Manos Sifakis isn’t your typical young CEO who dreams of having the capital to move his company to the Silicon Valley. In fact, he decided to create his own new technology meccas in the valley of Thessalia in Greece and in Pennsylvania, where his offices are located. His company Customedialabs is an interactive media agency which combines smart marketing with the latest multimedia technology serving clients throughout the United States and Europe. Just a few names of the companies who trust the young Greek and his team are Johnson & Johnson, ING and the Ronald Macdonald Foundation. Manos and his team were also the masterminds behind the award winning GABBY Awards website. During the last two years, Customedialabs has won countless awards, including a Webby for the web presence of The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
Sifakis, originally from Larissa, has been living in the USA because of the love of his life, wife Maria Polenta-Sifakis. However, he has never forgotten his hometown friends who shared his first dreams of creating their own company. To this day, if you were to visit the Customedialabs office in Larissa, Greece’s third largest city about 250miles north of Athens, you will meet a few of the young CEO’s friends who manage his office in Greece. They refer to him as their buddy Mano.
In collaboration with the company’s offices in the US, the Greek team has implemented some of the most advanced internet strategies globally that really were made, or at least brainstormed in Larissa, Greece.
The positive energy that you receive from all these people is one of the largest achievements of the young Greek CEO. His employees all seem very happy and eager to be at their work place and really love what they do, something not so usual for Greece.
We talked to Manos Sifakis about his dreams, the beginning of Customedialabs, the future of his company and how it feels to be so successful at such a young age.
Where are you from and where did you grow up?
I was born in Athens but I grew up in Larissa Greece and also in Brussels Belgium.
When did you start getting involved with computers and how?
I got involved with computers in my early teens from the days of the Amstrad/Commodore computers and of course the first Apple and PC days. It was mostly through my uncle in Athens who is a Professor and a doctor that used to rent one of our properties before getting my own Amstrad with a whopping 128KB of memory and immerse in games and a programming language called BASIC.
How did you find yourself in the US?
I found myself in the US because of love. Love for my awesome partner Maria. We met in the UK as college students and we practically grew up together ever since. Without Maria I would never have imagined myself in the US as I have no family or relatives over here.
What did you study and where?
My first degree is in Computer Systems Engineering from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in Manchester UK. This was one of the biggest challenges of my life as this was one of the Top 5 engineering schools in the UK and my degree combined Electrical Engineering and Electronics with Software Engineering. I then did a PhD in Computing at the Manchester Metropolitan University again in Manchester UK.
How did Customedialabs come to existence?
Customedialabs started as custom I.T inc. back in 2000. I had just left my first job as a Multimedia Consultant to become an IT consultant with Computer Sciences Corporation (www.csc.com) and many of my old clients were asking me to continue to help them on the side. This demand combined with an intense feeling that I had towards creating my own company led me to leave CSC and pursue the American Dream.
What kind of services does your company offer?
Customedialabs is a full service agency specializing in the digital space. We do everything from branding to cutting edge digital solutions for our clients in a multitude of industries like pharmaceutical, medical device, diagnostics, insurance, financial, construction, education and non-profit.
You became a CEO at a young age. What are the challenges and freedoms of running the show and being the boss?
Being a CEO at 25 is not setting any records as we all know of some amazing entrepreneurs that started a lot earlier in life. For me personally being a CEO allows me to truly impact my organization with my vision, decision and actions. That is a really addictive part of the job because you see the results of your own efforts affect a whole organization and its people. At the same time this poses the biggest challenge as well because failure is not an option at the CEO level.
You have offices in Greece and the US. How can you compare the two regional sectors of your company?
Although we have offices in 2 continents we do strive to behave as one. This is one of the main philosophies of our operation – global thinking, global DNA. This is one of our value propositions as well.
What is your opinion about the Greek crisis?
The Greek crisis has been on my mind ever since I have decided to open up my first office in Greece. As a Greek I have experienced directly as well as indirectly the self-destructive evolution of Greece as a country and people. I have made it one of my most important missions in life to help in my way to change this negative evolution. I think a critical catalyst for change is for Greece and Greeks to think globally and act locally. This will get the Greek economy out of the confines of local geography and old thinking and into the global marketplaces that can achieve economies of scale that are so badly needed for the economic growth of the country.
If you were in Greece would you join the protesters at Syntagma (or the protesters in the center of Larissa) or you would support the government’s choices?
If I was in Greece I would not join the protesters at Syntagma. I think that protesting without constructive actions are not going to change Greece for the better. If people want to make a difference then act accordingly and avoid at all costs anything that is damaging your homeland.
How many hours per day are you in front of a computer screen?
Well as my role in Customedialabs is evolving I am not spending as much time as I used to in front of a computer. I would say that at this point I am spending about 9 hours a day in front of the screen divided in the office session during the day as well as the home session at night. Of course if you add the time that I am spending in front of my iPhone and iPad…
What are your plans for the future of your company?
My plans for Customedialabs is to continue on its path to establish a Silicon Valley of Digital Marketing Innovation in Greece that services global clients with offices in more parts of the world than the 3 offices we have currently. I am striving to create the next generation agency that is bringing true innovation and smart solutions to brands in need.
Please describe your ideal “Mano” in ten years from now.
The ideal Mano ten years from now will be an even more successful entrepreneur. This in turn will help Mano give back to his community and fulfill his vision of helping Greece at a greater level. Finally the ideal Mano will achieve work-life balance because we only live once – at least at this point in time.
What are your favorite hobbies?
My personal time is currently extremely limited so most of my hobbies are rarely pursued. I love anything with an engine like fast cars-boats-planes. I also love playing sports like basketball-volleyball-soccer-tennis. I also enjoy target shooting.
If you had to make a final choice of residence between US and Greece what would it be?
I am not trying to avoid the question but the truth is that I was always considering myself a global citizen without a permanent place of residence. In other words I want to live in multiple parts of the world with the US and Greece being the dominant poles of influence.