Manos Sifakis left Greece to study at one of the most prestigious technical universities in the world— the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in the UK— also known as the MIT of Europe. He left his farming community in Larissa, in central Greece, thinking very well that he’d return to his family, his friends and his way of life after studies to start his own computer business.
Conditions in Greece forced him to change his plans and head to the United States, where he took up residence in Philadelphia and started customedialabs in 2000.
Fast forward fifteen years— the company is a leader in the digital marketing space with major Fortune 500 clients like ING, Bayer Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson and Exxon Mobil having been serviced out of the company’s offices in suburban Philadelphia and— Sifakis’ hometown of Larissa, 200 miles north of Athens.
In Philadelphia, customedialabs has 12 employees in operations, client services and client management, while his Greece office has 40 employees ranging from the creative team, various software engineers, user experience architects and quality assurance.
For Sifakis, there’s no better way to “support” Greece than by supporting and empowering its human capital.
“We could easily staff our office here in the United States with developers, designers and all the positions we need to do the work for our clients,” Sifakis told The Pappas Post.
“But why not staff these positions with able-bodied, talented people in Greece? This is my way of helping— not with charity, but by employing 40 Greeks and supporting 40 Greek families struggling through this crisis and offering these people employment, professional development and dignity— which they deserve. These people can dream again, and for me, that’s a big thing.”
And work isn’t all Sifakis is offering them. He focuses a lot of offering professional development for the people who work for him in Greece. Many have gotten their start with customedialabs and have moved on to big Silicon Valley and European tech companies. Sifakis gave them the opportunity to interface for the first time with a global audience, essentially building their portfolio and resumes.
His work has been noticed globally. CNN recently called the 39-year-old entrepreneur “part of the Greek renaissance.”
From a business perspective, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Sifakis could have done what hundreds— if not thousands of other US companies have done— and outsource their tech work to cheap subcontractors in Southeast Asia. He could get the work done for a fraction of the cost that he is paying now by employing cheaper and just as talented Indian or Pakistani developers and make more profits.
“It’s not always about the size of the profits,” Sifakis said. “For me, knowing that in a very small way, we are helping stop the brain drain from continuing, that is a big enough profit for me. For me, this is philanthropreneurism— using my skills and resources to empower others, not just to give hand-outs.”
It’s a model he hopes will spread to his business-owner colleagues in the United States. While he applauds the efforts of numerous organizations he has supported in their efforts to help Greece through the crisis, he also suggested his model as a quick and easy solution that could help hundreds— if not thousands of Greek families.
“Think of all the Greek-owned or Greek led companies in the United States and how each of them could help 5, 10, 20 families with employment. For me, it hasn’t been easy as a small business to build this model and navigate the Greek bureaucracy, but the end result makes it all worth it.”
Sifakis offered his expertise to other business-owners seeking similar alternatives and even is developing a plan that he calls The Thessaly Valley project to bring tech and digital innovation jobs to his hometown of Larissa.