The December Q&A involves two people – the sister-and-brother team of Sofia and Nikos Pattakos. Like a lot of young people nowadays, they decided to use technology to start their own business, wordigs.com, an online application for the study of English vocabulary. To understand the importance of this, one must know that all forward-thinking Greeks put a huge premium on learning foreign languages, since not many outside Greece speak their own.
Tell us a little about yourselves:
Sofia: We grew up in Athens in a pleasanty protected social environment, but then, everything used to be like that in Greece at the time… more simple. I studied French Literature at the National Kapodistrean University of Athens, then went abroad to get a postgraduate degree in Marketing Management, and finally started working in the communications sector. For years I was in corporate marketing in telecommunications, and ended up in COSMOTE (a leading telecommunications company in Greece) where I was fortunate to get involved in many extensive and special projects, both commercial and charitable. I like to spend my spare time with people I’m close to, doing things that help me escape everyday stress, such as climbing and music… always in good company!
Nikos: I studied Chemistry in Athens and worked in sales of pharmaceuticals to multinational companies. In 2012 I completed an i-MBA at the Athens University of Economics and Business. In my spare time I play tennis, read and watch movies. Also, having grown up in the noisy environment of Fokionos Negri street in the 80s I’m an extrovert who never misses a chance to be out and about in Athens, always in a crowd of friends, of course!
In 2014, the two of us started our first collaboration as brother and sister with the founding of wordigs.com, an innovative online learning tool for English vocabulary.
What were the major difficulties you’ve faced in the last five years?
The last five years have been a time of major upheaval and decision-making for us. Times are difficult and, while both of us had jobs in large and ‘safe’ companies, we were becoming increasingly worried, each for his own reasons, by the professional and psychological daily stress. Then Nikos had an idea and we started looking into it, to see if we could make it work despite the risks involved. We both had some savings from our work and so we started researching and developing wordigs. Our aim was the creation of an educational tool that would allow students of all levels to learn English vocabulary in a creative and entertaining manner.
Did anyone help or inspire you?
The idea for wordigs was discussed widely amongst our close circle of family and friends, as well as with several English language teachers. The positive response we got was the main motivation for going on with the project.
What are your hopes/plans for the future?
Our plan is work… a lot of work so that wordigs will thrive and reach the people it is aimed at, that is, everyone who is learning English. Our hope is that all this effort will bear fruit in a healthier social environment, that it will coincide with our country’s emerging from the crisis. Our dream is that at some point our efforts will bring some balance to our lives.
What are your hopes for Greece? What changes do you hope /would you like to see?
That’s a difficult question! There are days when all of us wake up with dreams and expectations for changes in Greece and other days when reality pulls us back. In our case, we left ‘safe’ jobs to start a new business in Greece, taking a huge financial and psychological risk. Because we believe that in this country there are a lot of people like us, who have dreams, who are hard-working and persistent. We want to believe that, in the end, all of them – all of us – will manage to change the prevailing climate so that action and movement in every sector win out over remaining idle and blaming others. Because, truth be told, only work will work!
Have you considered leaving? If so, where would you like to go, and why? If you have decided to leave what would make you stay?
Sofia: Personally, in the past I’ve often cried ‘Why did I ever come back?’ But that was years ago. Having grown older and reviewed my priorities I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me, most important are the people surrounding me, from whom I draw energy. So I’ve decided to work as hard as I can in an environment where I’m surrounded by people close to me… In my mind, there are no geographical constrains.
Nikos: Leaving Greece would be a last resort decision for me. As long as I can earn a living in my country my place is here, near my family and my close friends. If I was forced to leave I’d prefer a Mediterranean country. Of course, in life, never say never!
Are you actively doing anything to help with the situation? Is there something you would like to do?
What we actually do is very little compared to what we dream of doing. Collecting clothes and supplies or simple money donations to various movement that help people in dire straits… is all we can do for the moment, given we have been working incessantly the last two years and have no time to volunteer. Our immediate plan is to make our educational tool available for free to kids who cannot afford to buy it, while in our more optimistic moments we dream of having the time to involve ourselves in more voluntary projects.
How do you see Greece in 5, 10 years?
Nikos: 5-10 years is not long enough for really significant change in a country that needs to change from its roots. I believe that a general reorganization of the educational system would be a good start towards developing a collective conscience in each new generation – so that Greeks move from thinking about ‘I’ toward thinking about ‘we’.
How do you cope with obstacles and frustrations in your everyday life ?
Inconsistency and failure to assume responsibility! These are the two characteristics that we find hard to understand, process and manage! The truth is that we have to face them on many different levels. I can’t understand why so many people have this fear, when a simple “My fault”/ “I’ve no time”/ “I don’t know” would solve so many problems and avoid confrontation.
What are the positive sides of living in Greece? Have you had any good experiences lately?
Sofia: Family and friends! Daily moments you can share so easily when your friends are close by! And something that moved me this year… the support for my new venture by old colleagues. Proof that hard work and cooperation do not go unappreciated.
Nikos: Greece is a very vibrant country with a lovely climate while despite all the difficulties it has remained a very safe place with low criminality. With the exception perhaps of Athens, in Greece you can live relatively cheaply and enjoy all its natural beauties. The mountains, the sea, magnificent islands, nightlife, extroverted people and, most important, a huge cultural heritage.
A lovely recent experience was a hike I did with friends on Parnitha. Five hours of climbing, fresh oxygen and plenty of laughs were an ideal escape from my demanding daily routine!
To browse around wordigs, click on the name!