Jed Crews has been immersing himself in the tech community in Krakow for many months while studying the prevailing paradigms of our culture. His findings help shed light on our strengths as well as potential weak points, including how we’ve developed over the last generation, and how we compare ourselves to the “Silicon Valley ideal”. With a background in the US Navy, Jed is currently studying Business Management in London School of Economics, coming top of the class of 2015.
Mentions and links:
Table of contents:
- 00:47 Sam’s introduction
- 03:00 Jed’s background and journey to Krakow.
- 04:25 The purpose of Jed’s academic paper on Entrepreneurship in Poland.
- 06:38 How the cultures of tech communities are fundamentally unique.
- 11:10 Silicon Valley has become a metaphor.
Why Polish Entrepreneurship is Unique
- 14:25 Are the aspirations of Polish entrepreneurs realistic?
- 17:22 The gap between the mindsets of the previous and current generations.
- 18:32 Is the culture of “tech entrepreneurship” be stronger than national culture?
- 21:21 How academic study of culture avoids bias.
The Polish Mindset
- 24:50 Is entrepreneurship a natural human trait, and how does culture change it?/span>
- 28:00 The three most common mental frames Polish startups use concerning culture.
- 30:17 “Polish optimism”.
Academic Research of Entrepreneurship
- 32:40 Jed’s highlights of his adventures in Krakow.
- 35:27 Using academic credentials to gain 100s of valuable connections.
- 38:00 The role of government in the community.
- 40:15 How financial supporters shape the culture.
- 42:30 The biggest advantage of Eastern European mindset.
- 45:40 Could multinationalism disrupt national culture?
How to Build a Thriving Community
- 48:25 How events are the cornerstone of an entrepreneurial community.
- 51:01 If you want it, you’ve got it in you to do it.
- 53:58 One clean hack to make an event highly effective for networking.
- 56:24 Outro
Hello again, Project Kazimierz, my name is Sam Cook, the host, with my co-host here of Project Kazimierz – Richard. How are you?
I’m very well. Good evening, if you’re listening in the evening, when you’re listening to this.
RWhenever people listen to it. So, today, Richard, we have a very… all of our guests are very interesting, but I would say we’re in a departure from the normal here in terms of who we’re speaking to today and it’s actually very interesting, because I’ve heard plenty of whispers of this presence of this mythical American Ex-Naval officer who’s studying the startup entrepreneurial scene in Krakow for the London school of Economics. I finally tracked him down, actually, by mistake, the other night, which is a funny story in itself that I’ll tell in a minute here, but Richard, have you… and I know you’ve had a little bit of time with Innovation nest , who’ve been trying to connect you with Jed, so we finally got you guys together, which is just in time, because, Jed, you’re leaving Europe… (phone beeps) Oops. Jed, you’re leaving Europe in the next … in the next 2 days, when are you taking off?
Yeah, that’s right. We’re leaving on Tuesday, so this is it, this is the end. I’ve been working here on and off for nearly two years and I’ve come to really enjoy this city and we’re leaving next week, so it’s bittersweet, but I’m glad to finally be sitting down with you two, because, I’ve been in your orbit, kind of hearing about you for the last… the last 6 months or so, but we never crossed paths.
So, Jed, let me try and pronounce your name officially. Jediah Crews?
Jedadiah Crews, former… it says here that you worked in the US House of Representatives, US Navy and ranked number one in your class in 2015 London school of Economics in Political Science, so just a little bit about your background. What on Earth brought you to Krakow, to be fighting a paper about Entrepreneurship in Krakow.
Sure, so yeah, as you said, I was in the … in the US Navy four years, I got out in 2012, I’m married and my wife and I chose that as a moment to go to brand-new school and for a number of reasons we ended up
deciding to… to do it in Europe, so, we came over. I ended up in the London school of Economics, while she was studying in Krakow, so that was my initial connection with Krakow, my wife was studying for her Master’s degree at the Jagellonian University, so I spent a lot of time in London, I’ve spent a lot of time on EasyJets between Krakow and London, I spent a good amount of time here in the last couple of years, getting to know the city. I was studying Business Management at the London school of Economics, so I had to write a dissertation for this degree and… and they told me I can write about anything I wanted and I’ve been observing over the years, that I’ve lived here that there was sort of burgeoning tech scene here and I… every now and then you hear about it, you see a meetup, you see a poster and I though this is a great opportunity for me to get more in depth and see what’s going on in Krakow, so I came back here, I started going to meetups, meeting people and it snowballed from there.
Okay. I’ve been reading your… your dissertation and it’s a very thoroughly researched document. If you’d explain to non-academic audience what it’s about, what your main conclusions are and what the purpose of your research is. Could you, could try and do that, bearing in mind: non-academic language, please.
