a global translation services company. Meet Kimon Fountoukidis, CEO of the ARGOS Multilingual and PMR. Kimon moved to Poland 23 years ago and in this time he became a highly successful entrepreneur with an innovative approach to doing business. Learn his story, his insights on how to do sales, why job automation is not a bad thing, why Krakow is the best place in the world and much more in this week’s episode.
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Table of contents:
- 02:18 Intro
- 05:49 Philosophy of Business
- 08:44 Why to start business in Poland
- 10:39 What is a translation company
Mistake is just a learning oportunity.
- 14:05 Sam’s experience with translations
- 16:44 Funny aspect of Business Angel cooperation
- 20:48 Why transparency is the key to trust.
- 14:05 Sam’s experience with translations
Kimon’s Innovative approach to Business
- 27:02 Great use of Corporate Social Responsibility
- 30:41 Women in the workplace
- 33:19 Why competitive shouldn’t mean cheap
- 36:59 Jobs automation as a good thing
Personally from our speakers
- 43:44 What Kimon thinks about Krakow
- 45:29 Future of Argos
- 47:28 Richard’s Investment
- 50:22 How to choose your Business name
- 51:30 Outro
Hello again Project Kazimierz listener, my name is Sam Cook, your founder and co-host of Project Kazimierz. As allways with my co-host Richard. Richard, how are you today?
Very well, good afternoon wherever you are or depending what time of day it is good morning or good night.
Richard with his trademark opening. Richard who is the guest today, you were very excited when you called me that our next guest was available, so why is it such a big deal ?
Well it’s extremely exciting when my business partner for over 15 years Kimon Fountoukidis is available because I’ve been watching the tremendous progress with the business he’ve founded made over the years. We also have another business PMR together, but his the CEO of Argos Multilingual. I think we’ve first met on a small side street in the center of town called Sarejgo back in 1999 or 2000 and over the years he have build one of the most successful businesses I’m associated with. But I think it would be much more interesting for Kimon to introduce himself and tell us how he ended up in Poland and what he’s doing here than to me doing an accurate version. So over to you Kimon.
Thanks Richard. Yeah so basicly I’ve been in Krakow now since 93 so now what is it..
Okey, yeah you allways have that on me, you’re a couple years here before me. I ended up here.. I initialy was just teaching english in Slovakia. My dream was actually to live in Prague. I’ve never got there. When I just visited Krakow over a weekend and I sort of fell in love with the city. But I was allways entrepreneurial. Growing up I did a few businesses. I remember selling a t-shirts door to door in college. I don’t know if you’ve ever done door to door sales. That’s true sales. Actually knocking to doors and you say “hey, wanna buy something?” that’s actually real sales. But anyway, so I ended up coming to Krakow. I was interested in Eastern Europe as I thought there’s going to be a lot of opportunity here I sort of fell in love with the city and I started with just teaching english and I was trying to figure out what can I do. And I started calling up all these american companies. I got a list from the consulate and it was funny back then. I don’t know Richard if you remember but back then if you called up an american company and speak english. I didn’t even speak in Polish back then. They’d like put you right away in the CEO or the country manager, because nobody could speak enligsh. On that particular occasion I actually got through to the country manager Donnelley Printing. Donnelley – it’s now Donnelley – then it was Polish American Printing Association. I was looking for a job and he’s like “what do you do?” and I’m like “I teach English. He’s like wow come in meet me and I went in there and he told me “Yeah I actually need an english teacher, I’ve got like 50 or 60 people that don’t speak english”. I basically set up a course for the guy. I’ve hired some teachers and the guy was from Texas and I remember his Texas draw and I massively massively overcharged him and I sort of charged him american rates. But back then I remember I took a vacation I went to Turkey, I didn’t work for a while. So I started doing that and I learned the language. I was getting into translations. I actually through that had to make that business legal I had the invoice at Donnelley so I went to the boss to the place where I was teaching and I basically needed to legitimize the business so I had to get the invoice so through that I ended up meeting profesor Janiusina. Who was a sociology professor here and he was running the foundation that had those english courses. And he was like super impressed that there is like young kind that and I was like 22 back then and all this money was comming through his counting so after that he was interested in me and he sort of offered me a job. And that’s how I actually’ve founded PMR which is a business publication market research here in Krakow and the translation business Argos, I actually used that to pay the bills. So that’s basicly how I got started.
One of the things that’s interested is philosophy to business and prior to this interview I was sending Sam articles that he wrote way back years. And anyone doing is if you google “Fountoukidis in Poland” there’s only on of you I think. There’s one about price being full letter world. There are some interesting features about the characterstics of the Polish market in terms of how easy it is to sell here. How easy it is to sell abroad. And what our advantage was compared to most to the other translation companies that were going after the local market.
