From Greece

On startups, hyper-growth, Greek economy and Greek entrepreneurship heritage

The best entrepreneurs could be not those who can demonstrate the ability to quickly generate money for themselves and their investors, but those who could educate their customers to make better use of all economic, social and environmental resources…

Ioannis Rappas, "Grocery store at Ydra", 1970
Ioannis Rappas, “Grocery store at Ydra”, 1970

This posting is a reply to Dimitri Tsingos a great entrepreneur and friend of mine on his article posted here.

I was at the bunt of Shanghai 10 years ago and I remember seeing workers next to the oriental pearl tower working at 11pm. Economic hyper-growth was the reality of China at that time.

US, China and many other countries where the mainstream development model is based on economic hyper-growth are profoundly transforming the meaning of new venture creation. Today, the most successful startups are believed to be the “world champions”; the ones, as Dimitris mentions, who could achieve the 10x return to their VC investors.

At a different level I am amazed to see over the last years how the spirit of entrepreneurship is rapidly morphing to a culture of entrepreneurs where the founder and his/her personality are promoted as the key success factor of world champion startups.

If one follows the success stories relayed by the social and not-so-social media, one can think that a young skilled, stubborn, napoleon-like person who creates a startup and gets to the point to raise VC money in a hyper-growth model is an entrepreneur in the pinnacle of his art of creating ventures.

Now let’s come back to the Greek reality. A couple of decades ago, I remember a nice fish tavern by the sea in the south of Peloponnese owned by Mr. Stavros. The place was so full you couldn’t just stop by and eat; you had to call the day before. Every person who had the chance to eat at Mr. Stavros was giving only excellent comments about the food. Mr Stavros would sit down and talk to all of his customers without exception. In his restaurant you couldn’t order, it was Mr. Stavros who was choosing the fish you could eat based on the chat he had with you. “Every person deserves his fish” Mr. Stavros used to say…

I was raised in an environment where grandfathers like Mr. Stavros used to spend hours explaining how to catch the best fish, or make the best olive oil, or bake the best homemade bread in clay ovens. Earlier in the 20th century Greece used to be a country of modest workers (we could say “auto-entrepreneurs” in modern terms), or family businesses, most of them extremely passionate about their work. The excellent quality of their product was based on a mix of own-skill, deep knowledge of the nature, a great deal of help from family and friends, as well as patience. Sometimes patience was needed in order to let the product mature, some other times patience was needed to overcome financing issues…

I cannot agree more with the fact that execution skills are on the top of the list of what is necessary to create a sustainable business. But in addition to that, comes one of the main lessons our Greek ancestors taught us, which is, a systemic view on how a business can be integrated in everyday life.

Scale-ups, hyper growth, economic returns and financial yield to investors are pushing to an economic model where money is spent to shape the demand in order for the supply to be the most optimized for financial returns.

In this world, Greece has to find its way certainly by having young companies (and their founders) focusing on planning, commitment, focus and great execution. But above all there is something from the culture of Greece that can also by a source of inspiration for (its) entrepreneurs. And this is to learn from the way our ancestors integrated their businesses in the real life, how they were able to scale by creating strong social cohesion while respecting the environment.

In Greece the dramatic scarcity of resources is clearly visible. If the currently dominant hyper-growth model pushes other countries to reach a similar level of economic stress one could think what could be a viable alternative. Maybe a new kind of entrepreneurship could be that alternative. In that context the best entrepreneurs could be not those who can demonstrate the ability to quickly generate money for themselves and their investors, but those who could educate their customers to make better use of all economic, social and environmental resources in a world where the best product goes to those who, like Mr Stavros said “deserves it”.