Entrepreneurship, sort of…
The entrepreneur is commonly seen as a business leader and innovator of new ideas and business processes. — Investopedia
I’ve discussed this briefly with Eric, currently in India (Eric–if you have anything to add, let me know). It plays on the riff we hit on the last post about the Soviet legacy and it’s impact on Azerbaijani society. The basic idea is that when we think of entrepreneurship, we often think of people who have new ideas for marketing or a product. Entrepreneurs generally deliver something unique. In Azerbaijan, the entrepreneur has none of these things. In Azerbaijan, entrepreneurship is a currency traded only amongst the uncreative class.
Though I haven’t been to too many cities or communities yet, I’ve still seen this theme repeatedly present itself. Each business, no matter what it is, looks exactly like the one next to it, and sells the same things, and has the same poor customer service. The ideas of market research and product differentiation haven’t really hit it big here. Instead, you want to start a business, and since you don’t know what you want to do, you will make it the same as everyone else’s. You will have the same furniture store or restaurant or convenience store as the guy next-door.
I think it would be fair to say that the Soviet legacy has not done much to inspire the creative class in Azerbaijan. You end up with a row of furniture stores on one side of the street, a string of convenience stores with all the same products, and tea houses that are all similarly Soviet-gray, drab, lifeless social arenas. One day, Sumqayit, you will have a bustling free enterprise system. That day is not today.
To end with an example: My host father has just decided to start up his own convenience store, commonly known as a magazin. His magazin is going to have the same stuff as the guy down the street, open for the same hours, and probably have a similar attitude towards customers: customers are lucky that he will serve them at all. It’s a very Soviet attitude, that they don’t have to cater to the customer, but instead the customers will come because they ought. Probably what he has going for him is that Xayyam, my host brother, will be working the shop during the afternoons and early evenings. Xayyam has a pretty outgoing spirit, and I think he could be a good salesman. We’ll see how it works out.