Reaktor is a cool new coworking space specifically for startups that opened in July 2011 in Warsaw. It grabbed my attention in September already and now I finally caught up with one of its co-founders, Borys Musielak (also founder of Filmaster). We talked about the birth of Reaktor and startupping in Poland in general.
How did you come up with the idea?
I was simply searching for a cool place to work on Filmaster with my team. I could not find any. The co-working spaces I looked at were not startup-friendly, rather places for freelancers to work on their projects. Other locations seemed boring and not very creative. It later turned out that some of my friends had exactly the same problem and we decided to search together. We found a great location – a small house in the greenest part of Warsaw, Żoliborz, and decided that this was it. We could not afford it, though, so we invited other friends. We ended up with some 20 people, and it was enough to pay the rent, so we took it. That’s how it started – a little bit of coincidence, some stubbornness, and luck.
Who are the people behind it?
Ania Walkowska is running Homplex.pl – an online house planner. We know each other from college. Kuba Filipowski is running two companies: Netguru (an IT outsourcing firm), and Humanway (an HR-management startup). He’s also active in the Polish Barcamp scene, and that’s how we met – at an event he organized and I took part in. I’m running Filmaster, a movie discovery service. Before that, I did some other startups, like OSnews, a crowd-sourced IT news site, a kind of a Polish Slashdot.
What’s your vision for Reaktor?
We want it to be the most creative place to work on cool internet projects in Warsaw. During monthly #OpenReaktor events we open up Reaktor, inviting interesting speakers and gathering the whole Warsaw startup scene in one place to network. On #PimpMyStartup we test one selected startup’s usability and business model with experts and common users. Other events are also planned, but when you are in Reaktor, it’s a networking event all week long, and this is its biggest success – people actually share knowledge, get to know each other and it benefits all the members. No one is anonymous in Reaktor. It’s simply too small for that. We’re not even a coworking space like TechHub. We’re more of a startup mansion, Bay Area style. Or a startup commune – you name it…
How have the first few months been?
Exciting. And it stayed this way.
We were very worried at the beginning that people wouldn’t join us and we’d end up overpaying for a house too big for our startups. It turned out quite the opposite. We almost had to turn people down because the interest was too big. Now we’re almost full, there is only one room upstairs that got vacant in October but we’re expecting some cool startup will take it soon.
What is the coolest startup you have come across so far?
There are many great startups from Poland like SaveUp, BookLikes, Macoscope, MyGuidie or Discourse. If I was to name just one, I would probably say: Codility. It solved a real issue; it made testing programmers easy and reliable. They are already pretty profitable and have a number of clones in Silicon Valley, one of them in the most recent YCombinator round. A new trend, I hope.
Do you see a lot of people who want to start a startup or work in one?
More and more, but still too few to call it a trend. Polish IT students are taught how to be great employees in corporations like banks or telecoms. The dream work of the smartest of our IT graduates is probably joining IBM or Google. We have one of the five best computer science universities in the world. Warsaw University competes with MIT, Stanford and Berkeley. Still, they don’t found great companies.
Describe the startup scene in Warsaw. Are there others organizing startup events or creating spaces?
There are a few traditional co-working spaces. Some of them, like Noa-cowork, get involved in the startup scene by hosting accelerator programs like GammaRebels (Polish “Tech Stars”). There is also Aula Polska, a biweekly event focused on presentations of startup founders, lawyers and VCs. Some other events include a popular OpenCoffee meetup (each Wednesday at lunch time), IgniteWarsaw or DjangoPiwo, a dev meetup organized by SetJam.
Do you think it’s harder or easier to start a tech company in Poland?
It became really easy this year with the explosion of startup contests, accelerators and incubators. It’s easier to start and to get seed funded. It’s still a bit hard to grow. I haven’t heard of many Series As from Poland, but they should come soon, I believe.
Can Warsaw become a booming startup center, like Silicon Valley or London?
It’s still far from Silicon Valley or even London’s Silicon Roundabout, but it’s already comparable to Amsterdam or Berlin. Definitely a huge change compared to a few years back when “startup” was not even a recognizable noun in Polish. Now it’s mainstream.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs in Poland and surrounding countries?
Dream high, go international from day one (Poland is cool but the world is even cooler), and focus on doing this one thing best.