[Below is a text of a letter I wrote to the Mayor of Athens in August 2015 about the rising drug problem in our area]
Dear Mayor Kaminis,
I own and run The Cube, Athens’ largest coworking space and tech startup cluster based near Kannigos square. It is home to some of Greece’s best web and tech entrepreneurs, people who are building globally impactful businesses. It is the defacto location for many of Athens’ tech meetups – daily , weekly and monthly group meetings of people with common interest in various technologies, tools and methods. Together, we are some of Greece’s most impactful changemakers.
Unfortunately, life in this part of the city has once again become untenable and I can no longer expend energy trying to convince the authorities that they need to do the commonsensible. I am tired of calling officials to complain about the lack of policing, the lack of cleanliness, the lack of adequate lighting – more seriously, the blatant surrender of the streets we have the unlucky fate to be in, to drug dealers, prostitutes and vagrants.
We have an ever present gang of drug dealers peddling their poison less than 50m from our entrance. Drug use on our street is significant. Addicts are constantly spiking themselves right outside our door, leaving their used needles, spraying blood on our pavement, sometimes passing out for hours on our street, very often fights break out and there is a general feeling of an unsafe neighborhood. The Police seem unable to take control of the situation, their patrols are minimal and they almost never arrest anyone. If they do, the same dealers are out on the street again within hours.
This is not a proud moment for me as I am writing to tell you about our combined failure. I am writing to inform you that due to this combined failure, it is my intent to move our business and all of our tenants out of central Athens at the first opportunity.
Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult to convince some of Greece’s most talented entrepreneurs to come and work here, in The Cube, a place that has been recognised as one of the most positive things that has happened in this country in recent years.
It is regretful but our talented clients and coworkers refuse to co-exist with the vagrants that have embedded themselves here.
Unfortunately, the negatives outweigh the positives.
I suppose one could argue that it is actually we who embedded ourselves in their territory, but I had hoped that with us moving to this troubled part of the city, that we might instigate some change and some level of care from the authorities. None has emerged, despite our efforts.
Why on earth did I choose to come here you ask? Well, I was inspired by an initiative in Lisbon, where another entrepreneur like me did the same. His story and the success delivered to his neighborhood is something that should be replicated in many parts of the world.
In creating The Cube, my second coworking initiative after founding coLab – Greece’s first (and quite famous) coworking space, I specifically wanted to go to an under-served part of town and do some good. I wanted to create an initiative that would help uplift one of the many areas that have significant challenges and are undergoing urban decay. Kannigos square was once full of life. By the time we arrived, two and a half years ago, it had descended into a no-mans land of drugs, prostitution and petty crime. The opportunity to do good had appeared. We found a fantastic building – Seven times larger than our previous location – a building that once was home to a stockbrokers, one of Greece’s biggest – but they unfortunately decided to depart after an attack by anarchists. I’m not worried about anarchists. Startups are kind of anarchists by nature too. I was more worried about the drugs and the needles. My co-investor was especially nervous about my choice for this building, as were many of the members of Athens’ startup community, but I convinced him, as I did them, that new things need to be built on the ruins of bad things and if we came here, we would give life to the neighborhood. This very large building was empty for 4 years which of course means that the city received no city taxes during that period. We came and brought life to the building and to our small street. It had become dark and lifeless. The Cube, as a working concern, currently pays very significant city taxes. I feel we get very little value in return.
In the past few days, while we were away, our tenants tell us that the situation had become extreme. We returned to find chaos in and around our office building entrance. It had become a drug den. We returned and immediately began cleaning the urine and fecal matter from HIV and Hepatitis infected addicts literally in the entrance of our office. The drug pushers stood a few meters away while we did this.They had even been so kind as to leave a small shovel for use of their customers when, in a drug induced bout of diarrhea when have the urge to relieve themselves of their infectious waste, they can use the shovel to move their fecal matter into the surrounding bushes.
Over the past two years, I have personally called the Police, the Narcotics bureau, the Ministry of Public order, several city Councillors and deputy Mayors and finally your office uncountable times. Yet, this same gang of four or five Ghanaian or Nigerian drug pushers continue to work the streets surrounding The Cube day in and day out – right under the nose of the authorities who simply raise their hands and pass the buck from one official to the next official. Your office tells me your hands are tied. I respond saying your hands are raised.
