Sam Cook and Richard Lucas talk about their new project and the climate for business, particularly entrepreneurship, in Central Europe today. This is the premier episode of this new and unique podcast experience.
Table of contents:
Welcome Sam and Richard
- 00:47 Sam Introduces Richard Lucas
- 02:26 What Project Kazimierz is About?
- 05:49 Who is Project Kazimierz For?
Catching the “Enterpreneurial Bug”
- 10:04 Who is Sam Cook?
- 13:17 The “Entrepreneurial Bug”
- 16:07 Facts About Poland
- 18:14 Richard Comes to Poland
- 19:44 Poland as a Trade Hub
Generalists vs. Specialists
- 23:19 Poland’s History and Future
- 25:02 Generalists vs. Specialists
- 27:15 Understanding Local Traditions
- 28:14 The Universal Language of Business
- 30:40 Future Guests
Globally Mobile Entrepreneurs
- 32:11 Giving Back and Paying Forward
- 33:27 Innovation in Central Europe
- 37:50 The Best Kept Secret
- 40:23 Globally Mobile Entrepreneurs
The Value of Collaboration
- 43:59 The Value of Collaboration
- 46:08 Foundational Groups and Consolidation
- 47:07 Richard on Collaboration
- 48:37 Face-to-Face vs. Digital Collaboration
- 50:06 The Beauty of Krakow
- 51:23 Why Project Kazimierz?
- 60:03 Krakow and Kazimierz
The Goal of Project Kazimierz
- 63:13 The Cultural and Intellectual Heart of Poland
- 65:58 The Goal of Project Kazimierz
Project Kazimierz Going Forward
- 67:27 Perceptions of Government
- 68:12 Feedback on Project Kazimierz
- 70:42 A Beneficial Resource
- 72:16 Come to Krakow
Hi, my name is Sam Cook and I am the co-host of Project Kazimierz and I’d like to welcome you to the first episode of Project Kazimierz with my co-host Richard Lucas. How are you doing, Richard?
I’m doing fine, yes, nice for the opening introduction there. I’m Richard, I’ve been here in Krakow for more than 20 years now. And for listeners who don’t know the history, I met Sam in Google for Entrepreneurs Krakow, in the heart of the old town, I guess four or five months ago now. And one of the topics we talked about was getting together to do podcasting and this is thefirst episode, so I’m extremely excited.
Yeah, Richard. it’s really been quite a journey since I moved to Krakow in September of 2014. And right now for listeners for reference it is February of 2015. And Richard and I got together and decided to start a podcast together because Richard has always been very interested in podcasting as a consumer and had wanted to do it, but has not found the time to do all the technical work and leg work to get it done. I myself have been a podcaster for a while in my publishing company but couldn’t begin to touch Richard in terms of contacts and people to interview within Poland; so we decided to get together and start a podcast. Richard, I’d like to get started just by really explaining the vision for this podcast. Many people in Krakow have asked us what’s this going to be all about, cause they’re all waiting for it to come out. And I’d like to simply say it’s about innovation and progress in the heart of Central Europe, because it’s a really exciting part of the world. And we’re actually based in what I think is one of the key hubs of Central Europe right now in 2015, in this innovative and dynamic economic climate in Krakow, Poland, specifically in the neighborhood of Kazimierz.
I’ve written and I will post before this podcast goes live a blogpost about the background to my feelings about podcasting. But I grew up in a household with no TV in Oxford, England in the 1970s. But the radio was always on; the BBC radio was like the background music of my childhood. I remember I had a job trading sweets; I made money trading sweets in my prep school in the UK; that’s a school that you go to from the age about 7-12. And I sang in a choir for money and the money I saved up went on the radio. And I remember listening to the radio late at night and thinking it was wonderful to have this outside world coming into my little bedroom as a small boy in Oxford. To me radio, audio; always have this wonderful saying about the way that the picture are better on the radio, reading and radio let you create your own pictures in your mind. And I’ve always had that kind of emotional connection with the spoken word and listening. And I over the years have been here in Poland; I was very glad to be able to get the original digital broadcast over the internet. And as podcasting emerged I found more and more content that suited me coming out of different places in the world. Of course here in Poland we don’t speak English; we speak Polish and it’s a tough language and although Poland is quite a big country, it’s around 40 million people, it’s clearly not a global language.
Whereas if you’re ready to listen in English as I of course find only too easy; you get access to the whole world. Part of the pleasure and the joy of being here in Central Europe, here in Poland, is you come across these taunted, interesting, competitive ideas but you also know that they’re not going to get global audience. And what I felt was that if you have a great start up in London, in Cambridge, in Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin, Paris, New York, Singapore, San Francisco, and in San Francisco deliberately, this is one of the media machine ready to cram you out to global audience; whereas here in Poland we’re a bit held back by this lack of the global platform. And as someone who is passionately committed to the idea of promoting entrepreneurship; not just here in Krakow but across the region as a whole. I felt that podcasting potentially could be a way; a platform through which we could reach a global audience and of course without the cost of building a global media organization.
Yeah and Richard I just would like to acknowledge as we get started your complete vision in this. I’ve been in podcasting for a while but you just being a pillar of the Krakow and really Polish entrepreneur community have a great perspective on what the audience needs. And you know if you had to describe who do we really want to serve in this podcast; who would you say this show is really geared towards?
Well it’s always tempting to give the light politically correct answer that sounds best to the audience but I believe in as much transparencies I’m able to offer so partly this is for me that I feel that by doing this podcast I can learn. I grew up in a very competitive schooling environment where it’s all about being the smartest. And as my business career evolved over the years I began to realize that it’s not smart to be the smartest guy in the room. I began to realize that I fail if I’m the smartest guy in the room; that it’s my fault for surrounding myself with people who are less intelligent than me or who know less. And I felt that partly it’s good for me if the podcast gives me a reason to the most dynamic, ambitious, creative, hardworking, successful role models around; then I’m going to learn and that’s good. But of course the wonderful thing about putting it on the internet, putting it on soundcloud or whatever it’s hosted, iTunes, then it’s available for everyone.
