Live in Athens: how to be at home and take your class on collaborative economy
Warning from the beginning: This is not a promotional blogpost, it is a story of courage, friendship and colloborative economy.
I had a long weekend plan for Athens, a city that I visited only once a decade ago. It was not a positive surprise by that time, as it was during summer and Athens seemed overcrowded and over-touristic compared to its sibling Thessaloniki. Now, with my second attempt to discover the hidden beauty of the Greece capital, I changed my approach and tried to go under the city’s skin, where - ideally - only the locals go.
When travelling for fun and partially business, I think that the accomodation is the key factor. I want to be in the heart of the city, but I do not fancy neither million stars and chains hotels nor affordable hostels.
I discovered Live in Athens beautiful apartments accidentally and I would say hopefully, because it was only one day before my flight that I read about them in The Guardian (“10 of the best hotels, B&Bs and apartments in Athens”*). I am not the careful trip planner, but I am not the last minute taker either. Sometimes I am just lucky:)
At first, I fell for the story of the 4 founders: three were unemployed when they decided to start the business. Secondly, I fell for their beautiful apartments in the center of Athens, “designed to make you feel at home.” I dropped them an email by Wednesday night, I got a personalized reply and offer by Thursday morning, I had my reservation done by Thursday afternoon (with no credit card guarantee) and by Friday noon they were waiting for us with their sweet welcome treats and the perfect penthouse.
More personal than a hotel, more private than airbnb.
I wanted to learn more about this USP because it seemed to me the quintessence of the future of economy. A collaborative economy is a marketplace where consumers rely on each other instead of large companies to meet their wants and needs. A collaborative economy may also be known as a "shared economy," "sharing economy" or a "peer-to-peer economy.”
There were 4 guys who started the business in 2011: Andreas, Antonis, Vassilis and Varnavas. Three out of four were unemployed by that time. In terms of experience, they had been working either in the hotel industry or elsewehere, mostly freelance projects. It happened accidentally, they’ve liked this kind of vacation and Andreas thought to create their own version: Live in Athens.
Antonis, “our adorable CFO” as it is called by the team of 18 people now, was busy with the business plan and market research for one year and bumble, in 2012 the first two apartments were opened in Thissio. They were “totally made by our hands, with passionate work 100%, the first summer we were doing all things by ourselves, no other helpers” says Antonis. Almost 7 years later, with 22 properties on board (11 were added in 2018), they still do not own property, but they plan to invest in the future, as market has changed.
How did they get to this mix of Airbnb and a hotel experience?
In 2014 the apartments building in Agion Anargiron street plus Spiti Mas (the breakfast place 300 meters close) applied for a licence from the Greek Authorisation, so they were able to run the reception for all the properties from the Agion Anargiron building, which is at walking distance for Psirri/Thissio/Plaka where they hold the other properties. Also, they could offer breakfast for their guests at Spiti Mas.
This is how, as a tourist, you can benefit from:
- a great Airbnb experience - meaning great apartments, locally designed and taken care of, superb view and affordable pricing
- great hotel service - reception plus extra support (we needed a pharmacy opened during Sunday and were immediately responded with the closest one from the area we were at the time of the inquiry)
- great breakfast opportunity - in fact the best - with fresh ingredients and personalized offers
What do you, the people at Live in Athens, like the most about your business?
Antonis: we changed our microworld, what we are doing is to change the perspective, to have an impact on our lives and in the world. It was a deep crisis in 2011 but we did not fall for the stereotype perspective of the classical propaganda, instead we were moving further. We are like a family: we are doing a lot of things and every year we have a trip together (all 18 people): meetings to get inspired and to strenghten our relationship.
What kind of tourists do you have?
Many kind of guests. Families with children , professionals , young couples or even honeymooners. World citizens.
What would tourists find here?