Yeah, so basicly I’ve learned early on it was very difficult to do business for me in Poland. It mainly was because in the translation business. Back then if opened up “panorama firm” that was the sort of like guide to all of the businesses. And find like tons and tons of translation companies there. So I had to differetiate and they were basically differentiating on price. And it’s very difficult and quality was non-existent.
Richard that was just right after you’ve invested in the company. I used that investment to hire some people and that was really the moment that we when we really started to internationalise the business. Before that I was like putting leadists into our like PMR newsletter and actually was doing business with a foreign companies in Poland. But once we got outside of Poland and the clients really cared about the quality and the technology became a really important factor, so very very early on I learned that there was really market for these services. Obviously there a market in Poland for these services but it isn’t as nearly big as outside of Poland.
I’m sure that many of you listening have no idea what the global localization translation market is like. If you could describe what the big plans were and I’d give you the example of SDL. It was the fact that you had client, them called SDL that got me really interested in investing.
But the funny thing about this industry is that as we talk about this companies SDL is probably I don’t know it’s a top five company to publicly traded in the UK. It’s a very very fragmented industry It’s not like people know the name SDL or the biggest companies called langruage. People don’t really know these names. I think it’s a huge advantage. I’m often in the states and that’s where I focus a lot of my sales energy actually is in the US. And a lot of companies, they don’t know the difference between the biggest company like langruage and the argos. Which is our company, which will probably be top 50 global company, we’re not small but that’s a very nice thing about the industry actualy.
One of the features and actually interesting thing is that a lot of people think about Central Eastern Europe or Krakow or Kazimierz is like a land of opportunity looking for new markets to open up. But in fact the fact of being here was not to do with the local market being undersupplied. It was something completely different. Also could tell something about the way you hire people and talent and your attitude to people because although many people come for talent here but a lot of your senior people aren’t actually polish. Tell something about advantages and disadvantages in being in a business from a humour.
Funny thing is that. I can’t remember what is the expression that you do when you do reverse offshore. Because I’m actually in the process of onshoring right now which is sort of funny because you get the concept of offshoring which is basically move production cost to lower cost. We set up a business here in Poland. We actually started off in a low cost. So we actually moving the business now onshore basically. The first thing I really have to say is there’s so much fortune in my story was based in Krakow. When I came here it seemed like a cool place to party at the time but it turned out to be really nice strategic location. There’s tons of universities here it’s very technical and the result is that thanks to that I had access really really great people here. So we had a core team here that could produce the service, but you have to remember I was just the kid who set up a company and actually this industry is quite sophisticated. At some point I realised that I’m not really able to develop that business unless I go out and get some real experience basically in a business. I do have curently in Argos quite a few people senior level people that are actually from the industry that come with huge amount of experience working in the bigger companies and that obviously allowed us to combine the best of both worlds.
So we’re here with this lower cost machince of really top talent here in Krakow and we’re able to go project ourselfs and compete with all other companies around the world and in the Westen Europe.
Acutally one thing we didn’t do at the start of this inverview which probably some of the listeners now are beginning to wonder is what is does Argos Multiligual actually do ? Because quite often when people think of translations they think of menu’s and restaurants or signs in hotel rooms which people day to day meet the translation company or see the badly translated menu. What are the primary areas of activity for Argos at the moment ?
That’s absolutely true and you can ask anybody at Argos or any other translation company. Very often when I say “oh yeah I run a translation company” people say “oh, how many languages do you speak” like they inmediately assume that I’m actually doing translations myself. It’s hard to imagine that there’s such a big market out there. But if you think about it translation is at the heart of globalization and every company that will want to go out of it’s borders will need to translate and you know there’s so many different forms of translations, ways you can translate and obviously it’s best to specialise so we specialised in manufactury that’s one of vertical that we specialise in and that would be like having machinery. One of our biggest clients is John Deere. So we do big tractor animals which are actually quite technical and complicated
so those are very nice things to translate we also do life sciences, so a lot of medical devices, stuff you plug into people, stuff where quality is very important to make sure to get the on off in out correct. Things like that. And also we’re quite heavy in the IT like software localization as well and what’s interesting is that while we do translations we don’t have any translators working for us full time in out. That is a fully outsourcable service that we buy. we are adding a lot of value to the process and there’s quite a lot of technology involved. When you’re a
bigger company and you have a lot of content and that’s sort of where we help out. We help
companies optimize the process. Because it can get very complicated if you can imagine, there can be tons of files, how do you keep track of it all, how do you make sure you don’t translate stuff that you have already translated. So we’ve ended up being quite a technology sort of based company and I think that’s sort of a differentiator between what people call like a translation agency in like a localisation firm. I think the fact that we use technology is one of our differentators.
When I’m triying to explain this business to people who don’t understand at all I just give the example of the screen on a machine that even if someone can translate how do they get inside the machine, and increasingly the interface with the client or the user is via screen, right?
Exactly, that’s actually a very good example Richard because that’s a
typical localization problem and if you think the screen mobile screen or something like that.
