The Changemaker trip: From Zero to One and now let’s play this game again!
What I learned from running my own company for 7 years and why I decided to press the restart button.
It’s difficult to know exactly when a trip specifically starts or when it has completed its circle. It was on an autumn weekend in September 2012 — right in the middle of the Greek financial crisis — when the first puzzle pieces came together, and led three young folks to a long trip that no one had imagined: the creation of GloVo, which later evolved into ethelon.
An entrepreneurial trip has no instructions or map. You just hope your compass, to be similar to Jack Sparrow’s of Pirates of the Caribbean, to show you the right direction towards the unknown. The only guarantee is that you will face many cross-roads, that will lead you to wonderful failures and great successes, through not just analysis, but also gut-feeling. At the end of the day, it will always be about going to bed knowing that you did the best you could, and to be ready to face new challenges tomorrow!
Looking backward there were dozens of lessons that we learned every-single-day of this trip, but there are three that I will now always have in my suitcase, no matter the destination.
Lesson #1 — It takes a village to raise a child
There are many articles about the importance of the team. While I don’t disagree with this, I think it’s about something bigger, that truly empowered us all these years. It was that we built our idea, as part of a broader community and not behind closed doors.
We built our idea, as part of a broader community and not behind closed doors.
From the very first day, we began our trip at the Found.ation co-working space, where their team kindly hosted us and became GloVo’s first offices. Since then, it has always been about the people we will meet and the things we will create together. Our goal was to be surrounded by people with a similar passion, to transform their ideas into actions. People from startups, to other organisations, from big corporations, to embassies and institutions. People, open to share their feedback and their connections, feeling our spiritual child as their own as well. This feeling to always know that you are able to pick up the phone and call them and that they also do the same. Therefore, it was evident that all of our core-actions would be hosted in similar community-spaces where we shared common values, such as Impact Hub Athens and Cube, which were the right places with the right people to support us to stand on our feet.
The physical location was not the end of our goal. We were always aiming to connect ourselves with similar-minded Changemakers around the world, through networks such as Sandbox, Ashoka Foundation, and more. These communities allowed us to be open and vulnerable, to meet and discuss our hopes and aspirations, and to be motivated by the fact that we are not alone in this journey.
This exactly was the secret recipe on 2016, when we broke the status quo and merged with the similar-minded team of Volunteer4Greece, creating ethelon.org. The organisation that aimed to become the reference point of Volunteerism in Greek society.
Looking back, I have come to realize that you are never alone on a trip such as this. Each individual member is the captain on his or her journey, and the people you meet along the way have the power to affect as little or as much of your path as you allow. That is exactly why a child is not raised by a team, but by a village. You must choose wisely who you surround yourself with.
Lesson #2: Culture
They say that if you don’t build your culture, one will form on its own (and you might not like what you get). Culture happens. Whether planned or not, all organisations have a culture. It’s all these unwritten rules and habits that characterise every day in the office. Though it’s unwritten, it should always be your number one priority. Your earnings back will be numerous and uncountable. It is always about people, specifically your people. I was always most satisfied walking into the office every day and seeing such intelligent, diverse, talented people coming together around a shared vision.
As the return on investment will always be positive, you should not be afraid to invest on your culture core pillars: Freedom, Communication, People.
Freedom: This is probably not the first time you are reading that life in the workplace is changing. Future of work is already a top trend in the corporate world. Deloitte, McKinsey, Adecco Group, Harvard Business Review and many more are already investing in research on this. People’s autonomy is a core element of this future world. Establishing an environment, where each person is the leader of him/herself, comes with great freedom but also great responsibility. Friday working from home, was just the very first step change we implemented at the office. Staying home every time there was a strike or chaos on the streets, was just a logical outcome. Trust was always a core value for us. Working in the same space can have an impact, but it’s not the final goal. Why force this when the negatives become greater than the positives? Provide options to your team, and let them decide what conditions work best for them.
Communication: Establish open, trusting, two-way communication not only with your employees but also your customers, supporters, folks in related businesses and people working in different fields, who might have the answer you are looking for. As stated before, “It takes a village to raise a child”. Conduct a stay interview! Understand why your employees remain at the company. What’s important for them? What are their personal aspirations? Go for a walk with them. Walk through the square, or even better in the nearest park. Don’t let the limitation of the office and your authority role, restrict their thoughts. Walk, breathe, they talk, you listen. And when you return, make sure you take a lot of notes! Being a good listener is the first step to increase organizational compassion. Furthermore.. speak! There has never been an employee complaining about understanding more about your leadership decisions and thoughts. Transparency on your organisation’s directions can be only a good thing in the long run.
People: Of course culture is about people. Actually, this is all it is. Do you know who owns the company culture? EVERYONE! Each small action in the office can have an amazing ripple effect. Let’s make sure that this will be positive. Let each member of your team be the leader of the weekly team-meeting. Yes, even the intern. It’s nice to show them that they have the power to lead the discussion and have the opportunity to even add a personal touch on it…
The greatest thing? You know your culture is the one you want when it does the work for you. The easiest example is when you don’t need to fire anymore. With the right culture, each person realises quickly if he/she fits in the organisation and remains or quits by him/herself. Let the culture do the work and allow them to realize that this is not the best place for them. There is no point for someone to be in an environment that he or she does not enjoy and for you to have someone that presses the snooze button when they need to come to the office.
Lesson #3: Don’t be afraid to aim-high, but don’t lose your focus — Stay disquieted on the path of imperfection
“No one does know how to build great things when they begin. Ideas don’t come out fully formed. They one become clear as you work on them. You just have to get started!” - Mark Zuckerberg
My Changemaking story started when I was 8 years old and I joined the boy-scouts and I began to see the world as a volunteer. I saw it as a place where excuses and complains did not fit, and where I was responsible to have the willingness to be the solution. Becoming a social entrepreneur, was definitely not just a title. It was an evolution as a changemaker.
Since the begging of this journey, my goals were unrealistic and my deadlines couldn’t be met as there were always so many things going on. It is this balance, that actually determines your level of final success. The balance of continuing to be disquieted and look for better solutions, but also be present and focus on the things that matter the most, in order to achieve long-term sustainability.
And now, what’s next?
Funny, as you grow as a changemaker, it is not the procedures that become better, but the whole image! How you challenge yourself to see your business run without you, and the system to run without your business. There will come a day, when you realise that some things have completed their mission. I never forgot the advice I received a few weeks before that September of 2012, that “If you want to go somewhere fast, go alone — but if you want to go somewhere far, go with company.”. This is the reason I am not afraid now to leave this honour that I had all these years to be the CEO and lead ethelon to implement its’ vision, to make Volunteerism a core value of our society. I am proud now on, alongside with the rest of the co-founders, to support a new person to come forward, represent and evolve this idea, by knowing that she will never be alone.
The same time is this moment when the present doesn’t answer your very personal core questions, and you understand a change is needed. It is an internal need to know who you would have been, had you not had this idea in your early 20s and became Mr.Glovo or Mr. ethelon. A question that is tough to be answered by itself. So I decided that it was time for further studies! I am moving to the center of the world and will have New York as my campus at the Fordham University Gabelli School of Business. With this, I have found a new place to belong.
A combination of the right timing, the right people, and the right channel to explore new paths to unlimited possibilities!
Thank you for reading & let’s stay in touch :)