As Bernard Ivezic/Poslovni Dnevnik writes on the 27th of June, 2019, given the fact that we’re currently living in the fast-paced era of start-ups, the growth of technology companies in Croatia may seem surprising. However, these companies aren’t as young as they might first appear, and the most famous Croatian “start-up” is actually a company which is completing its first decade of operations.
Mate Rimac’s company Rimac Automobili was founded in 2009, and today it boasts more than 500 employees. That same year, the secretive Satoshi Nakamoto conceived what we now know today as Bitcoin, Trump’s forerunner, Barack Obama, became the president of the United States of America, and astronomers discovered GJ 1214 b, the first exoplanet on which there is water, and thus the first place in the universe which isn’t the earth, but has virtually identical conditions for the development of life as we know it.
Rimac’s company, therefore, had time and opportunities to grow to the size it now is today, but there are many Croatian technology companies that are older, and some are bigger than Rimac Automobili, which is undoubtedly the most famous.
The biggest Croatian computer game maker, Nanobit, was founded back in 2008, the year when the financial crisis hit Croatia hard, and this year, it celebrates eleven years of successful and profitable business. Furthermore, the largest Croatian software company, which is also the company with the most end-users, over seven billion of them to be more precise – is Infobip. This Croatian company has become popular in the view of the wider public over the last two to three years, but that didn’t all happen overnight as it sometimes might seem when reading about it.
Infobip was actually initially founded back in late 2006, the same year that Italy won the World Cup in Germany, and when Nintendo launched the Wii console onto the market. Infobip is celebrating its thirteenth year of business this year.
Silvio Kutić, the co-founder and director of Infobip, says that today, that Croatian company has 63 offices across the world and employs more than 1,700 workers, but that his vision is even more ambitious than before.
“We’re focused on continuing to grow as a Centre for Excellence in Engineering, and in the next two years, we’ll employ more than 2,000 engineers globally, and in particular, we’re particularly focused on the project that we’re calling the Vodnjan Tech City over the next couple of years,” stated Kutić.
He says that Vodnjan is a town of about 3,700 inhabitants, and that they want to raise the population of the city by a futher ten percent in the next five years. They want to do this by bringing engineers from all over the world to work and live in the Croatian town of Vodnjan, create new values, and create even more new innovative technology solutions. All this is taking place in Istria, which otherwise relies heavily on tourism, in the headquarters of the company, where it all began more than ten years ago.
“I’d like to emphasise the fact that Infobip operates in the world of high technology, where extremely fast changes are always taking place. Any IT company, even if it isn’t in the center of innovation… if it doesn’t create new values, it may fail tomorrow, regardless of any of its long-term plans. I want Infobip to be a long-term successful company and to remain independent. What we’re building today, we’re build for the distsnt future too, and to create for many more decades ahead,” noted Kutić.
Thankfully, he’s not alone in holding such ambitious views. The largest mobile application manufacturer in the Republic of Croatia, Infinum, was founded back in 2005. That same year, YouTube was launched, the first super jumbo jet Airbus A380 was launched, and the first ever case of a man having been successfully cured of the dreadful HIV was proven.
For the Croatian company Infinum, which builds most of its work globally, it means that next year it will celebrate a decade and a half of hard yet successful work. Tomislav Car, the co-founder and director of Infinum, said that in the first six years of existence, the company was made up only of its two founders. At that time, they had just completed their studies at FER.
“After that, we brought in new partners, we strengthened our team, we started to grow, and as such we’ve grown to 210 employees in the last eight years,” said Car, adding that their overall goal is to make sure Infinum remains an independent company for many years. “We love doing what we do and it’s going well for us, but most importantly, we think we’re creating a good story and a positive impact on the society around us,” said Car.
He says that Infinum will surely change, reorganise and become something different in the coming period, as it has had to until this point, but that’s just part of the challenge of creating and developing such a company.