There’s all kinds of problems with charaters and size limitations in there. As you can imaginegetting there isn’t size limitations in there as you can imagine it’s interesting but language expands. Like if you go from English into German, there’s like a 30 percent expansion rate. Right there and in terms of
the characters. So that creates all kinds of problems if you don’t prepare. That’s sort of another area that we sort of help out with its called internationalization consulting and what we do is we’ll go in with developers. People are working on software and we’ll sort of show them and train them actually
as to the issues that they could face if they actually wanted then translate their software.
So you really do need to be aware of the translation problem, before you develop the products. And that’s particularly true as you say when there screens actually.
Yes, and one thing I’d like to move on to is every business has got a sales and marketing process and when we first got to know each other there was a lot of things to do with PMR to do the search engine optimization. You had blog posts with a ARGOS keyword rich blogpost to do content-based marketing way before it was popular and over
the years over with trade fairs in places like Barcelona Shanghai. You were saying the other week about how you spend a lot of time in front of people who never ended buying anything and you cutting back the number of sales people and also bringing acquisitions into the picture as a way to get new clients and maybe you could just describe how your absolute sales and was when you move back in the day you’re talking about something door to door
being a sales driven person.
I just had an experience around what you’re talking about and I’d like to get your feedback on it I was working on a website for local polish client and it’s the first foreign website I’ve done and I just decided to write the copy in English and build all the pages and design them all and then I had a college student translate it for me. And it
didn’t end so well.
(laughing) Milion stories like that.
The client just came back to me you know very very happy
with the design and development and said it looks like five-year-old wrote this
polish it’s nothing against the guy who did the translation because he’s a
really smart guy incredibly smart and marketing and all kinds of stuff but
what I realized is translation is a very very specific skill and also polish a
little bit like maybe German seems to have more space on the page and we have to
count for that we have to count for font inside of the servers We’re having to
upload. There’s just so many little technicalities. I wish I would
have known about your company two weeks ago.
I would have been happy to help out. It’s interesting how often we get approached with little stuff. Because tranlations can be anything basically from like CD or menu or something like that. That has actually been a challange is how do we manage the noise. I think that a lot of businesses have that issue because really if you go out and do everything you end up do nothing actually.
That’s what I’m finding with this project is giving its my project manager and he came back to me and said the party member who made the transition didn’t satisfy the client and I think Richard I probably gave it to another company you invested in I think there’s not a company in Krakow outside maybe mine and a few others which you haven’t invested in. It’s turbotranslations. They’re doing a great job on it, but still all the things that you’re talking about I’ve had to learn the hard way on it.
It is something that a lot of people are unaware of actually. They don’t think about it. It’s why not just use google. That’s intereting about our industry I think that google has the place.
But if something is going on your website. Obviously that’s gonna require different level of attention. That’s client pacing and that’s sort of representing who you are. You can imagine if a law firm have has a big case lets say a big mergers and acquisitions and they’re doing some international case it gets flooded with like tens and thousends and hundreds of thousends of documents. A lot of times, just to decide what to translate. They can use staff like google and staff like that. They just need to get the idea, they need to get the gist – is this worth translating or not.
so there there are different levels and that’s the absolute basic level is using automatic translation. But then if you’re doing something website it is actually that’s when your language
becomes extremely important and there’s not a whole lot of it but it’s really important that
it’s well done. That’s how people perceive the product.
But want to come back to this I’m glad Sam that you’ve had the experience. I’m not glad that you had experience with the project going wrong. I’m glad that you’re able to identify with the problem that ARGOS is solving. And another business I am involved in Unicode I remember the CEO Tomasz Bednarski wanted to help me and said he had some potential work for a small electronic door opening piece of kit that had a screen. And Kevin
had to intervene to stop his sales guys being nice to being gratious and
civilized. And civilised. They remain this message was “we are not interested in a
new user type of business”
This is the fun part of being in business with Richard. Richard has got awesome ideas he’s actually a fan of ideas. He knows everybody in the company, he’s very accessible. And if you send a message and this is probably not help that is something that had to manage as a result.
I want to say if you are a shareholder in a business is very good to be aware that your message within just a message a message that you can be quite disruptive and Kimon’s quite good at stopping my interventions causing damage but how your attitude to sales has evolved over the years? Cause I think that you’ve always been strong at sales and i think is really interesting that every entrepreneur listening to this should be interested.