I called again and visited Omonia police station after being threatened by the drug dealers yesterday. Today, I was threatened by the addicts themselves – I was chased all the way to Omonia, manhandled and had my phone removed while they deleted photographs I had taken of the decay in Kannigos square to show to the authorities.
Enough is enough Mr Mayor. I explained to one of your aides today that my job here is to provide good working conditions to my members. I have failed them and I feel the city has failed me.
Your job, Mr Mayor, is to make the city attractive for businesses and provide the conditions (in collaboration with the other authorities) for our citizens to want to work here and for entrepreneurs to want to invest here. All parts of the city require your attention. I’d say that you might consider giving the more troubled parts, and especially those parts with the potential for improvement, with high impact individuals, as I have described above, more attention. We chose to come to this part of the city because it was at a good price and we could do something to uplift it. Without your help and support, we have no reason to remain. We are losing customers and without customers we cannot remain. Our customers are asking us to move.
I consider myself an ambassador for our city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem when I travel to speak abroad on entrepreneurship and business – I’m afraid I’m finding it difficult to represent this city given the current situation.
Today, while talking, at your office with one of your aides, I asked to see you so that I can explain this to you in person. I don’t really need to see you to complain. I have complained enough here already and I have complained to you in person before, and while I have often been accused of complaining by various authorities, including city officials, I must say it is simply because I’m very invested in this city.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Founder – The Cube Athens
/cc Minister of Citizens Protection – Mr Yiannis Panousis
I’ve been posting a regular update called “Best Thing Read Today” to my Facebook recently. It’s normally a short text from a book,newspaper or site I chanced upon that strikes me as important. Here’s one I think is profound given Greece’s current situation and the root causes of these outcomes :
Sounds a little like Kennedy’s “Ask not” speech.
I was asked a few days ago to contribute to a discussion on values for an organisation very close to my heart. Here’s what I submitted as the 5 most important values. I subscribe to them and I expect everyone I do business with would want to too.
- Honesty and Integrity
Maintaining the highest ethical standards. Being open and transparent in all processes. Respecting the resources assigned to us.Being honest and thereby inspiring trust. Doing what we say and saying what we mean, matching our behaviours to our words and taking responsibility for our actions.
- Commitment to community
Giving back. Being committed to doing good overall. Acting in an open and inclusive manner that embraces all players in the entrepreneurial community. Nurturing and inspiring nascent communities with our actions.
Valuing the the strengths, experiences, and perspectives of others while recognizing our own limitations. Being committed to partnering effectively with local communities to ensure that our work advances the broader good for all.
Placing value in individuals. Respecting people for who they are and the value they bring. Embracing diversity and each individual’s unique contribution. Fostering a trusting environment that treats each person in a way that reflects our values.
Working towards building a better and stronger company. Developing and protecting the brand and our associated brands.
Today, I launched a new newsletter
Welcome to theCubist
– It’s a newsletter about entrepreneurship.
You can subscribe too by visiting www.thecube.gr
Here’s the first paragraph welcoming new subscribers.
It’s a real privilege to be welcomed into your inbox, I know this is a very personal thing and I promise to respect it by offering the most valuable insights to you. Insights I collate from my various readings as I surf the interwebs.
I love writing (it’s therapeutic), I love communicating and while this exercise will be therapeutic for me, my aim for you, is that it is informative, educational, entertaining if possible, a little inspring too.
This is a collective, inclusive newsletter. An open forum. From time to time, I will invite friends from both within our circle and from further afield to contribute too. I may promo a few things here and there where I think they’ll add value, like the excellent SWNext program you should check out, seriously click the link. Share it.
However, if at any point you think I’m overstepping the boundaries, please reach out and tell me.
Regarding frequency, I’ll try get this out to you every couple of weeks but don’t hold me to it. I know you only want value coming into your mailbox.
Will it be about Greek startups, you ask? A little (actually very, very little). There are enough forums, newsletters and sites covering that subject. Our little ecosystem is maturing so as to enable that. This rising tide is lifting all boats. StartupDigest will continue to cover Athens events. I will cover the odd Greek startup here and there but I will also talk about my other countries’ ecosystems too (those that I have been privileged to serve in the past) i.e. South Africa, UK and Brazil. Im adding a few more as we speak. We are citizens of the world after all.
