A new Thinker archetype, who is no longer satisfied with the comfort zone and traditional approaches to doing business, has emerged as a result of development of start-up culture in the modern world. The Maverick is the person who is not afraid of challenging established predispositions and norms, has a peculiar idea, and subsequently turns this idea into a true champion.
Giorgi Chumashvili was maturing into a person with these characteristics back when terms, such as “Maverick” and “startupper” were relatively unknown in Georgia. As a student at ESM, he would frequently visit the library to familiarize himself with foreign literature and cases. It was one of those days when he had a chance to read an interview with the founder of Trulia.com, currently one of the largest real estate platforms, on the Economist website. Pete Flint’s business was not even profitable at the time, but he was frequently featured on pages of leading publications and asked to explicate his business concept. This was a relatively unusual trend at the time. In 2005, what he read at the library seemed vague to Giorgi as well. And today, 15 years later, he is leading a company that also operates on data. However, Livo.ge, an digital real estate platform, was actually conceived back when Giorgi was 20, with the Tbilisi International Airport inspiring the idea.
“I never really stood out as a student. I was seldom lucky during interviews—I can remember a lot of rejections. After graduation, I found it particularly hard to find my place. This was the time when TAV Urban Georgia entered the Georgian market, and my friend and I decided to rent a small commercial space at the airport. We did not get a chance to negotiate with the Turkish stakeholders, but managed to meet one of the directors at some point and successfully earned his trust. This marked the beginning of our very first enterprise. We soon discovered that theoretical knowledge was insufficient and ended up learning everything through our own mistakes.”
The 8-square-meter Georgian corner was doing a great job of introducing Georgia to foreign guests from the very moment they stepped foot on the airport floor. However, later, an embargo and limits placed on flights directly affected the business of this small shop.
The next stop was the advertising business and Wizard, where, for example, the famous Bali Boy—a very popular figure in Georgia several years ago— was conceived.
“Despite having extensive experience, I felt that client relations were not for me. I found evaluation criteria subjective and, frankly, incomprehensible—I found it hard to understand why we were deemed great or dismal at times.”
He told his friend, who was also his partner in the business, that he had other plans in mind. He left the business, keeping a single thing from the company: a table that was present at every music event.
In 2007, he decided to pursue a pre-MBA course at the Manchester Business School.
“Two weeks after arriving, I realized that, if I was willing, I could easily study anywhere, and there was no need for me to be in Manchester for that. I decided to prioritize doing the kind of work in Tbilisi that would earn me success and postpone studies for later. I started brainstorming ideas for unusual and innovative businesses for the Georgian market and contemplating models that I could successfully implement to support development of a civilized, sustainable business environment. There was a Tesco grocery store right around the corner of my apartment in Manchester, and I particularly admired the customer-centric approach at this place. I read every single book by Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart—one of the largest chains of hypermarkets, department stores and grocery stores in the United States, in an attempt to understand true nature of retail through analysis of specific largescale supermarkets. I returned to Georgia and took two months to work on the business idea. At the time, I thought I had a business plan. But today, looking back, I actually think it was just a chaos of numbers.”
I approached potential investors and partners with this new idea. It was precisely through partnership with one of the most powerful businessmen that I gave birth to the Ioli chain.
“I created a brand that would drastically differ from its competitors. Ioli was envisioned as a store offering customers fresher products. We even placed small stalls outside of our supermarkets and Ioli quickly managed to surpass two powerful competitors on the market. However, maintaining quality with expansion of the chain proved to be somewhat challenging. I was up and running 18 hours every day and would frequently sleep at the office. The steps we took at the time were accurate. I would find myself winning small battles, but realized that I would not win the war.”
A year and three months later, he took a vacation, turned off his phone and went to Bakuriani for a month to contemplate ways for saving the business. His partner exited the supermarket chain, while Giorgi decided to partner with the SIF fund and Maxima, a Lithuanian supermarket chain. The profitability coefficient was rising, and by 2012, Ioli was operating up to 40 stores.