So they’re really 3 audiences and lets say it’s me and my selfish agenda that I want to learn but it’s my social agenda that I feel is – if I’m learning then other people should be able to learn too and thanks to the power of the internet there’s no additional cost of other people tuning in. But of course then there’s what’s in it for the person that we’re talking to and I feel that you know, it’s pretty obvious if someone is doing something interesting, doing something cool, who is got ideas to share that this is an opportunity for that person too. When people look at my blog they’ll see on richardlucas.com recently interview with a guy who even I find speaking quite fluent Polish how to pronounce Paweł Tkaczyk who wrote the book on gamification in Poland and he’s extremely well known in Poland; he’s the keynote speaker, but one of his challenges is to reach a global audience. So taking someone who is extremely successful in the Polish environment and helping them reach a global audience should be good for them. Of course will someone listening in Sydney, Australia, or San Francisco, or London, or Cape town or wherever be ready to pick up their phones, send him an email, pick up and make contact? I don’t know, but I’m handing over you know; at this stage what people do after they hear someone impressive, if they’re that impressive, then I guess will track them down.
Yeah and Richard I think that’s a great segmentation of the audience and first of all really serving the Polish what I call the tech intelligence here in not just Poland but cause it is an English Language broadcast in Central Europe you have contacts in many different countries in this region; and I think that’s really important. But also there are going to be United States and Australian and major market listeners in the English speaking world who might stumble across this for whatever reason and find it interesting. What is going on and you know what the heck is this American and British expatriates doing in Poland talking about all this stuff going on there. And it might catch some of them off-guard with how excited we are and how innovative and dynamic this part of the world is. But I think that’s great because it will allow people to reframe their perspective on where innovation is happening and where the currents might be moving that they might not have noticed.
That’s a very good point Sam and perhaps it would be appropriate; I mean this is our first show, maybe when we’re on show 1000 or 10,000 or 500 people will know us, but why don’t you step back a moment and introduce yourself and say who you are, what your background is. I’ve gotten to know you over the last few months but for someone who is just happened to stumble across this podcast they’re probably asking who is that American guy; so why don’t you introduce yourself.
Yeah Richard; that’s a great point and I’m a very new person on the scene here in Central Europe but my fascination with this part of the world goes back at least to my undergraduate studies as a cadet at West Point. I like to explain to people that I grew up in Belfast Northern Ireland; at 9 years old I move to United States and I was; I guess I kind of won the passport lottery, where my dad’s English and my mother is American. And I’m able to live in both Europe and the United States. And when we moved to the United States at 9 years old I was tremendously excited about that, because my memories of moving to the US or visiting US was Minneapolis, Minnesota, where we spent some wonderful summers. We ended up on the other side of the country down in Lake Charles, Louisiana – Baton Rouge, Louisiana where I grew up. Although I loved my childhood experiences there, I was really anxious to get out of Louisiana and decided that West Point in the army was the way to kind of see the world.
And because my father was a former history professor; as a Englishman I’m very well steeped on Churchill and World War 2 history. I decided to join the military academy and try and live a little bit of history as well as just study it . And after a career in the army over the last 13 years I was very lucky to have just some amazing jobs, get to live in Germany for three years, get to live all over the United States, even got some all expensed paid trips to the Middle East through the government. And then came back and was rewarded, whether or not I deserved it, with a teaching spot at the United Sates Military Academy of West Point. And from West Point I had the great pleasure of, like you were talking about at the beginning of the show, I would pinch myself sometimes with the privilege of teaching because I swore that I learn more and had more fun than the cadets. In front of the class I probably learned more from them than they learned from me and it was probably the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. After my teaching job I really decided that the army was going to go on without me just fine and maybe my greatest impact in the world or my vision lay outside the army. And I made that very scary but amazingly exciting step of leaving the army at 13 years in and pursuing a career in digital publishing. I had this thought that I could have waited until I retired from the army at 42 but at that point you kind of loose your entrepreneurial bug because you’re probably a little bit more sane and I wanted to get out and try it before then.
I’m not sure that’s correct because I’m 48 years old and I absolutely haven’t lost my entrepreneurial bug. I think that the slogan of TEDxKazimierz event that I’m hosting and you are helping with ‘Age is no limit’ is true of entrepreneurship and everything else in life. So possibly I’m glad you took the decision but it could be the case that you’d still have the bug in 10 years and you still will.
Yeah and well I think that it’s a gene that needs to be constant like anything, a plant that needs watered. And as I look back on my career in the army I did well in some of my jobs; and some of them I probably wasn’t very effective. And the ones where I did do well was when I had little bit of freedom and less supervision so I could be innovative. Where is the jobs where I was having to do staff work; I wasn’t the greatest staff officer in the army. After I left the army I travelled the world for 11 months trying to figure out what I wanted to do, where I wanted to live, I just knew that I was doing my digital publishing company. I had a lot of stressful things for the last few years that needed a bit of time to unwind and escape and travelling and running my business seemed like a great idea but to be quite honest about it, it was a great experience and I’m glad I did it but I was pretty tired of travelling by the end of it; was looking desperately for a place to settle down; almost went back to the United States; to New York City where I’ve lived before.
And right before I was due to go back I stumbled on Poland because I was spending the summer in Central Europe in Hungary. Met someone from Warsaw; went up to check out Poland and moved down to Krakow. It instantly clicked with me, the people that I have met, the rich history of Poland that I had not studied. I was embarrassed to say I didn’t really even know hardly anything about the city of Krakow and Polish history in general. And really, it was just like finding something brand new that was exciting for me to sink my teeth into and I can’t imagine not having moved here at this point in my life. It’s really been transformative to set up a business here and get immersed in Polish culture. And Richard, thanks to you I moved in and adapted very quickly up to this part of the world and just been really excited about the future for this part of the world. As a US and United Kingdom citizen and patriot I think Poland and this part of the world is incredibly important to just the West in general, which is something I’m keenly interested from a historical, political perspective.
I’m delighted to hear you say that but as a you know I’m not Polish; people often imagine that I must be but I don’t have a drop of Polish blood in my body. But I’ve lived here for more than 24 years and I often feel kind of patriotic; I feel Poland has been very kind to me. I’ve had a good life so far and it’s ups and downs here in Krakow and in Poland. One of the points I frequently make to Polish people is that particularly Krakow has this history of being a historical trading root. Krakow was a very international city thanks to the Nazis and then the Communist; Poland and Krakow were cut off. But this is kind of historic realm of a trading city like in the North of Europe or Amsterdam or Hamburg these Baltic, Hanseatic cities are open to different influences and feel that’s a good thing. And for me I feel that it is bringing the best out of Poland, this welcome to foreigners, particularly in Western Europe and the UK where I’m from.