I was door to door salesman. I am sales oriented person, let’s actually be honest, there’s not that many things I can do. The places where I can had value and actually make a positive contribution are fewer and fewer. Everybody likes to feel good about himself, so I obviously looked for things that I can do. Originally it was – the one word is spray and pray, the other word is, if you work hard enough, you’re out there and you’re knock on enough doors and certain percentage of the business is gonna trickle in and stuff like that. I think that’s quite a traditional sales model – of sales people that are going out and doing stuff and then if they can set up meetings a more senior person can go and I think that’s traditional. And that’s the way we were doing things, it’s hard work and from time to time you’ll INCOMPREHENSIBLE and most of the time you don’t. But then we actually acquired the company and we doubled in size. And that was… it was a company in US that was actually one of our suppliers but that really opened my eyes. Just through that acquisition process fortune shown upon me – to be able to to grow so much so fast, and here I was just reflecting on the effort it took to have any kind of growth before, it was just this massive slog to grow one account at the time. It opened my eyes to… maybe this is applicable to every business but right now we definitely shifted our business strategy. And you know, we’re not gonna do that army of sales people knocking on doors. Now we do sales obviously, we have all of our clients and we do what we call account management, basically strategical account management. So we tried within the organization we currently work with trying to get more business, we tried to get referrals, we tried to look at other organizations to compete with our clients and that’s where we’re developing new business organically. But from rather than having this acute focus on new business I’m just really starting this year I’m making a shift and I’m gonna look for more acquisition opportunities.
there’s lots of different aspects to that between issue transparency I don’t believe in lying and I think life is much easier when you tell the truth and I don’t like having versions of the truth and one of these are really didn’t like or never particularly like gossip. In my opinion the best way to come back people gossiping about the company and its going to provide as much information as possible. As I mention we brought in a lot of senior people over the last year’s 5 years and I think for them and these are people comming from the USA and Western Europe. Even for them it was quite surprising what level of transparency we having in the company. Because I’m ready to share this is how much we make, this is how much we sold, this is what we’re gonna do. For me transparency is simplicity actually I just like to keep things simple and
easiest way to do that is actually just tell the truth and just tell it like it is. The funny thing is though- even now we’re living fine when we do our annual surveys and some people will say oh communication could be improved and stuff like that. As heard as we work at that it’s still something that you can always get better and so it’s not allways a transparency. Well I’ve always tried to imagine ok if I wanted to work in a company what would I want to be like. I would hate to be micro-managed I would like to have as much freedom as possible in my job to do make decisions, to be creative and that’s the kind of culture we try to grade and I think that’s kind of culture we have. Obviously we want to be a culture where good people want to work and everything around that.
“The best way to prevent people from gossiping about the company is to provide as much information as possible.”
If you go to ARGOS Multilingual blog I think there’s something about people and great people and it’s a long blog split into three blog posts and obviously you’ve said from the point of view of the new member of the team the stuff member you think about what the company will want to be like but if you think about the sort of people you want to hire, what are the most important things you are looking?
That’s a hard question because obviously it’s so dependent on positions and stuff like that and that’s something that shifted over time as well It comes back to the like I don’t want to say laziness. But part of the nice thing of having money and having a more successful and established company is you can solve some of your problems with hiring more experienced people. If there’d be attributes that I’d be looking for in people I’d say that now experience has become. I’m now in the position where I can actually try to get the best possible qualified person for job. Having said that general things are there are obviously there are some universal things about a person. Friendly and fun, obviously it’s not allways going to be the case but, I think tolerant is a big thing, you obviously can’t allways get that best in interviews. But I think we do have kind of tolerant culture in ARGOS. I think that we’ve been successful about that. If you’re asking a question about what are the key attributes, unfortunatelly at the end of the day I believe at this point it’s – are you the best possible person qualitfied to do this
whatever we’re hiring.
Sticking with culture, there is an issue an interesting, the meeting we’re meant to be having now is to do with corporate social responsibility although they came up with a different term which I had never heard before which is personal social responsibility. Something we’ve been talking for a while now. I think it’s interesting to share what your attitude to CSR corporate social responsibility is what you think is important for you personally and what the company does about it i think is a bit unusual and interesting.
Argos again was like everybody else. We’d give money to charity. A better year we’d give more money, less year we’d still give money. And yeah we’d just give money to charity. That was our corporate social responsibility.
But I felt like I’d like to do more than that and I allways thought that the most valuable you give is your time. Within Argos I set up a group and we explore what could we possibly do so we contacted a couple of orphanages in Kazimierz and then another organization called Shimacha. They’re like little families that help kids with various backgrounds and for legal reasons they can’t be with their parents. We’re trying to see what we can do. Basically we decided let’s just hang out with these kids. So we started doing various different events. There’s a simple stuff but I think we started out just with hanging out with them, having icecream, trying to speak English, teaching them English and then we did a beach balleybal, we did rock climbing, we did lots and lots of cool stuff and the nice thing about this is. First of all it’s nice for the kids. You get to know the kids. And you just feel and just hope that in that time something can rob off and you can in some way help them and change their life. The really was the thing that I didn’t foresee is the effect it had on the company. I was just thinking – lets just try to be helpful,let’s just try to do more that’s really goal behind it
was. But the flipside what actually happend was. I found that a lot of people were proud that we’re doing this. Even people that never participated in these event would talk about it. Dissociate themselves to the company that is doing like cool stuff. Hanging out with the people from the company. I guess up untill nowmost of the events you’d do would be – there’s allways seems to be drinking involved. You could do fun stuff, but there’s sort of drinking involved. I really like the fact that you hang out with different people. It’s very integrating for the people that are spending time from the company. There is a whole other side of this idea that ended up being really positive.
