For anyone following the growing European startup scene these past few years, it’s been obvious that Eastern Europe has been a special surprise when it comes to specific kinds of startups. The creators of some of the world’s most popular online games such as Nordeus and Wargaming, as well as the creator of the world’s fastest electric car – call it home – or ‘doma’!
What to expect next? – You might ask…
The panel we had at Eastern Europe’s largest startup conference, How to Web in Bucharest, does have a few answers. I had the pleasure of moderating a panel of not just startup experts, but experienced players in the regional ecosystem:
Rumen Iliev, Partner at the LaunchHub Ventures seed stage venture firm that invested over 9 million Euros in over 62 startups as part of its first fund founded in 2012;
Ondrej Bartos, Co-Founder and Partner of Credo Ventures, a VC fund specialized in Central European startups. Since 2009, he also stars in the investment TV show Den D on Czech TV;
Dan Lupu, Partner At the Earlybird Venture Capital fund that has invested in regional champions such as Socialbakers;
Lloyd Waldo, Community Manager at Prague-based Startup Yard, who has maintained and expanded their relationships with investors, mentors and partners.
Watch the video to learn what you can expect from Eastern European startups – and comment what you truly expect to see…
A friend asked me recently why I love working on Netokracija. Financial security and writing about interesting startups aside, it’s the true impact you can have by helping others through writing and networking with the digital community.
Sljedeće jutro zvao ga je Ivan Brezak Brkan s portala Netokracija. Brkan ga je pitao je li istina da gasi portal i u čemu je zapravo problem. Marko mu se požalio na za njega katastrofalnu posjećenost od 50.000 klikova, na što ga je Brkan pitao je li zainteresiran za prodaju, jer on zna ljude koji bi bili zainteresirani za kupnju portala za mlade koji ima toliku posjećenost. Marko kaže da mu tada nije bilo jasno na što Brkan misli. Mislio je da portal nema nikakvu vrijednost i uopće mu ta mogućnost nije padala na pamet. Brkan ga je uspio uvjeriti da bi gašenje bila greška i dogovorio mu sastanak u Algebri, još jednim ključnim partnerom portala danas.
If you don’t know Croatian, let me translate:
Netokracija’s Ivan Brezak Brkan called me the next morning and asked had I really decided to shut down the site, as well as what the problem was. Marko told him that just 50.000 clicks were catastrophic, after which Ivan asked him is he interested in selling, since he knows people that would buy a website like Srednja.hr, aimed at students. Marko says that he wasn’t sure what Ivan ment at the time. He thought that Srednja.hr wasn’t worth anything and the idea of selling never occured to him. Brkan persuaded Marko that shutting down was a mistake and got him a meeting with Algebra, a key partner of Srednja.hr to this day.
Believe in Someone More Than They Do In Themselves
I’ll be honest: While I saw great potential in Marko and Srednja.hr because of how dedicated he was as well as knowing the media business, that call didn’t seem that crucial.
But to Marko, at his moment of entrepreneurial self-doubt it was.
It shows that a single positive action on part of any of us can greatly help if it happens at the right time. My call told Marko:
Someone who has experience in his industry believes in his project (enough to actively contact him);
They don’t just believe for the sake of being nice, but are willing to actively help (by connecting him with a business partner).
Marko thought twice and created what Srednja.hr has become – a leading vertical media business for its audience of Croatian students.
But even if he didn’t, let’s be honest: Every entrepreneur has doubts in their project at one time or another. Forbes has coined it ‘The Valley of Doubt’ that entrepreneurs need to escape from.
How To Reach Out
While doubting your project for not meeting yours or others expectations might be normal, entrepreneurs shouldn’t be left alone. As Marko’s example shows, if you see a situation where you doubt the doubter – contact them:
Don’t wait for them to ask. Instead, proactively contact them via email, messenger or just call them up. They might not be expecting it, but they need a kick in the butt!
Listen to the reasons that are driving their self-doubt so you undestand where they are coming from;
Create a situation that shows them the other option! While Marko could have contemplated if other companies would be interesting in working with him, connecting them with Algebra made that option real. No longer was Marko thinking of it as mere theory: It was a real option.
Do the one thing I didn’t do: Follow up in a few days or a week.
Your counsel might be the one thing standing between an untimely ended ‘side project’ and a potentially successful startup.
When Tele2 and Google decided to announce they were rolling out carrier billing for the Google Play store in Croatia, the two successful brands decided that insights would work better than a standard press conference. Which is why I was so humbled when Tele2 asked me to create a talk about the best premium apps in the Google Play store for their announcement.
Remember You’re Talking To Journalists
Contrary to what you might have learnt from Apple announcements, journalists don’t clap at press conferences because it’s not considered professional. You could have the best gadget in the world, but the journalist’s job is to stay objective, even if they are the world’s biggest technology lover.
A tough audience.
