The entrepreneurship life of an expat, with Konstantinos Diamantopulos
Konstantinos Diamantopulos is relaxed, smiling, speaks loudly like all greeks do. And you can immediately know he’s a doer. Modest, funny and brilliantly smart, he’s the first to start dancing at a party or to offer a helping hand. In my MBA years (he graduated some years before me) he handed me books to help my courses and even threw in some valuable ideas in our projects. He’s also an engineer and an investor in Viva Credit and a new real estate businesses. We met to discuss about his evolution and plans and the moment he came, he filled the space with energy.
Konstantinos, like many serial entrepreneurs, is a hard-working, determined and focused guy, always seeking new opportunities.
The beginnings of the entrepreneurship experience
Cori: How did you start being an entrepreneur?
K: I was working as an expat in Romania and I realized when I was living here (the company was renting an apartment for me) that we were paying a lot for the rent. So I thought to buy an apartment and rent it to the company who sent me to Romania. So one thing led to another, I teamed up with 2 other guys, one of them being Andreas Antonopoulos and we bought some apartments, renovated them and rented them.
Cori: What year was this?
K: I met Andreas in 2003 and in 2004 we bought the first apartment together. Eventually through the business we got to know each other, because I did not know Andreas prior or our other partner, I just jumped into the unknown. That’s what happens when you are too young, and you don’t know what to do.
But it turned out well and we grew into a team. So that would be the first entrepreneurial activity in Romania. It started as a joke and it ended with a lot of apartments… at one point we had 15 apartments that we bought, renovated and rented. In the meantime, I still had my day to day job. This was my side job. It was a bit crazy at the time, but hard work is always a good solution when you are young.
Cori: Did you have a plan? Did you sit down and write an Excel sheet?
K: Yes, we had a plan for the purchase and the operation. Basically, we said how much does it cost to buy, to renovate and how much will we rent it for? We did not have an exit plan, though. We never thought what are we going to do or where is this thing going? Because at that time we were very young, none of us were married and we were just enjoying life. So this was a side activity for everyone. I was more involved with the renovations as I was the only one living in Romania at the time so for me it was a good experience.
Cori: When we discuss about partnership and setting up a business with associates there is a lot of discussion about common values and trust. How did you pick your business partners? Were you just lucky?
K: Both were introduced to me by very good friends of mine, it was not by chance. I find that this helps break the barrier and because they are recommended by other people it helps me to trust them. Trust is paramount in business. And I have a set of common values with both of them. Now that I think about it, we are in a stage, after 15 years that I can safely tell you that with all the crisis, friction, good times, bad times etc I still consider them as brothers and still I would trust them with my money.
Cori: How did the business evolve?
K: Basically, we had this business with the real estate while working our regular jobs. In 2003 I started this business and in 2006 I started the MBA. And Andreas was my professor and also my business partner (so a bit complicated) and I met Viorel who was my colleague in MBA (from Viva Credit). We hung around a lot together, he then moves to America and in 2010 I get an email form him asking me if I’m interested in a business he had just thought of. And because we always wanted to do something together and because he proposed something which I’ve seen in my day to day job, I told him let’s do it. I like you, I trust you, I like the idea, let’s start it. So, 9 years later, it was a good choice.
Cori: All this time you had your main job and everything you did in terms of entrepreneurship was the side business?
K: Until 2011. That’s when there was a crisis in Greece and also in Romania so we were laid off from the construction company (I was working for a big construction company) so I had no choice but to jump in deep water. I thought I won’t find another good job like the one I had (with good pay, benefits etc) but because of the MBA I thought to just try it and stand on my own.
The main skills of an entrepreneur
Cori: Did you start the business with your own money then looked for investors?
K: Depends on which business. In the real estate business all 3 of us put our own money together, at Viva Credit we are 5 shareholders and all of us put money together from the beginning until now. When I started buying lands I also raised funds, because since I have experience in Romanian real estate and construction market some people were more confident in investing with me.
So now we have bought 2 lands in Aviatiei and I have actually raised the funds for them. I am also a shareholder and we are getting the construction permit next month. I would say that 2011 was a milestone year for me because I made the jump from corporate to entrepreneurship. But then in 2014 while being an entrepreneur, I was asked by other firms to do service provision technical consultancy so I jumped back to do that as well, of course part time.
Cori: Do you think that your technical background helped? Since you are an engineer.
K: The MBA helped me a lot. The technical background helped me in real estate but the MBA helped me to answer a lot of questions that I had throughout my career. What is a financial statement? Why is it important to get credit? What is accounting, marketing… etc. Real-life questions 🙂
Cori: For me at least after my MBA years, the first 2 years were about growth. I had to unlearn and to relearn a new way of thinking and to look at my business with a critical thinking as opposed to what I felt and to be more data driven. Did it come to you naturally? Did you have to unlearn something and to let go of old ways? For example, think about your first years in Real Estate… would you have done it differently?