Sure, there’s a bit of translation to be done here, but the basic … I’ll take you through the way that I approach the paper. My starting point was that I’ve observed and I’ve actually seen the sign for your podcast in almost every blog, that covers tech, um, anywhere. They use this phrase and you see it all the time. The “X” place is the next Sillicon Valley and the Silicon Valley of Europe… Krakow is the … the Silicon Valley of Poland, or will be the Silicon Valley of Europe. It’s just a phrase, that repeats itself constantly and I started to think about what that actually meant. And I think it’s a complicated idea, because Sillicon Valley is a very specific place, they’ve built a very unique, sort of, network there. And to say that another place will be like Silicon Valley, you’re talking about not just the ecosystem of education and funding and capital and all of those things, but you’re also talking about a culture. And the cultural aspect was the thing that I seized on, because that was … funding you can create anywhere, there are great universities all over the world, there are people with entrepreneurial ideas all over the world, but the one thing that’s different every place you go is the culture and I observed, that Polish culture is very different than Northern Californian culture. This is sort of intuitively obvious, but it’s also borne out in comparative cultural research. So, I though, well, what is a … what does the Silicon Valley of Poland look like and how is it similar to Silicon Valley and how is it unique and, so, I started from there and that was sort of the beginning of my questioning.
Okay, there’s a Russian, even though lives in London, writes about the culture of the tech community being fundamentally different from the business communities. For example, he talks about accounting and law and real estate, where it’s absolutely standard, if you do someone a favor, they pay you cash, they pay you a commission, whereas in a tech community, whether it’s here in Krakow or in Silicon Valley you introduce people to this concept of paying forward, so do you really think, that this culture of the tech industry can be defined by geography?
Well, that’s the question. That’s exactly the question. My paper is called “Making sense of place” and it’s because the fundamental line of inquiry was how important is where you are, when you’re trying to build a tech community. So, I went around and this is probably when you first heard of me, I was going around town, I was looking for anyone I could find and talk to, who was involved with tech in Krakow and I was asking them a series of kind of open-ended questions, that were designed to make them speak in their own words about entrepreneurship and about tech. And I… generally I focused on Polish entrepreneurs and people from this are, who were building companies here and what I wanted to do is see where were they … what role does Silicon Valley play in their head, were they really trying to emulate Silicon Valley or were they trying to create something different , or what was their relationship with the ideal of Silicon Valley. Two – I wanted to find out what elements of local Pol culture they incorporate in their idea of tech entrepreneurship. And then three – to the extent that there was conflict between those two – between the Silicon Valley ideas and the local ideas about tech entrepreneurship, if there was conflict between these two, how did they resolve this? And, I think the reason why we should be interested in this at all is because it’s a sort of a fundamental question about whether it’s possible to build Silicon Valley here. I think it’s a question, that every city in the world is interested in. Can we build this kind of Silicon Valley-style innovative tech culture in our city. And, so I picked Krakow and I really delved in depth to look at the cultural aspect.
One of the thing that I find interesting about your exploration is that you really focused on the local entrepreneurs, the Polish ones and my next question is, who did you speak to, what are some of the highlights of the most interesting people you spoke to and knowing that there 4 or 5 really big leading lights in the community – Base, Estimote, Seed Labs, Brainly. Were you able to speak to any of the big, big tech founders here, or was it more aspiring tech founders.
Don’t forget Azimo. Azimo has a higher evaluation than any of them.
Sorry, I left out one of the leading lights – Azimo.
This is very interesting, for anyone listening who’s maybe thinking of applying for a job later, just a sort of thing that as an employer I would notice on someone’s CV (or the resume, depending if you’re american or european) if you put things like ‘you’re Brainly educational moderator’ or maybe a TEDx volunteer on your CV. That looks very good, I think there’s a community of developers calles Slashdot and people put their Slashdot ranking which is rated by fellow programmers for how helpful you are on their forums. People use their Slashdot score on their CV as a more important criteria than the degree grade in university, because you know, this sort of, the kind of person who shows who you are is probably a person you want to have in your company, because someone is helpful, someone is thinking about other people.
Well, as a matter of courtesy and general practice I haven’t disclosed the names of the people I interviewed, because I quote them directly a lot in my paper and I encourage them to speak very openly, on the grounds that I wouldn’t say who they were. I will tell you what – I haven’t spoken to anyone from those companies, mostly because they’re very busy people, so they aren’t here a lot of the time
and I wasn’t able to track them down. I did speak to people involved in funding those companies and people who worked with them, but I would say most of the people that I spoke with where aspiring tech entrepreneurs, people who were working on starting their companies right now , or developing their pitch or working in incubators now, so I haven’t talked to any of the big success stories, but speaking to some of the people on the funding side, I think I was able to get the perspective of people who’ve seen several companies grow from this market. So, you’ve got a good survey of the community here.
When Norman Davies was writing about Poland’s relationship with America, he talked about this kind of love affair bass, when Poles look West, they look straight over Europe to America. Not Silicon Valley, but America in general. And this is the kind of love and relation based on ignorance. It’s very to love somebody who’s long way away, whereas Western Europe is very immediate. Did you have a sense of the understanding of what Silicon Valley is, what it stands for, what it’s values are, what it’s culture is. Is it based on reality, or is it based on some kind of idealized view of what might be there, as if it was exactly as you dreamed it was.
It is idealized, certainly and as it turns out that’s a very common thing. Even if you do a survey in Utah or Nevada, you’ll find that people there have a very idealistic notion of what Silicon Valley is. Silicon Valley has become a metaphor for people’s ideas of what a tech community should be like. So, the the ideals of openness and sharing, like you said – the paying forward mentality. These are things that notionally started in Silicon Valley and Silicon Valley has come to represent those things. If you talk to people from the Valley, some will say that’s not always the case, or if it was it’s not anymore. That’s almost not significant in my paper, because what I was interested in was what people thought about what Silicon Valley was, not so much about what it actually is.
