The startup community in Slovakia is still in its infancy, but that makes success stories out of this small country that much more interesting. One such story is the Profesia.sk jobs portal, which is by far the largest on the Slovak market, and also expanded to the Czech Republic and Hungary in recent years. Its former CEO Dalibor Jakuš has unique experience as one of few Slovak business leaders taking a technology company through venture investment as well as a successful sale. He just returned back to work from a one year sabbatical in a new position as Group Business Development Director for A&N International Media, which owns Profesia. He is also a HackFwd referrer and a big fan of the startup community in Slovakia, so we asked him a few questions.
In your experience as CEO at Profesia, have you encountered challenges or opportunities that were unique to being in Central Europe? Do you see other entrepreneurs in the area facing unique challenges or opportunities?
Businesses operating in one country adapt to their environment, and although the situation in each country is different they can handle it fairly well. However, it becomes interesting when businesses start to move to different countries. After our expansion to Czech Republic and Hungary, we realized there were differences between business culture, user attitudes, and, of course, the legal environment. There are global services (e.g. Google, Facebook) easily providing services to almost any internet user, however, with primarily country-based services – such as job search – it is very difficult to have a generic solution applicable in every country. We heard the same experiences from other enterpreneurs operating in multiple countries in the region and this probably holds for the whole Europe, not only its central part.
Do you see a difference between (tech) entrepreneurs from Central/Eastern Europe and those from Western Europe?
One difference that is fortunately eroding is local focus. Entrepreneurs from CEE traditionally thought in terms of their region/country and very few had global ambitions. I have the feeling that in Western Europe they take a much more global view – partially due to much bigger markets they operate in, but also due to earlier removal of legal and travel obstructions.
Another difference is that starting tech entrepreneurs from CEE are mostly young programmers, while in Western Europe we see more older people with managerial skills and entrepreneurial experience, simply due to the economic history of the regions.
What is the startup community like in Bratislava? Are there any exciting companies we should know about?
There was a short burst of activity in the startup scene in Slovakia in 2000 (First Tuesday) and it died soon after. It is surprising there wasn’t much going on afterwards for several years, but the scene revived again in the last two years. The most active event is StartupCamp (in Bratislava, Piešťany, Košice) organized on a monthly basis. There are other more or less regular events such as Open Coffee, or Analytics Wednesday, which is not primarily directed at the startup community, but there is a significant overlap in participants with StartupCamp.
A strong connection traditionally exists with the Czech Republic, and regional events such as IPO48, Seedcamp, or Startup Weekend are well attended by aspiring entrepreneurs from both countries. There were several projects conceived at IPO48 in February, and I hope that the result of the upcoming Mini Seedcamp in Prague and Startup Weekend in Bratislava will be similar.
Though there are no huge successes yet in Slovakia, the list of local startups with global ambitions is growing and hopefully some of them achieve recognition.
What would be your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs from Slovakia and surrounding countries?
One important rule is patience and perseverance. People are not aware that for most of the businesses it takes years to become successful, and it might require several iterations of the original idea to strike gold. Equally important is to stop talking about an idea and finding excuses for why it would not work. I think that for almost any idea, especially in IT/Internet, it is possible to start small, test the idea and then grow further. It is also much more attractive for a potential investor, if you can show him/her a prototype or impress him/her with your knowledge of the market gained from your experimentation.
And a piece of advice specifically for Slovakia. Always think about whether your product can be used by people in other countries and not only in Slovakia. Though this is not possible for all products, it is useful to keep this in mind, and develop your product with a potential global audience in mind since the beginning.