This is very disturbing, rising narrow nationalism, which I see as kind of insecurity that if you’re not confident in your own way of doing things then you put up barriers, whereas my view of Britishness is well Britanese in France, Anglo Saxons is Viking German. And of course everyone knows that America is the great melting pot different cultures and nationalities and I think that’s how self-confident and h5 societies should be not just able to deal with foreign influences but positively welcome them. So the fact that I was in some way helpful in making you feel at home here in Krakow is absolutely fantastic.
And coming back to your question how I landed up here; I came here in 1989 for the first time. I’ve always wanted to go into business, although I didn’t have the capital or the idea of how I was going to do that. But I met the lady who became my girlfriend, my fiancé, my wife and now my ex-wife. So I came here not necessarily thinking about business ideas but came here for personal reasons. I went into business with some students of mine from a business school I was teaching in 1991 and this was the wild time of Polish. The capital was not in the sense that people sometimes imagined that everyone was stealing stuff. But just to the guy who was well educated; I graduated from Cambridge University in Economics in the UK with a good degree which isn’t an easy thing to achieve. And I came here as a kind of nobody but I felt that this was a country in which everything was open because in the UK or the United States; whatever you want to do there will be smart, clever people who are doing it already; there are opportunities but it’s a different ball game.
Here in Poland the first guy to think of selling fax machines made a fortune, the first guy to think of doing tractor spare; agricultural machinery spare parts made a fortune. So there was a time in which in one way it was easier although in another way it was extremely hard because nothing worked as it should have done. So I thought that I came to Poland as a young man in the early 1990s was quite lucky in many ways to find myself in business with the right people. But I don’t know whether or not it’s the time to run through all my businesses. If you find me on LinkedIn you can see I’ve got 9 businesses here in Poland, I’ve got one in London and one that’s kind of registered in the United States although most of the people are here in Krakow. And I feel that this is an environment in the internet age where you can make tremendous progress in business.
Richard, you brought up a great point about Krakow being a central trading hub and I think anyone who doubts that, come to our main square here and see that it’s the largest most beautiful main square in Europe. And that was built to handle the trade and one of the things that I was amazed by and really embarrassed that I didn’t know, although I had read the history from the Russian perspective because I was Russian history teacher, was Poland in the late 1600s was the last country to successfully invade and occupy Moscow and Russia. And their empire spread from Moscow all the way deep into Central Europe and that’s like the high water mark of Polish.
Yeah and there’s funny joke here; there are lots stereotypes about Poland and not all of them are positive. And sometimes there are some Polish people they conform to the negative stereotypes. One of the stereotypes that Poles have of Westners is that we don’t know Polish history and it so happens that I do. And if you meet someone in a bar and they work out that you’re a foreigner, usually I say this in Polish, I say that I welcome the fact that I live in Poland because in the United Kingdom where I am from and Poland have a shared history. Which doesn’t make sense for the Polish narrative and when I say well you know we have a shared experience of being victims of imperialism and this produces a look of bafflement and I say but of course the UK was conquered by the Romans and then we were conquered by the Vikings and depending on how drunk the guy I’m talking to; we were conquered by the French and they made tapestry in Bayeux where they showed our king with an arrow in his eye.
And of course this goes back 1000, 1500, 2000 years from now. And you know from the Polish perspective this is a long time ago but typically it’s the Pole having the Westerner that history is important and so I force them position where they say well that’s too long ago to matter. And I think it’s terrific; in fact the advice I give foreigners that are coming here is read a history book, learn something about the rich and interesting and dramatic. In other ways positive history of this country and you’ll be happier. Having said that, that’s advice but I can’t believe doesn’t apply to a Bolivian moving to Argentina or citizen of Vietnam moving to South Korea. If you’re moving anywhere – learn the history – has to be positive advice, I don’t see how I can be possibly wrong about that even if I’m talking about countries I’ve never been to or never lived in.
Yeah and Richard the great part about Polish history to me is it’s not well known when you read the paper. And I use to teach the main History and Diplomatic History of Europe and thought I was pretty well educated. And moving here just really smacked me with the realization that the more I learn the more I realize how little that I do know about history which is something I’m supposed to know quite a bit about due to my background. And just discovering Polish history and the rich culture here that is so influential in European history that many people don’t understand has been fascinating. I think one of the themes I want to explore on this show with you as we go through it is the constant intersection between the past in Poland and what’s going on right now from the innovation standpoint.
Because people don’t realize it’s not only was Poland one of the largest land empires in Europe way before Britain figured out this whole democracy thing. Poland was the first democratic, and we say democratic loosely, it was the first representative monarchy in the world. And you know you have the Swiss states that were more of a republican federation but Poland as a large country was the first one out there that really put this idea of broad representative government in the land of classes out there; way before Britain had gotten there. So some fascinating histories and traditions that first played out here that the west claims for themselves, they say West: United States and United Kingdom.
That’s actually true although I’ve put in a disclaimer here that those people who start listening to our show regularly will hear later in the series. We’re going to have my brother Edward Lucas who works for a think tank in the United States and I absolutely wouldn’t like to position myself as a historian or an expert. I regard myself as moderately good at business; pretty good at promoting entrepreneurship and community building among entrepreneurs and TEDx types, but you know History is not my thing. I studied Economics. And you know I think that one of the skills of being an entrepreneur is to be a generalist rather than a specialist. My father, John Lucas who taught Philosophy in Merton College Oxford for most of his professional career gave me advice that was quite remarkable to me when I was about 15 or 16; which was he said don’t specialize, be a generalist. You’ll always be able to find a specialist when you need one. And if you specialize you’ll end up doing what you specialize in.