One of the things, that I noticed when I’ve been speaking to tech entrepreneurs is that I was never aware until I got to Poland how magical Silicon Valley is supposed to be, because coming from NYC where I lived and the East Coast, in that business community we didn’t look up to Silicon Valley or maybe we didn’t as much as we should’ve, although I was just reading a recent TechCrunch article that NYC is on it’s way to challenging San Francisco as a SAAS capital of the world, both in terms of funding and things like that, but I remember specifically and again, I won’t name this entrepreneur, like you’re doing – keeping your sources anonymous. Someone was saying to me, when I was looking at their software product: “We’re going to be the next Base. We’re going to be the next Polish company that flies to the Valley” and some of my employees, I remember one of my developers in particular, when I actually showed Ramon from Cisco, Ramon Tancino, who was a guest on the podcast is his talk on how Krakow, and this was 3-4 years ago, how Krakow was going to be the next … European version of Silicon Valley
In TEDx Krakow talk.
Sorry, TEDx Krakow talk and I remember few drinks of vodka and one of the employees, who has entrepreneur aspirations says: “Do you really think that Poland and Krakow can be…” almost, like, afraid to ask, guilty, do-you-think- we-can-do-this type thing and that to me was very revealing about … American would never ask such a question, it’s like, of course we’re gonna do that. And the optimism and I was just throwing this story out there, does that jive with some of your research findings?
Oh, sure it does, yeah. So, one of the things that I did was I started on the base, I looked at a study by a guy named Geert Hoffstede, you can look this up if you want. He, back in the 80’s, 1980 he conducted this absolutely massive global survey of culture and he asked a bunch of questions to the local people in hundreds of countries and he compared them and he created a metric of where you can sort of compare each country on some aspects. So, one of them was power distance – how do people relate to authority. Another one was individualism vs collectivism, another is masculinity vs femininity. It’s a controversial study, because what it is, it’s a bunch of stereotypes about countries, so it puts people in a very clear box, but it’s very useful as sort of a starting point when comparing two cultures. And one thing you’ll find that is consistently true in any such study, is that Poles are much less optimistic and much less confident than people in the US.
You needed a study to find that …
And, I interviewed a lot of Polish people and asked them very directly about this, they’re very… they admit it too. They’ll say that one of the problem we have here in Krakow, we don’t think we’re going to change the world necesserily and in their mind every American startup is going to change the world.
It’s very, very interesting way of putting it, because I’ve lived here almost 25 years and I’m gonna have a question about the extent to which you concern a culture that’s seen such rapid change as Poland seems to be – a snapshot study of particular time, it’s just snapshot… I remember in around 2002 I went to the first Tuesday meeting which was the Dotcom bubble, networking meeting in Warsaw and that Rafal Styczen, who’s the founder, one of the founders of Comarch talking on the stage and I remember my jaw was dropping that it was possible to have the self confidence, all speaking great English, talking not with business school buzzwords, but really talking sense, you know, there was definitely a sense, there was the need for these role models, but there’re more and more role models of successful Polish entrepreneurs and I know some have been promoting entrepreneurship in high schools and preschools and primary schools. I think it’s incredibly important, if you have the goal of changing the culture, not saying we have to adjust to Poland, but to say that Poland is gonna survive and prosper and have strong economic growth to buy the tanks and the guns we need to resist our neighbours from the East, we have to change the culture, we cannot accept this Catholic, anti-capitalistic historic culture, because we’ll die.
I… a lot of my questions in my survey… I ask all of my survey subjects a question that was designed to kind of hit on that point and what I found was that everyone who’d sort of drawn this very stereotypical dichotomy between Poland and Silicon Valley. I would ask them: “Is Poland really like Silicon Valley” and they would say: “No. Not at all. We’re not confident enough, we’re not optimistic enough, we’re not ambitious enough”, but then consistently, the guy I was talking to on that pivot would say: “But that was true of the previous generation. It’s not true for me”. In the minds of the people that I interviewed, there was a very clear distinction between the previous generation of the people in Poland and the current generation and in their minds they still have and idea about what Poland is, but they see themselves as the exception, all of the stereotypes. I’m sure that the reason for that was that I was interviewing people, who were entrepreneurs, so they’ve sort of singled themselves out as different from the crowd. But, you’re right – there’s a very clear sense that things are changing rapidly in Poland and that came out in my research.
One of the things… I’ve not been to Silicon Valley, I’ve been as far as Las Vegas, Silicon Valley is set to be quite international, very keen to accept immigrants from different parts of the world, not being an American place, but a global place. Here in Poland, the impact of foreign investment is being pretty significant in my breaking, sort of like somewhat pragmatic view of … yes, Poles travel, but the Polish narrative was based around Polish accommodation of foreigners and suddenly there’s a huge influx of foreigners, many Poles travelling the world. This used to be based just on the Polish interpretation of foreigners, it was a Pole working with a French guy in an Indian-owned company, getting to know people’s differences. So, do you think that the internationalization of Krakow is something that can actually dynamically change the culture. We’re not left in the Polish culture, but this kind of, the global citizen, you get this international … this used to be, particularly French, even though were working for or Air Liquide or Saint-Gobain. Just a multinational corporate guy.
