Some excerpts from a modern day Greek drama, perhaps a triumph amid tragedy:
Greek entrepreneurs tell tales of misery
BY SUZANNE DALEY
ATHENS — It was about a year ago that Fotis I. Antonopoulos, a successful Web program designer here, decided he wanted to open an online business selling olive products.
Luckily, he already had a day job.
It took 10 months crisscrossing the city to collect dozens of forms and stamps of approval, including proof that he was up to date on his pension contributions, before he could get started. But even that was not enough. In perhaps the strangest twist of all, his shareholders were required by the Health Department to submit to lung X-rays and stool samples.
‘‘I laugh about it now,’’ he said. ‘‘But it wouldn’t be so funny if I didn’t have a very good job with very good pay. It would have been an absolute nightmare.’’
With Greece’s economy entering its fourth year of recession, its entrepreneurs are eager to reverse a frightening tide. Last year, at least 68,000 small and medium-size businesses closed in Greece and nearly 135,000 jobs associated with them were lost. Predictions for this year are also bleak.
Experts say the climate for doing business here is abysmal. In a recent report titled ‘‘Greece 10 Years Ahead,’’ McKinsey & Co. described the country’s economy as ‘‘chronically suffering from unfavorable conditions for business.’’ New companies faced large amounts of red tape, complex administrative and tax systems and procedural disincentives, it said. (emphasis added by YT)
* * *
‘‘I know that what happened to us is not in isolation,’’ he said. ‘‘This is what everyone else who tries to start a business is living. It is very frustrating.’’
E-commerce is still relatively new in Greece, though growing. But Internet businesses with international sales are so rare that when Mr. Antonopoulos went to three different Greek banks for help with processing payments, they seemed incapable of grasping the concept.
Before the banks would agree to act as a clearinghouse for credit cards, they insisted that portions of the OliveShop’s Web site, including the company’s marketing and privacy policies, be written exclusively in Greek, no matter how hard Mr. Antonopoulos tried to explain that his customers would not understand Greek.
‘‘We kept trying to tell them that the idea was to export — that customers might be Chinese and they
wouldn’t understand,’’ he said, throwing up his hands. ‘‘It was useless.’’
In the end, he turned to PayPal, an online payment and money transfer site, and got what he needed to get started in less than 10 minutes, he said.
* * *
Mr. Antonopoulos’s foray into an e-business ran into trouble right from the start. Finding prize-winning olive oil was not hard, he said. Nor was convincing farmers that they needed to find prettier bottles.
But just getting a small warehouse in Athens was a nightmare. No warehouses are allowed in the city. Instead, he had to settle on a storefront and cover up the windows. And there were permits and certificates needed from the tax office, the pension office, the Chamber of Commerce, the Health Department, the Building Department, the Fire Department and more.
The worst moment, he said, was when representatives from two different agencies came to inspect the shop and disagreed about the legality of a circular staircase. They walked out telling him that he ‘‘would have to figure it out.’’
* * *
Mr. Antonopoulos says there was a happy ending. His company has already shipped goods to the United States, Argentina, Australia, Japan and even Mongolia, and it is covering its costs.
‘‘Stool samples cannot be the center of this story,’’ Mr. Antonopoulos said. ‘‘We made it.’’
At more, unnecessary cost to his customers, no doubt.
Things are not this bad in the U.S. by any means. But, then, the Dems have only had Congress and the Presidency at the same time for 2 Congressional terms in the past 30 years.