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Startup Stories from Georgia: our side-project that was the best networking experience

GITA

Our three months in Bulgaria were coming to an end. Don’t get me wrong: being a nomad is wonderful because you get to travel a lot, meet new people and explore different ways of living. On the downside, it can also be utterly stressful… for the same reasons.

We decided to stay in Eastern Europe to avoid the long expensive flight, and as we kept looking down the map trying to escape from the North and its freezing temperatures, we found Georgia.

So what was this country doing here? I recalled hearing about it a few times, yet it surprised me that I knew absolutely nothing about it.

We started our standard research: the average temperatures, the cost of living, the quality and speed of the internet, what language did they speak. After that, I looked for digital nomad’s reviews and opinions to check if this was a good place for people like us.

What I found surprised me for good.

I read that this was a post-soviet country in the pursue of opening to the world, actively encouraging remote workers and digital nomads to “enter, reside, work and study” in Georgia for a period as long as one year, no questions asked.

In addition to this liberal visa regime that is available for 98 countries, they’re also tempting nomads with a free co-working initiative, WorkfromGeorgia. This program, that is led by a Georgian creative agency, is the result of the teaming up of dozens of Georgian companies that opened their workspaces to share it with foreigners. Their mission? That the nomads “not only visit but stay and explore”.

WorkFromGeorgia

Taking part in the WorkFromGeorgia program.


After reading all this I must admit I was nearly in love. The idea of moving to the capital city of Georgia, Tbilisi, was so exciting that I started joining all sorts of Facebook groups and events. It wasn’t until then that I discovered something much more exciting than what I’d already found: they were thriving with startups.

I kept on seeing events like StartupGrindDataFestTouchTedX Talks, FuckUp Nights, Hackathons, networking meetings, events of any kind both private and government-led. The list was endless.

I remember thinking to myself: what the heck is going on here and why isn’t it buzzing all over the internet?

I looked into it trying to understand why was there such an interest in startups. I found out that registering a business was fast and cheap (in one business day for about 40 USD), and that there were several programs to provide seed funding for tech projects (both private and public).

I was hearing a lot of things about Lithuania, Estonia, even Bulgaria… but Georgia wasn’t part of that. This country was too good to be true and no one was talking about it (or at least, it wasn’t exactly in everyone’s mouth). It felt like a hidden gem, but at the same time, it was craving for global attention.

Something had to be done.

We put our heads together with my partner to figure out the best way to place Georgia out in the spotlight. We asked ourselves: what would we like to know? And the answer was very simple.

The startups. We wanted to know how successful they were, what problems were they solving, why were there so many. We wanted to know when all this movement had started, what propelled it, and if it was going to be sustainable over time. We wanted to know what the startuppers had to say.

StartupStories from Georgia came out to be a non-profit series of interviews with the entrepreneurs that are making Georgia a rising star in the startup scene.

We believed this format would be a success for 3 reasons:

1) What’s more powerful than a good story? A story told in the first person, by the authors themselves. We decided we’d listen to them, they’re the undeniable voice of inspiration and success.

2) How could the entrepreneurs refuse free publicity? Telling the story of their businesses (and themselves) implies very little effort from their side, but the impact can be huge.

3) Who doesn’t like to be interviewed? It’s a recognition to sacrifice and hard work. And seriously… we all enjoy being the center of attention at least for a while.

Giorgi from Startup Grind Tbilisi

Having lunch with Giorgi from Startup Grind Tbilisi.


All of this was very good, we were eager to help this country and its badass startuppers to get the attention they deserve. But what about us? We were going to invest a lot of time on this project, what were we wishing to receive from it?

We stopped for a moment to imagine how much the impact could be. Apart from all the learning that developing a project by oneself can bring, we would have a very good excuse to meet, listen, and learn from admirable people that could be our own role models. That’s an invaluable knowledge base not many people have access to. We felt privileged.

And last but not least, let’s not forget the importance of building a valuable network of like-minded peers and the impact it has on both business and life. Our values are always drawing us to invest in people rather than money because when you are on the road by yourself and far from home, keeping your motivation and feeling the support is priceless.

We knew that we wanted something simple: a website in which we could upload the video interviews, an Instagram account to generate leads, and a list of subscribers to keep our little community close.

But although the interviews required no intervention from our side (everything could be handled remotely) we still invited each one of them to meet us over a cup of coffee. This would make them feel more confident about us and prove that our intentions were good.

As soon as we landed in Tbilisi we started contacting all of the startuppers we could find, and fortunately, we had some very nice feedback. During our first two weeks, we went from cafe to lounge bar to the hotel lobby to meet face-to-face with 8 entrepreneurs. We arranged a total of 20 interviews (and counting) to be delivered digitally.

Irakli from Lupi AI

Sharing EdTech insights with Irakli from Lupi AI.


The project came out as it was supposed to, we had the chance to network with 20 people and, hopefully, we’ll deliver a lot of content from the interviews that we’ll get (you can subscribe here and be the first to read them, we plan to launch in January 2020).

But what I want to highlight here is that the best part of it was the things we didn’t plan. Firstly, we got a whole overview of what is happening now in Georgia in a way that we wouldn’t have otherwise, not with an interview, not with a blog post, nor with an email. Secondly, they were the most welcoming business people we ever met. They were excited to know more about us, to collaborate with our project and they took advantage of every chance to show their gratitude and their kindness.

I will get back to basics here and declare that, despite all the amazing technology that we have built, all of the outstanding resources, and the variety of means by which we can connect to another human being,

there’s no better magic than shaking someone’s hand, looking in their eyes and sharing a moment.

We got the chance to listen to fantastic life stories, sharp interpretations, and wise theories about Georgia, its startups, and its community. You can check out what they told us by subscribing here, we’ll elaborate a document for our launch in January 2020.

It could have taken us months to build a network “organically” and on our own. We might have never met some of them, let alone share a meaningful conversation. Weeks have passed now and they’re still inviting us to their events, introducing us to other interesting people, and asking how they can be of help for us (for us!).

Tbilisi Startup Bureau

Sharing workspace with the guys from Tbilisi Startup Bureau.


But apart from the networking part, which went just as we were hoping it would, the little collateral bonus is something to celebrate and be grateful for. It could have taken us forever to fully understand what was going on behind the scenes. Dedicating time to connect face to face with these people gave us the chance to listen to what they had to say in the most humanly way. We connected as colleagues and, with some of them, as friends.

This is why plans are just guides and why “failing” might also be necessary.

Being constantly on the road and starting over, again and again, can be difficult and overwhelming, but I think that with enthusiasm and a bit of creativity we managed to turn it into something special. Can you think of a better way to introduce yourself other than giving? Sharing your time and your full attention to acknowledge some stranger’s accomplishments?

I can’t think of a better way to introduce myself from now on. Dare to give, and open your arms to receive. It might come in unexpected but rewarding ways.

 

Originally published in Medium for ExtendNode’s Blogs for Entrepreneurs. December 21, 2019.

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