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The journey to digitize the HoReCa sector through HRTech - Interview with Katerina Santikou, Workathlon

Bianca Iulia Simion

"I founded Workathlon in 2017, after experiencing firsthand the struggles of sourcing the right talent for my business."

_Katerina Santikou founded the award-winning hospitality recruitment platform, Workathlon, in 2015. Since 2012, she has been involved in innovative projects aimed at improving the efficiency of the hospitality industry, with a particular focus on recruitment and hiring. Katerina has been named to the 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 and Fortune 40 Under 40 lists._

What’s the story behind Workathlon?

I am a Greek hospitality entrepreneur. I studied political science and history at Georgetown University and have worked in numerous NGOs and think tanks in the US. Since 2012 I have been involved in innovative projects aiming to advance the efficiency of hospitality, focusing on the recruiting & hiring processes. I had been heading the business development for the hospitality group Santikos Collection (5 properties) from 2012 to 2018, and was leading the education and marketing efforts for the Skiathos Union of Hoteliers till 2019.

I founded Workathlon in 2017, after experiencing firsthand the struggles of sourcing the right talent for my business.

What's happening in the industry you are activating? What are the key trends?

Hospitality is facing a record scarcity of workers and lack of trained talent, coupled with a 30% average staff turnover. With a staggering 27% of the positions being left unoccupied (on average) since 2018, and the dire effect of The Great Resignation due to Covid, the lack of talent has a direct effect on employers’ revenues & costs, and customers’ satisfaction.

What problem does Workathlon solve and how would you say it relieves “pain” from your customers?

Workathlon has developed a single marketplace for all recruitment life-cycle needs, entirely bypassing single-point solutions. Workathlon is an ML-powered hospitality recruitment solution augmented by marketing tools and practices, designed to help companies find, nurture, and train the very best talent. Workathlon is using cutting-edge technology for sourcing, managing, and matching talent to open job positions, as well as giving employers the tools to develop their talent. Workathlon automates 60% of the hiring process, increasing the hiring speed, expanding reach to talent, and eliminating inefficiency in the process.

Who benefits the most from your app? Who are your customers?

We are a hospitality marketplace where employers and candidates can connect and meet. Our customers are hospitality employers, mainly hotels but also cruising, yachting, and villa companies, as well as high-end restaurants.

The tourism & hospitality sector is the 3rd largest socio-economic activity in Europe, with 1 in 10 enterprises from the European non-financial business economy activating in the tourism industries. The hospitality sector directly employs 80% of the total EU tourism workforce and counts altogether 2 million enterprises (1 million restaurants and 200,000 hotels), from which 9 out of 10 are micro-enterprises employing fewer than 10 people.

Although, as we speak, hospitality in Europe is taking a blow during the winter months, the summer of 2022 is bound for record-breaking bookings as people are really eager to go on vacation. For example, Dubai’s estimated gross operating profit per room for October 2021 came in at 159% compared to 2019; this is a strong indication of what’s to come the next year.

How has your past experience impacted the traction of Workathlon?

I am a second-generation hotelier with deep knowledge of the industry and its needs. But also, I have led a team of 250 employees and developed a company that was making over 6million in revenue before Workathlon, so I have a very strong hold on governance, unit economics, and scaling a sustainable business. You need a robust team to support you in implementing your vision, and clear leading performance indicators that drive your business model.

I have also lived and worked in multiple countries abroad, and when you want to build an international business, you need both a strong international network and an understanding of the market beyond the regional walls.

Startups grow from failure. Have you had to pivot your business product or service yet to better meet customer needs?

Growth is never linear if you look closely; as you grow, new problems come up and they are usually even more complex to solve than the previous one. So if you break it down we fail all the time, only to understand what works & what doesn’t, and be able to take the company a step further. In the end we are like scientists: without failure, there is no growth. We’ve had to change products, throw away ideas that just didn’t work, and be quick in adjusting to the findings. The goal is to test, fail, reiterate, and re-launch as quickly as possible.

Where do you see Workathlon and your business in 3-5 years? Any potential exit scenario in mind?

We want to be a hospitality powerhouse and the goal is to become a leader in the European and GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) market of hospitality recruitment in 3 years, then globally in 5 years. We have been approached by bigger local players already and I intend to make decisions having in mind what will help the company scale, without any ego involved.

Workathlon can make a real impact on how people find jobs and how employers find and train the talent they need. I want to see it positively impacting as many people as possible.

What makes Workathlon so special? Why should investors choose you?

We are a company that has a proven product and a strong market fit, and the ability to scale to new markets while keeping unit economics in check, and we’re able to create strong network effects with every new member in the marketplace. We’ve just closed a record month (with over 46.000 euros in revenue) and there is already appetite from Series A investors; these should make this bridge round an incredible opportunity for investors.

The future of work is changing at a tremendous pace, and we are at the forefront of change and innovation in an industry that is bound for incredible growth.

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Workathlon (HRTech) is launching a crowdinvesting campaign on SeedBlink on Wednesday, December 15.

SeedBlink is a full-service investment platform that enables everyday and accredited investors to access curated European tech startups through equity crowdinvesting and angel syndicates. To learn more about startup investing and tech opportunities, sign up now.

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