#ProjectKazimierz welcomes Pawel Nowak, tech entrepreneur for a discussion on current trends in technology-based business in Poland. Join Sam, Richard and Pawel for the discussion in this latest edition of our podcast.
Table of contents, resources and links
Resources and links:
- Pawel’s Twitter
- Pawel’s Facebook
- Jakub Krzych
- Ela Madej
- Piotr Wilam
- Google Meetups
- Open Coffee Krakow
Table of contents:
Pawel Nowak: Less Talking, More Action
- 01:51 Sam’s Intro
- 02:26 Richard Introduces Pawel Nowak
- 03:09 Pawel’s Story
- 04:40 Trends with Apple
- 08:49 Microsoft Innovations
iOS Development in Krakow
- 11:42 Lessons Learned Through Blogging
- 14:16 Blogging and Paying the Bills
- 15:24 From Blogging to IOS Development
- 17:17 Pawel’s Current Business
Colab and Other Startups
- 19:39 Establishing Colab
- 22:01 Sam’s Comments on Colab
- 23:33 Development of Colab
- 27:04 Startups in Krakow
- 32:04 The Evolution of Startups
The Death of Distance
- 34:14 Poland and Tech Outsourcing
- 35:25 Global Collaboration
- 38:35 The Death of Distance
- 40:22 Poland and Foreign Relations
Working With the Right People
- 41:29 Pawel’s Biggest Mentors
- 44:43 Working With the Right People
Working With the Right People
- 46:39 3 Take-Aways
- 47:04 Learn A Little About a Lot
- 48:01 Work WIth a Partner
- 49:05 The Hard Thing About Hard Things
- 50:05 Pawel’s Insights on Processes
- 52:17 Working With People
The Fallback Plan
- 53:09 Product vs. Process
- 54:21 Startups vs. Big Companies
- 56:08 The Fallback Plan
- 59:19 A Great Destination
- 01:00:06 Pawel’s Next Move
- 01:00:57 Learning Phases
- 1:04:22 Contacting Pawel
- 1:05:27 Outro
Hello podcast listener. Welcome to another episode of Project Kazimierz. My name is Sam Cook here with my co-host Richard Lucas, all the way from Krakow in Poland, and I’d like to just introduce you to a very interesting guess what we have today, and I’m going to ask Richard Lucas because he’s the man who knows everyone here in this part of the world to introduce Pawel Nowak, who is a very interesting tech entrepreneur, who’s been halfway around the world and is back in the Krakow innovating, so Richard go ahead and introduce Pawel.
OK, well, Pawel’s a tech entrepreneur is an active member of the startup community here in Poland. He’s my business partner in several ventures and friend and my squash partner. Recently he’s been getting better and he’s been beating me at squash. But I’d say I first heard Pawel speaking at a startup community event I think 6 or 7 years ago and I’ve approached him afterwards, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. Sometimes you meet someone you have a strong feeling you’re gonna do stuff together, and that’s one of these occasions when that strong feeling actually became true.
Pawel without a further ado welcome to the show and I just go ahead and tell us a little bit more about yourself and your journey here. .
Well, hi, thanks, thanks for having me. Thanks for the warm introduction Richard and Sam of course. So I am based in Krakow as I’ve mentioned, I’m very much engaged in the startup community here, but before that happened, I used to be a blogger, I used to blog about Apple from I think it was from 2005 to 2012, so for 6 and a half 7 years that was my main occupation. And before that I tried… You know I’m 30 right now, so we’re talking 10 years or 12 years in the past right now. But before that I studied Computer Science and Civil Engineering and a couple other directions in a couple other Universities. But I didn’t get any formal degree in any of them because I started my company and started blogging. So that’s me compressed entrepreneur now, blogger before, pretty much it.
Well Pawel, you were a blogger for a long time about Apple and you ended up running the most popular Apple blog here in Poland. Could you talk about how you got interested in that? And what are some of the trends that you observed then, that got you so interested in Apple and what your thoughts are now on Apple because you’ve obviously been a long time observer and thought leader here in Poland on that.
Oh yeah, it’s been ten years now, so… definitely. So what got me started is I bought my first computer influenced by a friend. He bought a Mac. I just went to visit him and the computer, the OS X was amazing, so to give you a little bit of context that was very early in the Apple history in Poland. Not a lot of people had Macs back in 2005. There were some groups, but still they were like… you wouldn’t really see them in a coffee shop like you do now.
So I visited a friend, we played with his computer for a night, we were supposed to work, we didn’t really so, I went back home sold everything that I owned computer-related or not even computer-related and bought my first Mac. That hasn’t started me… didn’t get me to blogging obviously, but after a year of playing with OS X and all Apple hardware and all the ecosystem that they created, I think I switched to an iMac from my laptop and then my friend got a Mac, and my friend got another Mac, and then they started asking questions. So what I did was, I wrote several tutorials on how do different things just because I was more advanced in using Google, I guess, than them, and one thing led to another, and after a month I realized that I’m running a blog and I’m posting updated to all of my friends and it started from that point. Obviously, that was also a tutorial for my first book. I just put all these tutorials together and I published the book, that was only an ebook. I later got published a paperback version of my book, but that was only an ebook back then. I stuck with blogging and I was doing that for seven years, obviously I switched to news, and I covered everything Apple related. And then when things get little bit bigger, even tech related things.
So, Appleblog was, yeah, the name of the blog was Appleblog. That was as you said one of the most popular technology blogs in Poland. Definitely the most popular blog about Apple in Poland. I think at the top of period of time I had 55 000 unique visitors a month. You know in Poland where Apple was just staring that was really impressive. During that time I published my book and couple other editions of it. I ran a video and an audio podcast, I appeared in different television shows and so on, ever since I moved to entrepreneurship and to be honest I don’t really follow Apple that much. I think I’m still a power user of that system, but I’m not longer engaged in news about Apple, so I don’t know, if I can really comment on what’s happening with Apple right now. I really like Microsoft now, with the new CEO, I really like what they are doing, like they open source this, and they did that like I like the news that is coming.
