Piotr Wilam: Beyond the Local Market (Episode 7)

Podcast Details:

Guest: Piotr Wilam

Date Added: 26th Jun 2015

Length: 51 min


Sam and Richard welcome Onet.pl founder and Innovation Nest Co-Founder Piotr Wilam to the mic for this latest episode of #ProjectKazimierz. Listen to find out what Piotr learned in his early entrepreneurship endeavors and how he applied that knowledge to future successes.

Table of contents:
From Onet To Innovation Nest
  • 00:47 Sam’s Intro
  • 01:26 Richard Introduces Piotr Wilam
  • 03:01 Piotr’s Story – Adventures in Entrepreneurship
  • 04:51 Going “Almost” Bankrupt
Local Market, Global Reach
  • 07:44 Miltary vs. Business Leadership
  • 08:04 The Hard Things About Hard Things
  • 08:41 Piotr’s Early Ventures
  • 10:31 Gaining Momentum with Internet Businesses
  • 12:11 The Dot-Com Crash
  • 13:01 Piotr Exits Onet
  • 15:31 Circumventing the “Local Market” Mindset
Poland’s Startup Community
  • 16:47 Poland’s Startup Community
  • 17:29 Expanding to a Global Market
  • 19:53 The Image of the Free Market in Europe
Operating Outside the Mainstream
  • 21:12 Building a Startup with the Right Partners
  • 23:54 Hubs of Tech Innovation
  • 25:05 Staying Connected
  • 26:51 Being Outside the Mainstream
Barriers and Opportunities
  • 28:46 Barriers and Opportunities
  • 29:40 Market Impact on Investments
  • 30:43 You Have to Be the Best…On Your Street
  • 32:13 “Too Big for its Own Good”
  • 33:36 City vs. National Economy
  • 34:44 The Time is Right For Startups
Knowhow and Networking
  • 35:37 How Fast Can Your Startup Grow?
  • 37:22 Don’t Become Comfortable with Success
  • 39:04 Kazimierz’ “Young” Spirit
  • 41:31 Knowhow and Networking
  • 43:42 The Investor and the Environment
Education, Innovation, Money, and Leadership
  • 46:35 The Luck of the Polish
  • 47:48 Poland’s Reputation in the Business Community
  • 48:37 Education, Innovation, Money, and Leadership
  • 50:38 Outro