And at that time in Britain, that was the 1980s, when there was the cry high in unemployment and a lot of people worried economic security. You know the typical advise parents were giving their children was get yourself a profession become an accountant, become a doctor, become a lawyer, be a management consultant, be a banker, get yourself a secure income because you never knew what the future would hold. I wouldn’t say it’s to my father’s credit but I really appreciated that and also said if anything goes wrong and you fail you can always come back. We’re not rich but you can come back and you’ve got a secure base. And I think that this, I wouldn’t like people listening to this show to think that they’re going to get great historical insights from Richard as an academic, as a real student of Polish history. I’ve got a general knowledge; I think probably I’d be better asking questions about history than answering them.
“Don’t specialize, be a generalist. You’ll always be able to find a specialist when you need one. And if you specialize you’ll end up doing what you specialize in.”
And Richard I don’t want to make this into a history lesson either but I’m a generalist like you and I’ve always taken pride in knowing less about all the things I deal with and those I hire to work for me. What I do think is very interesting and what more business people, especially those that live in other parts of the world, should do is take into account the traditions and the story; the narrative of the people that you’re living amongst because whether you’re entire Thailand in the tropical, MBA community or you’re an expat in any country or even in your own country just understanding the traditions and the stories that society tell itself will give you a huge insight into how to deal with the population and the business climate and things like that. So very interested in when it’s appropriate exploring history’s role in innovation in central Europe.
Also, I think one point that I’d made there as a businessman I became aware of how businesses; a kind of universal language that brings cultures together. And I remember one of my businesses; I’m still a shareholder in the company and meeting a Japanese businessman. I think his surname was Takanami, and we were sitting at a trade fair in probably Dusseldorf (it might have been called ScanTech) and he was showing me his money counting machines. And this was in the days in Poland when we were 10,000 old złoty for every one new złoty so a country cottage I bought cost me six hundred million złoty which in these days would be two hundred million; in those days it was $20,000 so it didn’t cost me two hundred million złoty. But in those days there were huge numbers of bank notes floating around; a bit like those image of Germany in the 1920s when there was a hyperinflation.
Mr. Takanami had money counting machines; these things you see in the foreign exchange bureaus and casinos. Only he said to me yes Richard, and I won’t try and do the Japanese accent, I’m not good at accents. We have three markets, we have the European Market, we have the North American Market and we have the mafia market; the mafia market is the biggest, ha ha ha. And there was this sort of sense that you know this idea that business is, and of course, you know, we want the mafia market, but it was this idea that you know everyone has markets everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Japanese guy making money counting machines or a Finnish guy selling material handling systems or a British guy manufacturing plastic card. You’ve got a product; you’re looking for clients and you’re looking to do business with people who can help you reach it. I felt that business brings the world together; it may be quite brutal, it may be quite simple, it may not be very intellectual or refined but there’s something about the entrepreneurship.
That brings us back to the topic of podcasting because I’ve been listening to American podcasters who typically take entrepreneurs and particularly there’s Entrepreneur on Fire. Even if the style of the interviews isn’t always the way I do them, listening to these individual guys who got their particular motivation and may have that particular insight and they did that specific thing which somehow did well enough to get them on the other end of the microphone and talking to podcaster. And I feel that this is relevant to our audience because people don’t know who we are or where we come from but you know putting interesting people in front of you; it’s a bit like you enter a party and friend grabs you and they say come and meet this guy he’s really interesting. If the guy is interesting then you will appreciate your friend who introduced you even if we don’t have much to say.
“I felt that business brings the world together; it may be quite brutal, it may be quite simple, it may not be very intellectual or refined but there’s something about the entrepreneurship.”
Well and Richard thankfully we’re going to bring on some people much more interesting and smarter than ourselves to sparks some good conversations.
I think we’ll certainly the people we got so far; I don’t believe in false modesty but I think there’s no question our goal is to find people who are smarter than us and if they’re smart enough we will succeed. But that doesn’t mean we’re dumb.
It’s much better to always put yourself talking to people a little bit smarter so we can fulfil your goal of learning a little bit; but you got a lot of smart great friends here in Poland and looking forward to talking to everyone in your network.
Yes, certainly; there are certain phrases which are quite common among entrepreneurs and one is giving back and the other is paying forward. And I hate the idea of giving back; I actually reject it because to me the phrase giving back implies that you took in the first place. And you know if I look at my business career yes it’s been good for me but I think of the technology we’ve installed for clients, I think of the taxes I’ve paid and I take great care to pay my dues. I appreciate particularly now in Poland with very menacing events happening a few thousand kilometers from east. I’m glad to pay taxes to pay for the army; the Polish army is one of the h5er larger armies in NATO; we need our army so I’m proud to pay my taxes. And I’m proud to have all the jobs I’ve created . You know maybe it hasn’t worked out for everyone. Maybe there are people listening to this podcast who say working for Richard wasn’t that great; I don’t know. But the underlined point is that by doing the business you create something and that something is something you can be proud of.
Yeah and Richard I think that one of the big things that we want to explore in this show is innovation in Central Europe. And I just wanted to really kind of dig into that a little bit more with you because you’ve been in Poland for 24 years and really seen a country really kind of wake up from a bit of a daze from the Communist era. And before that things were even more traumatic in the Second World War and just really try to get your insights into watching a young business society, a very old culture, but a young business community grow up. And now that I’m here I’m looking at the future very intently but I’m always interested in how we got to the point where we are here in Krakow in Poland.
Actually what I was working on today was a kind of innovation process for the business. I’m currently running SKK which stands for Systemy Kodow Kreskowych which means barcode systems; that was the history of the company. We were one of the first barcodes systems integrators in Poland and we’ve migrated a bit from those roots and we do a number of different things including that these days. But the point about innovation is that it’s always about either doing what you’re doing already, better, faster, or cheaper, or you’re doing stuff that couldn’t be done before. Delivering a new medicine, a new drug, delivering a smaller drone, a faster plane, a faster broadband. And in my business history; my kicking off point was bringing technologies to Poland that exist in elsewhere that weren’t available here because communism and the repressive system of the Soviets that kept Poland isolated from the international economy. And then they were just left on their non-market base systems of central planning and direction. So bringing in best class world global technologies into Central Europe and into Poland was the kind of no brainer in a way. It’s was pretty obvious that a barcode scanner would be better human being for getting data into a cash register for example. But there’s been a steady evolution on whereas in the old days, when I say the old days I mean the 1990s, usually the best things to do was to bring technology in.