I think that is really interesting Pawel that you’re always a little bit ahead. It’s such an unusual thing, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone ever say “I really like Microsoft.”
You know Richard that’s the second person I’ve heard say, and I can’t remember who it was, but I think Microsoft now is starting to fight back on the innovation front with their new CEO. Pawel, what specifically do you like about Microsoft?
Well, definitely. A couple of things. First of all they have this, I’m not following the topic so close but from the news that I’ve heard, they open sourced their main programming language, which is awesome because not only they are contributing to the programming community, but they will also get a lot of good people working on that language, so hopefully it will be easier for developers to use it. The second thing was that they will be giving away (or it will be very cheap, I think it was giving away) Windows, the platform, that developers can build on top of. I think they recently integrated or they started doing Apple things when it comes to operating systems on mobile and computers. They integrated them, they bundled them and that’s should really play nicely because – if history is an indication Apple did a tremendous job tying people to their ecosystem, but I think Microsoft has now a chance to do the same – when they bought Nokia, they have a huge experience in mobile platforms, Windows maybe is not the most popular mobile system in the world, but it is definitely an interesting one – and by owning Windows on PC’s they can now implement, or integrate it with the mobile version.
We have to see about the free Windows 10, because I also read this, but then I saw a little star and it said “for the first year,” and Microsoft are quite good at it, they give tons of free stuff to startups, and startups get totally hooked on very inefficient use, everyone has Excel, when only one person needs it, everyone has Office, and then, suddenly after a year the invoices start rolling in, so… But I do agree with you that open sourcing is radical because open source can’t only be for a year; you can’t open source things for one year, and then pull back … But I like hearing things for the first time; it’s the second time this month I’ve heard positive things, but it’s the first time I’ve heard someone in Krakow say they like Microsoft, so that’s new and radical. We move Apple off the agenda, and Microsoft on, in that case.
Well Pawel, I guess you got off the Apple bandwagon just in time, if Microsoft is making another run at it, so…
Yeah, I have to register the “microsoftblog” domain.
Microsoftblog.pl maybe that’s right.
Well Pawel, with such a popular blog in Apple, you obviously decided to switch directions and leverage some of the lessons you’ve learned. What was the decision like to move out of that blog, and you know, why did you move and what did you do next?
So the interesting things started, I think, happening around 2010, I think it was the year when the iPhone was introduced, or maybe it was 2011, or 2009, I don’t remember, but during that period I was very advanced in blogging, we… Now with running companies for several years with my co-founders, I tend to say “we,” but I was running that blog purely on my own, so I have to remind myself of that. So I was very advanced in Apple Blog, and people started to ask me “Hey, do you maybe know a developer or two that we can hire to run this OS X project, or do you know mobile developers, because there’s this new thing called iPhone and the App Store is coming up; and maybe you know the developers, do you?” And one day I thought maybe I’d just hire a developer and I’ll be the default answer to that question – so I did.
It was very early in the Objective-C and the whole App Store ecosystem, I think I hired my first developer when the App Store was a couple of months old. Obviously, there were no experienced developers around developing for the iPhone, so I just hired a very talented developer, and I gave him three books and I said “You have two months to learn that stuff.” And so he did.
I was able to do that because I used to be a software developer, I have rather high-level knowledge about development, or software development in general, so I was able to judge his talent fairly well, I think. He learned, we wrote a couple of different tools, we got our first clients and it just took off from that point. I think at the top point, when my blogging and my company were still overlapping I had 4 or 5 developers and one project manager except me. So we were six people, and at that point I just started to think that maybe I should quit blogging and focus on this company more, and that’s what happened.
And how were you making money in the years when you had the blog before you did this? Because obviously, I guess you needed to eat, and you must have been doing something that people paid you for, or were you very privately wealthy and – I know the answer, you weren’t – but what did you live off until then?
Thanks Richard. I used to… I was running a blog, I had advertisers, so I think I was doing fairly well, when I go back in time to this period of time in my life, I was doing fairly well. And I also published my book which then I also converted to a paperback and I was selling that, I still am. So that book was a nice source of income for me as well.
OK, we were discussing just before you went on the podcast how you can monetize a blog, and obviously you started with an audience and then you figured out things you could sell to your audience, because they were asking you for it, which is maybe not the best business lesson cause if you start with customers before you have a product it’s brilliant, but it’s not always possible, right?
Yeah, fairly hard to do.
Well Pawel, just from an outsider looking at this, if you started your iOS development business because of your blog, people who knew you from your blog, did you sell the blog or did you just decide to shut it down?
Yeah, that was a tough decision and I had a couple acquisition offers, but just to remind you, that was 2012 in Poland, and blogging was… well, we were all new at that concept, and the acquisition offers were fairly low, so I didn’t take any of them. What I did was I shut it down; I wrote the last post and I said like, “Guys, it’s been amazing, thanks for all the support, now I’m moving to do this and this.” And I do from time to time, I think once a year or something, I do some kind of an appearance in that scene again, so I either do a video or an audio podcast with some guys that are running a podcast about Apple, or I write a guest post on other people’s blogs, but that chapter is pretty much closed for me right now.
So is the blog down?
No, it’s still up, it still has 15,000 unique visitors a month, which is amazing, because it’s 100% from Google, from search. Even me, my father bought a Microsoft Office subscription a couple of weeks ago, and he said “…All the words are underlined, there’s no Polish dictionary.” So I started Googling, and I found my blog, as the first result in Google, so obviously, I clicked on it, I read all about it, I fixed the problem with my father’s computer, and I patted myself on the back “Good job, Past Pawel.”
Pawel, that’s a pretty interesting thing. So you transitioned from developing an audience to serving clients in the same business. What is your current business right now, and how’s that going for you?
