[Interview] – “Never give up on your dream – Alex Tsekenis

[Interview] – “Never give up on your dream – Alex Tsekenis

Ai Exploration was formed in 2019. The company develops and commercialises sensors and analytical solutions for the Energy sector to provide real-time insights to optimize production & reduce emissions.

In part two of this industry interview co-founder Alex Tsekenis gives some brilliant insight into his mindset around taking on challenges and the setting up a deep tech company.
Ben – What, if anything, prepared you for running your own company?

Alex – That is a very good question. I wouldn’t say, I couldn’t really isolate anything and say that now I’m qualified and considered competent to run one’s own company. I think this goes back to, “what does it take to run a company or to run a successful company?” If you think about it, anyone can go to Companies House and within 15 minutes, start a company and realize they actually have to do annual returns.

So, I think almost a defiance of how difficult things are and thinking back, I’ve always had that. So, being motivated by something being potentially difficult or challenging as opposed to running away from it or seeking the easy way out. So that’s certainly very important and when things don’t go well, which when running your own company, as you know, it’s a roller coaster, emotional roller coaster, especially in the early days. You do need that grit, that defiance that, I wouldn’t say arrogance, but the almost blind commitment to the cause to make it work. Not allowing yourself to say, oh, it’s okay if it fails. It is not okay if it fails. We have to make it work. So I think that’s very important. We also always need to be able to pivot, as we had to do as well during the COVID crisis when the energy sector was hit very, very hard with the price of oil becoming negative. So people pay you to buy oil. And having that grit is key, I think.

Where did I get that grit? I’m not sure. I think goes perhaps back to my mom, you know, having two kids, raising them pretty much on her own while going to work and having a meal every day at home.

Ben – Sounds like a powerful influence.

Alex – Yes.

Ben – So, thinking about the challenges you’ve had to overcome, maybe you could describe some of those for me? That’s always useful.

Alex – Oh, it’s a very long list, Ben, of challenges. And we often think of challenges in our own little perspective, right? There’s always things that are way more challenging, as we know, these days around the world. And things that, you know, other people are having a lot easier. For me, the first challenge I had to overcome was being integrated or leaving home, back from Greece, and coming to the UK and starting to understand that often people say one thing and they mean something else [laughs], which is not the way we do it in Greece.

So that was the first challenge and just generally creating a support network in the UK of friends, colleagues, just building a life here. I have now spent 50 percent of my life in the UK. And that has been the first challenge. The second challenge has been when the family back in Greece was having problems, you know, people growing old, needing to be hospitalized, for example, generally needing to be taken care of and just not having that ability to provide that support. Whether because you are in a meeting, or because you’re in a job interview or who knows what it is that you’re doing.

It’s two parallel universities and you want to be there, but you have to be here and sort of managing that. And the other challenge I would say I had was when I was in various companies, I often felt that I was being penalized for trying to push the boundaries or over deliver. Like, let’s do that and lets do that.

Of course now being on the other side of the management side I can see some of the reasons for that. Other challenges, my fiancé is from Mexico, and back then she was studying in the UK but then she had to go to Mexico and I say, hey look, until I have figured things out with my aspiration here, it’s probably best for you to stay in Mexico because who knows, maybe I’ll be joining you shortly.

So, we spent a significant amount of time over the past three to four years now being a part and maintaining that relationship. So that has been a very real challenge that I had to deal with as the company becomes more stable and more de-risked, if there is ever such a thing.

So, just balancing work and the extreme demands. You know, you want a company to do well, you want to put 200, 300% of yourself into the company, but there’s other things in life as well – family, friends, personal relationships as well.

So that has been a challenge but everyone has been very supportive, I would say on that.

Ben – So if you think about then maybe some of the positives, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given either in business or in life in general?

Alex – What’s the best piece of advice? This is going to sound cliché but the “never give up” piece of advice has been given to me many times by many people and it’s one of those pieces of advice that is easier said than done. Never give up.

Why this piece of advice is so important is even if you don’t succeed, whatever success means in that particular instance, it’s still critically important to try and just keep on trying. So never give up. And I would add on your dream after that maybe the practicalities need more objective thinking, but you should definitely never give up on your dream.

If you don’t believe in it, then who will?

Read the next part of the interview here

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