Well, it’s interesting. You’ve seen this a lot with multinationals, the case that you brought up, kind of the previous generation of multinational companies, you’ll get people that are sort of stateless, but they were very incultured within their company, so, they would be … you and I can have a guy and he can be anywhere in the world, but you’re definitely incultured into the IBM culture. I found that the tech community is similar, but it’s not drawn around companies, it’s drawn around this, sort of , cultural consensus, in some ways it’s emblemized by Silicon Valley, but it’s also shaped by all the blogs and all the twitter accounts and podcasts that everyone pays attention to. People in Poland read the blogs of big venture capitalist around Silicon Valley and they pay attention to what American companies are
dong and people in the US are paying more and more attention to what Europe is doing. So, the tech community has become this global, stateless entity. And that’s part of why I think why my research was interesting, because tech people tend to think of themselves as very international in their focus, but they’re still from they’re from and they’re from the culture that they grew up in, so I thought it was interesting how the culture manifests itself within global tech culture, that tries to deal away with all those things.
I’ve never studied culture as a subject, but I feel, some of us changed countries and lived in different places and are quite aware of it. But I would imagine, that in many cultures you can sense competing traditions, competing narratives of what the country’s all about. For example in Poland you have the progressive reading, the Polish equivalent of The Guardian readers, who are very progressive, ultra- tolerant anti-church, on the other hand there’s a different bunch in Poland, which is the PIS – right wing – nationalistic, globalization is bad. These are two versions of Poland, both Polish traditions to some extent and how do you decide which is the reference culture, against which you’re gonna judge these foreign trends.
That’s a very complicated question…
I was, yeah… What I try to do is, as I said, I took the international cultural reference studies. I took that just as a starting point, to sort of establish, that there’s a difference between Poland and the US. In Academia you have to do that, you can’t just assert it to be true. Anyone who’s ever traveled to Poland and the US would intuitively know, that there’s a big difference between the two. But when I came to defining what Polish culture is and comparing it, I didn’t do any of that myself, I made sure that I was allowed to interview subjects to do it for themselves, I would just ask them: “How do you think American culture compares to Polish culture?” and would listen to what they said. I would ask them about:”How do you, as a Polish person, think about entrepreneurship?” and then I would ask them what they think entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley is and how it’s different from their own ideas and what I tried to do is I collected all this interview data and I transcribed it and I ended up with 50 pages of just transcription of interviews and I treated it as a raw data set and then I analyzed it by breaking it up thematically and then breaking it up by particular response and what I ended up with was sort of a survey of all of the range of responses for these types of questions, which gave me just a general idea of
how Poles grapple with these issues. That’s kind of where I left it. I didn’t draw any strong conclusions of what it should be, or how it will be, I just wanted to create a snapshot of how it is right now and how Poles compare themselves to Silicon Valley.
This concept of anthropology, which is rather hostile to market relations, that sort of regards the cash economy somehow breaking down a higher state of being that existed before the market economy existed. There’s also evidence, that trade goes back way further than most anthropologists believed, happened about 6-7-8 thousand years ago and people were trading… and this is quite consistent with this podcast, entrepreneurship is a kind of global part of human identity, whether it’s through a smartphone app, or someone making a clay pot, that they’re going to sell for a price that makes it worth doing it, doesn’t just have to do with culture, it has to do with being a human being, which would suggest, if we’re right that entrepreneurship is suitable for every culture in the world. So, if Silicon Valley thinks that entrepreneurship is suitable only for a particular brand of entrepreneurship, you can’t have a culture which isn’t potentially capable of taking some benefit from the Silicon Valley culture.
Yeah, you’re right, I think that that entrepreneurship is a human trait, but it does manifest itself differently, if you think about all the excess of ideas, that can come together to create a culturist view on entrepreneurship, you have to think about how that culture feels about individualism, for example the US is extremely individualistic and Poles tend being much less so, so there would be a difference in the way the view someone, who achieved something on their own, they left their hometown and made a lot of money and never came back. They might view that person differently in Poland, than they do in the US. There’s the idea of power distance. In the US we tend to idolize extremely strong, monolithic leaders, person who sort of dominate whatever room they walk in to. In other places in the world those people are viewed much more skepticly, so entrepreneurship itself may be universal trait, but the way we view it and the ways that we define it are very unique to each country and the question is for tech specifically: is the definition of entrepreneurship, that we’re working with in Poland the Silicon Valley definition of entrepreneurship, that’s been transplanted here, or is it some version of the Polish definition of entrepreneurship.
This is very interesting, I was checking very quietly, because Sam won’t let me use my keyboard right there during podcasts. We had a schoolbook, when I was in high school called “Cider with Rosie”, it’s a series of short stories, but one of them was describing someone coming back to an English village in the 19th century, that came back rich and was showing off in the village, buying drinks, flashing around and at the end of the story he gets murdered … He gets found dead in the ditch and in Britain we have the lidates, who are the people who smashed up the weaving looms, which were threatening employment, like the French taxi drivers – burning cars because of Uber, because they’re being threatened by change I would say, it’s an universal thing to different degrees, but as understand it’s not whether… how the entrepreneurship works in Poland is not whether you can have successful tech entrepreneurship in
Poland, it’s whether the culture as it is Poland… it’s the view, that Polish culture has of that phenomenon – that it’s feasible. Is that correct?