Sure. So that company I talked about was an IT outsourcing company we started with Polish clients and we were doing mobile for iOS. What I do now is fairly different, I moved through couple different stages and couple different companies during that period, but now I just started, 3 or 4 months ago, a new company called Contelio, and what we do at Contelio is we help marketers to better use their content for content marketing needs. So that company and that idea came out of PressPad, my previous company which I used to run for four years, and we were doing a lot of content there and we learned a lot, you know, a lot of things that can be improved in that area.
You need to change your t-shirt on your Skype ID, because it says PressPad still, and actually, we don’t hang out enough, I didn’t realize you had formally stopped running PressPad, so is that over, or is it just you doing two things at once?
You know, right now I will leave that picture on, because officially I’m still the CEO, we’re doing that transition right now, where all the shareholders already agreed, and we communicated that change internally to our team members. I’m pretty comfortable talking about it, because I know you’ll release this podcast in a couple of weeks’ time and that will be obviously official then, but yeah… In my time, I switched from PressPad to Contelio right now, and me and my co-founder, we just hired the first person and we’re running that company like crazy.
OK, so I can let you in to a secret: you’re live on air on a Google Hangouts, so…
We’re gonna rush this episode to press so that we can…
We’re not at a time pressure, no that’s obviously a British joke. If you listen to this show regularly you’ll realize I have jokes that I think are funny and no one else laughs at.
Well we’re laughing now for you, Richard.
Thank you, yeah, but it’s a bit artificial.
We’re laughing at you, not for you.
I’ve been around Richard for quite some time, so I get it.
Yeah, it’s a familiar scene. So let’s get to it. You got a new venture and another thing we want to … as you know we’re both involved in this Colab venture in different capacities and maybe you can describe Colab and what motivated you to get involved in that?
Sure, definitely, so Colab is a co-working space in Krakow. We started a little bit over two years ago, I think, we took over a co-working space that was already set up, so we bought it from the previous owners and we run it on our own. What pushed us to that decision is… Before we so much… When I say “we” it’s obviously you, Richard, and myself, and couple other entrepreneurs and investors from Krakow… Cause I think the board of Colab has like 9 people… It’s more community work than a commercial work for us right now. We’re trying to give back to the community as much as possible, and I really think that running Colab, or running a co-working space will really help us in achieving that goal. And, because we don’t have much commercial agenda for Colab, we are able to do things that others are not. And this is what we do. We just moved I think half a year ago to a new place in Zabłocie, this is an old industrial district in Krakow where every hot startup is moving right now. We really like the place, we’re trying to run Colab as lean as possible, but as of I think last week we are 100% occupied, so we will be getting new space pretty soon, and hopefully we’ll be able to fill that space with interesting people, as well.
So 100% occupied, that means I might get a dividend soon?
We’ll talk about it after the podcast, Richard.
Now, as regular listeners know I’m quite old school, which means I’m really into making money and paying dividends. Unfortunately, in any of the venture that Pawel and I have done together I don’t think we’ve really reached that stage, right?
It’s been only couple years, give it some time, Richard.
OK, thank you for that glowing encouragement.
Well Pawel, that brings up a really interesting point that I’d like to bring up with you and Richard and you to talk about. Colab is this co-working space movement, and I’ve always been anti-office in many ways, and my background in the army was… I hated the office, because it wasn’t out doing what I thought were substantial things, and obviously, you know, being a staff officer in the army wasn’t great to be in the office, tapping away at a computer, but I spent 11 months, before I moved to Poland traveling around the world, working out of coffee shops, and as fun as that was, to be in different locations around the world, it was actually kinda depressing to be there in a cool spot and working in a coffee shop. And when I moved to Krakow, I decided to go to a co-working space myself and I’m in Hub:raum, which you have a couple companies in there also, and I’m really enjoying it, and I don’t… You know, there’s this “work at home” movement where people think it’s really great to work at home. I personally can’t do anything at home, and I found that the co-working space is just a really good place to have reliable Internet, but also have that social element of being with other people who are doing the same thing, which is striving in an entrepreneurial sense, and then also, just, you know, the overall energy of the place is really interesting, so… Talk a little bit about that movement and how it’s developing here in Krakow, because I think that’s going to be interesting to watch.
Definitely. So, yeah, I’m against working at home, too. I started… When I was blogging I used to work from home and that really gets old quite quick, so I think in my second or third year I already had an office, so I was going to the office, sitting on my own, and working on my blog, and people were asking why I’m doing that, and the simplest answer was I can’t really get any work done at home, because there are so many distractions. Now, you know, ten years later I get way more distractions, you probably hear my son in the background somewhere, playing in another room, so…
Office is a great thing, if you have people, co-working is a great thing if people are starting. You’re asking about the entrepreneurial movement, and I think, I assume the question is about the startup community which I’m really engaged in and I try to support here in Krakow, so… I got to talk about this a couple of weeks ago with a guy from London who was doing his thesis on the startup community and I think we came to a very interesting conclusion that the startup community here in Krakow was always very – Krakow was a very entrepreneurial place, and people were starting businesses here, they just weren’t exchanging knowledge. And what happened is a couple of years back, a couple of guys from Krakow and generally, from Poland, went to the States, and especially, they went to the Silicone Valley, I mean Piotr Wilam, and couple other guys, and they just got hooked on how people interact in the Valley, and how open they are, and how they – how open and helpful they try to be to each other and how beneficial that is for everyone involved.
So, that group of people, they came back, they all went on their own, that wasn’t an organized trip. So they all came back, and they just stayed in that mindset, where you try to pay it forward, you try to give back before you give something away. And before that started, it really landed on a very good ground here in Krakow. I don’t know if you realize, but, you know, Krakow, when you think about Europe in general, including Russia, and all the Eastern countries, for centuries Krakow was in the middle of Europe and all the trade paths were crossing here in Krakow. That is why we have the big market square in the center of our city. So we always had a lot of people from around the world, different cultures, different ideas, so now what happened is, couple guys came back with this “pay it forward” way of dealing with problems and opportunities, it landed on very good ground of people that are open to new ideas and try to learn from each other, and it just somehow, magically, started to appear as a community. And then, I think 2 or 3 years later we really started to do things the Silicone Valley way, I’d say.
