In Search For A Model

I have lately been a witness to a growing contradiction in the local startup ecosystem. With this post, I would like to call this discord out; I hope it might be of value.

By nature, entrepreneurship (or life, if you will) is about finding the right balance in a growing variety of issues. In the local ecosystem’s case and in my limited experience, entrepreneurs are struggling to strike the right balance between the local realities and the promised startup land. Admittedly, this is a tough task.

On the one hand, local realities usually stand for a disheartening context. Short-sighted perspectives, or the lack there of, along with a “nothing happens here” mentality, typically suggest a status that you have to escape from so as to start a business. You cannot escape from reality though, and it’s a fact that you have to understand, value and embrace the local conditions before you can take over and move ahead.

At the same time, the promised land, typically taking the shape of a valley, does own a growing mind share in the community’s collective consciousness. Ideas are valued at millions by inception, customers at thousands are eagerly awaiting for your new unknown product while investors grow in trees, or at least that’s what you get to believe should you be fantasizing the startup life.

This constant oscillation between the lack of any ambition (due to local conditions) and utopia (or the discontent of realizing its absence) frequently leads to confusion, not only in words but mostly in expectations and the actions that follow as their result. Being by belief and profession an advocate of almost irrationally ambitious targets that break limits and fuel the passion to go after them, I still have to draw distinct borders between what gets you out of bed in the morning and what makes you feel accomplished back before you sleep.

It takes time to find the right balance; stable balance is the outcome of trials and errors, most importantly the suffering of going through them. In my understanding, the entrepreneurial community in my region has yet to complete this process and evolve to reach the calm waters of knowing thyself and its environment, therefore fertilize the existing reality with the desire to improve it, as opposed to following mirages in the distant desert haze.

When one is confused on what to do and which path to follow, a textbook is a reference of value. And there is a textbook on how to create and grow a technology startup in mature ecosystems. There are clear rules on how to set up a team, raise money or not, develop a product, then build a business and eventually a company on top of it. There are well documented do’s and dont’s that take into account a big number of successes and failures, forming patterns that could not have been developed overnight.

In the local context of almost no success stories of reference, there unfortunately are no textbooks but common sense. In the social setting that the economy is, I do believe that the latter is the building block for the former, yet what lies in between is a big list of mistakes that one has to experience and survive from, rather than outsourcing the pain to the shared experience of the many to proceed beyond it.

Yet it’s not only about mistakes. Comparing apples to oranges and your startup to a global giant will probably lead you to get drunk on the cool aid, skipping your very own unique taste and the competitive advantage of putting it to work. I truly believe that there are special local facts and figures, traits and qualities that remain to be further explored and highlighted, leading to a more efficient approach to creating a technology startup, right under the warm sun where you are reading this.

There is a difference between imitation and evolution, the latter works. For the entrepreneurial ecosystem to deliver against its bold promises, it needs to evolve beyond any references to its dysfunctional past or gloomy context, as well as any comparisons to other ecosystems catering to different needs from different starting points. To do that, a different startup model is of essence, playing up on special strengths and working around local strains, while separating universal rules from the localities which created them.

Shaping this new model and writing up the local textbook of technology entrepreneurship is a daunting task on a long bumpy road. Yet some of us are experiencing it, the hard way day by day. I urge you to continue doing so, and share the lessons learned along the way. After all, for a new species to mature it takes time, trials and tech; also, to enjoy the ride.

  • Stelios Sbyrakis

    Regardless of the fullfimlent sentiment of doing a startup, one very important aspect of any startup is the ability to survive. For that it takes money, money that the startup should make either going into funding rounds (almost impossible in Greece) or selling the idea to its potential customers (again very difficult in Greece). The latter is the basic problem of Greek tech startups, as far as I can remember. We don't have a local-tech buying mentality, so for most of the purchases that one makes, from consumer to B2B tech, the decision is usually in favor to non-Greek products & services. For sure this does not apply to the valley… ;)