Can the startup ecosystem coexist with the coffee institution in Eastern Europe?

(comes with instruction on how to prepare Turkish coffee by yourself)

I was having my lunch break in a café just outside the bank I worked at until the end of November 2015, wondering what my next article for would be. Enjoying the pleasant Mediterranean sun of November my bulb just lit up. Why not try something about coffee — the institution we all have in the Balkans. In fact, it’s quite difficult because having coffee the Balkan way originates from tradition and startups from innovation…

Let start with the tradition; “Coffee” or the act of having a coffee in the whole region of the Balkans is considered a social ritual. It starts at home when you prepare it by grinding the beans yourself or in a group where you pass the grinder and split the fatigue. In the end old ladies would tell you about your fortune from the coffee grounds in the cup. But this is not the way we are used to have coffee. In Albania, we often go to work at 8am and after checking in we directly go to the nearest (good!) bar, often meaning that you have to check out right after checking in, we also have a coffee after lunch, a coffee mid-day, a coffee after and sometimes even the after dinner cup of coffee, not counting the business meeting coffees during the day. When you go to the office of a business person, meet a manager or a civil servant because you have to discuss business with them — even if the host has his own office with a coffee brewer — you both go and discuss in the bar downstairs.

As drinking coffee is an act that usually happens between friends, having a coffee at the bar implies that both parts are less formal and less rigid. The conversation tends to be as creative and friendly as possible. The traditional director sitting in a highly positioned chair, in front of the window to shadow & hide the “boss” face expression in a low light office does not belong to these business meetings. In coffee shops the waiter serves them both the same way, both are sat in equal chairs and can see each other face equally. Taking coffee outside the office is not just a way of undressing the dominant part from their power but also a way of socializing. As the Balkan is a region of direct and informal relation, a coffee in equal conditions facilitates the request of favours and introduction. Having coffee at a “kafene” for business is equal to lubricant for an engine.

On the other hand, access to technology gives equal opportunities to people. Youngsters, thanks to technology and to an increased access to information, can fully develop and express their potential.

Doing business in such a technological environment makes it possible to meet clients or business partners from all over the world just sitting comfortable at home or in the office. Virtual contacts are more reliable through emails, instant messaging and video conferences and sometimes even informal but still can leave a lot of space to misunderstandings, misleading information, visions, expectations, etc. Sometimes these conversations can go as far as to lose the final aim. At the end we live in a world where — if we do not put a smiley at the end of each sentence — the tone of that sentence can be misunderstood. This is a big problem for traditional business.

Startups are a relatively a new form of business in this area, mainly braced by open-minded youngsters who do not choose the traditional way of doing business. Like in every other country the biggest part of networking is done online, in meetings and events like Startup Challenges, StartUs Connect, Startup Grind, Silicon Drinkabouts, awards or hackathons. If you need to talk with someone in your accelerator you have a coffee in the roundtable between your desks but what if the people you need to talk to are outside your hub or system? You have a coffee outside, at a “kafene”.

Despite technology and the facilities to missions of young and creative entrepreneurs, Albanian start-uppers have not yet found a way to mix these tete-a-tete meetings with technology.

Reading Marc Winn’s reason why having coffee is at the foundation for everything he does I just discovered one way to embrace both cultures. There’s an app for that — not only one in fact! But this form of managing coffee meetups with an app has not found a broad acceptance from the start-uppers around here.

For this reason, now I would like to invite you all for a Turkish Coffee to socialize and share your experience in dealing with coffee and startup ecosystem. How do people balance coffee, meetings, work and how can we save the more than needed time in bars?

Article written first for StartUs.cc Magazine and published also on vaskeni.com

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