Yeah, I’d say that in a way it was kind of a log-jam, because one of the features of communist societies was a break-down of social crust, in many different ways, and so it wasn’t just in Poland but in Poland there was this slogan – I won’t say it in Polish because people won’t understand – “You should never trust anyone,” “Nigdy nie wolno nikomu ufać.” There was this slight anti-trust culture, which is quite unnatural, and so, in a way, when people came back with this Silicon Valley mindset, actually it was something that people were hungry for, even if they didn’t realize, and it was a huge contrast between the younger generation of people who wanted to be modern, and the older generation who were somehow, to some extent, completely wrecked by communism. Of course, not everyone, and Piotr Wilam, he’s an older guy, I think he’s in his mid-fifties now, but also, people may not realize, but he’s the founder of the Polish equivalent of Google, Onet – or maybe more like Yahoo, and something a bit like Amazon, so he’s on the Polish rich list, and for the people who’ve made it, to just feel that being socially responsible isn’t just about you know, giving money to the church or to a museum or to a children’s home, but to actually to put rocket fuel into the entrepreneurship community was very positive, and there were a lot of people who were waiting for that.
I think it was ready, but it was also a contrast to history, wasn’t it?
“In a way, when people came back with this Silicon Valley mindset, actually it was something that people were hungry for, even if they didn’t realize, and it was a huge contrast between the younger generation of people who wanted to be modern, and the older generation who were somehow, to some extent, completely wrecked by communism.”
Yeah, definitely. Like, Piotr is one of the guys, definitely, and maybe it was still behind our heads, even for the younger generation, that you know, people, my parents always say, you gotta think for yourself and only trust yourself, because other people may screw you over, and somehow over time, when I was exposed to this Silicon Valley thing, and all these people who were thinking that way, it turns out that I can trust them, and they trust me, and we, as a group, as a community, we can trust each other, and I haven’t really… The community hasn’t let me down yet, so it’s working.
“Being socially responsible isn’t just about you know, giving money to the church or to a museum or to a children’s home, but to actually to put rocket fuel into the entrepreneurship community was very positive, and there were a lot of people who were waiting for that.”
Well Pawel, this is really interesting because I’m very new to Krakow, I’ve been here, at the time of this recording, six months, in February 2015, and one of the things.. First of all, I’d never even considered going to Poland as a destination, I was traveling around the world and spent a lot of time in Australia and Asia, then a friend of mine invited me to Budapest, and I thought that was a nice city, but for some reason it didn’t click with me, and one of the things I noticed, when I met a girl from Poland and she said “You should come check out Poland,” and I went to Warsaw, and ended up, she told me about Krakow, and I decided to come down here, and I just fell in love with the city, the Market Square you mentioned I think is the best-kept secret in Europe in terms of just being a great area to hang out in, and then I heard all these great things about the startup community here, and one of the guys I was staying with on AirBnB live in that old industrial district, and he said, “You know, this is one of the top ten outsourcing destinations in the world for tech talent,” and I don’t know which magazine said that but I believed him. And when I decided to move back here and set up shop, one of the first things I did was listen to a friend of mine in America who heard about the Google Startup for Entrepreneurship meetup and that’s where I met Richard, and then Richard’s been a great help to me in terms of just networking in the community, and just from an outsider looking in, I’ve been very impressed with the level of trust among young entrepreneurs and business people in Poland in general, and I grew up in the New York City startup environment, and I’m not familiar with the Silicon Valley one, but I do know it’s a pretty harsh community, although they do help each other it’s also very, you know, tough. So I’m just very impressed by the startup community, and just traveling around Poland, it’s much better for startups here than Warsaw, which is more corporate, and then I was in Wroclaw, and they were looking at Krakow as kind of this leader in entrepreneurship. So it’s interesting to hear a little bit of the backstory here on that.
“I’m just very impressed by the startup community, and just traveling around Poland, it’s much better for startups here than Warsaw, which is more corporate, and then I was in Wroclaw, and they were looking at Krakow as kind of this leader in entrepreneurship. So it’s interesting to hear a little bit of the backstory here on that.”
Yeah, definitely. What you said, you compared it to New York and I drew a comparison to Silicone Valley. I think what happened here in Krakow is… I’m not 100% sure, maybe people that study that movement more will be able to have a more educated guess about it, but I think we took what was best out of the Silicon Valley spirit of the community, and then added the secret sauce, let’s call it. Yeah.
“I think what happened here in Krakow is… I’m not 100% sure, maybe people that study that movement more will be able to have a more educated guess about it, but I think we took what was best out of the Silicon Valley spirit of the community, and then added the secret sauce, let’s call it.”
Things evolve over time, I mean there was a guy who tried setting up IT of Cracovia, Pawel Blaszczak, and that didn’t work, ten, fifteen years ago I tried setting up first Tuesday meetings, and that didn’t work, but there’s a girl we both know called Ela Madej who set up a company called Applicake, which was the first quote “international style” outsourcing for Ruby on Rails house, and hiring a guy called Piotr Nędzyński set up the Hive movement, which was a kind of networking thing. Hive led to Open Coffee which I was hosting in Google for Entrepreneurs with Marta Rylko and I think there’s definitely a right time for it. You know, there’s a time at which things fall into place. You know, often, as a British person, I’ve been in Poland, [as of] February 2015, for more than four years, and I often think that when Poles look West, they looks straight to America, they ignore Western Europe, but Ela Madej, whom I was mentioning, who founded Hive, and her venture led to Base, which is one of the world’s leading mobile CRM platforms, they started a CRM on the iPhone with mobile-first; she had a relationship with Mike Butcher from TechCrunch, and one of the things which they did was to bring in people like John Biggs, and Mike Butcher from TechCrunch Europe and TechCrunch in the United States, giving Krakow this spotlight, this attention. So this sort of nice coincidence, you have Google here, Google, as a brand, is just amazing. People will show up to an event in Google, that they wouldn’t show up… They say “How can you go to an event in Google? It’s a building. I thought it’s a web page.”
