September 4, 2020 – Next week sees the second edition of the Poduzetnik Mindset (Entrepreneurial Mindset) conference, a wave of positivity for Croatia 2.0. TCN will be interviewing a few entrepreneur speakers of the event. First up, Dalmatian Dutchman Jan de Jong.
Can a positive entrepreneurial mindset make a positive difference in Croatia? The growing eco-system of Croatian entrepreneurs certainly believes so. One of the most positive and inspiring conferences of 2019 was the inaugural Poduzetnik Mindset conference in Zagreb (read the TCN report on last year’s event – Croatia 2.0 Cloaked in Positivity at Entrepreneurial Mindset Conference in Zagreb).
This year’s event will be online due to the corona situation, but with some 10,000 people already registered, its reach will be a lot bigger than last year. Among the many great speakers is man of the moment, Dutch entrepreneur Jan de Jong from Split. Having sent an open letter to Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on July 11 asking for a digital nomad visa for Croatia, just 44 days later, the PM tweeted that his government would introduce such a visa, and it was formally introduced as an amendment to the Foreigners Act the following day.
TCN caught up with de Jong ahead of the conference to learn more about his entrepreneurial mindset and perspective at this exciting time for the development of Croatia 2.0.
1. You make it look so easy. You arrived as a student, started a company which employed 400 people, sold it, then started another one which is doing very well. Meanwhile, you send an open letter to the Prime Minister asking for a digital nomad visa, and 6 weeks later it is introduced in Parliament. Croatian bureaucracy is supposed to be impossible. What’s your secret?
My secret is: Ask nicely. You will be surprised how often people say “yes” when you just ask them nicely. Let me take you back 19 years. I was 17 years old and working in a call center where I had to sell products and services over the phone. With my voice as my only weapon, you give potential customers arguments why they should buy your product/service…all over the phone. What made the biggest difference between a well-performing and non-performing sales agent was that the well-performing sales agent would at the right moment kindly ask for acceptance of the proposal. Do we agree on this? <yes>
2. How is the perception of an entrepreneur different in Croatia and your native Holland?
I wrote about this once in one of my LinkedIn posts. I am sad that in Croatia entrepreneurs don’t always get the credit they deserve. From my point of view, entrepreneurs are often very passionate individuals, who dream of a better tomorrow and who strongly believe that their company can help us all to get to that “better tomorrow” by providing their products and/or services.
Entrepreneurs are individuals who cheer for each other’s successes. Individuals who support each other to reach goals and avoid obstacles. You being a winner doesn’t make me a loser. We can all win – through collaboration.
I am always super excited when I meet young entrepreneurs. I will be the first one to offer a helping hand where I can. In my LinkedIn post I wrote that (successful) Dutch entrepreneurs are often seen as show-offs, successful American entrepreneurs are looked at as stars and successful Croatian entrepreneurs are looked at as semi-criminals.
You hear people in Croatia gossiping. Who did he have to bribe to get that contract? You don’t want to ask a successful entrepreneur how he made his first million. He probably pays really bad salaries…profiting off of his poor, hard-working employees.
It’s sad that this happens, because if I would only look at the amount of time I have invested into my businesses to get to where I am – I should already almost be entitled to retire – and I am only 36 years young.
(Photo credit Drazen Tomic)
3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a foreign, rather than a Croatian entrepreneur here?
I believe its always good if you have the ability to differentiate yourself from your competition. Differentiating yourself and your company you can do in many ways, but in my case – being Dutch in Croatia already makes me different. At least, most of my meetings we can start with a casual talk and answering the question “How on Earth did you end up in Croatia?”
4. Your LinkedIn following is growing and it has become a beacon of social media positivity. You claim that you only see opportunities here, while so many are emigrating. Why are others not seeing what you see?
Because many people have blurred vision as a result of being surrounded by toxic people who also have blurred vision. If you spend a lot of time with people who only complain about how the weather in Ireland is better than in Croatia – then before you know it, you will start believing that Ireland is a nice sunny place. Whatever people complain about, whatever people think is not good enough – all of those are business opportunities. It just takes the right entrepreneur to start solving those issues and start charging for that solution.
I believe that starting a business in the Netherlands is equally difficult as starting a business in Croatia – just for different reasons. The Dutch market is known for being very innovative, with a lot of competition and competition that has big budgets to fight you. In Croatia, you have a chance to soon become a market leader if you find a product or service that allows you to be a first-mover in Croatia.
I am all about being first with something and using first-mover advantage. When I started my contact center business in 2007, we were among the first professional call centers in Croatia. When I started Webpower Adria in 2016, we became the first locally present company specialized in email marketing & marketing automation. Both industries were already highly saturated in the Netherlands with strong local competition. In the Netherlands, I would not have stood a chance by opening such businesses. In Croatia, I became market leader with both companies.
5. Are you seeing much change in the entrepreneurial scene in Croatia over the last couple of years? In which ways, if yes?
Yes! I see more and more young entrepreneurs entering the scene and building amazing companies that are solving global problems. Take companies like Include from Solin with their smart bench, Agrivi revolutionizing the AgriTech scene, Nanobit. We even have our first unicorn with Infobip. There have been more and more success stories in Croatia – which creates wonderful employment opportunities in Croatia.
6. The eco-system of Croatia’s entrepreneurs is getting stronger, and initiatives such as Glas Poduzetnika have certainly helped. What should we be focusing on in the next year or two to improve things in your opinion?
I am supporting the efforts made by Udruga Glas Poduzetnika from day one simply because I believe that governments should listen more to their entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are the driving force of every economy and I am putting my money on Croatia’s entrepreneurs to move this country forward.
Our focus should be on making sure that we don’t create a situation where it looks like “entrepreneurs against the government“. Both entrepreneurs and the government should want the same for Croatia. Being able to have constructive conversations between entrepreneurs and the government – where we can see Croatia progress as a result of joint efforts – that will be a key component in making Croatia a better country to live in for the next generation.
7. And I am sure a lot of our readers will be curious – what’s next for Jan de Jong once you have finished with the digital nomad visa?
My heart right away wanted to share some huge news, but my mind was stronger this time. I am currently working on something really big and exciting, something that will require large capital investments in Croatia, something that will help Croatia to increase export figures, something that will provide employment to many people, something that won’t easily be affected by events like Covid-19, and something that Croatia is traditionally very strong at.
Please, be patient. I hope I will be able to make a big announcement soon. If you want to be among the first ones to know what I am working on…follow me on LinkedIn.
To learn more about the virtual Poduzetnik Mindset 2020 conference on September 10 – and to register – visit the official website.