Increasingly we see Polish Central European companies offering things that are genuinely competitive on a global stage. And hoping we’ll be able to track down some of the entrepreneurs who lead these globally competitive companies. For example there is a guy called Rafal Styczen and who helped found one of the largest IT companies in Poland. He’s recently in the last couple of years invested in a company called Meble.pl which mean furniture.com, which is disrupting the European furniture market. They’ve recently increased their production capacity 20 fold by 20 times. And doing for furniture what Dell did to personal computers – building to order – they don’t make what they shipped before it’s ordered and anyone who knows anything about the economics and manufacturing, those are the reason Michael Dell is one of the richest people on the planet is that it’s a fantastic business situation: just start with the money from your client before you build whatever it is you’re going to sell them. There are many examples like that but I would say that innovation and entrepreneurship are now moving into a different level but of course the situation in Poland is different now, we’re a member of the Europe Union, which is a larger market than the United States. And way back 10-15 years ago in Polish terms we were really held back but now capital is available, transport is available, the new people are available; people like you, Sam, who have showed up to help us, right?
Well, people like me have just stumbled upon this I think one of the best kept secrets out there. I literally spent the last 11 months really travelling all over the world and there’s a bit of a famous movement in the United States. It’s a podcast actually called the Tropical MBA and it’s a couple of expat Americans who ended up going to Indonesia and Thailand. And there’s a huge migratory flock of entrepreneurial birds from the United States and they’re all over the English speaking world chasing this tropical MBA over in South East Asia. And what I was actually kind of following a little bit that same route, I had an outsource staff in the Philippines, and was also fascinated by this group of people that kind of picked up their everything and moved to this part of the world. But a guy that I met over there actually A.J. Silvers out of Budapest, Hungary said the real movement from this crowd is actually moving towards Eastern Europe and he invited me over to Budapest to check it out and I spent 5 weeks there in the summer. And then just happened to come across Poland and decided from my estimation this was even better place at least for me to hire and build a real business.
There’s tremendous opportunity and I think that you know maybe a result of this podcast and other things the secret might get out a little bit but you know I welcome that. I think that more Americans and Brits and anyone who is listening to this should understand that while Poles are always fighting to go the UK and the United States really the reverse I think is true. Richard, I sometimes think of myself as I have this life in the United States and I feel as though an immigrant in the United States in the 1800s must have felt. You just pick up and you start brand new in a whole new place across the water. And this energy in Eastern Europe feels to me a lot like probably how the United States felt a hundred years ago where there’s this great energy and forward movement economically that really has not even come close to the end of its run.
I think you put that very well Sam and I would say think the situation now is better for the globally mobile entrepreneur because back the in the 1800s of course we didn’t have instant communication. Anyone, listening to this podcast is clearly aware of that. The idea that you can take the best ideas and the best projects from anywhere in the world and to play them more instantaneously anywhere is very hard to take on board and I think increasingly younger people get it but younger people don’t necessarily have the experience of implementation, although some of the younger people listening to this are probably ahead of me now and they will be ahead of me as time passes. The great thing about the market economy is if one person prospers and moves ahead that’s not bad for everyone else, they become a better customer. But there’s a separate point as well which is the moving here and the deploying of the global ideas here isn’t just about being exciting and good for you or being exciting and good for the people who work for you. It’s more a kind of a reflection of the fact that the world has just changed beyond recognition and I think that coming here as a foreigner you might see that.
But equally there are Poles here in Krakow who see things just as clearly as we do and I can’t always factor in the fact how far the people who get it are ahead of the people who don’t. And probably people who are listening to this might be even more in the category of people who get it, and the people who don’t get it are more and more getting ready for a wake-up call. And suddenly they realize that there are people out there who are competing in their markets who they’ve never even met. But there’s one particular point about the idea of the guy on the beach doing his MBA and managing his outsource army of employees. And that was one of the things that when I met you; you were one of the first people that I have met who has actually managing to string together a global organization.
And I think that is for me and as yet unanswered question how scalable that is because here in Krakow we’ve got very large office buildings with 10 hundred, maybe a thousand, 2000 people working in them who are doing similar jobs to those being done in Pune in India or San Paulo in South America; the outsourcing boom. And I think that on one level the outsourcing boom have people closing down offices in America and Western Europe moving them to places in India or Central Europe shows a scaling and disintermediation of global business processes. On the other hand how do you build a global company moving up to the scale of Cap Gemini or Shell without everyone being together. And I think one of the interesting questions of the new age is for example: couldn’t we be working like we’re working if we hadn’t actually met each other face to face; could that be possible? What do you think, Sam?
Yeah, well, Richard I did live the tropical outsourcing lifestyle for a while and I have to tell you that it was exciting; it was very interesting to build a business that way but I kind of miss and what I’m reassembling here in Poland is a consolidation of just good old-fashioned collaboration and face to face. And the reason I’m doing this is I noticed one of the best pieces of advice I ever got when I developed my Filipino team, which is just an amazing group, Tyron and Claire, and Jake and the crew that are out there; just an amazing group of people. But my mentor James Schramko at the time who was coaching me in business, he has a team of 70 to 80 outsourced employees in the Philippines. And he said: you need to get over there as quickly as possible and meet your team because when you go there you’ll notice that you’ll get a 2 to 3 times increase productivity from them just by going there; by showing that you care. And I think that in the digital economy, in the digital age with the ease with which we can all work from home if we wanted to and be disbursed, the interpersonal leadership challenge that that creates is pretty substantial. And if you just take a little bit of effort and go around and meet the people that you’re working with then that provides a huge advantage.
And one of the things that’s so attractive to me about Poland is when I came here and noticed the talent pool that I could get anything that I wanted anywhere else in the world even and this really blew my mind Polish speaking copywriters who write great emails and other things that I didn’t imagine I would be able to get in anywhere but the United States or United Kingdom. And to me it’s an embarrassment of riches here for the talent that is available and is motivated. So I’m a little bit torn on your admiration of what I’ve set up because I’m actually trying to consolidate everything here in Poland. And I think it’s a fascinating question and look, Facebook and Google have offices all over the world, so it’s definitely important to be global.
