He has been living in the Czech Republic for more than ten years now and has a lot to say about Czech culture, mentality and entrepreneurship. How is it compared to other countries and what can it offer to foreign companies and startups?
What is your connection to the Czech Republic and what has brought you to Prague?
I moved to Prague in 2004 to start a new company with a friend of mine who had been living in Prague for 9 years prior to that. He convinced me to move to Prague where we could hire good developers while boot-strapping the business. I moved with just a suitcase and 11 years later I am still living here. Unfortunately, and despite attracting the best VCs in Europe (Index Ventures and Mangrove Capital Partners) the company was short lived but since I really enjoyed being in Prague, I decided to stay and shortly after that became the CEO of Geewa, the Czech social gaming leader. I am now the Managing Director of StartupYard.com , the oldest Czech startup accelerator.
Where do you see the similarities and differences compared to your home country?
Despite being French, I spent most of my professional life outside of France and prior to Prague I was living in London were I founded and later sold one company (I also bought and renovated a series of flats during the crazy housing boom of the early 2000s, but that’s another story…). In the UK, it is very easy to start a new company and you can hire and fire very quickly. I know it might not be a very popular theme to be able to fire people fast, but when you’re working on your start-up, you have to have the freedom to quickly adapt while you grow your business; otherwise you are at risk of seeing the whole company collapse. France is no better than the Czech republic in that particular, but the Czechs beat the French hands-down when it comes to corporate and social taxes.
I was recently in London and was amazed at how much the current government understands how important tech startups can be for the overall economy. The Mayor of London wants to make his city the Tech capital of Europe and I think they are on a good path. I would love to hear the Czech government tell us they have a similar vision but I’m afraid this has not happened just yet. Czech people also need to understand that failure is part of being an entrepreneur and a founder who has failed should not be seen as a loser, but as someone who has acquired some unique experience that could be extremely beneficial in the future.
Do you have any advice for foreign entrepreneurs visiting Prague or planning to stay a bit longer?
Being an entrepreneur is one of the toughest job you can imagine, and being an expat in a country where you do not speak the language is also one of the hardest ways to live. But they’re both worth it. Combine these two and you have to like putting your life on the line all the time. Having said that, both are extremely rewarding from a personal, social, professional and cultural point of view.
If an entrepreneur wants to start a business in the Czech Republic, I would advice him or her to work with the local community and market as much as possible. There are a lot of local opportunities that are waiting to be seized, whether it is in retail, customer service or tech. That’s not something you can say about the market in London, where everything has been grabbed up by highly competitive, well sourced global businesses. Prague and the Czech Republic offers a lot of needs in the local economy that are not yet filled, and there are a lot of local entrepreneurs using this market as a testing bed for some great ideas- ideas that can’t be tested in more established markets because the competition already controls them completely. So you don’t have Picard (the frozen food store chain in France), for example, but that represents a huge opportunity locally to try something similar. There are a ton of local-grown concepts that are putting their own spin on things that go on in bigger markets, and that means more choice for consumers, and more innovation on the local, and eventually global level.
Still, we have to understand that our local market is limited in size, and you should think globally if you can. Make the Czech Republic your base as we are in the heart of Europe, and prices are still reasonably low compared to other western capitals. But be prepared to fly around Europe to grow your business outside of our boundaries.
Where do you see the potential for Czech startups, designers, developers… and where do you see the problems?
I see a lot of potential for Czech tech startups because I know how well trained the developers are. I have had the privilege of working with some amazing talents, be they were developers or designers. Unfortunately I would not say the same about the sales and marketing folks. There are a few talented people I know who will take exception to that generalization, but I think it has some merit. Maybe the more reserved nature of Czech culture makes people a little less adept at sales than the British for example, who are really great at business development.
Czech culture, and Czech business culture, is very conservative. Things move slowly by design. I am convinced that this is changing slowly and new generations are certainly much more open to new ideas than their older peers. Working in tech, I no longer believe that the place where you live is that relevant to your business if you are able to address a global market. Just make sure your english is flawless or hire a native english speaking expat to help with your communications. At its base, that is what makes Prague such an attractive alternative to bigger cities: it is a place that many talented people are keen to live, and I only see that becoming more true in the future.