There’s something there.
If we mention everyone, it gets too long, but there’s certainly a happy coincidence of major international corporations, major international media, plus particular individuals who are ready to go a bit further than just looking out for themselves, and it all came together, didn’t it.
Ah, yeah, definitely. A very, very happy coincidence, but it all worked out, so far.
Pawel, this brings us to another point I’d like to explore with you on a broader I think cultural, historical trend. When I was in New York City I ran into plenty of Polish people looking back in America had many more Polish heritage friends than I thought it did, looking at all the different names like Nowak, and things, of people I grew up with… And now that I’m in Poland, it was well known for great tech outsourcing. I mean, I think the design work and web sites in Poland… The designers I have here are actually better than any I’ve ever deal with in the world. The programmers are amazing, but you’re going from a workshop-type mentality to make a bunch of money for multi-national corporations to a startup community where there’s real opportunities, and upside, and wage opportunities for Poles, and Poles are known in the UK and in America for being very adventuresome going all over the world to look for great work, because they’re so well educated and so talented, but is that brain drain, or the migration flow, going to start to reverse? And I think you have a little bit of experience with that.
Yeah, sure. So, well, first of all, from all the Poles out there, thank you for these kind words, and second of all, you know, it used to be an outsourcing center, especially here in Krakow we still have a lot of international and even local outsourcing companies and we do work for all the people outside, but I think what happened is during the time that the startup community started to evolve some people really got tired of working for someone else and seeing other people’s success, and they thought like “Maybe we can build a product on our own and use all the experience we had or gathered throughout the years.” So I think this is what happened. What you said about migration and, you know, talent moving outside of Poland, and if or when they’re gonna come back.. You know, when I talk with my co-founders and friends who work here in Krakow, they really like the city, we’re really proud of people here, we have a couple great universities and colleges and other schools here in Krakow, so we have an incredible environment to really grow an international business from Krakow. And I think what happens is some people still think they have to go to the States to do so, some people try to do something in-between and some people just say, “We don’t care, we’re gonna grow our business from Krakow.” I really like the last group, but I’m really supporting all of them because it’s really great for Krakow and Poland in one way or another. When it comes to talent, well, a lot of people moved, I have to say – I personally haven’t lost any friends over the past ten years, because they haven’t moved. But I knew a couple of people that went to Berlin or London or the States and they’re still working there, but they all think about coming back, they see what’s happening in Krakow, they really like what they see, they’re following the news about the community here, and I already saw a couple of people moving back to start working for – or setting up – a company here in Krakow. So, it’s like with business – I shouldn’t really build the product for myself, because I’m not a good representative of my clients, so I don’t think I really have enough view on that subject to have a general opinion, but I hope that people will consider staying here and will treat that as an option equal to moving to London or the States, or any other place in the world. And I think we have a great set of tools here to help them do that.
I think I can be objective, I mean, I’m not completely objective, but I come here from a foreign country, and at one point, and I think this is the first generation in the history of the world where “where” you are is, thanks to the Internet, detached from where you are from a business point of view, and I remember somebody say “Well, what’s it like to have a Polish business?” This was the previous company I was running, and we had guys from Macedonia working on a project, helping a Brazilian company by researching mining machinery in the former Soviet Union, and it was a British-American-owned company, that happened to be registered in Poland, but, you know, it’s almost irrelevant. And I think, you know, for example some of the money I made here in Poland I invested in a company in London, some of the money I made in Poland I lost in investments in the United States, you know. And it’s almost like, where am I, where is my money, what am I doing – obviously, you need to have a center of gravity, and the great thing about Krakow is that if you get your business right, it’s a very attractive place to be, while you’re doing your business. But I think business has like moved away from being geographically rooted. So to some extent a Polish guy making tens of thousands of pounds a month in London is only 2.5 hours to get from London to Krakow, it takes longer to get to some cities in Poland than from London to Krakow. So to some extent, I think, the dearth of distance is quite important, thanks to the European Union and the lack of visas at least within Europe it’s all very straightforward, of course we would like to be different, but I don’t think this is the right environment to talk about the American visa policy.
I got a visa, so I don’t care.
Well I’m very, now that I am in Poland, I’m very sympathetic to the local cause here, just seeing all of the loyalty that Poland has shown the United States on the world stage, to the point where you’re getting in trouble with your European neighbors for helping us out with the different adventures that the United States had, it’s amazing to me that we don’t have a better visa policy towards the Poles. But yeah, that is another discussion.
Yeah, I think that is another podcast.
We’ll have to bring your brother on for that one, Richard.
Well, I’ll certainly… I know what he thinks.
Well Pawel, let’s… you know, this has been a very interesting discussion, and just before we bring it home here, who have been your biggest mentors in your business journey, and more importantly, it seems like, you know, the best is ahead of you in the terms of some of the ventures that you’re stating right now, so what do you hope to accomplish going forward, and you know, who are you relying on to advise you going into that?
So there are a couple of people, Richard being one of them, I’m very grateful to know him for so many years now and becoming a friend. I’d definitely name Jakub Krzych, the CEO of Estimote right now; we’ve known each other for a couple of years now, we also co-founded a couple of companies, and I just look at him and the amazing job he’s doing right now and, you know, we spent endless hours talking about his experiences with the past company, his previous company, and I just see myself doing the same steps as he did a couple of years ago. So, right now, I would say I’m in a place where I get a lot of experience of how to start a company and get it to a certain level, I don’t have much experience when it comes to growing that company to millions of dollars in revenue, but I think with the experience I already got I’m able to eliminate a lot of mistakes and a lot of problems that I used to have in different ventures. So, with the company that we just started, I’m a little bit afraid to say it out loud, not to jinx it, but we were able to almost completely eliminate all the mistakes that we made with PressPad and Untitled Kingdom, and all the other companies that I co-founded, and so far, so good. So I hope that with this company, I’ll be able to get myself in… You know, people in the States say that they always chase, that they want to change the world and they want to build a billion dollar company, we Poles we don’t really have the balls …in that shape, let’s say. We have balls as big as the guys in America, but they’re a different shape, and…
“I would say I’m in a place where I get a lot of experience of how to start a company and get it to a certain level, I don’t have much experience when it comes to growing that company to millions of dollars in revenue, but I think with the experience I already got I’m able to eliminate a lot of mistakes and a lot of problems that I used to have.”