Yeah, that’s correct, I think it would be silly at this point to write a paper that says that entrepreneurship is not possible at all. It’s being done, it’s being done very well and companies from Krakow are going and being competitive in places like Silicon Valley, so it’s clear that it’s being done. The questions for me is more of an individual question. In the mind of the tech entrepreneur in Poland, how does he see himself, does he see himself as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, who was born in Poland, or does he see himself as a Polish entrepreneur. And what I found is that, there’s a lot of variation, obviously between individuals, but there were trends. In general, everyone I interviewed, this was the main conclusion in my paper. Nearly everyone I interviewed identified that this culture in Silicon Valley in many ways … the things that made Silicon Valley what it is, that made it successful are much less true here now, than they are in Silicon Valley, so there’s a difference -“We’re not like them”, but then, none of the people I interviewed let that stop them, so they all had a way of resolving the conflict, so some people would say: “Yes, Silicon Valley culture is very different than Polish culture, but I’m very different than Polish culture. I’m a tech entrepreneurship , I’m different than everyone else, I’m gonna do it anyway” and another big group of people made the generational argument, yes, they’re very different in culture, but it’s changing very quickly in Poland and our generation is much more like Silicon Valley than our parents and our kids would be even more, so that’s not gonna slow us down. Some people said, you know, the Silicon Valley culture is so powerful as a cultural meme, that it comes over and replaces whatever was here before. So they’re saying, in our minds, in our community, we’ve created a little enclave of this Silicon Valley, the fact that we’re Polish doesn’t make much difference, because we’ve embraces the ideas. But, in one way or another, everyone I talked to basically acknowledged that there were big differences, but they went and made their companies anyway.
What I’d like to call this… Polish optimism, where Poles say that it’s not ever gonna happen and they just do it and it’s one of those things, that probably reminds of you a little bit of the military days, where you have the skeptical junior officers or sargents tell you that you can’t do something and they do it and it just kind of amazes you and you and I were talking the other night , we saw in the Navy and I want to pivot a little bit about how we met, because I heard that you’re in town and I was supposed to meet you and I’m busy and you’re busy and … We met in a bar in Plac Nowy in Kazimierz and if you’re ever travelling to Europe, if you listen to this podcast and you’ve never been here we highly encourage you to come visit. Richard and I are accessible and available, if you do come through, we’re looking forward to meeting our first international traveler. The reason I met you was not because we were supposed to meet, but I met Marcin from Innovation Nest, where you two were on summer fellowship, emailed me and told me: “You have to meet this guy Travis Chow”, who’s travelling over from Southeast Asia. Travis has done 3 startups. I think 1 or 2 successful ones in Silicon Valley, worked for Microsoft and worked for Groupon and was running their SE Asia division and I asked Travis, how on Earth did you end up in Krakow, he’s strongly considering setting up a startup in Eastern Europe. He said he’d run into these
guys from Estimote, who were trying to sell us their beacon technology to Groupon, then I ran into another Krakow based company. “What’s going on in Poland? There’s something going on” we had drinks together and it was really fascinating, the happenstance that brought us together, because we have very similar backgrounds – both being from the military and then finding ourselves in Krakow, studying this entrepreneurship culture. Anyway, my question after that long preamble was what kind of interesting people … what’s been some of the highlights for you in Krakow, what’s been some of the most interesting experiences with people, that defined your experience here.
Well, I really enjoyed the process of writing this paper, because it gave me the chance to completely immerse myself in the community, that I had no part in before, so I .. the first thing I did I just started sending emails around. I met Paul Chen, that is a blogger here, I found his blog and emailed him and got some introductions. I went to Open Coffee, met a guy named Daniel DiGiusto. Do you guys know Daniel?
Yeah, he works for me.
Daniel is a super connector and he was very helpful to me in the beginning.
Which is why I’m even more upset, because Daniel’s been working for me this whole time. But maybe he wasn’t working for me, he was working more for you…
He helped out with the TEDx Kazimierz project…
e know each other. I’ve known you guys by name for long time, we just never crossed path. Yeah, Daniel was great. He was really opened the door to a lot of things. He took me to COLAB, introduced me to the people there. Then brought me here. I got to meet a lot of people. I think the most exciting thing for me was just seeing how many people here I found , who I can relate to. I’m interested in tech, the business side of it and I found… it’s always a great experience walking to COLAB. This factory building, it looks like it’s almost falling down. You gotta walk down this alley. You walk through this door, where there’s a little sign, that says “COLAB this way”, but otherwise it looks like there would be nothing behind it and you go upstairs and then you walk into this room that could be in the middle of San Francisco. You open the door, it’s bright, beautifully painted, there’s the coffee machine.
Richard’s being mean.