I remember way back being involved in a company where you tried to help out with that failed miserably procom studio and
they were doing corporate social responsibility at the time they went bust and I remember writing a very big blog post about the first responsibility for the companies is to make a profit. You can’t pay your bills. And another thing there was a survey from one of the chambers of commerce asking me what measures I took to ensure and all my employees were taking an active part in corporate social responsibility which I thought was complete BS because I thought that if
people are being made to do it is completely wrong on the set that kind of opt-in aspect of it as well isn’t that?
What we were doing is was giving money and nobody notices that. This got noticed and I think that’s the biggest difference. People in the company are aware of what we’re doing. It’s something that’s living it’s tangable. In fact we had kids over to the company, we had the pumpkin carving. Sam we did a lot of stuff that is like American. Pumpkin carving last haloween which was actually really fun event. I brought my kids for It’s not just purely for the company. I’m actually encouraging people – bring your husbands, wifes, partners, whatever. It’s a good thing to do. I don’t want it to be about the company just wanted to be about doing something good.
Obviously there’s a danger of those podcasts
turning into a bit of an advert of Argos and I’d like to move on so like technology trends what what you think about the future business in the region and particulary for the company and the industry. Argos in an awesome company. You’ve got an award for being a woman friendly workplace and one of the reasons working for Argos is attractive in money conditions, but there’s also there’s stuff apart from money. I’m interested, can you talk about employing women. I remember I used to say this wasn’t just a quest of being progressive. There were real business reasons.
I agree that people that we get awards for that but I have to be in all for that honestly that’s just side note If somebody from marketing says yeah lets apply for this. Because we’re well positioned to. But the truth is I find it amazing that there’s even an issue action around women in the workplace. For me I’d say half of the managers in the company. There was a period of time early on when it would be like seventy eighty percent of the company was women. This was never a conscious decision. I never sat on this site of pro women’s rights person or something like that it’s just.
I’m not trying to say anything bad about men. It just turned out that the best people were women. We hired the best people. There was never any initiative or conscious decision to hire women. But that’s just the way it worked out.
There was one issue that I don’t want to upset anyone listening to this who’s a Polish guy, but you said some situations might be something in Polish culture being rather as a country the communism somehow even things up being quite a traditional country where a boy in the family might be brought up in a slightly differnt conditions.
Yeah. I don’t know how much this applies today. You and I Richard we’ve been here a long time and things had changed. Young people today, they are different, so there is a generational thing. Maybe at one point I would say, and I’m very very cautious about any stereotypes but maybe there was a time back in early 90s when I would say – yeah you’d find that sons were doted on. And I saw this is my personal life also. Getting to know family so sons would be treated with actual reference and daughters had to prove themselfs. Maybe at that time when you had to get through your family as highly ambitious you wanted to prove yourself you ended up just better than your brother. But I just say I’m very very very cautious these are guys things that get you in the trouble. I don’t want to say something that is incorrect. The fact is that yes you’re right at that time in early 90s I definitely had that opinion.
Very cautiously putting I do you have to remember things have changed dramatically and in many ways for the better in the last twenty years since which was around the time we both arrived in this wonderful country.
I’m really interested in as an American 21 years your junior in Poland at least. Coming here I am struck by a lot of the same things you were you know the beauty of Krakow and the overall business climate and Poland. One of the things that I
think is this is where I work in my field down my agency I think that Poland is still having a problem getting what is an increasingly sophisticated technological product based economy. They’re still having a problem getting those products out to the world and it acutally goes back to our prior conversation when I read a Polish website that has been translated not perfectly in English or even better yet it should be originated in English if you’re trying to reach the english-speaking market and it’s a subtle things in translation. I’m immediately kind of like okay with this you know I can get something from this business for a lot less there’s a value. I mean inherent value thing in language. And you in the communication business what needs to change and polish business marketing material and communications material and sales process to really go to the next level in the international market ?
I’m not perfectly positioned as I said because of my lack of actions don’t work. It’s funny how isolated I am even though I live here in Krakow. I don’t have a lot of polish clients with this problem but I think it is an issue of confidence action at some level. It depends of the size of the company obviously. If you’re a big company you should be able to hire the right kind of company. Another I’m thinking about I think the real issue is that this comes into the culture of translation as well. Is that they might not appreciate that value that you’re describing. Something that’s intuitive and as a foreigner you’re accessing the quality, by what you’re reading. And for whatever reason that might not appear as an value for polish business and I think that that’s a thing that needs to get introduced to the culture is that how important it is. How getting that english to sound like it was written by somebody in whatever vocal. If it’s English for America or if it’s German for Germany. Having that language written so that it can connect with those people. And I think it’s the value that might not be placed on that. I think that that is valueable. Because it’s expensive. Why should I pay more. I can pay less. I’m also even cautious about generalising about how current trends in Polish business in Poland, but I do think it’s cost basis savy still dominately and that cheaper is better and this is the case where cheaper isn’t actually. It actually makes the difference.