I’m now hearing things for the first time, Pawel, and I have to say that’s the first time that I ever met anyone in Poland who ever said that.
I’ll write that one down.
I don’t wanna…
You own the domain.
I’d register that now. Polishshapedballs.
Pawel “My Balls Are a Different Shape” Nowak.
That will be a great t-shirt I guess.
I would say Poles are not nearly as grandiose as Americans and their statements, but I think what they deliver is certainly of equal value, so…
Yeah, this is what I’m trying to do. This is what I’m trying to do. You know, before we started recording I told you that… You said that, you know, we’re gonna end the recording whenever you run out of topics, and I said that I have a tattoo on my forearm that says “Less talking, more action.” And I think that really sums up what I’m trying to achieve in my life. I’m trying to focus very much and get stuff done. And hopefully, with this company, I’ll be able to get it to a fairly big state. For me, a fairly big state is around, you know, a hundred million dollars in revenue per year, and this is my goal.
My family motto is – not unique to my family – is “Esse quam videri” which means “To be is better than to seem” and I sometimes think that Americans… I’m very pro-American for a European, I think that one of the big differences between Poland and the United Kingdom, where I’m from, is that in 1945 there were Soviet troops in Poland, and American troops in the united Kingdom and I think the UK came out a little bit better than Poland on that one. But the other thing is, thanks for saying that I’m a mentor. For me part of life is trying to move beyond competitiveness, just thinking “How can I keep up with all these people around me,” but partnering with people who’ve got skills and are good at doing stuff that I’m not good at doing, and trying to share ideas and inspiration and, you mentioned Jakub Krzych, my business partner in Estimote and if anyone listening hasn’t heard of it.. Polish surnames are quite hard to spell and pronounce, but Krzych is K-R-Z-Y-C-H. Google him, because he’s part of this group rather like Ela Madej from Applicake, who just present as do you Pawel an image of Poland for which, you know, traditional stereotypes do not apply. Cause these are guys who are smarter than the average person you speak [to], they speak way better English than the average English or American… And Pawel has that… I said Pawel, what I meant was Jakub has that ability to like think one step ahead of the interviewer, so it is not at all surprising for me that he was able to raise a ton of money after his time in YCombinator, and in terms of someone who doesn’t just talk about great ideas, but as you said: stops just talking and does doing. It’s extremely compelling. And in terms of any big lessons to learn, if people wanted to remember you for three things that they should take away after listening to this podcast, that they could benefit from putting in to their lives, what would those be?
Great, great question. So I think the first thing is: learn a lot of things, but don’t really go deep on any of them. This is one of the things that you haven’t asked me about that , but, you know, I don’t have a formal degree, I started at six different universities, and I haven’t really finished any of them.
Have you started more companies or degrees? Which one?
Well, as of half a year ago I started more companies than degrees, but it has been the other way around for quite some time. Um, so one thing that I’m really satisfied with, with my life so far, is that I really know how to do many different things, and I pride myself, you know, on being, on learning new things, and I try to learn a new thing every day, and… A lot of people, like if you’re a software developer, then you need to focus on one thing and get really good at that one thing, but if you’re trying to be an entrepreneur, then this is something that I can’t really recommend enough it’s to learn a little bit of everything. I know it’s contrary to popular… you know, the way that universities direct people, but this is something that I would recommend.
The second thing is, we don’t really work in a vacuum, so get a co-founder or get a partner, in one way or another, someone that will support you and that will, that you can bounce ideas off of, and I think at one point I had like 21 co-founders in my companies, and, you know, I look… My father is an entrepreneur, he used to run, well, he’s still running his company on his own, and I just see what’s the limit of that, and why he can’t really grow beyond a certain point, is because is he’s only one person. And just having two people it does not only multiply your brain power by two, but it can only multiply your opportunities by four. And it just goes this way.
And what’s the third thing?
Well I have it tattooed on my arm. Less talking, more action.
“Having two people it does not only multiply your brain power by two, but it can only multiply your opportunities by four.”
We’ll have show notes with these, so we’ll post links to that.
But it was a brilliant branding and marketing tool because, you have to remember that back then, Poland had this very conservative, old-fashioned image of the country, and the Applicake people, Ela is and was good-looking, and a lot of the other people there are young, dynamic, well dressed, and so there’s this sort of complete clash with what you would expect a Polish software company to be like – men with moustaches and…
Pawel, this is a question we like to ask, what are you reading right now?
Yeah, good question. So I try to force myself to read a little bit of non-industry books, but I really fail, I’m really failing at that, so right now I finished The Hard Thing About Hard Things, this is the book by Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz Ventures, and I tried to read a book about parenting, but I really, I don’t know, I was able to read only one chapter, so I’m not even gonna mention that… But that was a nice chapter, and then I’m starting Mastering the VC Game, something that a friend recommended to me recently, and you know I got some experience with working with VCs. Now with Contelio we are moving in a little bit of a different direction than before, and I think I have to get a little bit of pro advice, and starting with a book is a good idea.
There’s one question I meant to ask earlier, which is probably out of order, but I think it’s very interesting. A lot of people, when they’re thinking about startups, they’re thinking about product and they’re thinking about product market fit, and how they can come up with the thing that they can make money out of, but I’m also interested in your insight into process, and like, if you think… I think a lot of people in the startup community don’t understand the experience of running an organization with a few people. And are there any things, tips that you could share about the process of running a business, in the terms of things that many people don’t realize when they’re starting down the road that are important to know. Cause I know you got insights into that and I think you should share them.