And wherever the talent is you go after it but at the end of the day even if you can find a talent hot bed like Krakow or somewhere else in the world that just has everything you need in one place it’s a great place to form a foundation and a core group. And then eventually you’re going to need people who are in different time zones, different town centers but the interpersonal touch of going and visiting and meeting with those people; you can’t replace it. And if I would have called you from a Facebook profile and propose doing a podcast with you, we never would have done it. But we’ve met and we’ve become friends and you know we’ve shared meals together and have drinks together so it’s an entirely different dynamic when you stay social beyond Facebook.
You know, I think that although it’s clearly, how to say this. Krakow’s getting there, in one way everything is not really settled here, but that you have a feeling that if you go to a city like Cambridge or Frankfurt that the important people know each other, and that there are new arrivals, but somehow, I think, perhaps due to the Communist history and Poland being cut off, the people who are like important, significant people in the start-up tech community here, they very much appreciate the arrival of another foreigner. And there’s a great French entrepreneur who I’ll definitely want to introduce to you, a friend called Vincent 47:08 who has got a wonderful business on doing city defense game called Vikings Gone Wild with his start-up called Everyday I Play and he’s here with his Polish wife. And he’s making a significant amount of money; much more than I’ve made out of any single business; he’s only been here a couple of years.
The local business community thinks that it’s really cool that a French guy can show up and he could do that here in Krakow. And this sort of sense of people welcome a cool foreigner showing up whereas you sense in some other cities people might be quite annoyed or irritated so that welcoming openness is extremely positive. But coming back to is it about face to face or is it digital; I think that the market economy is a tremendous discipline; if it works – it works, if it doesn’t work – you’re doing it wrong. And there are people in different countries who probably have similar opportunities that we have here.
There is one extra thing to say about Krakow which is that if you start Googling it and there are two way to spelling it, it’s K-r-a-k-o-w or C-r-a-c-o-w; it’s one of the most beautiful cities that I’ve ever lived in and I grew up in Oxford, I studied in Cambridge. I’ve lived in nice places but there’s something about this city at different times of the year. Whether it’s frosty and snowy like it was at this time of year or it’s blazingly hot in the summer when it’s 32 C degrees, everyone is wearing shorts and drinking bears in the old town. Something about an attractive city which is easy to underestimate, and yes it’s quite nasty traffic if you’re out in the suburbs trying to get home about 4 or 5 in the afternoon, but I’ve heard that’s a problem in certain parts of the United States as well. But there’s something about this compact beautiful old town and just these people who show you here think: wow, this is a great this is a great place to be. And that’s a hugely motivational thing, even if you’re working 12 or 14 hrs in the office, you feel, what if I went out, there will be a beautiful city to be in.
Yeah and Richard that’s what really just kind of blew me away when I visited Krakow was; when I went up to Warsaw this friend that I met said you just have to go down to Krakow. And I was quite embarrassed that as a historian I knew next to nothing about the town.
Sorry to interrupt Sam but anyone listening is wondering what the hell we’re on about. Go to Google maps and type in Krakow Poland and go onto satellite view and just start drilling down, then even on the Google maps you satellite view of Krakow you can start seeing it’s beautiful; it’s absolutely extraordinary. There are websites which have like 20 amazing places to look at on Google maps and you’d find some plane crash in South America or you find some prison camp in the Soviet Union. But of places that shows up is Krakow, because you can even see, even on satellite view, that Krakow is stunningly beautiful.
Yeah and well I got the word when I went to Warsaw you have to go down there and check it out and when I did I just fell in love with the city and knew I had to move here. Even more than Krakow you know and Richard I want to just tell this story and maybe we could kind of end on this after this show but tell the story of why I decided to name this podcast Project Kazimierz. You know I met you at Open Coffee event in old town in Krakow at the Google for Entrepreneurs headquarters here. And obviously we became fast friends my father is actually English and I grew up in Belfast Northern Ireland so I have a pretty good understanding of that crazy accent of yours. But also you know just the mindset; I’ve always been a bit of a half-breed in terms of my UK and US sensibilities. But I came to understand that you were planning this; if 9 business isn’t enough for you had to take on TEDxKazimierz project. And I was a little bit confused at first as to why you had done this because there was already a TEDxKrakow, but what was the origin for your wanting to bring TEDx specifically Kazimierz and for those that aren’t from Krakow I’d love to get an explanation of Kazimierz from you and why it’s such a special part of this city and just get a little bit of the background.
OK, well that’s a question I’ll take a minute or two to answer. I’ve been very close to the TED and TEDx movement for a number of years; I’ve helped organize TEDxKrakow, I spoke at a TEDxKrakow, I’ve sponsored, I spoke at a TEDxWroclawSalon, I helped with TEDxWarsawPresidentialPalace, which was one of the first times a head of state, I think that it did happen somewhere else, but it’s one of the first times a head of state made his premises available to the TED TEDx movement and attended it in person. I’m very proud to have attended; to have globals in Edinburgh and visited TED headquarters in the United Sates in New York in Manhattan. And for me, if you don’t know about TED and TEDx you’re not alone; one in four people on the planet do; 3 out of 4 people don’t. But TED and TEDx lead by Chris Anderson for a number of years is a fantastic movement under the idea that they’re ideas worth spreading. TED talks are not allowed to take more than 18 minutes. And no matter how important you are, wherever you’re from, you can’t be paid, but you have to give the talk of your life in those 18 minutes. It can be much shorter. And some TED talks are being watched by more than 20 million people, more than a billion TED Talks are being watched around the world.
So TED comes with a bit of legacy and I think particularly living in Krakow which in those days felt a little bit cut off from the world but it was a sense of joining a global community of people of similar values. And here in Krakow when it got going it was like taking a sieve of the people who lived in Krakow shaking it and the people who fell through the sieve were people who felt that ideas, talking about ideas and putting ideas into action were more important than whatever else people do in their free time because it’s a volunteer movement; no one is paid. So I was pretty close to the TED TEDx community and I know and support the different TEDx initiatives in Krakow in Poland. And I felt that; well, one of my insights was that the TEDx community was more the community of people like you and me; people who are helping organize TEDx then people who show up. And I’ve written blogposts about the importance of community building.
