Croatia’s Foreign Entrepreneurs: Jan de Jong, from Holland to Split

Total Croatia News

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July 10, 2019 – Continuing our look at the foreign entrepreneurs trying to succeed in Croatia as so many are emigrating, meet Jan de Jong, from Holland to Split.

1. First and foremost, why Croatia? 

As a student, I was working for this Dutch company called M+ Group. Over there I was running the day-to-day call center operations while studying Marketing at the University of Leiden. The founder of M+ Group in the Netherlands was Mato Božić. His name already gave away his Croatian roots. In the last year of university, I had to write my final thesis. Since it had been my wish to live and work abroad, I asked Mato and his business partner if I could do my final thesis in Croatia on the topic of “How to expand M+ Group to Croatia”. And that is exactly what I did. I was 22 years young when I moved to Split.

INTRO YOUR BUSINESS, what is it you do?

While writing my final thesis I first started investigating whether there was a need for a professional call center in Croatia. I discovered that most companies handled their contact centers in-house and that there were very few companies offering this as a service.

So, we decided to go for it. By the time I graduated we had some 30 employees in our Split based office.

Over the years, the company I had co-founded, M+ Group (Meritus Plus d.o.o.), grew rapidly. This resulted in us becoming a market leader in Croatia for providing call center services where we supported our clients in their telesales/telemarketing and customer support efforts – 24/7/365. While growing our call center business we also started a full-service digital marketing agency, called M+ Agency. Today, our agency has offices in Zagreb and Belgrade and employs some 20 digital marketing professionals.

It was end of 2015 when I sold my shares of the call center business which I founded 9 years prior. At that moment we had nearly 400 people working at M+ Group. I remained co-owner of our marketing agency, M+ Agency. While preparing myself mentally for exiting the call center, I was somewhat scared at first, not knowing what I was going to do next. It was just after my exit that I realised that I am not an owner of a call center, but an entrepreneur. I love starting companies from scratch and love turning them into pretty companies that become market leaders. 

That’s why I started a completely new business in 2016, MailPlus. Nowadays, this company is known as Webpower Adria. We are the first company in the region to offer an email marketing automation solution, which we today provide to the largest companies and most recognized brands within the Adriatic region. To cut a long story short, we help companies with sending great looking newsletters to their subscribers through the Webpower software and our team supports them in automating this process while at the same time increase customer engagement & Return On Investment (ROI) through an email marketing channel. 

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2. Tell us about some of the differences in your expectations of running a business in Croatia and the reality.

I was 22 years young when I started my first business in Croatia. I was young, naïve, full of energy, persistent (some might say stubborn) and hard working. I had high expectations back then and still have high expectations today. You can’t influence many external factors in which you operate, but I am a strong believer that we are in charge of our own destiny. You just need to know and accept that this comes with sacrifice, hard and smart work.  

3. What (if any) bureaucratical issues have you encountered and how did you overcome them (i.e. any advice to the would-be entrepreneur?)

I did not encounter many of those issues, but I always had a good accounting firm and lawyer supporting me with everything I did. Fun fact is that people working at immigration service at the police did not speak English. So, I brought my lawyer to support me. My advice: hire a good fluent English & Croatian speaking lawyer and accountant.  

4. How is your product or business perceived in the Croatian market?

I honestly don’t know, I never asked anybody. But judging by the number and type of clients that we serve I think that my companies offer a great and sometimes unique proposition. In the niche markets in which we operate(d) – call center & email marketing – I never encountered lots of competition. So, I guess we can say that the high-quality products & services we provide are satisfying our client needs in a way that not many other companies (competitors) can do that. 

5. What were the opinions of your friends and community, were they supportive of your idea, or…?

Everybody has been very supportive from day one. Many of my friends & family now have a beautiful new holiday destination.

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6. What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced in business in Croatia?

I would say cash flow, cash flow and cash flow. But for more than one reason. Besides the fact that some clients are late with their payments sometimes, we always grew very fast. Growing a business fast cost a lot of money, because you need to pre-finance your operations. It took nearly 5 years until we got our first (small) overdraft from a bank. We had to finance most of our growth by our selves. 

7. If you knew then, what you know now, would you have come?

Absolutely! I never regret this decision. Croatia is an amazing country with (in my eyes) lots of opportunities. I met my wife here, we have 3 kids and are expecting our 4th baby end of 2019. My wife is Croatian, my kids pola/pola, so I will always have a strong connection with Croatia as I consider this to be my home country nowadays.

 8. What are 3 things you love about Croatia?

The Mediterranean lifestyle. (Whether, food, nature & safety).

People are very warm-hearted in Croatia.

Business opportunities. There are many things that are already being done well outside of Croatia that are not being done in Croatia…or can be improved in Croatia.

 9. What are 3 things you would like to see improved in the business climate in Croatia?

Interest rates are very high in Croatia compared to western European countries. It would be great if the government would make stronger efforts to attract foreign investments of any sort. I love to see what Mate Rimac is doing where he tries to boost the automotive industry in Croatia. Taxes on salaries are really high, especially if you want to pay higher salaries. Every time I give a raise to somebody from the office we give an equal raise to porezna. The high taxes on salaries significantly impact the buying power of hard-working people in Croatia and it makes Croatian business less competitive when working for international markets. 

10. How is it working with Croatians in terms of a business mentality?

Fortunately, I can choose who I want to hire. We don’t hire only based upon skills, but mostly upon attitude towards work. Skills you can teach, attitudes are harder to change. Lots of Croatians are well educated, communicative and hard working. 

11. Advice for foreign entrepreneurs thinking of coming to Croatia?

Just do it. Croatia has a lot to offer. Hire a good lawyer and good accountant. Feel free to contact me. I would be happy to offer guidance and support. I see every entrepreneur as my colleague. 


The company I founded and sold: 

Companies I am still involved with:

To learn more about the foreign entrepreneurs trying to make it in The Beautiful Croatia, check out the heroes we have covered already

Are you a foreign entrepreneur trying to make it work in Croatia and would like to promote your story? Contact us on [email protected]


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