Spiros Margaris is a venture capitalist (Margaris Ventures), futurist, keynote speaker, and board member, excelling as a senior advisor and investor in fintech, insurtech, cybersecurity, healthcare, and AI sectors. His strategic guidance has propelled two fintech start-ups to unicorn status, each surpassing a $1 billion valuation. Recognized internationally, Spiros achieved “The Triple Crown” as the No. 1 influencer in fintech, Blockchain, and AI. Onalytica named him The Key Opinion Leader in Fintech. He has been a top AI influencer since 2017; Spiros was ranked the No. 1 Global FinTech Influencer by Onalytica and the No. 1 Finance Influencer by Refinitiv. He delivered impactful keynote speeches at global conferences, including TEDxAcademy, and authored a white paper on AI for SAP. Spiros made history in 2019 as the first non-IBM keynote speaker at the largest IBM event in Europe.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Spiros shared his professional trajectory, the mission and vision of Margaris Ventures, the secret mantra behind his success, personal source of inspiration, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
Spiros, could you please share your journey to becoming an expert in artificial intelligence? What areas of artificial intelligence are you most passionate about?
My journey into artificial intelligence has been fascinating, rooted in my background in finance and technology. Over the years, I’ve immersed myself in the intersection of these fields, recognizing the transformative power of AI to reshape the financial landscape. Since 2017, several industry publications have ranked me as a top AI influencer, reflecting my deep interest and belief in the power of AI to transform our way of life long before ChatGPT made it clear to so many. My passion for AI spans various fields, with a particular focus on machine learning, natural language processing, and the innovative applications of AI in the financial technology (fintech) industry. My firm belief in the profound impact that AI will have on shaping the future of finance has driven my commitment to closely follow the ever-evolving field of how AI is developing.
Tell us about the mission and vision of Margaris Ventures. What sets it apart from other market competitors?
Margaris Ventures was founded with a clear mission – to identify and nurture the next wave of innovative fintech and related technologies such as AI, cybersecurity or even healthtech startups. My vision is to foster disruptive technologies that have the potential to revolutionize primarily, but not exclusively, the financial industry. What sets Margaris Ventures apart is my fintech expertise and extensive industry network and my hands-on approach as an advisor or board member guiding startups through every stage of development.
I strive to be more than a financial backer; I become a strategic partner, actively involved in shaping the success of the companies I support. This commitment to hands-on mentorship and a keen eye for emerging trends differentiates me in the marketplace. As the No. 1 global fintech and top AI influencer, futurist and thought leader, I pride myself on having a good sense of what technologies are likely to impact our lives and the financial industry. I aim to identify promising startups and actively contribute to their growth and success, creating a unique value proposition in the competitive landscape of venture capital and advisory services.
The two fintech startups (wefox and STC Pay) advised by you have become unicorns (valuations of over $1 billion) and STC Pay was granted a Banking License. What do you think private investors are really looking for, like angels and venture capitalists, when meeting founders of startup companies or young companies?
Private investors, whether angels or venture capitalists, look for a combination of visionary leadership, scalable business models, and actual market disruption potential in startup founders. In my experience, successful founders embody a deep understanding of their industry and a clear vision for addressing market gaps or inefficiencies.
Investors are attracted to founders with innovative ideas and the ability to execute them effectively. Demonstrating a robust go-to-market strategy, a keen awareness of the competitive landscape and a solid understanding of their target audience can significantly influence investors’ decisions.
Founders who prioritize sustainability, scalability and adaptability in their business models are also increasingly sought after by investors. And, of course, the ability to navigate the regulatory landscape is also critical to the successful execution of a startup strategy.
In essence, private investors are looking for founders who have a compelling value proposition and demonstrate the resilience and strategic thinking necessary to navigate the complexities of the business world and emerge as industry leaders.
From your point of view as a TEDx Academy Keynote Speaker, what makes a TEDx talk so special?
Being a TEDx Academy keynote speaker has given me valuable insights into what makes TEDx talks truly special. The focus on sharing unique and inspiring ideas that have the potential to spark meaningful conversations and shift perspectives is what sets TEDx talks apart.
The nature of the brevity of TEDx talks, which are typically limited to a short duration, forces speakers to distil their message to its essence. This makes the speech every moment powerful. This format challenges speakers to communicate complex ideas clearly and accessibly, ensuring that audiences can quickly grasp and connect with the concepts presented.
What sets TEDx talks apart is the diversity of speakers and topics. TEDx brings together individuals from diverse backgrounds with different perspectives and expertise. This diversity fosters a rich tapestry of ideas, encouraging audiences to explore new areas of thought and consider perspectives they may not encounter daily.