To me, that emblemized the whole community. You think you know what you’re gonna find, when to a place like Poland and when you start to explore a little bit you find that there’s a lot of amazing innovation happening here and there’s a community of people excited about it. And there are people like Daniel, who spend all their time just trying to make a collaborative culture happen by helping other people meet the people they need to meet.
Just to take one point … What you did here was come here and you started interviewing people, I’m involved in the the TEDx movement about ideas worth spreading. Anyone listening to this, anywhere in the world, that has any kind of academic credentials… it’s great to just go somewhere and research the …. it doesn’t have to be the startup communities. Research the business community. Because generally, business people in many cultures, America might be an exception, are not heroes. They’re not people who’re put on piedastal as role models like the doctors, the lawyers, management consultants, accountants, investment bankers, but it’s not the entrepreneur. You talked to so many people, you leave Krakow with hundreds of contacts and It’s interesting in itself but it’s also a great way to create value. What you’ve done here is a kind of replicable process, right?
Absolutely. I think what I’ve done is one little piece of a much bigger project. If you look at any other industry, there’s been multiple waves of academic interest. It always starts with the fundamentals of the business itself, but inevitably, if an industry is around on and off, people start getting interested in how are these employees motivated and what separates the really good companies from the slightly less good companies … And you’ll get a whole academic community around one aspect of one industry. What I’ve done is I’ve written a paper about one central cultural question, about the bigger ecosystem in Krakow, but I think you can do that in any tech community in the world but I also think there’s plenty more questions to be answered about Krakow.
There’s this saying in Poland that success has many fathers or parents and failure is an orphan. There’re a lot of people around the world, very interested in the Silicon Valley phenomenon and tech people pay high taxes, although Polish taxes are very low and a lot choose to pay their taxes here, cause there’s lower taxes here than in the UK, lower than Germany, lower than in France, so if you like low taxes come to Poland
It feels right to pay 19%…
One of the things our taxes to go for is to pay for groups or civil servants and government officials to fly to Silicon Valley and have workshops about the Silicon Valley phenomenon, so in the course of you research did you have the pleasure to talk of any of our government officials about how they help create this phenomenon?
As a matter of fact… I’m sure they’re there. Of course I focused on talking to entrepreneurs, cause that was my subject, but honestly I didn’t come across a single government official in the whole process. I went to one meetup in the beginning. It’s a funny story, it was a meetup for startup community in Krakow sponsored by the government and I went in there thinking it would be in English, because I thought because of their website it would be in English. I went there, got a notebook, sat at the very front row at the center and of course the first guy walked up… it was entirely in Polish but I didn’t want to just get up and leave, because I didn’t understand what they were saying I thought it would be rude to get up and leave, so I sat there and pretended to take notes. I read the slides …
And Richard and I and none of the people we know were probably there.
Yeah, I never went back to an event like that.
Having said that, in case there’s anyone listening here, who is connected to the government, the situation is not all bad, particularly with the county authorities, done a really good work, helping implement the local national and global entrepreneurship here and what I always say, that people complain, the questions is what they’re doing to fix it. Sometimes the government officials do show up at our events and we’re welcoming them, because that’s what they have to do. I read Brad Fulton’s book “Building startup unities” and he says it’s very important for the startup communities to be led by entrepreneurs, but clearly there’s a role for the government and I would say we’re not quite where we want to be yet, here, in this city, but at least there’s some awareness…
Well, I didn’t suggest that wasn’t a good event, for all I know it was wonderful! I just didn’t understand what they were saying, but the circle that I’ve found myself circulating in in Krakow… it was entirely entrepreneurial. I am sure that there’s another circle of people, that are working very closely with the government, but I found that I was able to study that for 6 months and never come across anyone, but entrepreneurs and private investors, I think that’s a good sign.
And the government is just one support agency and one of the biggest differences … and this is how all Europeans talk about, in the States, the amount of capital in California exceeds almost anywhere … although New York has money, it’s not all targeted at this community. Clearly, Europe doesn’t have the financial resources, that Silicon Valley has put into this type of business. But did you talk to any of the supporting organizations, like the support community of service providers, financiers and financial investors, banks, lawyers, intellectual property lawyers, these kind of people. Did you manage to reach them?
I did not. The closest I came to… I talked to some of the VCs , no I didn’t get into the more support roles, I was more interested in talking to entrepreneurs specifically, but I understand, that having those things in place is extremely important.
And I think that they also they help shape the culture, if you have the sense that you’re an entrepreneur by yourself, by any account, and I can’t even think of a polite way to say it, you have a sense of … you have a whole school tradition of “business as usual”. A man in a suit in an expensive office and a little startup working from home isn’t really gonna make it and whether it’s the lawyer, the bank or the accountant, the behavior of these groups, collectively is also part of what shapes the culture and makes the entrepreneurs feel like part of the system or outsiders, right?