King ICT, one of the largest system integrators in Croatia, which celebrated twenty years of business last year, know just what such transformations typically look like. It’s similar to the Croatian company with the highest award for innovation at the international level, Zagreb’s Citus, which is also celebrating two decades of business this year. However, there are a number of Croatian technology companies that are even older.
The software company with the largest number of employees in Croatia, IN2 group, was established back in 1992. For a long time, the largest Croatian software exporter was Span, which was founded in 1993. Zagreb’s Altpro, one 22 of the world’s most significant companies which deal with rail transport technologies, is celebrating a quarter of a century of doing business this year, while the M SAN Group, the largest IT company in all of Croatia, will celebrate that same birthday next year.
That’s not all, in Croatia, there are even older domestic technology giants. Combis, the largest system integrator in Croatia today, is part of the Croatian Telecom (Hrvatski Telekom) group, and the next big celebration for that company is 30 years of doing business, as it was founded back in 1990. In that same year, the company Rasco, the only Croatian company that manufactures cars on a serial basis and had developed its own electric vehicle, was founded.
Back in the now distant 1990, the very first McDonald’s in Russia was opened, the largest digital rights organisation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, was launched, and a match between Dinamo Zagreb and Crvena Zvezda took place at Zagreb’s Maksimir Stadium. What happened at that match became infamous, and signaled just what was set to errupt in the following years in Croatia and the rest of the region. Ivan Franičević, the co-owner and director of Rasco says that he’s proud that his company is now close to celebrating its 30th birthday. He emphasised the fact that from the outset, the founders of Rasco had a vision to create “a strong technological company that produces advanced, globally competitive products within our region”.
“This creates opportunities for the development, growth and the advancement of a new generation employees, and such a vision doesn’t come with an expiration date, because it’s based on creating opportunities for highly educated professionals who come from this area and who want to continue to live here live,” said Franičević.
“We don’t want to remain alone in that, but we certainly want to be around for a long time,” Franičević emphasised. The launching of Croatian start-ups continues to rise, and this trend will likely accelerate, but it is evident that today there are many Croatian technology companies that have successfully outpaced their start-up roots, and are now thinking of some new challenges.
Tomislav Car from Infinum says that today, the biggest challenges are because of the rapid growth, employment and the maintenance of high quality. “When we were smaller. we had more employment problems, now it’s much easier for us, but we still have our main focus on maintaining quality as we grow,” said Car.
Silvio Kutić from Infobip says that it’s still somewhat unbelievable to him that he managed to create such a global story from here in Croatia, and that today his company’s biggest challenge is at the global level.
“Infobip currently has one major competitor, a Silicon Valley company, worth 20 billion dollars, it’s surrounded by talent from around the world and is today’s strongest IT company. Although Infobip is number one in the world by the number of transactions and the number of people who using our platform, we’re second in terms of revenue, for now,” Kutić said, adding that Infobip’s employees, their expertise, and their devotion to their work have made it possible for this Croatian company get to where it is today.
He says they have managed to create and nurture a special culture in a company “where everyone has a chance to make mistakes, try new things, learn from them, and progress.”
“At Infobip, employees have the opportunity to work on global projects with the world’s largest companies and thus work to shape today’s communication,” said Kutić.
He added that today, it’s a challenge to attract talent, given the fact that this Croatian company is obviously not located in the center of the Silicon Valley in the USA. “Our CPAA (Communication Platform as a Service) industry is very large, it’s extremely specific, the products are complex, it’s changing rapidly and throughout the years it has been challenging to hire people with the expertise we need,” Kutić said, noting the fact that they have designed programs such as the Infobip Academy in Vodnjan and the Learning & Development department, which now has about ten people in it.
Ivan Franičević from Rasco says that the biggest challenge for them is to make sure they don’t accidentally ”eat themselves” during their quick growth as a company.
“With accelerated growth, there’s always a danger that the organisation and its mode of operation can’t be followed, that the company, along with all of its growth, becomes ineffective in terms of its internal organisation and processes, thus destroying its competitive advantage, which is also the basis of its growth,” said Franičević.
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