We are human oriented in all the things that we are doing: renovations are made by us with love, we always consider the people we work for. (Yes, I can confirm:) On the way, from 2012 up to now, based on analysis and the received comments what would be the ideal of our business we transformed the things into what they are now. The apartments are designed and renovated from scratch, they are centrally located around the city center and the Acropolis, while keeping the local architectural form and having a modern decoration and practical use.
Which are the best apartments?
#9 for honeymoon (This is actually where I stayed, a beautiful penthouse with Acropolis view, ut I was definitely not on a honeymoon:)
#1 for the view
..But every apartment is like a child, you can not discriminate says Antonis.
How did Spiti Mas evolve as an additional business?
Spiti Mas (which in Greek means “Our Home”) was designed as a familar eating place, as familiar as your home, including the option to have breakfast in bed.
“We do support Live in Athens guests with coupons (free coffee with the first order)” says Cressida, one of the three people running the place. She is also saying that the team of 18 is made of “guys and girls, so there is no gender gap”. Apart from the guests from Live in Athens, Spiti Mas has many more to serve, as it is the number one breakfast place in Athens on Trip Advisor.
The menu is Athina’s, the chef, responsibility and it is inspired by the customers. Cressida is paying attention to them and she remembered after the first day “I know, one double, one single cappucino”. The offer is indeed personalised - in the last day we simply let them prepare our breakfast option as they wanted - based on our track history of two days.
In 2015, one of the founders, Varnavas, with apartments number 10 and 11 in operation and an empty ground floor place, decided to call two different friends to ask them to come up with ideas:
- Athina (photographer and interior designer, collaborating previously on Vogue and Harper’s Bazzar who is now the chef)
- Cressida (engineer, with a 15 y.o. son and cool outfits I would add)
The two did not know each other but they are now working together (plus Yannis, the barrista and Angela in the kitchen) for the best breakfast place in Athens because Varnavas, who knew each of them, decided that instead of giving the best idea a shot, he would actually put the two ideas and their owners together. He was inspired, I would add:)
Cressida is saying: “after nine months of research and meetings, a placed opened to everyone, serving food with love, creativity and a personal need for home.”
“Because we were homeless” replies Antonis.
Why did they call the breakfast place Spiti Mas (Our Home)?
The Home - is international and it is a common need of the whole world.
It opened in July 2016 and for the first year “we were not oriented in breakfast, we were open till 10 pm, with 4 people working 16 hours”. In 2017 after discovering that “we were morning people and that we actually have 2 homes” (Cressida), we decided to serve breakfast & brunch only. They use only fresh ingredients - “operate with our own fridge”, raw materials - fresh/limited/not big variety, prepared upon the order with the challenge of a small kitchen.
How do you solve conflicts and who is the CEO?
Since 2011, the four founders have a weekly meeting with kind of a follow up process, using what they’ve learned from all kind of trainings (including theatrical games taught by an actress team member - Pinelopi) and applying a creative hospitality inspired ritual:
- check in ritual (few minutes to speak about what everyone has in mind- in circle- so that everybody can understand everybody)
- check out ritual (conclusions)
We use the conflicts wisely, we do not keep any grudge and the third one is keeping the balance if two are in conflict. We believe that humor, honest relationships and positive attitude can make the world a better place. We put loads of thought, creativity and excitement in everything we do. We are really a family, we are here one for another and backing each other.
There is no formal leader in the team, but rather they work on functional groups and they switch places for the reception.
What is next?
…island (Paros - Vassilis)
… Madrid, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Amsterdam (a franchise model)
Spiti Mas Crete or London - Cressida
“You must go there if you like the kindest of people” is Vassilis’s favorite guest review. Actually, many hand written reviews are stuck on the wall at the reception floor next to the elevator and a hung white shirt. I placed mine too together with my thankful heart. Because my inspiration trip was achieved, I could write on their terraces, so that my second book could more easily find its publishing way.
P.S. A 2016 report by McKinsey* found that knowledge-intensive industries and creative occupations are the largest and fastest-growing segments of the freelance economy.