Um, sure. So, I remember when we first met, Richard, or when we set up our first company, I think you were talking about process a lot, and I used to think like “Let’s not deal with this stuff right now, we’re gonna figure it out later,” and now that I’m 30 and I’m at my seventh venture, you should see me going about process, really. Like, literally, my co-founder recently said “Can we deal with that later?” and I said “No, we need to deal with that right now.” So this is one of the things that for me… You know, there are a couple of things when it comes to setting up a company and dealing with legal stuff and so on, but this is really boring. What I find interesting is that everything is a process, and I turn to.. I started to write things down, and we review every single process in the company that we work on, on a weekly basis right now, this is a very lean company, so once a week we look back at what we’ve done and we try to fix or tune that process a little bit. And that is, you know, that’s really surprising for me, how that’s really worked out, because I didn’t think that this will have so much influence on our day to day business, just by looking back at what we’ve done and fixing one small thing that, you know, we wouldn’t otherwise notice. Yeah, so I hope that answers your question.
Well, I didn’t know what you were going to say, actually, but process is one, the other thing that I think is really hard to figure out is to do with people, because, actually, how to work with people so that they’re motivated and happy, and productive, and bringing the best out of them. I think a lot of entrepreneurs at some level have a certain level of natural leadership, but leadership is something that can be learned and figuring out how to work with people so that they’re motivated and happy, and you can have all the processes in the world, but if the people in your organization aren’t happy with your processes, you’re probably… it’s probably like trying to push a ball uphill with your nose or something like that.
“If the people in your organization aren’t happy with your processes, you’re probably… it’s probably like trying to push a ball uphill with your nose.”
You know, I’m trying my best, I learned a lot of these things in my past companies, so hopefully I’ll be able to implement some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years in that company, but we’ll just have to wait and see how I did.
Pawel, a few quick thoughts on what you just said. In the army, they used to say “Amateurs talk strategy, and professionals talk logistics,” and I think in business, it would be the same thing, which is “Amateurs talk products or ideas, and professionals talk process,” because you can have all the best ideas in the world… What strikes me especially in the Krakow entrepreneur community is it’s a very young idealistic community, and everyone’s buzzing with ideas, but I think the real veteran entrepreneurs know that a great idea is much harder to implement and deliver on for the customer, than just having that idea, and it’s really all about execution and systematizing things. And as Krakow grows, the process experts are gonna come to the fore to help mentor these young entrepreneurs.
Yeah, this is one of the things that, you know, we have a great pool of talent here in Krakow when it comes to software developers and designers; what we lack is, you know, business people, or experienced executives. And hopefully, we will either grow these people from the people that we already have here or we’ll just import them from outside.
Well I have to comment, the BPO stands for Business Process Outsourcing. There are a lot of these big international companies, like Cap Gemini, or Alexander Mann Solutions are doing business process outsourcing centers here in Krakow, and great as they are for the city, and in terms of bringing in extra people and talent, and capital, there’s also this idea of what I call “business sense.” It’s not common sense, but it’s like that raw understanding that if you can make something for one, and sell it for ten, that’s a great business. And it’s worth building a process. And sometimes, people who come from the corporate world, they don’t get the guts of the business so much. Sometimes they do. I think sometimes people in the startup community are unnecessarily arrogant and they look down on the corporations, whereas I say, you know, “Well, you build a five thousand person a year company, making five million dollars a year profit, and then you get to criticize.” Cause actually, those guys are way more successful than I am, so don’t criticize the guys who are doing way better than me, or you, out of jealousy. But I think that process is important and one of the… hopefully, those business process outsourcing companies may bring in some of that know-how into the city… Well, put it like this: if the BPO companies don’t understand processes, there’s something seriously wrong with our world.
Maybe some of those executives coming out, or some of those workers coming out of there will see that, and start a consulting group for entrepreneurs. That would actually be a great business idea if you’re listening.
Or they will quit Cap Gemini and join a startup somewhere in Krakow and you know, they will get their hands dirty.
Well you know, that’s a great talent pool that can be leveraged by the startup community, so I’ll have to look for a few of those people myself.
Although I mean, sometimes there’s a kind… there’s a big association which has done a very big.. called Aspire here, which is this association of these big international companies, and I know the people who run it, and we make a point that sometimes there’s this rivalry between the startup community and the big companies, but in fact it’s kind of symbiotic, because you know, people in the startup community need security, and people in the big companies sometimes need inspiration, and so the fact that if you come to Krakow and you startup doesn’t work out, and you’ve got talents, then you can be pretty sure that you can find a job in one of these companies; that’s a kind of fallback. Equally, a lot of people, they can’t afford just to quit home and not to have a salary while they start a business, but if they can hold down a day job, a day job in the big company, as Gary Vaynerchuck said, you know, you come home from your 10-hour day at work, you kiss your dog, have your supper, and you got from 10 pm to 2 in the morning to work on your startup. I think I heard him a couple of days ago in his podcast, saying that he’s proud of the fact he’s built two 50 million dollar a year revenue organizations in the last three years, and maybe that’s part of the secret: just to understand that you really have to work.
“Sometimes there’s this rivalry between the startup community and the big companies, but in fact it’s kind of symbiotic, because you know, people in the startup community need security, and people in the big companies sometimes need inspiration.”
Yeah. Definitely. Gary is great.
Well, Richard, that was a funny comment you made, cause I hired my first Polish employee, Ania, from a Google Meetup that you made, and I said, “Well, you are joining a young company, and that is a risk,” and she was leaving a big company, IBM, and she says “I’m not worried, cause I can go find a job at a big corporation, if anything doesn’t work out.” And it’s a really, I think a powerful combination that, you know, all too often in economics people view things as a zero-sum game, and Krakow has a lot of growing to do, and Poland has a lot of growing to do, might as well all work together.
[Laughing] No, no, you certainly can’t in a legal sense. But that was really good, and we’re all sitting round the table here and from Ela’s story, and Richard yours, that failure is definitely – and I don’t want to over-glamorize failure, you don’t want to seek it out consciously like a martyr – but you do need to be open to it and the lessons that it provides.
