Nikos Kakavoulis, founder and former CEO of Daily Secret, speaks to GreekTV about his transition back to life in Athens, the start of his New Project, and offers insight into entrepreneurship and the startup environment in Greece.
Born and raised in northern Athens, Nikos Kakavoulis made an uncommon shift—from the typical Greek mother’s dream for her son of studying medicine (which, oh well, he did!) to pursuing an MBA at Columbia Business School in New York.
Nikos founded Daily Secret as a Good Karma Project in mid-crisis Greece to spread positive energy and remind people about the great things to experience in Athens. Daily Secret is now a booming company operating in 27 cities throughout the world and publishing 39 editions daily.
He is now making big life changes—transitioning out of Daily Secret (although he is still its most enthusiastic subscriber and contributor), moving back to Athens from New York and starting a new project of his own.
Back in his home city, Nikos is enjoying an Athens he did not know before— one with young faces at the farmers market and a new biking and running culture. Integrating habits he acquired in New York into his new life in Athens has made the city more meaningful to him. “Yes, to see the Manhattan skyline when you’re running is amazing but every day I have the Parthenon, which makes for the most epic running trail I have encountered,” he says.
With access to a plethora of entertainment venues and art he appreciates, Nikos has largely been able to maintain his New York lifestyle here in Athens while also reconnecting with his roots. But there are some challenges to moving business ventures from New York to Athens.
Greece has typically had a high percentage of small businesses, but these have been mainly cafes and projects that do not scale. The word “startup” reflects a global trend that started in the US because of the crisis there, and implies something technological, scaleable, and hip. The surge of attention given to startups has dramatically improved infrastructure in Greece for small businesses. For example, sectors that have not been friendly to small businesses, like financial services, are being forced to redefine their products and offer services that did not exist before.
“…sectors that have not been friendly to small businesses, like financial services, are being forced to redefine their products and offer services that did not exist before.”
But the environment could be more hospitable, says Nikos. “Yesterday I spent 350 euros (and lots of stress) to acquire the documentation required to open a business checking account, which takes about one month to activate.” Organizing the back office of the business is also a challenge: “For $15 per month in the US, services like Quickbooks offer a comprehensive back-office product that empowers a small business to make and accept payments, be compliant with tax authorities, do comprehensive invoicing and monitor their bank account. In Greece, these services cost at least 1,000 euros per month and everything is still very manual,” he says.
According to Nikos, these examples are indicative of the business environment in Greece: “As an entrepreneur you never hear about the things that matter because no one is getting to the bottom of these issues. It’s all about success stories. But it’s the daily struggle that makes the difference. For example, people are now saying that you can start a business in under a day in Greece, but if it takes one month to open a checking account, or if it takes three weeks and thousands of euros to get books, it’s not really the case. Having said that we have moved from ‘it can’t be done’ to ‘it’s painful, but perfectly doable’.”
Nevertheless, the startup trend sends a hopeful message and has opened up entrepreneurship to a broader public, including the Greek family. “Even at the peak of the crisis, the Greek family continued to contribute for their children,” says Nikos. “The alarming part about this is the shift of responsibilities from big companies and the state to the Greek family, in terms of risk and financial burden.”
In the US, strong venture capitals, incubators and other structures where entrepreneurs can develop ideas are essential because these projects are very high risk: “These projects can potentially be high-reward but if you’re not the right investor, you are not going to be able to diversify the risk. Entrepreneurship–yes it is hot and hip but it shouldn’t be pushed exclusively on the back of the Greek family. It’s like the stock market; it’s easy to overindulge.”
According to Nikos, those who should be responsible for growing this ecosystem are not contributing enough. Rather than indulgently serving as the main marketing client of the sector by organizing high-profile events, financial services need to begin delivering something more meaningful: “That means changing their processes— delivering financial products that look a certain way, providing credit and assuming some of the risk of these businesses, like you see happen in the US. No bank in Greece right now is willing to have some meat in the game. We also need to see more high-net worth individuals and companies assuming some risk and helping develop this startup environment that at the end of the day affects the broader economy and their pockets as well. Turkey is a fantastic example, where funds are being created by their leading corporations. They put their money where their mouth is.”
The success of Daily Secret has empowered Nikos to stay true to his calling— he aims to be able to give other people the opportunity to live life better wherever they are. The Daily Secret team did this with its promise to help people discover hidden gems in the city, and also by offering opportunities for people to have a good work experience —like one they could find in New York— right here in Athens. “It is part of my plans for my next company to be able to do that on a much bigger scale. My new project is exactly where my heart is right now— at the intersection of content and technology. I think I will be able to share more about this really terrific project in the next few months.”
In his spare time, Nikos is also helping a group of Greek-American students from New York, led by Ben Moe, get Table Talk off the ground. Table Talk is a biannual literary magazine that explores hard-to-describe experiences from unexpected angles. The magazine recently launched an Indiegogo campaign and has been featured in The Guardian and The Washington Post.