Croatia’s Foreign Entrepreneurs: Scott Coleman, from San Francisco to Zagreb

Total Croatia News

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July 31, 2019 – Continuing our look at the foreign entrepreneurs trying to succeed in Croatia as so many are emigrating, meet Zagreb resident Scott Coleman from San Francisco.

First and foremost, why Croatia?

A woman. My lovely, patient and significantly more intelligent wife is Croatian. We had been living in London where I was a finance lawyer. My law firm asked me if I wanted to move to Singapore or New York. We chose Zagreb, which I think was a surprise to the firm. London is amazing, but we wanted more time for family (and better weather). I absolutely love living in Zagreb. It’s the perfect size, funky and there’s so much do and see just a short drive away.

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INTRO YOUR BUSINESS, what is it you do?

We are an online marketplace where companies leave requests for digital services (web/app development, digital marketing, branding, etc.) and then digital agencies pitch for work. We’re a startup but we’re growing fast. We opened the marketplace in October 2018 and have already had $41m in projects and over 4000 agencies from 110 countries. We won an international startup competition in May 2018 and in February Startup Grind Silicon Valley named us a Top 50 Global Startup. My business partner Goran Deak runs the place and it was his idea – I just try to stay out of the way.

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

I have been surprised by the number of expats in Zagreb. We’ve hired people from Brazil, Mexico, India, Poland, France, the US, etc. Like me, many of us are here for love. But it really helps to have an international team when trying to build a global business. It’s also pretty fun to work in a multicultural office.

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

Where to start…. It took 3 weeks for our company name to get approved. Top Digital Agency was surprisingly controversial. First, it was in English so we needed an official certified translation. Second, the judge objected to “Top” because he believed it falsely implied that we were the best. “Agency” was also problematic because we were told only a government body could have “Agency” in their name. All in all, I think it was 5 trips to different offices and judges just to get our name… During that period, we couldn’t legally pay our employees. Another win for the state.

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

We think it’s perceived well! But the exciting thing about our business is that it’s global. We have Croatian clients but our market is international.

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

I think people were pretty surprised when my wife and I left careers in London to move to Zagreb. But there is also a growing recognition in major markets that the work/life balance is just not right. I think I have lots of friends that would love to make a similar move – they just need to take the leap. Looking back on my life in London, there’s an emperor has no clothes feeling – our quality of life here is just so much better. We take our kids to kindergarten every day and pick them up. We have dinner together every night and weekends are in Zagorje, Istra or the coast. In London, I mostly ate dinner at my desk, we had a nanny and weekends were for sleeping and recovery.

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

Finding people and finding capital. People: It’s been surprisingly difficult to find people that are willing to work hard. There are lots of smart people in Croatia but what’s missing is maybe an understanding that if you want to compete on the global market, you really do need to work hard. I think the younger generations in particular are a little too focused on coffee and cigarettes but maybe I’m just a grumpy old man. Capital: Until recently there just wasn’t much capital in Croatia for startups. If you look at other locations, there are many more funds, business angels. small business loan programs and tax breaks. Funderbeam, Fil Rouge Capital and others are really important developments for the region and investment is coming.

I think the entrepreneurial ecosystem is developing and ready to grow rapidly. We just need someone in government to recognize the potential that tech startups have here. There are some really amazing tech companies in this country: Infobip, Rimac, Gideon Brothers, Include Nanobit and us (). Investment and de-regulation should be focused on the digital space not just on more tourism offers. This is how you keep your young, smart people in the country and create good jobs, not just more summer service industry positions.

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

Definitely. I would have come sooner!

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What are 3 things you love about Croatia?

Obviously, the country is absolutely beautiful and it is amazing how many different places you can see in such a small area. I’ve also been blown away by the generosity and friendliness of the people. Once you have a friend in Croatia, you have a new family too. And there’s nothing like walking around Dolac on a sunny Saturday morning. But If I had to choose three things: Istra, Korcula and Skampi na buzaru.

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

The state is obviously a huge problem in Croatia. You have bloated regulations, bloated agencies and bloated Uhljebs. Together they squeeze the life out of the Croatian economy. Want to improve the economy, keep young people and decrease the dependence on tourism: cut taxes on small businesses, simplify the red tape and cut the needless state bodies that the private sector has to hold up through taxes.

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

I had to get used to coffee meetings. I hardly left my desk in London. Now I feel like I never leave the kafic and am usually jittery by 3pm.


Advice for foreign entrepreneurs thinking of coming to Croatia?

The biggest advice I’d give any aspiring entrepreneur is to find a great partner. Starting a business anywhere is really tough. Even in the best of times, there are lots of hard days. Having a great partner – someone you like and trust – makes it much, much easier. I got lucky to go into business with Goran both because he had already owned a business in Croatia and because we get along so well. Whenever we have a bad day or we just need to move one from a bad moment, we order a round of the worst travarica in the kafic.

Neither of us are travarica fans. But there is something about sharing a face-cringe with your business partner that really helps you see the big picture. Because after all, nothing can be as bad as a bad travarica. Fortunately, it’s been a while since the last round.

You can connect with Scott via the Top Digital Agency website.

Are you a foreign entrepreneur trying to make it in The Beautiful Croatia who would like to be featured in our TCN series (see other entrepreneurs here)? Contact us at [email protected] 


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