And also, life’s a journey, and you know, for people who are… I mean, I always try to remember that I’m a privileged, well-educated – I went to Cambridge University, which is, even against Krakow standards, Cambridge, UK reviews itself quite well – I sort of feel that it would be easy to forget that this gives me a sense of security. My British passport, my family background, but you know, for some guy from a village in Poland to get to Krakow and work in one of these outsourcing centers, that may be a big step in his journey, from his family’s point of view, he’s a hero to be working in a shiny office building, but then once he’s here, then the next stage of his journey can be coming to Google Meetups, then Open Coffee Krakow, OCKRK.co meetups, now we’re no longer in Google for Entrepreneurs cause Google’s spreading its wings to a small city in the north called Warsaw…
It happened earlier, Krakow never got over it, so…
But we, you know… There’s nothing wrong with people doing what’s best for them at any given time in their life, and I think there’s room for everyone in a market economy, who’s working hard and who’s trying to make the best decisions for themselves.
Definitely. Definitely. Yeah.
Pawel, I think it’s been really good to hear your insights, and I just to hear from someone who’s been in the trenches of the Krakow startup community and really seen it take wings in the last few years. I think a lot of people will be inspired by your story, and maybe consider moving here, or if they’re here, maybe consider jumping into the startup community with people like yourself at Colab, come to an Open Coffee meet in Krakow, or just really dip your toes in the water and see what you can get.
Last question, Pawel, before we go is we’re big on investing, and yourself as a business professional, whether you’re going to a conference, or taking an online course, what’s your next big investment in yourself that you plan on making?
That’s interesting. Um… Hm. Well, I, you know. Conferences and meetups come to mind, but I try to cut them away, and concentrate more on the business right now. I think the most important thing for me right now is to focus on two things, one is my family and another is that company, and not to get many distractions, and… I know it doesn’t sound really like an investment, but it really should pay dividends in, you know, in a couple months’ time, hopefully. And you know, I’m a father for six months now, so I really have something new here going on, and I have to focus on that as well. So I’ll try to balance that, and hopefully I’ll be able to, and I’ll treat that as my investment.
That’s a great point, because… I went through a very strong learning phase in my business career when I bought every course and went to every conference, and I recently just shut all that down, aside from just head down building my business and doing networking here in Krakow. And sometimes what you choose not to do is more important than choosing what to do, and I think investing in a family that can give you strength, and a little bit of home base to come home from business is probably a pretty important investment.
Oh yeah, definitely.
So, certainly, and you know, I also think that if people want to learn…it’s again, there’s something different about the world now, and I’m not sure how far young people appreciate the world, this is the first generation in the history of the world that’s had access to all the knowledge in the world at the touch of a keyboard. There was a thirteen-year-old girl from a village in Pakistan who was a keynote at Davos, not the most recent one but the year before last, because she came top worldwide, in one of the engineering courses on Coursera, one of the online learning platforms, and, you know, the fact that a girl from a village in Pakistan, which is an extremely un-girl-friendly society could come top in a technical subject, it’s very moving really, and I think if someone wants to learn now, there’s this really great web page called Google.
It’s very simple, there’s just one box, right?
One of the reasons I’m sitting alongside Sam is that, whom I’ve got to know over the last few months doing this podcast is that I’ve been most impressed by the level of knowledge that other people have been contributing, there are people like, Andrew Warner with his Mixergy podcast with entrepreneur interviews, there’s people like John Lee Dumas, whom I’ve interviewed, and you. They’re not doing exactly what we’re doing, they’re maybe a different style, we wanna do things in a more European way, but, like, you can see.. There’s a kind of… Someone has a good idea, they do it, then like, a second later, the whole world has access to that idea, and like, who know, something good may come out of this podcast for someone none of us will ever meet, but it will still be the case that knowledge is spreading, and there’s a kind of acceleration.
So, in terms of parenting I was happy that Sam was explaining, though I ask Sam to explain what he was doing to my son Daniel, and Daniel said “I already know, you’re doing a podcast.” And he asked a really good question: “Why? Why, and do you have any experience?”
Oh, the insight you gain from children with their unfiltered questions is amazing.
Pawel, I’ve really enjoyed this interaction with…iIt’s always good to have access to Richard’s friends and just enjoy speaking to another one here, and hearing some of the stories, from someone from this town that I kind of stumbled across, in my kind of Odyssey-like journey across the startups world in my trip around the world, when I quit my day job. So, how can people find you, Pawel, if anyone wants to get more information on how you can help them in the marketing standpoint, or maybe if they just want to contact you and comment on this, how would they get in touch with you?
Um, sure. So I think the easiest way would be to find me on Twitter and then start from Twitter and go somewhere else. All the links are on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @njet, N-J-E-T, it’s very simple, I think you should be able to Google me, as well. Yeah, and just, if anyone listening wants to say “Hi,” my email address is at the very top of my Facebook page, so you can’t really not notice it. I’m very open in that regard, so hopefully I’ll be able to help some people out and contribute some more.
Right, well, thank you very much, and thank you also Project Kazimierz listener for joining us for another episode where we discuss innovation in Krakow and Central Europe, and just all the great ideas that are coming from this part of the world in this exciting time in history. And look forward to hearing you for another episode.
I was just reflecting as we were going through this, normally you would really flag the fact that Ela along with her co-founders are Y Combinator alumni. We didn’t even bother to say that in the introduction, which was either a slip or show how self-confident we are here in Kraków. The other thing is that Ela’s based in the United States now, she’s back in Kraków, that anyone listening to this broadcast, if either you’re going to be in Kraków, or you know someone who’s going to be in Kraków, if you’ve got something to say, that’s worth spreading to our audience, we will do what we can to bring you into this community. Thanks to this digital technology the idea, you know, you could be in a tent in Alaska listening to this, or you could be here in Kraków in the next room. The internet gives us incredible global distribution of ideas, so if you’ve got ideas worth ‘shedding’… I mean… [Laughing]
Yeah, thank you very much.
Thank you very much for having me.