The emphasis on storytelling is another crucial aspect that makes TEDx talks unique. By weaving personal narratives into their presentations, speakers can connect deeply with the audience, making ideas more relatable and memorable.
The magic of TEDx talks lies in their ability to distil powerful ideas, showcase diverse perspectives and engage audiences through compelling storytelling, creating an environment where ideas worth spreading can genuinely come to life.
You were ranked as the first No. 1 person in the world to achieve “The Triple Crown” of fintech, AI, and blockchain. You were also ranked as the No.1 global influencer in finance and fintech, and a top influencer in AI. Our readers would love to know the secret mantra behind your success.
It’s only been through a journey fueled by passion, a relentless pursuit of knowledge, and a commitment to staying ahead of industry trends that I’ve been ranked as a top influencer in fintech, financial services, and AI.
The secret to my success lies in my belief in a few fundamental principles:
Continuous Learning: Embracing a mindset of continuing to learn is paramount. The fields I work in are dynamic and constantly evolving, including fintech, cybersecurity, healthcare, and AI. Striving to stay on top of the latest advancements, trends, and emerging technologies ensures a deep understanding of the industries.
Adaptability: Success in these fast-paced industries requires adaptability. Staying relevant in an ever-changing landscape requires being open to new ideas, technologies, and methodologies to quickly adapt to market changes.
Global Perspective: Fintech, cybersecurity, healthcare, and AI operate globally. A global perspective and understanding of the diverse market dynamics is critical. A comprehensive understanding of industry nuances is fostered by networking with professionals worldwide and staying connected to the pulse of different markets.
Innovation and Vision: Leadership in these sectors requires a commitment to innovation. The ability to envision future trends and identify opportunities for disruption are essential. Fostering a culture of innovation within myself and the companies I’m involved with has been a driving force.
Building Meaningful Relationships: It’s fundamental to collaborate and partner. Making solid relationships with industry experts, startups, and thought leaders has enriched my understanding and opened doors to new opportunities and collaborations.
Passion & Commitment: I believe a passion for the industries I work in and a commitment to making a positive impact have been the driving forces behind my success. I bring enthusiasm and a commitment to making a meaningful contribution to the challenges and complexities of the industries in which I am involved.
In essence, the secret to making a meaningful impact on the people I work with and the companies I am involved with is a combination of continuous learning, adaptability, a global perspective, innovation, meaningful relationships, and a deep passion for the transformative potential of their technology.
Which technology are you investing in now to prepare for the future?
Investing in the future requires a strategic approach. Artificial Intelligence is at the forefront of my current interest, explicitly focusing on advancements in the field, including what the AI industry calls Generative AI (GenAI).
GenAI, or Generative Artificial Intelligence, represents the next frontier in AI innovation. GenAI models have demonstrated remarkable natural language processing, content generation, and problem-solving capabilities. The investment by companies in GenAI is an acknowledgement of its potential to redefine how we interact with technology, from creating more personalized user experiences to driving innovation across various industries.
Furthermore, I closely monitor developments in AI ethics and responsible AI practices. As AI continues to play an integral role in shaping various aspects of our lives, ensuring ethical considerations and responsible deployment of AI technologies is paramount.
In summary, my current focus is on strategic use cases of AI, particularly on GenAI. I’m also committed to promoting ethical and responsible AI practices that align with the future needs of our rapidly evolving technological landscape.
Who has influenced you the most in life and why?
Identifying a single influence in my life is a complex task, as various individuals and experiences have contributed to shaping my journey.
However, if I were to pinpoint a profound influence, it would be my family, friends and people I work with.
My family’s unwavering support and encouragement have been the bedrock of my endeavors. Their values, work ethic, and commitment to excellence have instilled in me a sense of determination and resilience. The lessons learned from family experiences, both successes and challenges, have provided a strong foundation for navigating the complexities of life and the business world.
In the professional realm, I’ve been inspired by visionary leaders and entrepreneurs who have demonstrated the courage to challenge the status quo. Individuals who have fearlessly pursued innovation and positively impacted their respective industries have motivated me to strive for excellence and contribute meaningfully to fintech and AI.
In essence, while there are many influencers in my life, the consistent support and values instilled by my family serve as the guiding force that has shaped my character, values, and approach to personal and professional challenges.
What are your passions outside of work?
Outside of the fast-paced world of finance, technology, and venture capital, I am fueled by diverse passions that contribute to a balanced and fulfilling life.
Travel: Exploring different cultures and landscapes has always been a source of inspiration for me. Travelling allows me to gain new perspectives, broaden my horizons, and recharge creatively.
