Expat Entrepreneur: Caterina Tzoridou in the Netherlands
Greek expat Caterina Tzoridou believes in approaching a new business with a spirit of innocence and protection, as well as the will and determination to help it grow.
Name: Caterina Tzoridou
Country of residence: The Netherlands
Name of company: Olivity
Date of company launch: June 2011
Can you give us a brief description of your business and how it is going?
More than just a company, Olivity is a philosophy that the potential of olive oil is endless. We make pies, nibbles, dips, desserts, cakes, muffins, cookies and breadsticks, all with Greek extra virgin olive oil. All of our products are homemade and vegetarian. Some of them are also prepared without using dairy or eggs (although you won't be able to tell), thus they are cholesterol-free, as well as vegan-friendly, and suitable for those who are lactose-intolerant.
Olivity is less than a year old and is growing steadily, building its reputation by offering tasty, reasonably-priced, healthy food. We are proud to say that we already have satisfied -- and very enthusiastic -- returning customers.
What do you like about doing business in the Netherlands?
It's a market full of possibilities, especially in the food sector. I am always pleasantly surprised to see that more and more people appreciate good quality eating, and that they are becoming more conscious about their choice of food.
Also, since Olivity offers a range of flavors that are quite different from the mountain-of-meat-and-hill-of-rice that is usually served as typical Greek food. Our customers are pleasantly surprised to see what a huge variety of dishes Greek cuisine includes, as well as how healthy these are and what a paradise it can be for vegetarians and vegans.
What do you find most frustrating about doing business in the Netherlands?
Dealing with some bad professionals. Okay, this could have happened anywhere, but sometimes I've got the feeling that a bunch of the Dutch suppliers don't care about getting new customers -- let alone having them satisfied.
I have had packing material companies who wouldn't return my emails, answer pure nonsense or, when asked for samples of something as small as a cellophane bag, I would receive only part of what I had asked for (which wasn't much to begin with), without any further information -- or at least an email stating that I should pay for the samples.
I must say, though, that I did eventually find some great professionals. I'm thrilled to be doing business with them; I definitely appreciate them even more!
Also, setting up my website was a bit of an adventure, since I had to wait months for it. Sometimes it's still challenging to change a few things around.
What hurdles did you encounter when setting up?
Since I wanted to try things out before asking for financing from a bank (the latter hasn't happened yet), I had to plan very carefully and calculate everything. This sometimes was (and still is) time- and energy-consuming.
The basic hurdles, though, were from my own self: Having worked in a totally different field for 15 years (translation/interpreting/subtitling), it was hard to "go out there" and start promoting my food.
I must say, though, that after the first few weeks, when I started receiving the first enthusiastic comments and saw the ecstatic expressions when people were trying my food and the orders started flowing in, I got over it!
How has the economic crisis affected your business?
I started amidst it, so I can't say it did. But selling food is quite different from selling something that might be considered (or might be) more of a "luxury". People still have to eat and there's always a niche in the market for good quality products/services, especially at affordable prices, so the economic crisis isn't really affecting Olivity.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs setting up business in the Netherlands?
- As I discovered, people (especially those closest to you) are ready to give lots of advice, with the best of intentions. Even though this might be helpful on occasion, it can also end up being stressful, especially when their experience is based of their own idea(s) of a successful business, which they may have never made reality.
Listen politely, take things into account, examine them carefully, then follow your heart. At the end of the day, the vision is your own, the company is your baby, and you are the one who will have to deal with your choices anyway.
- Don't wait till you have everything right to get started. Problems always arise, even when it seems like every detail is taken care of. Sometimes they are blessings in disguise, since they make us see clearly and adjust our movements more efficiently.
- Seek people who are in the same or similar path (there are great networks you can be a part of). Just listening to what others had to face when they started (and some things do ring a bell), is encouraging and inspiring, plus the feeling of camaraderie is priceless!
- Learn the language. Not only will it eventually make your life a lot easier, but it will also win you customers. Consider it an important investment, the positive outcome of which you'll enjoy later.
How does running a business in the Netherlands compare to running a business in other countries that you have lived in?
Compared to Greece, where I come from, the Netherlands is a lot more user-friendly! I was a freelancer in Greece as well. When I saw how much easier and much more flexible some things are here, I started becoming angrier and angrier at how much time and energy is being wasted over there, for something that could be done in 1/5 of the time. It's a pity that in a country with severe economic problems like Greece has right now, so little is done to encourage entrepreneurs; on the contrary, it seems like the intention is to drain people of every initiative. Such a shame.
Would you like to add anything that we haven't addressed?
I believe that, just like everything newborn (human, animal, plant, relationship), a new business has to be approached with a spirit of innocence and protection, but also the will and determination to help it grow. Just like for everything else, watching it grow is a thrilling experience! Best of success to everyone starting their entrepreneur journey!
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