I have to admit that the level of surprise on the faces of the people in front of me, made me for the very first time to think that it might be a good idea to finally tick that box which was pending for almost eight years.
After my positive response, I took care of the required documentation and I was informed that I would receive an answer “in few weeks”. Going back to the office that day I was thinking that even if I was not finally selected, perhaps it would be a good idea to take advantage of the legislation for a 45-days-only military service for those who have turned 35 and, at last, get my passport. At the end, being a serial technology entrepreneur for 13 years and missing a visit to the US is probably equal to a Muslim who has never been in Mecca.
I joined the Greek Army as a Signal Corps soldier on March 21st and my last day in the camp was on May 7th. It is such a peculiar coincidence that while I was driving on my way back from the camp, leaving behind an interesting – very short, thank God – military experience I received the call from the US Embassy saying that “you’ve been selected for the IVLP – A New Beginning Program” and “you will be in the US from September 14th to October 5th”.
Frankly, that day could not get any better!
Right the next day, May 8th, I was at the Passport Issuing Authority in Athens applying for my passport. Got so excited to get it three days later – as well as a little bit proud of the passport issuing system that Virtual Trip had delivered few years ago. Just two weeks later I visited London, UK. It was feeling so great to be able to travel out of the Schengen area again!
Time flies much faster that we tend to believe. September arrived so quickly. I had made the decision to go to the US one week earlier, speaking to the CloudBeat 2013 conference in San Francisco and meeting the tech / innovation community in the SF Bay Area and in Boston. It was just great! I was very excited for finally making it to be there and meeting global leaders in the tech business. Interestingly, I also felt proud of what the startup community has already achieved in Greece and other EU regions, given the huge difference in availability of risk financing - which in the US is at least 5x more than the EU!
Arriving in Washington DC on Saturday evening September 14th I was ready to meet entrepreneurs from 29 different countries who were also participating to this program. I soon realized that it would be much better than expected! The spectrum of participants is amazingly wide. From France to South Sudan, from Portugal to Burma and Bangladesh, from Greece to Argentina and Thailand as well as from Hungary to Cambodia and Kenya, it is just an amazing mixture of cultures, nations, experiences and lifestyles!
It does get even better though! Not only there’s a hugely wide spectrum of cultures and origins but participating entrepreneurs greatly differ on scale, stage, sector, industry, maturity and a number of other aspects. They are, or probably the look, so very much different!
After two weeks of living, working and traveling with those amazing people, a very surprising feeling has come to the surface. They are all so different. We are all so different. Despite those differences however, either being a successful female serial entrepreneur and investor in France or an early-stage male start-up entrepreneur in Paraguay, you still face the same challenges at business, personal and family level. The challenges are similar simply because they have to do primarily with people and, yes you got it right, people are the same around the Globe regardless of skin color, religion or culture. People can be passionate but still vulnerable. People can be leaders and followers. People can create, but can also destroy. People are sometimes brave, some other times cowards. People are just people.
To be an entrepreneur is to be creative in a financially sustainable model working with other people. You can’t be an entrepreneur working alone. It is your co-founders, your employees, your customers, your investors, your suppliers. It is also your spouse, your partner, your siblings, your kids, your friends. It is all about people. It is all about managing relationships, communication and expectations with the human beings around us that actually define an entrepreneur.
This thought has been strong enough to absorb me for a while. I thought I had got it and that I should focus my energy to managing relations with the people around me. Suddenly, during the “forum” session organized by the Entrepreneurs’ Organization chapter in Denver, Colorado, I realized that I was wrong. We like it or not, it is not managing relationships, communication and expectations with the people around us that actually defines an entrepreneur. It is only about managing the relationship with your own self. Managing your own dreams, vision and expectation. It might sound simple but, trust me, is way the hardest part of the entrepreneurial game.
Once you’ve done this, however, then only sky is the limit – Perhaps, not even sky.