In polish there is this word “oferta konkurencyjna”, a competitive offer i polish means cheap. That’s how they translate it. And that’s not what Golden Sachs, Golden Sachs is very competitive, noone ever called them cheap.
It’s interesting that this subtlety in the translation there which is competitives is all based on price and that’s just a linguistic cultural expression that I think doesn’t translate into America. It’s really interesting that linguistic idiom syncracy or just something that doesn’t translate. Which is competitive meaning cheap that has no english eqivalent which is I think very revealent about the business climate.
That’s a classing translating issue. That’s what so interesing about it and that’s actually why they call it localization and not translation. Localization is the concept of making something local, making something original, making it feel like that’s how you’d say where you’re from. And very often that’s a cultural thing. So question is – what you really mean? Because you can’t really translate it exactly because just as Richard said – copetitiveness it can mean that it’s the lowest possible price and that’s how it’s percieved. But how do you translate that acutally ? What doest that actually mean. That’s an issue.
Well in the America we define competitiveness as an offer providing the most value. Obviously the price is a component of value but it’s not the only value of the equation.
We say “value for money”
Highly competitive countries like Switzerland are not cheap but they’re highly competitive. It is a different concept. Within Argos I know you strongly believe in automation which is part of being competitive. There’s the global trend towards automation and can you talk about why you think it’s important to be automated within a business and what your attitude is to business process optimization automation.
From my perspective I think the world has changed the way that I think has changed is all is in the software business now. We are running a translation company, so what does that have to do with software. But I’ve got software developers working in my company and we’re working on our own systems. We’re working to integrate with other people systems and in today’s world where you actually have to embrace the fact that you’rein the software business and any reason I’m just mentioning that it’s just in context to your question its. Yeah you have to fight clients. To be able to do things faster and more efficiently and in order for us to keep up We need to find ways to automate our processes so that you’re gonna die it’s an ongoing process by my budget which just goes up. It’s a funny thing that I’ve learned that my budget for this just goes up and up and up. It’s not only that it stabilizes. It’s going up all the time. You have to continuily invest and yet invest more and more to stay competitive. At this point for me automation business process optimazation that’s a key for survival.
“You have to continuily invest and yet invest more and more to stay competitive. At this point automation business process optimazation – that’s the key for survival.”
You were describing your sales process which was knocking to door and go after them. My speciality in business is automating lead generation and as much of the sales process is possible to salespeople can provide an optimal level so I totally approve with you. And that’s another area where sometimes, because cost of labour in Poland is low you see companies here not wanting to invest in that. They rather hire a few sales people and then automate their process where they can get much better leads and quality and that’s one of the challenges I have talking to Polish client about automation.
That’s a great point. Richard and I have that experience with PMR as well and we’re talking so managers. Very often there was like “Let me count how much cost. Oh no. It’s actually cheaper to throw buddies at it.” That’s faulty thinking because in a short term it may be cheaper to throw buddies at it but you’re creating a fundamental flaw in your business. There’s also a flip side. Now I’m actually operating on the flip side. I feel like “do I really need to automate that?”. You almost allways have the lower the other way. Is it really worth it? To spend X number of days on automating this because it’s not a matter of picking a battle but it’s funny how we can go from one way or the other. But I definitely experienced that in Poland. And I lived that in fact as well. I used to throw buddies at problems. So that’s a very good point. One reason I have a lot of knowledge of this I used to work with consultant in the USA automated everything in his personal life and consultant for businesses on their business systems and pick one of the great points that he made myself was if a job can be automated then why would you want to pay human to do something that a computer could do. When a human could go do something that’s only uniquely human in skill which is judgment, compassion and empathy, all the things that artists and salespeople and customer service people do we shouldn’t resent the automation of jobs because noone likes the jobs that are automated anyway.
I run into this all time in the US. And this is a funny like I’m coming in with solution and people are threatenen. Poeple are gonna lose their jobs. That’s what they think. And this is where companies need to do a good job with saying what you’re saying. You’re gonna do something that more value than what you’re currently doing. But you can have resistance to automation rather than have a feeling of being threatened. I’ve encounted that a client in the US but I’ve also encounted that here, whatever in my company as well. People are people are threatened by the fact that they ask “what I’m gonna do if you gonna automate”.
And that is the problem of globalization which we’re on the winning side of it right now the Eastern Europe is there is real consequences when jobs go away it’s it’s not as easy to tell someone go from working on the factory floor to being a creative
salesperson that is.