sam cook:
Hello again #ProjectKaziemerz listeners, I’m here with my co-host Richard Lucas. How are you doing, Richard?
richard lucas:
Very well, thanks.
And Richard and I here had the office overlooking the…how to pronounce it?
Wawel Castle in the Wisla river.
We are sitting here in a great office with Piotr who I’m gonna let Richard introduce cause as you probably notices apparently on the show that Richard has friends, I seat here to help. So as a new person in Krakow I’m gonna give Richard more full introduction our guest today and then we are going to jump straight into, cause we have a lot of great staff to go over with.
Ok, Piotr Wilam is a friend of mine, let’s my childrens’ hosting parties in his house, I look forward. That’s a very important think. He is also well known when been the founder of Polish equivalent of Yahoo, Google, company called Onet which is extremely wellknown and successful in Poland, and company that’s kind of in the same market as amazon.com may be not exactly, but in the last year has become very visible in Krakow as a supporter of the startup community, not just by showing up and giving talks, but setting the first funds Innovation Nest that’s dedicated to investing in this community. Also his wife gave a fantastic Tedx talk at Tedx Krakow about children university, which is really world changing initiative which helps thousands of children get access to the best professors originally just in Poland, but it’s going global, so the Wilams, Piotr and his wife, I got really positive people. But may be probably don’t let me do a talking, Piotr you should say whatever I left there.
Piotr, since I don’t know you that well, can you talk about how you just got to the point where you are now, which is being a patron of innovation here in Krakow cause I know probably it’s long journey to get here. How to get started?
piotr wilam:
Yes, it is. It is a long journey indeed. So when I was a student I wanted to be a scientist. It was my career I wanted to be an academic. And what is…the field that was particularly the last thing for me was the philosophy of science. So I was really really abstract thinking guy. And I got a scholarship to Oxford university, I studied Maths. More less in the same time there was this economic change, economic revolution in Poland. And till was here… I mean Poland became a capitalist country, socialism was abolished. And there was amazing eruption of entrepreneurial spirit. And a friend of mine just called me, “Hey, let’s make a business, you will be able to earn money for your studies”, I said, “Ok, let’s do it for holidays”. But it was so exciting that I started to be an entrepreneur. So the first business we had it was a travel guide publishing house, Pascal publisher. In 4 years we became number 1 travel guides.
That was in the early nieteen nineties?
Yes it was in nineties.
By the way, we are recording this here in 2015 because we are aware of fact that those who may be listen to this in 40s or 60s or even 100 years time [Laughing]
And this is ok, there are cars, we have electricity, there are no dinosaurs.
Yes, ok, so this guide, dear listeners, in 22nd and 23rd century, these guides were paper, paper guides, books. Yes, so it was my first encounter with business with entrepreneurship. It was very very interesting time. We did know…We didn’t know anything about business. And so it was let by ourselves and it was really huge adrenaline doing that. And when we started to succeed, the adrenalin was even bigger, I mean, the biggest adrenaline was when we were almost bankrupt. [Laughing]
That’s the best.
And when we started to succeed and after that we did that second … I mean we, me and my business partner (Tomasz Kolbusz) and me…
[Phone rings: Off topic conversation]
Anyway, we can talk about platform domination they call is the 4 giants of the world Apple, Amazon, Google and maybe…
We’ll cut back on that, but so where we did leave off… Ok, almost bankrupt and than stared to make money, which is familiar for entrepreneurs, at least the almost bankrupt part.
I know also about learning by doing, because, you know, I remember I have very good degree from university arriving in Oxford, Cambridge and I’ve been in a very good school Winnchester college, but when I came to Poland instead of studying things, I discovered that I just know nothing about the reality. For example, for the first time when my products went wrong, I realised that we needed a service department.
It was also in the nineties, wasn’t it?
Yes, it was in 1991.
And I also realized when I was transferred from the army to business, how different those two fields were. Leadership in the army is quite different than leadership in business. Yeah, I can definitely emphasise with being a fresh student of these business rules.
I’ve just being reading Ben Horowitz book “Hard thing about hard things”.
Great book
It talks about, you know, so many business books give you advices which are totally irrelevant, for example, “Good to great” by Jim Collins says hire A-players, as if we’re going to go around hiring morons…
We’ll have to get Jim Collins on the show, Richard. … I actually know Jim Collins, pretty well, so I’ll give him a call.
So the first business I started was travel guide publishing house, and than we had… than we saw with my partner with Tomasz Kolbusz, my business partner, that something is going on, digital revolution is started, the world start to be different and these computers there will be powerful. So first, we started to publish interactive programs, interactive software on CDroms for children, software for children. Now there are plenty of mobile apps, we did things for computers, for desktop, 20 years, 20 years ago, and then we switched to Internet. There was a hardware computer manufacturer in Poland, Optimus. It was a public company, they were one of the top Polish companies in that times, and we convinced them to build it, tomorrow together. And so we started in 1998, and Optimus invested real money into this company, it was a couple of millions US dollars, it was equivalent of such sums.
Back in those days, it was more money, in Poland because you could buy a big tenement house in the city center with this money.