Enough jabber. Let’s get this show started. Welcome again!
What a ride! It’s been fun! It’s been challenging, but now, it’s time for something new.
I have just completed a transaction with Dimitris Tsigos and his StartTech group transferring all of my shares in coLab to them.
One key tenant in coLab recently told me “everyone who’s anyone has graduated from coLab or is about to”. I agree, and now, it’s time for me to graduate too.
The last 2 years of my life have been precious. In building coLab, I invested almost everything I had. Money, time, family, tears, everything. Yet, we built it and together, we built a community around it. With sacrifices. Through the crisis. Without (much) investment other than the investment from customers who trusted us. coLab was never meant to return huge profits financially. It did however return huge profits in social terms.
We built our corporate brand as well as our respective personal brands. We had hundreds of events and thousands of readers of our newsletter. We helped and were helped by many. I can’t count the number of kudos emails I received because of what we were doing.
Giving someone a chance in business is so important and all of you gave that to me and Spiro. We gave it to each other. It wasn’t always rosy but it was always fulfilling. I have taken many lessons from this past period. Lessons about commitment, about trust and about integrity.
Selling coLab! I know, shocking isn’t it? Well, they had it coming. The deal is pretty sweet and gives me the ability to continue along a new track.
Spiros will remain in coLab together with the StartTech team. I wish them all the best of luck. I hope you will give them the chance they deserve in this new beginning. If I can part with one final piece of advice to my past collaborators it would be this: service is more than saying, “Yes” and taking care of the customer. Above all, great service needs personality.
Now, on to the terms of the sale: There’s a small catch. The terms of the sale contain a non-compete clause with coLab so and while I will never consider coLab as a competitor but rather a collaborator, I will be going into coworking stealth mode for a short time. Let’s call it a hibernation from coworking. I will not be running a new coworking space immediately. I will be running events and some of them may be in coLab or elsewhere or some may be in a new event space I will likely set up soon(ish). It will NOT be a coworking space, at least not in the short term.
In parallel, I will continue the fun work I’m doing with StartupDigest, facilitating Startup Weekend in cities around the world and helping co-organise SW in Greece and further afield. I am about to complete my accreditation as a SWNext facilitator and the next cohort of SWNext will begin imminently. Also, I’m in discussions about a new track of work I may be tasked to do and as always, as someone who always has more than one pot of tea brewing, I have a few more things up my sleeve as well. Stay tuned to learn more.
By now, you all know my strategy. I announce something and then do my best to implement it. The announcement acts as a promise to deliver and a reminder to me that my reputation is at stake. Not delivering amounts to failure and while failure is acceptable, it is certainly not desirable. I fucking hate failing.
So, on to new things. Remember, I’m only an email away!
coFather of coLab
work 06 Dec 2011 05:34 pm
Being at the hub of things means you get to touch, influence and be influenced by the most important spokes. See my earlier post on People Hubbing. With CoLab, Spiros and I are attempting to be as close to the centre as possible. I haven’t blogged in a while (last blog entry is Oct2010) That’s around the time Spiro and I started CoLab Athens after being nudged by so many GreekPreneurs. It’s been a great ride so far. We began this journey by pitching some bigshot money guys(and gals). The one main theme that came across was “You’re not proven” We needed to persevere to prove ourselves. 15 months later, and we’re still on the journey. We now host around 11 startups. Most are on the journey to success. We love playing our little part in it all. So far we’ve had about 2.5k people come to our community events, experiencing what CoLab aspires to be and things are going swimmingly! The bigshot money guys(and gals)are slowly being convinced. We too are convincing ourselves that it’s possible despite the circumstances. It’s a wonderful journey. We’re announcing important things soon. Watch this space.
If you yourself don’t have the skills to encourage hubbing, hire someone to do it or better yet partner up with someone who can. It’s far worse if you fail to realise the benefits of hubbing. Hubs are great for reporting good news stories and “embedding humanity”. Remember, new technologies give anyone the tools to create, publish or broadcast. Ineviteably, people are like moths around a flame. If the flame is bright enough, i.e the subject is attractive or offers value.