Here in Krakow, many of our American listeners are probably more aware of Uber than local people because uber is not so big here in Europe yet. But Uber set his customer service center here in Krakow but to order and taxi an Uber car is a totally automated processes as there is in most human involved at all so if you’re one of these ladies or men whose job it is to pick up the phone and call a taxi and call if it’s free. That job is being automated away there’s no question but is inevitably and everywhere you find the most high-tech countries in the world whether it’s Norway, Switzerland or Singapore with high employment because people adding lots of value compared to the near the Bangladesh (no offence to any automated Bangladesh’s out there I know there are some very specific companies in Bangladesh) but it ends with a low productivity countries that have the low employment.
“Everywhere you find the most high-tech countries in the world whether it’s Norway, Switzerland or Singapore with high employment because people are adding lots of value compared to a low productivity countries that have the low employment.”
It’s gonna be threat to some people but it’s also a reality of the world.
It’s not gonna go away. That’s really what I’m saying in the context. That’s what needs to be embraced in Poland. And again, I’m not sure to what it stands. It isn’t, but the tendency can be to throw buddies at the problems for sure.
: I remember for years you talking about automation in different businesses we’ve been involved in together. What are other trends do you think that if you look at the world your kids are growing up in one, sorry new
ones just in college now, but so you get the full spectrum of imagining what the world’s like now compared to how when we were a little bit younger than we’re today. Or indeed like that they’re going to be growing up in. And what do you think are the most important things that and changes are in where are we going to be in ten-fifteen years from now.
I believe that Artificial Intelligence will continue to grow in our area. And this ties back to the automation. The big question in our business is “can AI ever get to the point where it can translate?” because translation is human, uniquely human activity. The truth is probably, at some point, it will get there. And it’s the same with a lot of different things. See 3P0, you guys know star wars he was the translator.
My uncle George, right?
I’m 21 year-old and her life is is already completely different than my life was seven week old her life is going to be.. I can’t even imagine what her life is going to be like. Honestly from a technology point of view. Lets be honest. It’s hard to imagine exactly twenty thirty years forward. And it goes back to actually what we’re talking about the stretch over to starting a little bit about artificial intelligence actually doing translation at some point. But I actually don’t see that as a threat in a translation business. Because you’re always going to need companies that know how to employ the thechnology, how to integrate the technology. It’s not gonna be like lets plug in the artificial intelligence to translate and it’s gonna do everything. There’s gonna be a role for lets say integrators to employing the technology so that’s where you have to adapt. I think if you want to take lesson from that you need to be ready to adapt. And if you’re working as factory worker that means you need to get proper education. But as a business I think that’s a key to survival in business is being able to adapt. And that’s what’s the takeaway for me. When it comes to technology.
Kimon, can you talk about the place of Krakow and what you think is good or not so good about being here because we’re a lot of people listening. One of our objectives is to somewhat boost the area up but not going beyond what’s true and fair can you give me your taken.
I don’t even need to go into promote mode at all here, because Krakow is, lets just tackle that from various different levels. But just started. Just pure phisical beauty. I’d say it’s definitely top 10 European. It’s totaly enchanting. What another awesome benefit is for me? Again luck luck luck, having my business founded here I bring my clients here and whether they’re from the US or even particulary from the USA, but American has not been to Europe and they come to Krakow it’s like the Holy Cow.
It’s like a disneyland.
Exactly. But even for europeans. People we worked with the John Deere , like our direct clients were actually German and they were blow away by it as well. It is a really beautiful city and then it’s got a great vibe. It’s University town, it’s young, it’s fun and then, from a business point of view more and more.. I guess you guys probably covered that in the past but there’s tons of BPO’s here. Business Process Outsourcing which means that there are a lot of young people that have been trained and the job market is a very very very attractive job market for proffesional service companies. Which is what we are basicaly. If you want to hear a drawback yet. The smog level. I’d say that that’s another thing that everybody talks about. So everybody cries for this before. I don’t like to have to check my phone if I want to go for a run. That annoys me. That’s the only thing that bugs me I’d say at this point.
That’s great. I think it’s allways good to hear from different sources though because the more people who say it, the more it’s probably true. What about the future of the business. Obviously this is my clients where do you see the company being in five or ten years time when I’m talking about Argos now.
It’s gonna be big! We’re just starting down the path. We’ve done a successful aquisition and we’re just starting down this path of making aquisitions to grow the business. So I see us exponential actually growing the next five or ten years.
You’ve allways want me not to give away too much to the public with
this is your moment to define what you can say about the size of Argos in terms of dollars and how big is the company and how big would it be. I want to know what the official version is, but I never know what I’m allowed to say.
We don’t disclosure.
I guess different people have different lifestyles and it could be a workaholic lifestyle or but it is also in terms of
the entrepreneurial journey I remember our first meeting in a one room apartment on a street of Starego in the center of Krakow where there were two companies. Both of them are a significant companies and they’re not may be known in Poland because the clients abroad but their significant companies.