How To Include Education in Your Press Conference
If you want to the educational part of your announcement work like it did for Tele2 and Google:
Understand your audience and their challenges: The challenge for most journalists is how to cover stories better and more effectively. Most of the apps and use cases were examples of writing or productivity apps that could make my fellow journalist’s lives easier. if you ever wondered why so many journalists cover Apple, a big part if definitely that they write on Macs, making the company a personal interest;
Help them write a better story: While most of the journalists in the audience covered technology, some of them were more interested in business or fashion. Parts of the presentation included raw data on the usage of premium apps, as well as examples of premium apps in a specific category, to give them material to think about when writing their stories;
Have a presented that’s part of your audience: While I might be the last person to say that Tele2 was right in choosing the speaker, having a journalists talk to his colleagues about the challenges they all fact just gives you as a company more credibility.
Include In-jokes for colleagues: To lighten the mood for the more experienced members of the audience who might be skeptical of the format, have the speaker include a few sarcastic jokes about himself and the industry. Again, having a speaker that is a member of the audience is key!
Before founding the technology blog Netokracija, it was Bug magazine where I started my technology journalism career; writing about the best blog platforms in Croatia as well as why social networks would take over the world (wide web). Yes, it was that long ago, when MySpace wasn’t dead and Kevin Rose’s Digg was the darling of the tech world.
But why is all this important? Two reasons.
First of all, now you can understand why I was excited to judge the 3rd Idea Knockout startup competition in a row. As Bug’s executive editor and my friend Dragan Petric puts it: ‘Ivan is the one that asks the hard questions, which is why we have him in the judging panel! :)’
The second reason has to do with the competition, which sends the winner to CES in Las Vegas, one of the largest technology events in the world. As with journalism, you have to get breaks and support from your peers to succeed as a startup – and going to CES can be one of those breaks.
In the end, it was the STEM educational startup STEMI that came out on top, gathering the most points among all the teams.
With over 320 developers attending, the first Change conference to take place in Zagreb, was a huge success thanks to a focused technology agenda and interesting speakers such as Oracle’s Geertjan Wielenga and TVbeat’s Alan Pavičić.
Which is why I was more than happy to participate in the closing panel on how software is influencing society, alongside my friend, one of Croatia’s most and Croatian Makers founder Nenad Bakić .
Joining us were KING ICT Java team lead and Rochester Institute of Technology professor Aleksander Radovan and Oracle’s developer advocate for open source projects Geertjan Wielenga.
Over 300 developer visited the Change conference!
Honestly, when I got the (high level) questions such as when super computers and big data will bring the 2nd cognitive revolution or a post-human era, I knew I had to do my research. Other topics that we tackled included:
What educational models can relate to the fast changing software landscape, a topic that Nenad started the conference in his opening talk;
What are the next industries that the business model shift that comes along with software will disrupt? Guess my pic – yep, it’s my own, beloved media industry that I believe will be completely reinvented in the next 5 years thanks to agile players such as Rafat Ali’s Skift as well as my own Netokracija, ‘The Techcrunch of the Balkans’.
Speaking of agile: Programme director and panel moderator Roko Roić wasn’t going to let us out easy and wanted us to dive deep into the central question in the panel’s title. Having in mind that Roko is the author of Croatia’s first book on the Agile methodology, moving fast and learning on our initial answers actually led to a pretty ‘agile’ discussion. Punny, I know! 😜
Nenad Bakić held the opening keynote.
How Can We Get Encourage More Female Developers in Croatia
Nenad took us back to middle school, arguing that based on both data as well as practical experience from Croatian Makers’ STEM education projects, girls were quite interestedinto learning about technology. At least a 3rd of all the kids attending Croatian Makers classes on building STEM robots were girls, proving that the problem doesn’t stem (ouch) from early childhood.
Closing panel – why are there less women in this industry? The root of the problem starts in the earliest of age, in schools. #TheChangeCon
Aleksandar agreed, saying that the problem is more visible in university such as RIT, Algebra and the Polytechnic of Zagreb where he teaches Java. Women, unfortunately, didn’t make up nearly a 3rd or his students, showing that we need to encourage young girls that technology truly is an interesting and viable career choice.
My own answer was preceded by a simple question: Why was a panel that tackled this topic as well as 100% of the speaker list made up entirely of men? Roko agreed, saying how difficult it was to find female speakers, which is why he wanted to include the question in the panel.
Netokracija’s Ladies of New Business with more than 150 geekettes! (Photo by Luka Travas)
Moving on, and based on comments and talks by the lovely ladies of Netokracija’s Ladies of New Business women in tech conference, I argued that a lot of women just weren’t sure of themselves to ask for a raise, or pitch to talk at a conference such as Change. It’s not that they weren’t truly ready, they just didn’t feel ‘100% sure’ that it was the right time or that they had enough experience. A comment from the audience, which Geertjan agree with, is that the technology industry and development aren’t the most friendly of environments for women.
While women are aware of all these issues, I argued (and will continue to do so) that it’s the job of us guys to also stand up, participate and encourage our female colleagues and friends in the industry to pounce on opportunities.
Just as Ada Lovelace did, as a mathematician and writer in the early 19th century, becoming the world’s first programmer.
P.S. I love the fact that alongside the custom craft edition of Zmajsko (that I ♥️) beer, Roko used a well known ‘agile’ technique to open them when we couldn’t find a bottle opener!