Article published on Dec. 6, 2011
community published
Article published on Dec. 6, 2011
Read this and then think again if you still want to leave the country. Articles are numerous and everywhere in the media, so as the discussions between young Greeks who think seriously about leaving the country, as recession strangles a job market already crippled and so on.. Well, think again. The first time I met Markus Stolz was at a meeting about Greek tourism.
German-born and residing Athens for the last seven years, he talked about his Greek wine business, and entrepreneurship. Back then, one of his comments skipped my mind like a stone across water. “I do not get it”, he said, “why you leave the country in order to become employees for someone else abroad, while when I get out in the street, I see plenty of opportunities to start something of your own”.

Let’s stick to that for a while.

Markus is an entrepreneur based in Greece. As such, he acknowledges the hard situation in Greece.

The situation within Greece is complex, on the other hand I believe is now more than ever the opportunity to build something up because lots of people are leaving the country. Young educated people, with good ideas but they go abroad because they see no future here, so there is more empty space and the people who will be able to build something up, will become big players”.

Practically, Markus backs his idea on the fact that internet has changed everything. “The timing is perfect now. From your room you can start something; you do not need advertizing, telephone costs, renting rooms”.

The problem for Mr Elloinos, is that the attitude is far too heavily concentrated on facing and thinking about the obstacles. “Unfortunately, people spend too much time on thinking the problems they will face. I know it’s hard in Greece, probably harder than in other places with all the laws and regulations but is doable. Look, people have ideas and then, when they face the obstacles, they say, “oh no! You can’t do this in Greece, that’s not right”. But after a while you just need to start executing things and that goes for every business”.

markus______.jpg “''People come from Albania, they do not speak greek but they manage to build businesses. What I have witnessed often in Greece; people, have good ideas, they start to implement them and then, after few months, it ‘s like the enthusiasm is gone and the idea is never brought to life. They are great about discussing ideas but they hesitate and suddenly the whole thing falls apart.'' ” I am Greek devil’s advocate, so I ask to learn, is his experience talking or a wishful thinking.

- What if a young man comes right now and asks you?

-“My actual wine business, Elloinos, I started it two and a half years ago when I saw how many little of Greek wine was exported. I had no idea about and my knowledge was just wine. For the business side I had zero knowledge or connections, none at all. But I said this is something I want to do!

It took more than two years to earn income from it. And still trying to keep costs down, as low as possible, which is doable, a lot of energy, working 7 days, 18 hours per day and then you see, the first year was a bit frustrating because nothing was happening or very little but then it gets amplified. You see interest coming and the whole potential is still there. Now I am enjoying!”

This is what I love about entrepreneurship; you sit down and write a business plan, one year, three years to five years. Totally not needed anymore, the business world is changing so quickly, if you had written a business plan five years ago, five years ago Twitter didn’t t even exist, Facebook was there just for students, the social network wasn’t there and now is changing so quickly so you can not plan any more, you can have a guideline sure and then you have to react. When I started, I did business with Germany and UK and this has evolved now. My largest market is America. Is currently my biggest importer and we are talking about good names in the best places. And of course at the beginning when I saw there was interest in the US, I was skeptical, my old business skill said, “US? I do not know anything about the US, is going to be hard” and then I said, listen to yourself, you just do it. You will find a way”.

“''At first, it’s hard because you spend a lot of time. You do not have income and you just do it but that‘s entrepreneurship, that’s how you build up a business, that’s the same for every country''”.

-Do you have any success story, an entrepreneur that you admire?

- “There are a lot of success stories especially in US and things have changed completely with the internet, just take for example the last three years, is just amazing. One thing I am debating, is the education system, I am not sure how useful it will be, because you do not need anymore the skills that you are taught at school or at university. You need different skills; you need to be able to tell a convincing story, to brand yourself. Traditionally, my father in law, he used to say, the safest work in the whole world is to work for banks and financial institutions. And this was true for many decades. But look now, the banks are bankrupt and let’s take Greece, do you want to work for a Greek bank now? Is the most unsafe job there is".

"Looking at it, the business world is just turning the turmoil, and it becomes the safest opportunity. So, the crisis is in Greece, yes, is very ugly and very hard but still amazing if you look in the skin of things that you are able being no one, to build something up within two or three years that brings you a steady income that leaves you all the potential and opportunity with little money and work. The opportunity is there for everyone and everyone can do it, you start a blog if you continue to do it and is quality work you put your name on it and a newspaper will come to you, the word starts spreading''.

