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entrepreneurcountry: Mykonos

Julie Meyer Thursday, 08 October 2015.

Follow Julie’s Travels as she builds EntrepreneurCountry. She writes a regular monthly column, Adventures in EntrepreneurCountry, for British Airways Business Life magazine. Here is one her columns:

julie1015h Business Life Julie Meyer in Mykonos 5fa5c222 ae30 4e15 9e5e 8176b713a2ab 0 605x412Julie Meyer celebrates the entrepreneurial potential of Mykonos

Who knew that Mykonos had a soundtrack? Everywhere I went during my week-long holiday to the island there was a great 80s hits remix. Nostalgia, dance music, long songs with crescendos: Eighties music is made for divas, and so is Mykonos. Takes one to know one.

This is jet-set central. Dinner at Nobu's Matsuhisa restaurant at the Belvedere hotel is not to be missed. Nor are sunsets at the Elysium Bar. Dance on the tables at Nammos after sunning yourself on Psarou beach. Eat fish at the Sea Satin Market with chilled rosé and get a gelato on the way back. I stayed at the Semeli Hotel, which gave me world-class service and the most amazing breakfast I've ever had.

I'd arrived in Mykonos on an August morning thinking that perhaps entrepreneurs could sort out whatever problems or opportunities the island offered. And it's true that challenges abound. One night as we were having dinner by the water, the lights of the harbour consistently kept shutting down, leaving diners in the dark. I guessed that fuses were popping due to old or neglected infrastructure. Elsewhere I saw dilapidated computer repair shops, and the island is screaming for Uber to land and turn its 10,000 residents' cars and bikes into island transport.

So what can technology and entrepreneurs do for Mykonos? You wouldn't want to disrupt this place, with its ancient maze of streets and shops open until 1am. What you want — if you have a venture capitalist's eye — is to enable the whole place. How can you make this magical island live beyond its shores? In 20 years' time, possibly five, there'll be an online window for many of those high-end boutiques. Airbnb and Uber might not be here, but the local version will be. Technology can bring out the charm even more in a place like Mykonos, not overwhelm it and certainly not change it.

In addition to lovers coming to Mykonos, there are lovers of Mykonos. It would have a stellar opportunity to crowdfund projects from the island by the island's guests. I went there with Jimmy Nguyen, a partner at LA-based DWT law firm, who had been six times before. A phenomenal guide, he has an exceptional network. A couple of times during the week I was there, I wondered how many Jimmys exist worldwide who come to Mykonos regularly, captured by the charm, and, given an opportunity, would fund a new project there?

Many of those new projects would be visual. My Instagram and Facebook accounts have never been so active. Mykonos is a place to constantly capture moments in pictures: watching the sunset, going to your first drag show (it was incredible), making promises under the clear night sky, forging business partnerships while drinking rosé on the sand, and wondering just what was going on on all of those offshore yachts. 

The big elephant in the room in Greece is the Greek shipping industry. The backdrop to my holiday was the long-standing discussions between Greece and its creditors. As more than one person told me, the shipping industry pays no tax, and 'Europe' is trying to change that. I couldn't help but think of the fundamental inequality of Greek society. The shipping tycoons managed to boondoggle the government 60-plus years ago into creating a quasi-nationalised industry hiring only Greeks, but the owners take all the profits, and take them offshore. Never was a tragedy of the commons so obvious.

The essence of Mykonos, it seems to me, is freedom. The freedom that comes from feeling the rays, seeing a beautiful sunset, being with the one you love, not being judged on your preferences. Transparency — the radical kind sweeping across the world today — will come to Mykonos, bringing its benefits and challenges. Digital technology will enable the people who live here and fly here. (The airport itself is a project waiting to happen.) What I love about Mykonos is that it seems to have a secret, which perhaps goes like this.

You thought I was an ugly brown patch of land as you landed at the airport. I am a beautiful ancient maze of history, food, boutiques, harbours and churches, but I don't need to impress you because I know you will be impressed as you wake up and see me anew each morning. I am not nouveau riche, digitally enhanced or always on. I am neither work nor play. I am food for your soul. Look out across the water, up into the night sky, and warm yourself in the sun. See if you don't feel amazing on returning to wherever you came from. You'll be back.

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