K: Yes, but it also comes with experience I think. In the beginning I was a control freak… I was checking everything. So I’m not sure if it’s the MBA or experience. I think I am more relaxed now, eventually you have to trust people and to let go a bit. I don’t know if it’s better but it is for my health at least. It gives me time to do things I like, to spend time with my kids, my friends, go to Greece more often etc.
There was a hybrid period even until now when I am still doing the consultancy, but my main focus is being an entrepreneur or I should call it an investor. In Viva Credit I am a member of the board but I am not a manager there. Whereas in the real estate business I am there every day and I am starting two more investments. A factory I’m buying in Greece and a land I bought on a Greek island. This way of thinking, the diversification and trying to spot different opportunities, I have learned in the MBA.
And also through the discussions I had with people who think alike. It is important to be around people who share your mindset and values. For example, I don’t discuss these things with my mother because she has a very different way of thinking.
Cori: What are your interests if someone would come to propose a business to you?
K: For me to invest in them or for me to work for them?
Cori: Both. Are there different mindsets?
K: Yes, it’s a bit different, because there might be an investor who wants some help in just one area of his business. For example, another real estate developer might just need technical service. Or I’m an investor and I need someone to team up with in which case we set up some rules. Only on the investor level. Between us we will decide who does what, who we need to hire etc. I would say my strengths are realty development, corporate governance in terms of investing and board membership and general management.
Personal plans for the future
Cori: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
K: I would say Greece. Ideally, I would like to have my basis in Athens, keep all my business in Romania because I love this country and I believe in it and to visit my kids in Istanbul. This would be my ideal. Right now I am based in Bucharest and I go to Athens and Istanbul. I would like to reverse a bit, but Romania will never be out of the picture.
Professionally I want to get out of things that require too much of my time. I want to take a step back and have a more passive role. I might change my mind in 5 years actually, but this is the way I see it now. But you have to create. For example, Viva Credit just now started generating profits… after 9 years. And it’s still not what we were expecting… but it takes time to grow a business.
Cori: 10 years in my case. I think that after 7 years I started to make some serious profit and not just survive
K: Exactly. For example the real estate business can be good but it has to be continuous to profit. You buy something, you sell it, ok now what? You have to buy again, sell again and so on…
Cori: How did you manage having a full time job, full time entrepreneurial activity, starting a family…?
K: In 2005, 2006 I used to live in Suceava and I would come on the weekends to Bucharest. I was driving back and forth… It depends how motivated you are. I was young then but I would not do it again now. I was 28 at the time, so this was 4 years after I moved to Romania. I was the only Greek in town.
Cori: What drove you?
K: Different stuff at different times. In the beginning I was driven by money and success but that’s because I was seeing other people drive nice big cars so I thought if they can do it why can’t I? As I grew older my priorities changed but also my problems. Right now time is my most important asset. Can I do things that I like to do?
I don’t want to do things because I’m obliged. I value time the most and also my friends. These are the things I miss the most. So if someone offered me a very good job in London I would not take it. Because my friends and family are here or in this region and so are my investments. Why would I change radically? I want to put myself as a priority, but in a good way not in a selfish way.
What would you change in your life?
Cori: What would you change?
K: I wouldn’t change coming to Romania. Before coming here I had the opportunity to go to London and be an investment banker but I came here instead. That was the only “what if”? Professionally speaking. I would have changed … maybe if I could have had the wisdom I have now. I would have focused more on working on my personality and character qualities. Also to enjoy my time the way I do now with friends, family and myself.
Cori: This is interesting and a common theme because everyone I talked to in the business environment, eventually it all comes back to this. I wish I were more open and to be more authentic and make decisions based upon what I felt and not on what needed to be done.
K: These are the moments in life that define you. For example when I got divorced it was kind of a shock to me and it made me rethink … because my ex wife is Turkish, I have to commute to see my kids. Different countries, and I am not Romanian so it’s 3 countries for me and all of these things made me reconsider a lot of things in life. Things were difficult and my options were to go in a corner and cry or to have a positive attitude and to do the best I can. I chose the second one.
Cori: I think this is what makes entrepreneurs be entrepreneurs. This is the common trait we all have because we face difficulty all the time. Every time I speak to other entrepreneurs, they keep mentioning how difficult it is and how they never thought it would be so difficult and yet you find ways to look forward and to find solutions.
K: In terms of what else I would do differently, I would read more books. And while I read the books I started to write the summary down as well.
I’ve known Konstantinos for 4 years now. He grew more calm, more relaxed, more authentic in this time. He’s a fireball of energy, smiling with his entire face and his deep voice fills any room. But other than this, he’s one of the people from the MBA Environment that I always trust for a piece of advice.
He’s an accomplished entrepreneur, a mentor and a positive example. Always working hard, intelligent, focused and value-centered, he stands for what the MSM community represents. Authentic leadership, efficiency, success and healthy values.
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