Art and Creativity: Whether it’s attending art exhibitions, appreciating music, or engaging in creative pursuits, I find immense joy in the world of art. It serves as a source of inspiration and a way to connect with the profound expressions of human experience.
Fitness and Wellness: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is crucial for sustained energy and focus. I enjoy staying active through activities like fitness training, which benefits my physical well-being and contributes to mental clarity and resilience.
Philanthropy: Giving back to the community and supporting meaningful causes is fundamental to my values. Contributing to philanthropic initiatives allows me to make a positive impact beyond the business realm.
Networking and Mentorship: Building meaningful connections with individuals across diverse industries is not just a professional endeavor but also a personal passion. Engaging in mentorship and knowledge-sharing activities brings a sense of fulfilment and contributes to the growth of both myself and others.
Balancing these passions with my professional pursuits is essential for maintaining a holistic and well-rounded lifestyle. Each of these aspects contributes to my personal growth, well-being, and the ability to approach challenges with a fresh perspective.
Tell us about your future plans. Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
In the next five years, I see myself deeply entrenched in the dynamic landscape of fintech and AI, with a focus on fostering innovation and positive change. My plans include:
Continued Involvement in AI Opportunities: I am committed to identifying and supporting pioneering technologies. I will focus on companies in sectors ranging from fintech to cybersecurity to healthtech that leverage AI to deliver unique value propositions to customers.
Global Impact and Collaboration: Extending my influence globally, I aim to foster collaborations with diverse markets and thought leaders. This means actively contributing to the worldwide dialogue on the future of finance and technology, particularly within AI and its transformative applications.
Advocacy for Responsible AI Practices: Ethical and responsible AI deployment remains a priority. I will advocate for policies and practices that ensure AI technologies are developed with careful consideration for their societal impact, particularly in sectors such as healthcare and cybersecurity.
Education and Mentorship: Playing a pivotal role in the growth and development of future leaders is a continued goal. I plan to contribute to educational initiatives and mentorship programs, sharing insights to inspire the next generation.
Philanthropy for Social and Environmental Causes: My plans include increasing involvement in philanthropic activities aligning with my values. Supporting social and environmental causes that can benefit from AI-driven solutions is a key focus.
Balanced Lifestyle: Maintaining a balance between professional and personal pursuits is paramount. Nurturing passions outside of work, such as travel and art, will continue to be essential to my well-rounded and fulfilling lifestyle.
In essence, the next five years will see me deeply immersed in the evolving landscape of fintech and AI, with a commitment to driving positive change, fostering innovation, and contributing to the betterment of society through responsible and impactful AI applications.
What best advice can you offer startups and VCs/LPs in this current economic climate?
In the current economic climate, my advice to startups and VCs/LPs is grounded in a long-term perspective:
Long-Term Vision: Embrace a long-term view and focus on building sustainable, resilient business models. Weathering short-term challenges while staying true to a robust vision is a hallmark of enduring success.
Value Creation: Prioritize value creation over short-term gains. Develop products or services that genuinely address market needs and provide lasting value to customers. Sustainable growth stems from meeting genuine demands in a changing economic landscape.
Adaptability: Cultivate adaptability as a core strength. The ability to pivot and adjust strategies in response to market dynamics is crucial. Learn from setbacks and use them as opportunities for growth and improvement.
Financial Discipline: Exercise prudent financial management. Maintaining a lean operation and strategic financial planning are essential in uncertain economic times. Bootstrap where possible and prioritize investments that align with long-term goals.
Build Strong Relationships: Forge strong relationships with partners, clients, and investors. The foundation of enduring success often lies in collaborative efforts and a network of supporters who share a common vision.
Innovative Thinking: Infuse a touch of Steve Jobs’ innovative thinking. Continuously challenge the status quo, encourage creative problem-solving, and strive to deliver solutions that transcend customer expectations.
Resilience and Perseverance: Understand that setbacks are part of the entrepreneurial journey. Cultivate resilience and perseverance to overcome challenges. Every challenge presents an opportunity to learn and refine strategies.
Embrace Technology: Leverage technology, particularly AI, to drive efficiency and innovation. Integrating cutting-edge technologies can provide a competitive edge and position startups for long-term success.
Stay Customer-Centric: Regardless of economic conditions, a customer-centric approach remains paramount. Listen to customer feedback, adapt to evolving needs, and prioritize delivering a positive user experience.
In summary, the best advice in the current economic climate is to adopt a long-term perspective, focus on value creation, embrace adaptability, and draw inspiration from successful investors and innovators. Building a resilient and customer-centric business, coupled with disciplined financial management, positions startups and VCs/LPs for sustained success in a dynamic market.