Electronic word of mouth has given power to smaller hubs to
connect people to stories they have created. Today it’s cheaper to connect, create communities and empower niches. So go ahead and be a hub. Don’t fear it.
It’s been a tough couple of weeks and we have been at the mercy of some cold, hard balled professionals and the impact has been devastating but we will overcome. I wanted to make a point regarding professionalism vs amateurism and how one without the other will most likely lead to failure of some sort. The last few weeks’ events have resulted in a few people being hurt, productivity is in the doldrums and work morale is at almost zero. It’s going to be an uphill battle to encourage the troops again and some valuable soldiers are likely to desert.
To make my point: The difference between professionals and amateurs is that amateurs exhibit love for what they do.
Yesterday, I advised a young colleague with a bright future that while being professional is important, it’s equally important to be a little bit of an amateur. A professional places less value in the human cost of decisions than an amateur will. I hope he takes my advice and when it’s his turn to advise those more senior than him on the best course of action, he’ll be a little bit of an amateur as well as a professional. This will transform him from a good manager to a great manager and eventually into a great leader. A leader who will have troops that return that love and will be ready to follow him into any battle. Battles that’ll then be easier to win because love is hard to beat.
There are too many professionals around lately. They’re not really producing more than the amateurs were. I’m seeing more destruction and less construction. Play a little tetris people.
Etymology of Amateur
In Greek: Erasitechnis < erasi- (eramai-to love) + -technis (techni) In English: 1775–85; < F, MF < L amator lover, equiv. to ama- (s. of amore to love) + -tor -tor, replaced by F -teur (< L -tor-, obl. s. of -tor); see -eur
My (slightly modified) view on what matters is:
* An alternative culture, a brighter light
* A tight relationship with stakeholders, partners and the wider community that all give us permission to talk with them
* Doing business in a remarkable way that’s worth talking about
* A story that spreads, a tale that sticks
Within the next month:
someone to start an EC2 meetup
someone to start a design meetup
someone to start a Google App Engine meetup
At least 5 Greek startups to present at TechCrunch50
I’m happy to help on any of the above. Email me and we can get started. Though I’m no designer.
I was very privileged to attend a blogger breakfast the next morning that Jason kindly hosted where, Besides the opportunity to meet fellow Greek bloggers, we had the chance to bounce some ideas off each other. Thanks guys, Thanks Jason. We hope to see you back in a year!
“Build software for yourself
A great way to build software is to start out by solving your own problems. You’ll be the target audience and you’ll know what’s important and what’s not. That gives you a great head start on delivering a breakout product.”
“When you solve your own problem, you create a tool that you’re passionate about. And passion is key. Passion means you’ll truly use it and care about it. And that’s the best way to get others to feel passionate about it too.”
work 14 Jul 2008 09:40 pm
Some colleagues will recognise the concepts listed below.
Taking a pragmatic approach, one can see where it’s going and why it’s going there.
The aim is efficiency, to be more targeted and achieve more where it matters most.
1) Clarify: – Identify objectives to do and Identify objectives to stop doing. Now execute both.
2) List tasks and activities: rank in order of importance, chop bottom 20%
3) Drucker question: If it’s a fresh start, would you do it the way you’re currently doing it?
4) Binary budget: Don’t spread it thinly, ranked objectives get full funding, unranked get no funding.
This is the new way.
work 22 May 2008 10:23 pm
40 minutes of solar radiation has enough energy content to power the world for a whole year.
How do we store this energy. Storage is the problem. As photo-voltaic cells (PV’s) get more efficient, we need creative ways to store this energy.
Here’s the cycle: during the day – use super efficient PV’s to collect energy and drive compressors that compress air. During the night, release this compressed air and drive turbines to provide electricity. Can we store it as compressed air in huge underground caverns?
