By Nina Nikolic, Swiss EP Macedonia
Fascinated by why people do what they do, Aimee Holland has spent the last 18 years experimenting with what makes people act. Honing her skills and knowledge inside the sales and marketing arena she has some strong conclusions on what makes people buy. Through her journey she’s been an advisor to the House of Commons, the European Economic and Social Committee and consulted with global companies such as Castrol and Mercedes-Benz in addition to having her own startups and agencies.
As a “Geek by nature”, she is passionate about new technologies and how they influence purchase behavior. This is especially evident in her work with smaller companies who often see digital technologies as the solution to their marketing challenge. With her work and knowledge, Aimee has helped companies and people transform for the better and moving forward her mission is to keep leaving situations better than when she found them.
Aimee spent two full months (October and November 2017) as an EIR in Skopje, Macedonia and one month (December) in Tirana, Albania.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how did you find out about EIR and why did you apply?
A friend of mine saw a post in a Facebook group about the EIR program. Knowing I had just started being a nomad she sent the link across. She was right, the program was perfect for me! I couldn't believe that I would get to visit some amazing countries, do the work I adore and someone would do all the introductions with me! If there is a more perfect way to travel and work I'm yet to find it!
What were your expectations in terms of Skopje as a new city and working with startups here for 2 months?
I'm not going to lie, I thought I was going to the middle of nowhere! I actually had to google 'Macedonia' because I had no idea where it was! It's fair to say I had low expectations. Somewhere between the kind of third world country you see on telly and a rough council estate was my expectation. (Sorry!) I did some digging about the economy and standards of living and that made it worse. I was very suspicious of the internet stories fo cigarettes for £1.30 a packet and an average salary of £400 / month. Those things just seem too extreme to be true. (Check me and my little UK bubble out!) I wasn't sure how I was going to talk to anyone given I speak zero Macedonian!
How was in reality?
I fell instantly in love! The cost of food and the salary was true! You can eat a decent evening meal with wine for less than £5 and the people are sensational! Like, beyond friendly and everyone speaks English. Even when they speak 'no English' they still get the point across. The culture, food, landscape, people, everything was sublime!
How is the startup scene?
Surprisingly organized! There are the same challenges as all start-ups have in terms of business knowledge and mindset. But these are the same the world over. What I can't understand is why everyone in Macedonia isn't outsourcing to the west. The opportunities to take advantage of the price we are willing to pay in the west are huge. I found it fascinating that people thought funding was hard to get in Macedonia, they should try the UK! But we always have this idea that the other man's grass is greener!
What was the highlight of working with supporting organizations and startups here?
For me the personal growth was the most profound thing. I know I was support to be there to support others but the journey I went on myself was incredible.
What is missing in the eco-system?
Digital assets. Many of the accelerators/training providers are covering the same topics and doing that regularly with different groups. Now there is always going to be a place for face-to-face support but I do think a digital library would be a powerful asset too. There are certain things that don't change much and a resource that gave people access to the right information at the right time supported by the whole eco-system would be amazing!
How was your local support and your day living in Skopje?
Nina from the Swiss EP team! She's an absolute gem. Knows everyone & everything you could ever wish to know. From day one she was helping me settle in and meet all the key organizations. Without her tenacity and gold heart, the experience would not have been the same.
If you were about to recommend this program to international experts, why would you recommend Macedonia?
Ohrid! The scenery is stunning. Aside from the lack of beaches, Macedonia is a beautiful country, always something to explore and do across the country. Plus Greece is only a few hours drive. Be warned though there are no Starbucks or McDonalds in the whole country so you will get a total detox from consumerism too!
Feel free to add something you think is crucial for potential EIRs (and/or a summary of your 2 months spent in MK as an EIR)
Avoid the London Trend bar in Skopje square because the customer service is shocking and the food makes you poorly.
The Beauty Bar is fabulous for nails, hair & massages https://www.facebook.com/beautybarmk/
You can pretty much live in the Public Room (Javna Soba), great wifi & food and you can hang out all day without them kicking you out (my record was 13 hours!)
Buy a local SIM card, your WhatsApp can stay on the same number and you won't get ripped off with roaming charges. Just remember your data ends at the country border. Visit Matka Canyon it's stunning!
If you're wondering if this is a good idea… It is!
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