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The interim CTO for startups: Kostas Vlassis

The interim CTO for startups: Kostas Vlassis

What drives a former Greek army programmer to work as an interim CTO in startups?

Being passionate about supporting fast growing start-ups and building high-performance teams keeps Kostas Vlassis from taking a permanent position within a large enterprise organisation.

Currently interim CTO for food waste management startup Winnow, Vlassis has spent 20 years building agile teams. During that time he has created scalable high-transaction platforms; rearchitected monolithic, legacy applications to microservices and refactored solutions from different programming languages to deliver B2B and B2C products.

He has supervised the the implementation of agile (Scrum and Kanban); continuous improvement and continuous delivery; DevOps; and tools (like JIRA and Confluence).

“I love working in this environment that is fast paced, decisions are made quickly, prototypes are constantly created and destroyed and evolution of products happens in weeks rather than months or years,” he said.

He tries to combine his experience with the technology team to achieve deliver the desired results and achieve the company’s mission.

“In a startup environment the only constant is change and some people hate it, I love it,” he said.

“An enterprise organisation’s pressure is always to make the ‘best’ decision that will be based on detailed business cases and review from various committees. Start-ups have a lot of ‘moving parts’ and a great deal of unknowns but with a great deal of autonomy and empowerment.”

Vlassis said start-ups have a decision making mindset, which allows them to make choices with incomplete information.

“They are able to move to implementation quickly and constantly assessing outcomes with the team because it is crucial to stop a bad decision as quickly as possible, rethink and move forward again,” he said.

He has been serving as CTO at Winnow for over a year and has worked on innovations for the food waste management company.

“Recently we launched an AI-enabled product – Winnow Vision – change food management in commercial kitchens,” he said.

“Winnow Vision ‘learns’ to recognise different foods being thrown in the bin and calculates the financial and environmental cost of this discarded food to commercial kitchens. For businesses and chefs, the technology allows them to adjust their food purchasing decisions and reduce their spending.”

In Australia, Winnow started working with OzHarvest’s innovation arm ForPurposeCo on food waste management, in September last year.

OzHarvest is a local food rescue organisation, that collects quality excess food from commercial places and delivers it directly to more than 1000 charities supporting people in need.

ForPurposeCo is its “profit-for-purpose” social enterprise that exists to increase funding for OzHarvest. The purpose of the OzHarvest arm is to invest in technology, products and services that are aligned with the charity.  

Vlassis said the partnership allows ForPurposeCo to promote and provide Winnow’s technology within the Australian and New Zealand market.

“When the concept of using AI in the kitchen was discussed about two years ago there were many who laughed at the idea,” he said. “They thought it was unrealistic the ability to achieve human level food recognition results in the harsh isolated environment of a commercial kitchen and not in a data centre somewhere in the cloud.”

To connect the commercial kitchen, with technology Vlassis tries to get his technology team members to interact with clients and understand first-hand their point of view.

“We find out what works well and what needs improvement,” he said. “All this input is gathered back at our HQ and reviewed by the Product and Technology teams to ensure we prioritise the tasks that will deliver the greater impact and remove and pain-points as quickly as possible.”

Vlassis can spend anywhere from five months to over two years as an interim CTO, and after more than a year at Winnow he has no plans to move on, as yet.

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