Jed, one of the things , that you brought up a little bit earlier, that I think’s very interesting is… your survey was done a while ago and you captured that in your research, that when that survey, which is your data point, was done, obviously things have changed since then … One of the things that really strikes me about Poland’s and Eastern Europe in general, but more specifically Poland … I spent some time in Budapest and Serbia and some other Eastern European countries and I had the sense in Eastern Europe in general, that they weren’t nearly as nostalgic about their history, because of the pain points of that history, that I felt like getting to the modernity through technology was a lot less resistant, then when you go to Spain or Italy or somewhere else… You’re not gonna mess with my siesta and my pasta, right? Whereas… I’d actually never imagined myself moving to Europe, I’ve lived in Europe twice in my life before this, because I felt like … when I lived in Germany, which is a leading economy in Europe, but when I lived there I still felt the sense of too much tradition for my taste, but what really impressed me about Eastern Europe, but much more so Poland, than any other country this “We want leave the past behind and do whatever it takes to get there.”, mentality as well as, why I really like Poland is the affinity towards and the friendliest towards to the US, almost to the point of obsession and Silicon Valley, so how do you think that factored into it?
Yeah, that’s… I’m really glad you brought that up. One of the most insightful and interesting things, that any of my interview subjects told me… I was asking a guy, whether he thought it was hard for people in Poland to adapt the mindset and the methods of, sort of, tech business – it’s distinct from other kind of business, because they whole ecosystem of business… and tech is just very different than let’s say finance or any other manufacturing … It’s very different. And what he said is: “You know, we don’t have the legacy of… in Poland we don’t have that kind of legacy of other kinds of business. We skipped all the why up to the 90’s.” So, at the point where they started building this economy, there were already computer companies being built. So, they were looking around for role models and places to emulate, when they’re trying to build the foundations of their business culture in Poland, it was in the information age already. So , they feel like they have to skip a lot of the baggage, that other countries had to deal with … Of course, they bought that after living under decades of Communist control, but the fact, that they kind of emerged as an independent economy, right as the computer age was kicking off, that was important, because he thinks they have a leg up on the older economies in Europe and I thought that was fascinating, fascinating idea.
Clearly, that’s not only true here in Krakow, but for Africa, too . Kenya is a world leader in mobile banking, for example. And this idea, that, suddenly, they’re aware of what it’s like here. In banking, Poland was ahead of the UK, in terms of sending bank transfers for a while, but we don’t have checks here and …
In America, we still have plenty of checks…
It’s good thing, not a bad. And I think, that this also raises the question, could this be some kind of a global convergence and also, what side are you on? And if I get to ask you for one advice, we’re moving to the end of our interview, because of time pressure. What advice would you give to people, who want to promote entrepreneurship community. When I was a student, back in Cambridge back in the 1980’s, I read about how Sri-Lanka and the whole former British-Indian empire… there was a socialistic tradition and activists were very hostile to foreign investors in Sri-Lanka, but when they workshops in the villages, about how these bad multinationals are going to come here and exploit people, I head to the stage and “Are there anymore questions?” and there was one question always, which was “Where do I apply to get a job?”. How do they get a job for this exploiter foreign multinational? So, the comment is, is it possible to put a ring fence and say: “There’s a superior version of the local culture”. The disruptive nature of Silicon Valley, if we move in this direction, we’ll lose something, that’s good. How could we protect that? On the other hand, if we’re advising… whether it’s individuals, community groups, business leaders, community leaders or the government, what we should do if we want to accelerate this high-growth tech community here. What advice would you give? What should we do. And I’m not
going to ask, what we should do if we want to stop it, because that’s not an idea this podcast exists to promote, although we are in a free country, thanks to the fact the Russians aren’t here yet.
In my opinion to the first questions, should you want it … I think at this stage Poland’s now – absolutely. You should be trying to be the next Silicon Valley, why not… Silicon Valley is tremendous place for innovation and generating a lot of amazing products and growth. I think Krakow is equipped to be that kind of place and I think it’s a goal, that’s it’s striving for. As for how to get there, a lot of it is already in motion, I think you got a core of very committed people, who’ve embraced these ideas. One thing, that the interview subjects all really emphasized to me was the importance of events. I didn’t fully understand how important it was to have these meetups. But every single one of them said, look when I first started thinking about starting a tech company, I was afraid to talk to other people, I didn’t have an idea where to start, I didn’t want to network, I didn’t know how to approach someone and ask them for advice, they viewed that as a very traditional Polish attitude, but you go to the first meetup and you see people networking and you see this cordial environment, where everyone is talking to everyone, someone walks up and greets you and introduces you… soon you’re meeting other people and you catch this… they call it the Silicon Valley virus.
And every single person, that I spoke with had a similar story about how they didn’t know what to do. They went to an event and they became a part of this culture and they contracted this virus, changed them into a more effective entrepreneur.
I’m so glad that you said that, because I’m someone who’s trying to promote entrepreneurship here for more than 20 years, the existence of these events was incredibly important, if you’re just by yourself, either you go to a school, you do a workshop, even if a kid is already inspired – he wants to do something or she wants to do something, the question is what next. But now, you spread this idea, that it is like part of our value – to be friendly, to be welcoming and I think it’s absolutely transformational, because everyone on a journey, some of them are used to it, they come to a place like Hub:raum. It’s very modern Deutsche Telekom co-working space and it feels like the West, but it’s not just that, it’s also… some of them, that come regularly are used to it, but if you come from a typical family, where there’s never been an entrepreneur you come here… your grandmother or your bitter angry dad, who says, that networking sucks, you’ve got an alternative narrative, it’s probably true about that, that networking sucks, but having that one guy or one girl, who’s doing something could be life changing, right?