Only two things about speeches and presentations matter. Your audience is subconsciously asking:
A. Whatâ€™s your point?
B. Why does it matter?
A friend asked if I would help with setting up of a new website. My first response: Does your organisation have the commitment and resource available to follow the process through? Can you or someone here look after this new child of yours? One that needs love, care and feeding? If not, then it’s best not to bother at all. A site that is not fresh, active or healthy is a waste of time and is doing far worse to your reputation than the good you think setting up the webiste might initially do. Think hard about it. If you can follow through and support its potential growth to the full then let’s go ahead, otherwise forget it.
work 07 Jul 2007 09:32 am
I Will Find focus. I can work on whatever I want, whenever I want to. I have a boss but I must also be my own boss. She has her own job to concentrate on. I will concentrate on my current task or project, and eliminate all distractions so that I can focus on the task at hand. I’ll never get it done unless I get everything else out of the way, and really focus.
I Will Set and Meet Deadlines. Recently, I’ve been the recipient of many empty promises. It’s such a waste of time and trust (read reputation) when someone doesn’t deliver when they say they will. I’ll probably not use these providers again. Now as far as I’m concerned, deadlines are important. They pressure us providers to get the work done. When there’s a deadline to be met nothing else should matter even if it means staying up all night to finish the project.I will.
Constantly missing deadlines is just so very unprofessional. If I start to miss deadlines, I should check my workload, and I should make sure I check that the time I’ve estimated that each task will take is actually so. If I see I’m slipping on my timeframes and I’m going to miss the deadline I must communicate with my customer regularly, letting them know that that I’m running late.
1. I am a brand. I will constantly Market myself. Few people know me, fewer than I’d like. I can hang a sign on my door, or on my blog advertising who I am and what I do well but I expect that people won’t come knocking down my door on the first day. I need to constantly market myself. Constant self promotion can be pretty distasteful to many but itâ€™s the only way to survive and thrive. I will use tools like email (I wonâ€™t spam), I’ll call potential clients and attend events where I might meet potential clients. This is a regular part of my day or week. If a client is supporting a charity or sponsoring a ticketed event, I will attend. I will give something back to my client. My client will appreciate this and introduce new business to me.
A couple of weeks ago I had an airconditioner failure in the server room. The consequences could have been catastrophic had I not realised in time. This got me thinking that I should really have a system installed that could give me a warning when the temperature or humidity was not right in there. A quick search on the web brought up quite a few really good products for few hundred dollars at a time. This should be a worthy investment. Then, for a brief moment, I put my hardware hacker hat on and thought that it can’t be that difficult to build something that would provide a similar result for a fraction of the cost. Another search brought up a neat little sensor, the Sensirion SHT11 Humidity/Temperature sensor. This coupled with a Parallax Basic Stamp2 Microcontroller would definitely do the trick. I should even be able to hook it up to a cellphone to SMS me whenever it gets hot or humid in there, or I can even hook it up to MSN and it can IM me. The Sensiron people were kind enough to send me a sample sensor and tonight I put it all together and it works a like treat. Here’s a screenshot of a little VB app I put together that reports temperature and humidity at regular intervals. Geeky !!
HT11 Sensor (enlarged 5x)
RSI (repetitive strain injury) is playing up really bad this week. I’m changing hands for mousing and switching mouse buttons to give my right hand a little rest. Rest is the only way to recover. Some really good software for helping a recovery of RSI by reminding you to take frequent rests and do stretching exercises is WorkRave but you need to be disciplined enough to use it.
I wish I was.
What if, at our next meeting, everyone around the table actually was ready and had anticipated everything that might come up? Wouldnâ€™t it go faster? Or better? What if we tried something completely new and had the meeting standing up. That might make it go faster.
Meeting participants should only have 3 things to say.
1) What progress do I have to report since the last meeting
2) What do I plan to do before the next meeting
3) What potential problems do I foresee arising before the next meeting that I may need help with
work 05 Jun 2006 01:58 pm
(Must give credit to the Nobility for this. It was his idea.)
I’m getting a little fed up of the “It’s not My Job” mentality that has beset my workplaceÂ recently, So,Â I decided a couple of days ago to print off a few Nike signs as shown here.
A truly inspiring message if you ask me.Â
Simple black on White A4. A laser printer put to good use.
Attitudes vary of course. We haveÂ “Can Do” Attitudes, “Can’t Do” Attitudes, and “Won’t Do” attitudes. I can deal with the first two. We Love the first, We can teach the second butÂ really now, can we accept the third?
Anyone that gives me the “It’s not My Job” attitude, gets a sign as aÂ little gift.