PMR is actually not well known company in Poland the funny thing is that it’s so. Translation is not the sexiests sort of business. It’s so totaly flies under the radar. I remember early on people were just.. I remember somebody there was somebody quoted something about GP spending more money on toilet paper than spend on translation. You know, I don’t care. I’m not in it for the ego right or whatever. It’s very interesting business to be in. It is crazy though Richard when you go back. Argos did start with one person me. That might sound funny but I’m very “now” focused person. Not that nostalgic either, so I don’t spend a lot of brain energy trying to remember all the great battles and victories and defeats and stuff like that. I preffer to just focus on now and I think that’s actually a key.
Just to remind you sometimes you thanked to your loyal stuff and your clients, competitors. What haven’t we covered in this interview or Kimon what are the things that you think are important?
The only thing we don’t know which I’m very fascinated by and I’ll full disclosure is Richard ROI of his investment.
Well, I’d like to know that too. I’d love to do that calculation. What was it? Was it twenty? It was fifty tousands dolars? I think we say it. Sorry I said it already.
I think we didn’t keep a very good records back then. For the first time it was twenty. And then I think there was some more. But we were doing the Yashino deal with PMR the same time and I remember because I think it was Argos first.
The really funny part of the story was lets say it was forty fifty k. Whatever it was, and you can calculate the ROI Sam. But the craziest part of the story is he was a maniac! He overpaid by like, like crazy overpaid. Like a complete maniac! That was the craziest investment. I was just some guy. And he gave me 50k. And then it turned into this. It’s just hillarious. What did you see? How did you make that investment?
I saw personally the client and I didn’t have any of the protections that you should have to do it, regulating the amount you paid yourself. For example, I didn’t know about that. I was complete amatour. But for anybody listening and this is stuff that comes back again and again and again. That if you can invest in a healthy business is almost worth paying any amount because at the time I invested it was more than annual revenue. But you know obviously if I bought Google stock it would be worth more.
I took the highest evaluation I could possibly think of and then I doubled and doubled it again.
And I said yes. But I’m more experienced as an investor now but looking back on it always comes down to investing in people are capable of developing an organization which works and you know a lot of people aren’t even if the idea is great.
In Starego you looked in my eyes and you just knew it.
yeah, but I can listen to other people’s eyes I looked and I knew it and they’ve gone and wasted my money. In terms of the dividends I don’t think Argos has been pumping out dividends. It’s much more capital appreciation. Isn’t it?
I just want to know when Richard’ll be able to retire that all.
I think Richard is retired. As far as I can tell you he’s retired Sam.
I just know he was working incredibly hard this last year.
: When it comes out is no longer the CEO of anything, so once again I think we can safely say he’s retired.
Well, retired Richard for your information dear Project Kazimierz listener and co-host and the business partner. At 7 p.m. yesterday evening I was having a meeting with a startup am involved in and we were sharing you a weekly call which I wouldn’t have felt was appropriate while I was being the CEO of another company, because I actually I enjoy doing what I do. And it’s different with every business.
One of the other things that I’ve from business the most important lessons is when somebody starts to really talk up that they’re really busy. Untill they mess with me.
Could you talk about your background and what were your dogs name. Because Fountoukidis doesn’t sound entirely American.
It’s like an inside information. I don’t know what else. You can air soe really dirty landry here as well. You’re being really nice, why don’t you stop for really bad stuff right away. My father emigrated to the USA from Greece. So I’m actually half-greek I speak fluent greek, I love Greece. That’s why the name. It’s very Greek. Kimon Fountoukidis even though Richard is struggling with remembering my first name. My dog was called Argos. So that’s where the company name came from. In Argos some people get the real story. But other people I can sometimes pivot and say – It’s Ulysses dog was called Argos. I don’t know if you know the story of Ulysses dog but Ulysses is one of his travelers and when he had twenty years, he was puppy when he left and he came back he was a haggard and he had a beard and stuff like that. And nobody recognised him except his faithful dog Argos who came up to them and laid on his feet and died. Because he was 20 years old. But he waited for his master. So then I can say – we’re loyal, faithful company.
I’d like to say thank you very much for finding your time to do this interview and also thank you for accepting my insane investment 25 years ago.
I’d say thank you Richard. Honestly I do appreciate you as a shareholder I could have done so much worse, you’ve been very very supportive and you’ve added value throgh years, so I appreaciate you as well.
Thank you very much Kimon for joining us it’s great to hear some historical perspective from another American doing what I’ve done 20 years in advance which is adopt Poland and Krakow specificly as home. Thanks for your great insights on your company. I’m glad to hear Richard, you’re well secured because of your effords. Also your outlook on the complexity and the nuances of language in doing international business I think that’s a great lesson for anyone listening to this is don’t skimp on your translation and your investment really and localization rather than translation and I love that
term I’m gonna still use it and finally on automation and everything else
has been very insightful episode and they you Project Kazimier listener for
joining us for another episode of season two and we have a lot more coming for
you shortly and look forward to seeing you next time.
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