C-suite career advice: Xenios Thrasyvoulou, PeoplePerHour

C-suite career advice: Xenios Thrasyvoulou, PeoplePerHour

Name: Xenios Thrasyvoulou

Company: PeoplePerHour

Job Title: CEO

Location: London, UK

Xenios Thrasyvoulou was initially an engineer working for a FTSE 100 company, but within six months realised that he was ‘allergic to the bureaucracy of large corporations' and plunged into entrepreneurship at the age of 23. Around three years later - in 2007 - PeoplePerHour was born. The business was started because Xenios realised that start-ups were wanting to grow but lacked the skilled team to do so and didn't have the budgets to fill the gap.


What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? "You will be remembered by the rules you break." Ultimately you need to break a few rules in order to shake things up and make a difference. You can't go very far if you always play by the book, always follow the rules, always tread on eggshells fearful of getting caught or failing. Obviously, you should do things within legal boundaries (just!) but innovation, disruption and change in general comes from people who dare to go against the status quo, go against the grain and inevitably break some rules. The ones you break - not the ones you follow - are the ones that define you.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? Don't mix business with pleasure or friendship. This is the most idiotic advice ever. Sure, you need to maintain professionalism in all relationships but firstly how can you be successful if you're not having fun in what you do?  Secondly, the vast majority of businesses - even the best ones like Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook - start with seed investment from friends and family. And lastly, if you can't trust your friends or loved ones who can you trust?  My first CTO Simos was (and still is) one of my best friends from school. We worked six years together and even though technically I was his boss it never undermined our friendship. We became close friends while working together - despite the numerous inevitable (healthy) clashes at work - and are even closer now after he's moved on to other things.  Same with his successor and my current CTO Spyros - he's been a dear friend for years before I brought him into the company, he was actually my first seed investor in the business again before he joined, and we've become even closer in the last seven years working together. That's not to say you should only trust or work with close friends, and that's also not to say that all friends can work together. But when there is complementarity of skill, a common vision and passion and - most importantly - no ego between the two, it's the best partnership you can wish for. 

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? Keep on top of your skills, don't get complacent and the industry in five years' time is going to look very different to the one we work in now.

Did you always want to work in IT? No, I was actually not IT savvy at all growing up and even at university. I was the guy who always needed help with his computer when it got stuck. I never imagined that one day I'd be running a tech company. I've grown to love technology and get fascinated by its potential but not being super techy or geeky by background does have its merits as you come into it with a certain freshness and healthy naivety. You don't get obsessed - as many do - by technology for technology's sake. You get fascinated by the products and services it can produce and the capabilities it can enable for the customer. I was always customer centric and always obsessed by great products. For me technology was always the enabler, the means to the end, not the end itself. 

What was your first job in IT? I was an engineer at a big engineering firm. It was a FTSE 100 company when I joined and dropped out of the FTSE 100 within six months. So, it was a sign that I should leave!

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? That you can't be creative and clever with numbers/technical challenges.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Stop waiting for it to happen, focus on a goal and go for it.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? For me, career ambition is an agile thing - once you work towards a goal you create the next.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? It's about working out what's the most important element to you long-term. Sometimes you have to put the hours in to get your business past a point, but later down the journey will you ever regret that when you have balance? Probably not. However, getting the right support - team with skills you may not have - is vital, otherwise you will be in a cycle of putting in hours and not seeing results.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Nothing. Which is not to say that it was perfect, but every experience has had its part to play - you learn, you pick yourself up and you move on. Sure, with the benefit of hindsight you could redraw that path, cut out all the mistakes and mis-turns and make it more efficient, but it won't be the same, it won't be real and it could very well lead to an altogether different place. It's like changing the balance of nature in natural habitat by taking out the scavengers. It could well throw the whole thing out of balance

That said I think if I went back to university I would have studied computer science as that's clearly the present and the future, and the strongest foundation one can have today with what's happening in technology.  

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Whichever works best for the way you work - one is more academic but if that doesn't work for you and you don't enjoy it then why do it? 

How important are specific certifications? Specific certifications show proficiencies in an area, but you should not overlook the benefit of experience.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Someone who takes ownership of their role, is not afraid to disagree and argue the case as to why something should be done differently with proof points/is not a yes man.

What would put you off a candidate? Someone who blames others for things no getting done, there has to be a level of self-accountability in the business world.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Not researching the company enough; not knowing why it matters, what its purpose and mission is. I had one candidate we hired recently who had actually read the T&Cs of the business prior to the interview and picked out questions of the back of it - ones I couldn't even answer as I - admittedly - have never read them myself! Now that's going a little too far, although we did hire him, but I'm always baffled why someone would bother going to an interview with a company not knowing what they do in the first instance! Same with not having questions to ask - you are about to make a big career and life change; how could you not have any questions? 

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? Technical for sure. Business skills you can pick up and learn on the way and in my experience, you cannot learn from classrooms or books. Not even if you go to Harvard Business School, real business skills you learn only one way: by doing, falling flat on your face and picking yourself up again - and by using your common sense. I have been to Harvard Business School, I know how it works, and I have also interviewed people from there too - and it is useless compared to real life experience.


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