And as we met through Open Coffee, I think possibly for issues I might talk about in another podcast, I always have a feeling for the people who aren’t part of the inner circle, who are trying to find their way in. I am organizing events which are very welcoming to the guy or the girl from the village or from the outsider who doesn’t know how to find their way around, it’s very important. And I felt that it was a kind of potential to make TEDx movement extremely inclusive for people who are like new arrivals who don’t know anyone on one hand. On the other hand is this district of Krakow called Kazimierz which use to be called the Jerusalem of the East before the Second World War; before the Nazis came in and butchered and slaughtered the population of this area. Poland had a reputation of being a tolerant and open country where foreigners were welcome and many Jews fled to Poland from Russia where under the tsar there were tremendous pogroms and persecution. Which isn’t to say that everything was easy as in countries where there was mass immigration; there’s sometime resentments and difficulties. Nonetheless there was a huge Jewish population here in Krakow and my friend and another person will be speaking who will be speaking at the conference Jonathan Orstein has set up the Jewish Community Centre in Krakow funded by World Jewish Relief, a number of other globally known foundations and Prince Charles of the British Royal family. The interesting thing about the Jewish Community Centre in Krakow is rather than looking back at the terrible catastrophe and past of the Holocaust, which Auschwitz, for those who don’t know, is only about 80km or 50 miles to the west of Krakow so one of the most disgusting and appalling and dreadful events in world history which was the mass slaughter of Jews had its epicentre in Auschwitz, not far from Krakow. On the other hand this history is known but there’s also a need to rebuild and thanks to people like Jonathan and the Jewish Community Centre you have the sense of this Jewish district which was stripped off of its Jews.
They were taken away and murdered or emigrated, wanted nothing to do with Poland, because of the dreadful associations of what had happened here. There was this area which was very close to the Centre of Krakow which was absolutely desolate and rundown when I moved here. Which was over the years sprung back into life. For people who know the city of Berlin in Germany there was a poor area called Kreuzberg where it was very cheap because it was very rundown. And when an area are cheap and rundown interest, and close to city centers, interesting things start to happen. There was a kind of cultural renaissance in Kazimierz which was partly due to the history connection with the Jewish history but also to do with the fact that it was just a cool district close to the city center everything was very cheap.
So right now you’ve got a tremendous mix of different influences; you’ve got the revival of Jewish traditions, huge welcoming building on Miodowa called the Jewish Community Centre, you’ve got this wave after wave of tourist coming in quite often from Israel or other parts of the world where people come back looking for memories of the disaster. On the other hand you’ve got large numbers of young people, students, clubs; if you go to Kazimierz at 2 in the morning in May, June, July; the streets are buzzing; it’s more lively than Central London; it’s absolutely extraordinary. So I felt that it was another way, you’ve got an influence of culture, you’ve got an influence of history, you’ve got a sense of revival. And this would be a very appropriate area to do an event where we’re looking for the best ideas people and projects from the region of Kazimierz and at the same time looking for ideas people and projects that are relevant to Kazimierz.
We’ve got, if he’s well enough to give a talk, we’ve got someone who survived 2 years in the Soviet camps during the Second World War, with him I gave a talk during the Jewish Cultural Festival a few years ago. We’ve got my brother Edward, of whom I very proud, talking about what a person can take responsibility for and should apologize for and what they can’t take responsibility for and therefore shouldn’t apologize for. We’ve got a; well, perhaps I went wrong through the entire program at this stage but I thought that Kazimierz was a wonderful complicated place where events that build and boost and develop the local community would be a fitting place for a high quality and memorable TEDx.
Yeah and Richard the great thing that I’m finding as a complete newcomer to the town is that the old town is an amazing place in the center but it’s also bit overrun by tourist which is great and I think tourist are lifeblood of any great city but Kazimierz is much more local. And it’s got all the student population and the artists and the great designers and they all seem to be hanging out there doing their trade and it’s just a really amazing part of town. And also just in general with Krakow and little bit of history about this town is it’s just in the great partition when Poland disappeared for a 123 years off the map during the French Revolution the great powers Russia and Prussia, which was Germany, and Austria decided that they needed to wipe Poland off the map because Poland had this idea of creating a very liberal constitution that threatened these authoritarian states. Well luckily for Krakow it was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire which was very tolerant and allowed a Polish language to be used in Education and Krakow, which was the old capital of Poland for the kings, and Wawel Castle is an amazing cultural icon here in Poland and amazing sight was still there. And all the intelligence and the intellectuals from Poland are from the other parts of Poland; Warsaw and Poznan and some of these other places that couldn’t truly express their culture all came to Krakow and created this amazing center for art and for literature. You have Chopin and Adam Mickiewicz and all the different amazing Polish cultural icons that you know to this day have great impact; all kind of congregated in Krakow. So Kazimierz now is the coolest district with the most I think up to date art and culture and I think what many would argue, especially if you’re from Krakow, is the cultural intellectual heart of Poland. Although I think Warsaw and some of the other cities would have a lot to say about that.
I might chip in there and say I’ll tell a story, that possibly has never been told on the internet, that I was privileged as a child to have a family friend of my father’s Thomas Braun, Braun spelled the German way – B-r-a-u-n – was a teacher in Oxford University for his professional career, coming to the UK as a German refugee as a small boy. And he remembers the stories his grandparents and his great grandparents told him about life in Germany in the early 1900s in the 19th century. And he had a story of how a relative of his had been on a bus in the South West of what is now Austria on the mountain pass around the Brno pass, before they built the highways. And there was a member of the Habsburg imperial royal family stuck behind the bus honking and wanting to get passed. And the bus driver refused to let him pass on the grounds he was entitled to be a bus driver. And the outcome of this once he got to a stopping point was that the bus driver was taken off the bus and he lost his job. But as Thomas Braun pointed out had it been in the German or the Prussian or the Russian bit, possibly he would have been executed or sent to the camp, so the relatively tolerant Austrians, if you defy the Habsburg family, you might lose your job rather than go to a death count. So it was a relatively tolerant place but perhaps it’s a mistake to judge history at that time by the standard of what it is today.
