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Sea, strategy, and sirtaki: Recapping the Eleven Founders Weekend 2023

November 14, 2023

What do you get when you mix the zest of “Zorba the Greek” with over 100 founders for a long weekend? 

In October, the #Oneof11 community came alive outside the confines of boardrooms and digital landscapes. Nestled between the azure waters of the Aegean and the green Halkidiki’s mountains, Neos Marmaras played host to our annual Eleven Founders Weekend. For four days, we brought together over 100 founders and mentors from 10+ countries for an extraordinary experience. From strategic discussions and insightful panels, to fierce beach volleyball clashes and sirtaki lessons. We laughed, swam in the crystal-clear sea, hiked through breathtaking landscapes, and danced…forging deeper connections and creating memories that will last a lifetime. Just like Zorba, embracing life to the fullest.

Navigating the now: “State of the Union” address

The Founders Weekend launched with a candid “State of the Union” address by our Founding Partner Daniel Tomov who painted a picture of opportunity amid the storm. He reminded everyone that the #Oneof11 community is a robust safety net, a collective of shared knowledge and experience.

Then, we got down to the nitty-gritty with an “Ask Me Anything” session with our partners that left no stone unturned. Despite the economic turbulence that looms over startups and funds alike, our partners emphasized the hidden opportunities that come with such times – encouraging founders to be audacious, to lean into risk, and to act swiftly. Here are some of the key takeaways worth remembering: 

  1. Be more strict with spending and managing funding. 
  2. Be disciplined with measuring the right data. 
  3. Time is a precious asset and you shouldn’t stay static. Don’t wait, act. 
  4. Reinvent yourselves all the time.
  5. The community is your most valuable asset.

The heartbeat of the weekend: Peer-to-peer discussions

The heart of the weekend were the deep-dive discussions on topics like AI, market expansion, product, sales, fundraising, PMF, finance, and growth. These weren’t just talks, but open, honest, and collaborative sessions where everyone had the chance to share and learn from experience.

Founders exchanged thoughts on actionable AI, exploring how artificial intelligence can be leveraged to accelerate growth and create competitive advantages. Market expansion was another hot topic, where participants shared their own experiences and discussed the nuances of scaling across borders, understanding local markets, and leveraging cultural insights for successful market penetration. Fundraising was approached with a new sense of gravity given the investment climate, as founders and mentors alike dissected the current trends, unpacking the complexities of raising capital in a cautious market. The peer-to-peer sessions on product development became a hub for sharing successes and stumbles. It was a space for founders to dissect the journey from ideation to execution, to customer feedback, to iteration. Sales strategies and talent acquisition were no less dynamic. 

These robust conversations underscored a common sentiment: the times are tough, but it is precisely in these times that the seeds of future leading companies are sown.

Rolling up our sleeves: Panels and workshops in action

The “Trials and Tribulations of the CEO” panel was a highlight for all participants as it offered a window into the evolving role of leadership, emphasizing resilience and adaptability. Hristo Borisov (co-founder and CEO, Payhawk), Jack Thorogood (co-founder and CEO, Native Teams), and Andrei Cretu (co-founder and CEO, Pluria) discussed:

  • the role of the CEO and what it means to be in these shoes; 
  • how to manage growth; 
  • how to build culture and maintain high team spirit in a fast growing company; 
  • as well as tips and tricks for maintaining physical and mental health as a CEO.

We also hosted two special workshops – on #fintech and #AI, both of which were eye-opening and put theory into practice. Our Fintech Lead, Veselina Markova, Stoil Vassilev from SumUp, and Jack Thorogood from Native Teams demonstrated to the founders how they can seamlessly integrate financial services into their offerings, not just as an add-on, but as a core strategy to drive growth, engagement, and revenue. While our Chief AI Officer, Petar Petrov, gave a practical guide on harnessing the power of AI to streamline and supercharge our operations – challenging founders on the spot to roll up their sleeves and get hands-on with ChatGPT and other AI tools.

Embracing life the Greek way

Of course, the retreat wasn’t all talks and business. Activities such as sunrise runs by the sea, tennis tournaments, and beach volleyball added that extra zing to our days. A night at a local taverna? That was definitely one to remember. Reaching the taverna by boats over sunset, tasting the region’s rich flavors, and having private sirtaki lessons by the very own chef of the taverna and our Greek founders… we definitely made Zorba proud. We’ll keep the plate-breaking stories just to us, though. 

Looking forward with fresh eyes

As we said our goodbyes to Halkidiki, it wasn’t just about the memories, but also about actionable insights, a reinforced network of peers, and the momentum we are all carrying forward. It was a reminder that even as the world accelerates, slowing down to connect can be the most powerful move of all.

Until next time, stay #Oneof11.

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