His next step in 2012 was a real estate web platform, Allproperty.ge. Giorgi simultaneously founded the Shilda winery and the Degusto chain with his partners.
“I presented a truly innovative concept to partners that were looking to open yet another burger bar: a food chain that would offer customers products with identical quality at every location. With this in mind, we opened a factory and devised a sourcing system. This is precisely what makes Degusto special and relatively difficult to copy. We assemble ingredients with our vacuum equipment at the factory, and conduct sourcing at a local Degusto kitchen.”
Throughout this period, I was mostly occupied with Allproperty.ge, which turned into Livo in 2019.
“As we developed the Ioli chain, I did not derive pleasure from interacting with real estate agents and brokers, and it was mostly an unsatisfactory experience for me. It was back then when I decided to create a platform that would end up bringing every stakeholder in the real estate industry together. The word “ecosystem” was not even customary at the time. However, this the very word that describes the business model I created in 2012. What is an ecosystem? It is the concept of digitalizing offline processes as much as possible. In order to be able to do so, one needs technical support, technological novelty, an up and running UX and UI, good developers and customer journey experts.”
Through close co-work with TBC this year, we managed to rebrand the real estate platform and Livo.ge was born, which allows users to search properties, compare them based on a variety of criteria, evaluate them and eventually register them to their name. Moreover, 3D photos filmed with a high-tech Matterport camera allow users to get a comprehensive view of the property virtually. Three months after its launch, the platform managed to acquire up to 17 000 users.
“We intend to be a customer-centric company. We gather data and share it with stakeholders—this is precisely what constitutes our business model. Today, we are exactly what the founder of Trulia.com was referring to years ago: we are the data-driven company. We strive to save our customer’s time and financial resources—this is the very idea behind every ecosystem. Next year, we are planning an indexation of the entire country. We have even introduced a parameter to evaluate the environment, which will allow us to identify locations of properties from an ecological standpoint. We are also gradually implementing so-called neighborhood management, which will result in diversification of prices for properties located 15 meters apart.”
Over the course of the years, Giorgi has gained somewhat peculiar habits and rules when it comes to entrepreneurship.
“I consider it vital to feel and control the pulse of my business. I refuse to stay in a company where I simply invest and hand management to someone else. That is why I think I am not really destined to be an investor. An entrepreneur must always remember that the business is not a child. On the contrary: the more demanding and reasonable you are towards your business, the more rational will be the process. I can recall a case when I was not earning a salary from a specific business and it was perhaps the greatest mistake I have ever made. In my opinion, if a business is not generating income from the start, it is a dismal business.”
The entrepreneur who authored a variety of businesses over the course of the past 15 years, always let each end every successful enterprise go on its way and looked for new challenges instead. What he is certain about at the moment is that he will be preoccupied with Livo for the next couple of years.
“If I were to observe myself from the outside, I would call myself a conceptual startupper. It is with great confidence that I state that I have never obstructed the concept development process. I give my best to each business in the first three years and then think that who can lead its way much better from there is a mature manager—someone who I consider to be free from startup euphoria. During the start-up stage, I guide the way myself—nobody should meddle with the concept. Same applies to Livo: I am responsible for the concept. And I always exit the business on time, which I also consider to be one of the mandatory characteristics of an entrepreneur. Once you give your best to your business, you tend to dislike certain aspects and that is when you fall into endless self-criticism. That is precisely when you must give up control and delegate the job to somebody else. I think my emotions and self-confidence are my advantages. I find it easy to set emotions aside during negotiations. When I know I am doing a good job and I truly believe that the idea is great, I can easily speak up and am never ashamed or afraid of doing so.”
In addition to facilitating exchange of experiences and novelties in the business field among top-management representatives of various companies, Business Café, a project by the Insource Consulting, aims to introduce such young leaders into the local business circles. Business Café is supported by TBC Insurance and aims to facilitate exchange of experience and modern trends among managers.
Written by: Mariam Kanchaveli