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Maria's Top 5 Learnings in 5 Years as an Entrepreneur

4 min read

maria kalomenidou ceo & founder zelos greek artisan

As we celebrate five years of living the Zelos life, I wanted to share my Top 5 learnings as an entrepreneur in this special anniversary blog post. Starting this Greek artisanal food business was a big milestone for us, and I have to admit that when I first began, I wasn't sure if we'd make it this far. But thanks to the support and encouragement of this wonderful community, we've come a long way in offering truly authentic, yet contemporary, Greek cuisine to the US. I've learned so much along the way, and I want to share these insights as a special thank you. So here are my top 5 learnings as a small business owner after five years of running Zelos Greek Artisan. Efcharistó!

Get clear on your start-up vision…and on what you WON’T do!

One of the most important things I've learned as an entrepreneur is to have a clear vision for your start-up. For me, it was about introducing authentic Greek Artisans to the US and changing the image of Greek food here. It's also crucial to know what you won't do. For instance, I realized that supermarket chains weren't going to be the best place to showcase our small-batch products. It led to some tough conversations with our Artisans, but we all agreed that it wouldn't be a profitable game to play. Another game I chose not to play - the world of start-up venture capital funding. I deliberately chose a slow burn approach to my business, rather than spending money I didn't have to advertise and generate sales that would never be profitable.

Maria Kalomenidou & Pauline Manos

Embrace business risks…and the failures that might come with them

Taking risks is an essential part of entrepreneurship, and it's not always going to be smooth sailing. I took two big risks with Zelos. First, our Artisans and their products were completely unknown in the States. They had no brand equity or presence in the market, and we needed to convince people to try them…in a cost-effective way! Second, I felt a huge responsibility towards those Artisans, for I promised to help them get established in the US market but I didn't know if we'd pull it off. I had my share of failures, though, trust me. I lost money on a couple of bad agency choices, some of our product choices just didn't take off, the post-pandemic supply chain issues took their toll. But I've never learned so much in my entire life.

Create your community…and don’t be afraid to lean on them

Community building, is vital for any entrepreneur, especially women in business, and I've been fortunate to find an incredible one through Zelos. I joined several professional networks, like Hellenic Professional Women Association, Specialty Food Association, WBENC, and The W Marketplace, which introduced me to a community of like-minded people that I'd missed during my earlier career as a designer. I met inspiring Greek Chefs and Entrepreneurs, within the food business and beyond, and I've loved writing about them, collaborating with them, and even commiserating with them. I'm proud that Zelos could play its own small role in helping Greek Women in Business, entrepreneurs like me who have complex personalities and who aren't afraid to juggle it all with humor and grace. I've also been incredibly moved by the Zelos community itself, our customers, followers, and friends who've shared such touching stories of how we've been able to bring a little joy, a touch of authentic Greece to their lives. Every message warms my heart!

Maria Kalomenidou & Eleftheria Karakatsina

Keep an open mind…and be ready to pivot

In today's fast-moving and constantly-changing world, you need to keep an open mind and be ready to pivot away from your original plan if needed. The pandemic was a great example of this. In our first couple of years, we did a lot of product sampling at live events, farmers' markets, and holiday fairs, something which I thought was a must-have for such new products. Yet when we went into lockdown, we actually came out ahead. We already had an online platform and were in a great position to take advantage of the boom in online shopping. So we researched new platforms, refreshed our product descriptions and video/photo content, and rode the crazy pandemic boom in online shopping. We've kept that focus going forward, stepping back from the more labor-intensive, smaller-scale live events.

Enjoy the ride! Being an entrepreneur is fun

Being an entrepreneur is an exhilarating adventure, and my advice is to not forget to enjoy it. It's so easy to get caught up in the challenges that surround every start-up: the risk of failure, the everyday logistical agonies, all can make us forget how exciting and rewarding the experience is. It's worth it to sometimes just stop and enjoy the things we have accomplished during this journey. Personally, I still get excited every time a new order comes in, and seeing my vision of bringing contemporary Greek cuisine to the US come to life. There are also times, though, when I do wonder if I should stop and just get off that roller-coaster. When that happens, I reach out to my community and play out my thoughts to see what that would feel like. So far, I haven't liked what that would look like, so I'm still on the ride! The more you believe in your ideas, the more comfortable you feel with taking risks, the more you'll enjoy this entrepreneurial adventure.

I hope these insights help you on your entrepreneurial journey. Don't forget to build your community, embrace risks and failures, keep an open mind, and enjoy the ride!

To learn more about Zelos and our team click click here.

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