Croatian Entrepreneur Andrija Čolak’s Business Expanding Globally

Total Croatia News

Čolak explains his business philosophy.

“I received probably the most beautiful recognition for my work recently when I got a call from my professor from Douglas College in Vancouver, where I studied in the middle of the last decade. She called me, somewhat elated, to congratulate me. While driving along the famous Jumeriah Road in Dubai, she saw a large sign: ‘Surf’n’Fries – Opening Soon’. Although I was aware that my professors in Vancouver knew about the company I founded, as well as about its franchise expansion around the world, this reaction really surprised me because, after all, it’s been ten years since my studies in Canada.” These are the words of Andrija Čolak, an entrepreneur from Rijeka who, along with partner Denis Polić, in 2009 founded the fast food brand Surf’n’Fries, which is a short period of time experienced incredible expansion, reports Novi List on March 21, 2017.

Although Čolak is 35 years old, he is often called a young entrepreneur. However, to be 35 and considered to be young in business is possible only in economically passive and depressed Croatia. The success of Surf’n’Fries has been known for many years, but the immediate reason for the interview with Čolak is the fact that last week in Russia, after the first “pilot project” in the Moscow which has been operating since last October, they opened a store at Sheremetyevo, one of the most important airports in the world with 40 million passengers a year. Their goal is to open whopping 300 franchise outlets in Russia and Kazakhstan by 2022. So far, they have opened 55 franchise outlets around the world.

“We already had to restart the company once. We did not go bankrupt, but in 2013 we had to radically restructure the company, because our initial momentum obviously created a wrong impression about what a successful company really is”, says Čolak. They made a mistake of expanding the number of employees, creating structures that mimicked well-known global companies. That began to create difficulties in business operations. “We were down both organizationally and financially, mostly because we thought that whatever we touched would turn into gold. We were very wrong and we experienced the disillusionment, but we were able to survive”, said Čolak.

Rather than engage in taking risky loans, they decided to restart the whole project. “I realized then our greatest asset was intellectual capital. It does not need magnificent buildings or even hundreds of employees. You should not measure the success of a company by the number of employees, but rather by its turnover, its success in the market, accurate and rapid responses to information about the changes”, said Čolak. “We wanted to innovate; we wanted to modernize the offer, we wanted for it to be more convenient. It is clear that fries have been sold in Rijeka for half a century. But, we wanted our packaging to be different, to be more democratic and dynamic, to simply allow modern people to eat it on the move. Later we added fried chicken wings and nuggets. It turned out we did the right thing.”

They decided to protect their intellectual property, relatively successfully and not excessively costly. However, there have been numerous thefts which demonstrated that the absolute protection, in Croatia, EU countries, in the United States and Russia, is almost impossible to achieve. “In Croatia, protection of intellectual ownership is incredibly flawed. As far as I known, in Zagreb there is just one judge who rules on cases of theft of intellectual property. In the rest of Croatia, I am afraid there is not even that one judge. People can steal intellectual property almost unhindered. In addition, the process of proving ownership is incredibly slow, and the conclusion is that Croatia is actually not interested for this segment of property”.

“When we were discussing our brand name, some people insisted it should be a local name. But our goal was global expansion, and the name therefore had to include internationally known terms. And no matter how much we love Croatian language, the name simply had to be in English. When I added ‘surf’ to the name, I wanted to point out that it was just like surfing at the sea, since eating our meals allows surfing the city streets.”

“Today there are no more limits when it comes to the circulation of ideas… internet, budget airline flights, knowledge and ideas spread rapidly. Many simply do their jobs on line. How to attract young entrepreneurs to Rijeka? This town is very pleasant and tolerant, and all my friends from abroad have nothing but praise for it. But, money is much more pragmatic. If we turned Rijeka into an ‘off shore’ zone, many would come here. With the current approach, we can hardly achieve anything”, said Čolak.

The best example for current problems in Croatian economy can be seen with potatoes used to make Čolak’s fries. “Potatoes come from Poland, Belgium and France. We buy it from one of the world’s largest companies for the production of fries. Believe it or not, this kind of potato in not produced in Croatia. Do not be fooled by claims of some producers – if you read their packaging, you will see that the content is not from Croatia. At the beginning, we were hopeful and we bought machines for peeling potatoes, since we wanted to encourage domestic agricultural production. And then we realized that the composition of potatoes for our purposes is strictly defined, with a lot of dry matter and small amounts of water and sugar. We kept trying, but then we found out about the best company for potato production, which has its headquarters in Canada. Given the fact that their potatoes were several times more in demand then Croatian, we made the full transition.”

“I am sure that somebody in Croatia could become their partner, because they have about 20 large agricultural production systems in Europe. To enter into their system would be a great chance for our producers. The only problem is that many people here think that adapting to the standards of production of foreign companies would represent the betrayal of themselves. And that is a big mistake. The only correct attitude is that in every real partnership you have to give a lot in order to receive a lot”, said Čolak.


Subscribe to our newsletter

the fields marked with * are required
Email: *
First name:
Last name:
Gender: Male Female
Please don't insert text in the box below!

Leave a Comment