Yeah, maybe if there’s a takeaway, it’s that. People, who’re attracted to this community, people, who want to be technology entrepreneurs, they got it in them, they clearly got a certain sense of perspective about the world. They got some energy and some… they probably deep down are very collaborative people,there’s certain type of person that tends to come to this type of business. I feel like the obstacle in Poland is just finding the venue to bring that out. And the Polish entrepreneurs, that I spoke with, all go to these events, that’s crucial for them, they came, they met each other and they realized, that this is possible – “I can do this and I can be this”.
Sam and I met for the first time at Open Coffee… in Google… exciting news last week, that Google campus, “Google for entrepreneurs” has chosen a new director in Warsaw and he’ll probably do something celebratory event, sort of, like a satellite event to celebrate their launch in Warsaw. We think these events are a really good way of both contributing and gaining. It’s such a win-win situation and as I said at Open Coffee events, founded by Marta Rylkok?. To filter the people, who’re ready to be someone, get them in the morning. That’s quite a filter, you can go after work to a bar event…
It took me 3 or 4 Open Coffees to finally make it
Again, it’s a good idea to have a sense of purpose. I’m sure we’ll have an episode of Project Kazimierz on the purpose of these events, because I’m really pushing the people, who organize them. Sam’s running the Hive events, which was the inspiration for Open Coffee. There’s a sense of cariculum, a sense of agenda, we’re looking out for marketing people, we wanna have finance… how to network. For you or me, maybe it’s quite easy, but there’re people who never did it and have a network … collaboration with all the student bodies, there are these academical, very big academic circles, but it’s not enough “Oh, let’s have events.” You need some coaching on how to run them, how to do them well, because it’s not like a meeting. A meeting can be great, or it can suck, more than root canal work on your teeth … and equally a podcast can be highly interesting like this, or highly boring. So I think, do events, lots of events, but make them good events.
Absolutely. You can hack these events, maybe it was Brad Feld, who said: “It should be a practice, that when you have a meetup and a new person walks in you should take them and introduce them to two more people”. Someone should greet them and introduce them to 2 more people. And you make that one of the fundamentals of the event, that gets the ball rolling. That’s just an example of the way you can make these events particularly productive.
I’ll send you a link to an article, I wrote about exactly this part in the TEDx community, but also the startup community. It’s not a matter of 10-20% more effective. If people walk in and are welcomed right away… you never have a second chance to make a first impression and I think it’s absolutely right. You can do them really well. It’s like running a business business – it can be sucky or it can be well
I couldn’t agree more, that out of all the pieces of advise you brought up, the one that I think is the most powerful is the intangible of the spirit of events and the help, that people are providing, without asking for anything in return. In Krakow, it’s been amazing. When I came to my first Open Coffee meeting and then met Richard and then met my first employee and then ended up in touch with Daniel DiGiusto, who’s the ultimate connector. I think he spent 4-5 months doing favors for me without asking for anything in return. This random American… and at the end I felt like he needed a job, that he enjoyed working this. He would’ve been fine without me, I’m sure. This guy, who’s gotten so much connections in the community definitely needs to be in charge of my HR. Got my CTO from Daniel, got connected through another contact in Open Coffee and Ania, my first employee, connected me with Ewa Wysocka, my manager, so I can trace every little moment back to one initial networking meeting and everything from there has snowballed in terms. If you want to get to know Krakow, just meet Richard. Even though he says he forgets people all the time… He’ll connect you with everyone. I guess on that note I think it’s time to bring it home and Project Kazimierz listener, thank you again for joining us. Thank you, Jed, for taking time before flying across the ocean to America, where everything is perfect and Richard, as always, it’s great to have you. All of us sitting here in person in Hub:raum, together.
I’d like to remind you, that you can visit our website. You can subscribe on iTunes, if you love … if you
loved this broadcast, please leave a nice review on iTunes, if you can’t stand it, just give us a call
And, Richard, I’ve noticed one thing about Polish people, they haven’t left a ton of reviews on iTunes, even though we have a high subscription rate. Please find the time to go find us on iTunes… just go to iTunes.com and you can search for Project Kazimierz. I know a lot of you might not be listening to this on an Applee device.
If you wanna help us with this podcast, I believe we’re looking for someone to help with transcription. Also, if you got any real feedback, let us know. Also, please, nominate people, you think we should interview, doing great things in the city or even greater things in Poland or worldwide and quite soon we’ll have a very professional end with rising music, but somehow Sam and I are always too busy to do that …
We’re working on a lot of things on the show and I really appreciate all the support and I think we have over 12 000 downloads now as of this episode and just having fun seeing this spread almost 100 countries now across the world, Vietnam being of our biggest, still trying to figure out why and UK, US.
I think Vietnam might have to do with Ashley Madison.
And if you don’t know about this, just google “2015 Ashley Madison scam fraud ” and you’ll get that. OK, I think we do have to wrap now, so, once again, thanks very much, was a real pleasure to meet you, I’m gonna shake your hand, even though no one can see it, they can hear it.
And, on that note, thank you again, Project Kazimierz. We’ll see you on another episode. Go ahead on our website, joins us, if you haven’t already. Join our email list, leave a review and we’ll see you on the next episode.
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