Markus on Gary Vaynerchuk Wine & Web live radio show, in New York to talk about Greek wines and his passion about them (Gary Vaynerchuk might currently be the most influential wine person on a global basis).

-What do you see that we, young Greeks, do not see?

"''What you do not see is that the opportunity is there. In times of crisis, when you decide to start something up, you have low competition because other people are sleeping and other didn’t do it. So you start covering your part of the market, you put your name out to the product or the service you offer and people take your name and put it in your service or product, so you start building brand equity which is very, very important. Brand equity, can’ t be taken away cause I continue building on it so if someone else comes now to do the same as me is going to have much harder time because I am there''”.

"But people are afraid still of all the obstacles they will face; the entrepreneurship culture in Greece is very young and is not based within Greece. Many Greek entrepreneurs and I am talking about entrepreneurs and not businessmen who get their fathers business and build it up, but people who start something new, Greek entrepreneurs who start something go abroad, like easyJet (founded by Greek Cypriot entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou). Within the country there is no much noise about it, but what I am saying is exactly this: this is where the opportunity is, because even now the competition to start something whatever it is, is not very strong. If you start something “tech” in California, you have hundreds of people who start something similar; you have competition. In Greece, the people still hold back, it starts to change''.

-And what about the inevitable fundraising chase; it feels like speaking a foreign language here.

-“Yes ok, that is certainly true but you need to focus on the product. Scale your idea to something that maybe is not perfect but it’s basic and easy and if the idea is implemented correctly and go out and put this on the market. You know “taxi beat”?

Taxi beat is an application, made by a Greek company. Once you tap into the application and you can trace -according to your location-, all available cab drivers.

A brilliant thing! How this came in the market? They could have looked for finance in order to get a product that would have been perfect from day one. Instead, they focused a lot on bringing the product on the street, to get the taxi drivers and their needs; they talked, listened to them. And they have a basic product ready and now they start to improve it. What I am saying is, do not get out with an idea where you need lots of finance in order to perfect it, rather keep it easy and simple and start something to work”.

Markus has a finance background. He has served in several financial institutions, including Commerzbank and as an Executive Director for Goldman Sachs in London.

Feeling_patriotic.JPG I ask him as a German person how he see the Greek case-crisis.

Listen, what has been very, very wrong, I am sad and annoyed. All that has been done is to charge the average person on the street, to charge the people of Greece. Text fights (referring to foreign publications) and now we are in a situation that people are depressed. Unemployment is rocked into roof, with all this measurement, what the Government do with all these taxes, is killing the whole economy. What should have been done first of all is to bring investments, you need somehow to give liquidity and keep the engines going. IMF and EU, now are coming up with the idea, “oh! We need investments in order to broad the economy”, but this should have happened a year ago”.

The system in Greece has to change and it will change but it will take time. I have no doubt about that. People’s perception will change as well. But this again has nothing to do with building up a business in Greece because then again you can theoretically focus on all the problems; sure there are problems, so? Do something despite the problems. “I can’t do it because this might happen, this has happened to my 35 year old friend”, yes there are many tough stories, still, do your work, get something to go on, try it!

Now, romantically, let’s just dream for a second that you had young people start businesses on their own, many will not succeed, that’s always happening and has nothing to do with Greece, that’s in every business, but many will. Can you imagine how this will look like in five years, when you have 5-10% of them making the breakthrough, imagine what will do to the psychology in the country when you have success stories of people that are not afraid to do something, to runaway to work for someone else!”

I know it is hard time, very hard, but there is something. Start small, work hard, build your name, brand your name and see what this can do for you. You build up your name in a way that people start trusting you, that people like your work and talk about it. That is the most important thing and powerful message in existence, that people recommend you and your work. Likely enough this has changed with the internet, 5-10 years ago, when the internet was very different. Now you can spread your message out to the world. You can concentrate people and business, you can go public, you can do it with your friends or completely strangers, people will listen and engage and this is the amazing thing. The engagement doesn’t t cost anything but work. In Greece is very doable”.

Now you! Get yourselves in gear