So we’ve run through the TEDx Kazimierz idea. Perhaps I’ll just thank you and point out the concept of Project Kazimierz is the idea of a podcast through which we can achieve a number of objectives. One of which is to give a platform to people connected to the TEDxKazimierz project. This podcast isn’t a TEDx podcast and I’m very very jealous of the license; jealous in the sense of possessive and respect for the license. I need to be very clear to anyone listening to this; we’re not a part of the TED movement, we’re not part of the TEDx movement; I haven’t had a license. But the Project Kazimierz is not a TEDx license podcast. On the other hand, we’re using the podcast to give some attention and some light to some of the wonderful people we’ve got coming to the event.
Yeah and Richard I just was inspired by your lead on publicizing this fantastic and hip and innovative part of Krakow with the TEDxKazimierz. I just thought I’d create a podcast named Project Kazimierz and what it’s really going to allow us to do is beyond the TEDx; we want to keep this going and just continue to talk about innovation and pushing ideas and business forward in this wonderful part of Poland that I think is representative of this exciting economic and business and cultural dynamism of Central Europe which a lot of Western Europe I think is in a little bit in envy of the energy in some of the other things that are going on. Poland was the only country during the 2008 crisis that kept growing throughout the crisis and has consistently registered great GDP growth over the last 12 years, is now about the receive a bunch of Euro funding for developing small businesses; I was actually just discussing with Ela from Małopolska region – all the money that is coming into Poland now to boost innovation and business and start-ups in Poland over the next 5-10 years.
Yes, I have to cut in there and say that perhaps this is not the right things to say but I don’t really care. I use to listen to the speeches of Ronald Reagan and many Europeans feel very superior and above this evil red neck American, although Ronald Reagan was an extremely effective politician. He once said the most terrifying phrase in the English language is ‘I’m from the government and I want to help you’ because the effect of government cash is often quite toxic. It makes you behave in ways they wouldn’t otherwise behave and do things they shouldn’t actually be doing while taking money away from the people who should have it. So I do have a slight anarchistic street there but on the other hand, the other thing I wanted to comment was that the way you make a good product better, a great product fantastic and a bad product good is to get feedback.
And we’ll be definitely focusing on Central European, Polish entrepreneurs and change leaders in the short run. But if this evolves the way it might evolve we’re very keen to bring on board interesting Central European – maybe Western European – entrepreneurs or change leaders who’ve done things or who are doing things so they I think deserve a good global audience. So I will be working on the feedback process; what I want to say is that if people have questions they’d like asked to the people we’ve put on the show or ideas of things that should be on the show I positively welcome and I know you do too Sam positively welcome input from people listening because the way to make this more in line with what you want to listen to is to tell us what you want to hear and make sure that we ask the right questions.
Yeah and definitely on iTunes if you’re listening you’re more than welcome to leave reviews that will help other people find this or if you have some feedback on how we can make the show better; love to get an email from you and tell us what you want to hear, because ultimately as much as I love Richard and want to continue his education this is about the listener. Richard is going to learn regardless and probably learn more than he thought he would have if we get your feedback to make this more appropriate for you. And also, if you think you have something to add to this audience and you know help us provide something valuable to the community then definitely write us and tell us if you have ideas for people who we could bring on the show to help build this community. Because I think we’re really at a tipping point and exciting time in Polish economic history where this area the world’s going to go from the best outsourcing workshop out there to one of the best innovation hubs that’s going to end up creating jobs and ideas that will really make the world a much better place and push things forward in all direction; so looking forward to that.
Definitely, so perhaps I’d like to wrap by saying that when I met you Sam for the first time a few months ago I didn’t imagine that I’d be spending my Sunday evening talking to my computer listening to you in another point in Krakow, having patched in a globally famous figure earlier this evening. He is going to a subject of a separate podcast but part of the interesting and fun thing of being a human being in 2015 is to do things for the first time and you know as someone who has helped me have a first time experience I appreciate that very much. And if we can make this a valuable and useful and beneficial experience for our people listening and those we put on the show I think that we are all making progress right.
Yeah and likewise to you Richard I really have been a citizen of the world since I was born and moved from Ireland to the United States; never quite felt at home in Louisiana, although my family is there and I love the connections and people I grew up with, was always a bit itchy to see the world. And through the army I had the opportunity to see a lot more of the world than I ever dreamed I would have. But somehow I feel like I’ve landed at home; found my piece of real-estate in the world that I wanted to put roots down in and I think a lot of my success here in the beginning, I mean I think of all the different people I’ve already hired in Poland, come from that one open coffee meeting which you were hosting; a design to help entrepreneurs. And if you’re ever in Krakow especially if you’re from the Krakow community and you’ve not been to open coffee Krakow definitely make sure you show up to that; meet Richard and myself and all the great people who are there on a consistent basis because it’s really a special group of people that you’ve I think really helped organize in this community over the last 20 years.
I’ve done my best and there are quite a lot of other people who are doing different things here, there’s certainly a sense of critical mass, and from time to time I write about that on my blog and for sure we’ll be putting a number of them on the show. But I think also I’d say wherever you are in the world even if you’ve got no time to come to Krakow at all right now; you’re on a small boat in the Philippines or you’re in a different place in a different country just think well maybe I should go to Krakow. If you decide to come here and I’m still here; maybe you’re listening in 2025 and I’m dead, who knows. But if I’m still alive I will very much appreciate the fact that you heard the sound of my cellphone in the first ever of our podcast series and you’re positively welcome here in Krakow.
Yeah and speaking from experience Richard we’ll definitely roll out the red carpet for anyone who shows up to this wonderful part of the world that you might not have heard about until this show.
And to end the podcast on a slightly unusual note which I know some of my friends have said quite often I prefer to meet someone new than my existing friends on the grounds that I know my friends already and love meeting new people. So that’s no offence to my friends, I love you all dearly. However, for those who are not yet my friends you are welcome to join the list of people who I’d rather be in a group of people I meet someone else rather than you.
Alright Richard well I don’t think there’s any better way to end it so thank you, Project Kazimierz listener for joining this inaugural episode and if you listen to this way in the future past 2015 thanks for working your way all the way back to this episode to figure out what this project is all about. And look forward to many more chances’ to share with you, our thoughts on innovation in Central Europe and this exciting time that we’re living in. So thanks again for joining us and thank you Richard for getting this project off the ground with me; I’m looking forward to many more to come.
Indeed, ok, bye. bye.