Continuing our look at foreign entrepreneurs who are trying to make their way in Croatia as thousands of young Croats are emigrating, meet Mate, who swapped life in Australia for Zadar County.
1. First and foremost, why Croatia?
It was 2010 when SJ and I decided to take a sabbatical and spend a year exploring Europe basing ourselves in Croatia. After many years of hard work and a couple of cancer battles, (which I fortunately won), we needed a break from the hustle and grind of Sydney, Australia. On that holiday we travelled all over Croatia and Europe and like most, we fell in love with the Croatian lifestyle and so planned to move to Croatia, build a house and give Croatia a shot. Since our arrival 4 years ago we have been exploring potential business opportunities but had been extremely cautious, waiting for the right business opportunity. We wanted to be sure we invested our money wisely. In the interim, SJ built the 1. hugely popular travel blog Chasing the Donkey, which is one of the top 50 travel blogs in the world, writing about all of our travels in Croatia. More recently she hired many other writers to expand the blog to cover neighbouring countries.
Then, in early 2017, the right opportunity came around and1. Octopus Transfers Croatia was born. We teamed up with an experienced local, to help us navigate the Croatian bureaucracy and now have a business where we specialise in private transfers across Croatia with our primary objective being to deliver excellent service to our customers.
2. Tell us about some of the differences of your expectations of running a business in Croatia and the reality.
When I was warned about the difficulties of business in Croatia by my family and friends it scared the pants off me. All the horrific stories about clients not paying (which does happen!), employees stealing, being shut down by inspectors, having to pay bribes just seemed like too much to deal with. Hence part of our hesitation in making a big financial commitment to a business. After taking the plunge it’s not nearly as bad as they described – not yet anyways.
3. What (if any) bureaucratical issues have you encountered and how did you overcome them (i.e. any advice to the would-be entrepreneur?)
There are far too many to name one-by-one. Just be prepared to be faced with a wall of red tape and misinformation. Being a foreigner, it is my advice to surround yourself with local expertise i.e. a good lawyer, accountant and if you can, get a local business partner. In addition, it helps when you go into one of these departments knowing you will never get what you need completed on the first, second and sometimes third visit! You just need to know things take a long time to get from point a to point b. No process is easy and the best advice I can give is be persistent and relentless. It’s easy to get discouraged and go bonkers when you are faced with absurd nonsensical processes – but it’s the price you pay to live in this picturesque county.
4. How is your product or business perceived in the Croatian market?
We have a great reputation and are rated as the best transfer company in the Zadar region on TripAdvisor. We believe our massive point of difference is service and are always looking to improve. In 2017, we had an exceptional year and are in the process of rebranding, updating our website to a more user friendly experience, and improving our business management systems for 2018. We are also adding a brand new 19 seater Mercedes Sprinter Minibus to our growing fleet and we are in final stage negotiations with a few international agencies.
5. What were the opinions of your friends and community, were they supportive of your idea, or…?
Our friends are primarily other expats and so as you would expect they were and continue to be very supportive. Though our Croatian friends are also always supportive of us – they can offer up a good dose of reality from time-to-time. When it comes to family who live in Croatia, they can be negative nancies about taking these types of risks after seeing so many people come unstuck in the system. It’s completely understandable. So we’ve learnt the best approach is to take action and deliver results before talking to the family. That way we do not get too discouraged, and can just show them the result.
6. What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced in business in Croatia?
Understanding all the very prescriptive laws which are all in Croatian. I can get by with conversational Croatian but I don’t have the vocabulary for Croatian legislation. Because the legislation can be so prescriptive e.g. font size of a sticker on our vehicles, I’m always concerned there is some minor detail we may have missed leaving us open to being fined.
7. If you knew then, what you know now, would you have come?
Absolutely yes. Like everything in life there are trade-offs, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. We often ask ourselves should we go back to Australia, and SJ and I both agree – that no, we love our life here too much to even consider that.
8. What are 3 things you love about Croatia?
1. The more laid-back lifestyle. 2. The excellent environment to raise children – it’s why we just had baby number 2! 3. The diverse travel opportunities, this country is more than just the coast – so much to do and see.
9. What are 3 things you would like to see improved in the business climate in Croatia?
1. Some logic applied to many of the government processes. I mean we have a very educated country with every second man and his dog having completed a university degree, but they have you walking from one government office to another collecting stamps and pieces of paper. 2. Tax breaks. The taxes are a killer and unless something changes it will continue to be difficult to attract big investment. 3. The ability to work with the government departments and inspectors to assist you in making sure that you’re complying with legislation – before you get a fine.
10. How is it working with Croatians in terms of a business mentality?
Like any other country really. You have good partners and others you work with once and the relationship is over. You need to be smart in who you work with. Though here it seems, and one thing worth mentioning that irritates us, as it happens quite a bit, is people turning up to meetings late! I mean, really, since when is keeping a potential client waiting 30 mins acceptable behaviour?
11. Advice for foreign entrepreneurs thinking of coming to Croatia?
Do your homework and find an excellent lawyer and accountant. Can you be successful in Croatia? Absolutely yes. Will it be difficult? Absolutely yes. Is it worth it? That’s for you to come, try it and out and decide! You will never know, if you don’t give it a crack!
Octopus Transfers – www.octopustransferscroatia.com
Chasing the Donkey – https://www.chasingthedonkey.com/