To be fair, and because If I ever lead, I’d like to lead by example, I’ve given myself one first. It’s pinned above my desk for all to see.
One or two other colleaguesÂ have actually asked for copies so they can start handing them out too. Love it.
JUSTÂ DO IT.
work 13 Apr 2006 04:12 am
I read somewhere yesterday (i’ll post the link when I find it) that one reason intranets fail is that when users see RSS or XML, it makes them feel dumb. I can understand that. I’ve had RSS newsfeeds on our intranet for about 2years now and very few actually use them. Do you think I’ve been insulting my users? I should probably be doing something to build up knowledge about whatÂ RSS feeds are and what great benefits they provide. On the Task List.
work 03 Apr 2006 04:50 pm
These are Getting old !! We need newer kit. Hopefully soon. I’ve never had such a spate of failures in such short a time. tomorrow is going to be another long day.
work 11 Mar 2006 10:08 am
I was walking through the CEO’s house the other day while fixing a PC there and noticed his gardener has an assistant. Talk about priorities !! I don’t have an assistant – I’ve been asking for one since day 0 but it seems that the garden is more important than the system.
Â Mind’s made up, I’m taking a garden administration course. I’m now no longer going to be theÂ System Administrator. I’m gonna me the garden administrator. Probably same pay band so why TF not ! Bonus is: I get an assistant, get to work outdoors and no more stoopid usersÂ !!
Â Ok, so I’ve gotta conjure up a scheme to rid us of the current gardner so I can step in when I have my new skill set. Perhaps I’ll plant some “weeds” andÂ then post an anonymous tip on the corporate intranet thatÂ mr GreenFingers isn’t just cultivating the rosebushes but has some other recreational plantation stashed away in a little corner of the mansions gardens. That’ll do it. I’m set !!
work 23 Feb 2006 06:01 am
- A functional dashboard for getting things done
Should really only have current Items – and should not turn into an ad hoc project plan.
- Everything on there represents a commitment
- Todo list can become a snapshot of anxieties for the day
- 2 have done list
- think about what needs doing and what needs to be done – and try map each item to one overall objective.
- Tag todo Items so that types of tasks can be measured and reported. I may need more resources so I need a way to prove to boss that I’m stretched. Outlook Categories as tags.
work 03 Jan 2006 03:47 am
This morning I realised I had a problem with a PC that is used by many. Those many really need this machine and I really need to pre-empt the frustration fast.
A failed HDD prevents it from booting and I don’t have another 40GB Serial ATA to replace and rebuild.
Thankfully, this is a relatively new PC but I can’t remember if it’s still on warranty so I take down the S/N and P/N, log on to HP’s website and start a chat with someone in support. She very quickly confirms that the PC is still in “On-Site!!” warranty and gives me a number to dial here in Athens.
Call made, technician arrives tomorrow to fix. Total time 20min.
That’s why I love HP.
work 15 Dec 2005 09:13 am
45 days ago
IMS: “Are you sure your team don’t want the Greek test?”
Me: “No. We prefer to be tested in English thanks.”
IMS:”Ok, but it might be a little different, like you won’t get the results straight away”
Me:”Is that the only difference? No problem, we can handle that, go ahead and book us.”
Am I wrong in thinking that when one takes an examination, one should expect an absolutely perfect examination environment? I mean perfect not only in terms of the physical room as such. I also include the exam paper/interactive test/questions/answer format/delivery format.
Well, today was just perfect for proving how NOT to run an ECDL test.
Today was also perfect proof of how to throw your reputation down the toilet and also perfect for trying to prove how very professional you are by not admitting you made a mistake, didn’t prepare enough and pretty much didn’t deliver what you were paid to deliver. Oh, and before I forget, you also preferred to blame someone else. You are also to blame. We are expected to pay you therefore you are responsible for making sure the test goes off without a hitch, thereby ensuring that those being examined perform perfectly based on thier knowledge. Your testing techique should in no way hinder the candidate – today it did. It did on at least 3 occassions per candidate. I stress that these candidates are power users who have influence on other users. It will take some doing to convice the rest of the team to sit the exam based on the Power Users’ experience.
While we decide how to proceed, can you please proceed in cancelling any further scheduled tests we have.
I wonder if we should charge you a consultancy fee for helping you iron out your problems.