Absolutely, the determine of Optimus he was a visionary that he decided to invest such money into such things as Internet, into Internet business and we started to build a company. And then after two years strange things happened. There were banks calling us whether we want whether, we may do business with them. They will find us investors or maybe they will invest. And after another 2 months there were international banks calling us. So when Goldman Sachs called us, we knew that there something going on. There is really some new type of economy coming.
And we had know, we had a business before, we were travel guide publishers, so we wanted to build a real business that has users, that has revenues, that will be a big company, and then there was this, you know, this Internet bubble. It was really amazing time. So we hired Goldman Sachs actually, we planned, we had our IPO on NASDAQ planned for December 2001, but unfortunately in March 2001 there was… the dream has ended. In this time the company reached 300 people more than 300 people, we were employing this amount of people and we started to have revenues, but it was still… we still needed some time.
That means you were losing money?
We were losing money.
We can speak about this, people say that pre revenue…
No, we were not to pre revenue
And after some…I mean it was in 2001 we started to be… to break even, so it wasn’t that bad. And at that time I sold my shares in Onet, and yeah…
[Phone rings]
I literally don’t know how to stop that happening …
[off topic]
So, Sam should I go right that?
Yeah, definitely. And we will jump in and go through some things. So in 2001 you sold Onet. Now was this pre…your … was this before the IPO was canceled or afterwards?
It was afterwards. But it was still quite.. it was very good exit so it was… I changed, my situation in my life changed. I was hard working entrepreneur before and after my exit I could afford things, I could be an investor. So what I did… I went to the United Kingdom again, this time to London, I went to London Business School. Yes, and I was looking for the next thing to do. And in London I’ve decided that I will be a business angel. At that time there were no business angels in Poland, there were very few in Europe, mainly in London. So I think I was the first business angel in Poland, first person who had a business card “Piotr Wilam Business Angel”, and I started to invest in companies. It was… some investments were good, others were not that good. I was learning a lot in that time. And after few years I had this insight that problems in Poland and also in the most European countries in that time was that people were thinking in very local terms, they were thinking about their local markets, they were not seeing that the market has really changed, I mean the Internet business has became global. So I decided… I knew that I wanted to build a fund to invest in companies and help entrepreneurs who want to build global products and enter global markets. I started to talk with people, I convinced Mark Kapturkiewicz, my partner at Innovation Nest and we started a fund, we started Innovation Nest. So we started our talks 4 years ago, 3 years ago we started to invest and this is what I do today, here in Krakow, near Wisla river, overlooking Kazimierz that is just on the opposite side.
And definitely you’ve been very involved in getting, helping get the startup community growing as you know I’ve been involved in supporting entrepreneurship for a long time, but the startup community is relatively very new, and I remember you were telling about book by Brad Feld about building startup community, and now I’m very happy that other people in Krakow knew about this because sometimes I felt that rather few people understood… What do you think’s changed, cause the atmosphere in Krakow is really different now than 5 or 10 years ago… What do you think is the key feature of the change, because I think anyone listening to this there is a moment when the things start work and somehow we’re pass that stage now but there was a time when…
I think that a couple of years ago there were… 5 years ago there were almost no people who want to build a company that is not only for Polish market. And then this couple years ago there was in Krakow a couple of people who started to dream, started to achieve things that are more global. And it was… We were so lucky that these people very quickly they started to know each other, and they started to support each other. So and then we knew each other, we exchanged information. I mean you, Richard, speaking at many events, but it was quite unstructured, I think. And for me this enlightment it was this when I read a book by Brad Feld about startup communities, it was enlightment because this guy simply made it. So we were in the process we somehow felt that something is going on. And Brad Feld he went through this process in Boulder, Colorado and afterwards he described the process. So when I’ve read this book I realized, oh, I was extremely happy this guy knew what he was writing about. And from this moment I wanted to convince others that we should be very serious about building community, about building, you know, this group of people who really want to build things and people who believe that exchanging information, openness, supporting each other that it makes sense for everybody, that this giving is really getting the value for themselves.
It’s interesting for me, but the image of America in Europe, I think, very unfairly, is often very selfish country where people are only interested in money, but in fact, I think that Europeans can learn a lot from this culture of high trust one of the effects of communism seemed to be in Poland only that people stop trusting each other. That was so..the free market was all about… was understood as being very narrow and self-interested, where is the efficiency of everyone trusting each other more than not trusting each other was a complete revelation. We used to come to the events and saying why you doing this, they were trying to understand the business model, and networking event. In fact it is much better if everyone is thinking well you know what was going on. So for me I started seeing on other people doing events too and everyone does a little bit more than just for themselves. The sum of individual process is great because than you feel you are not alone. There were people like Piotr who started many things earlier. Like open coffee meetups several years ago, but then kind of failed I think for him it was ok, but if the only people doing it in term it’s not very much effective. And suddenly there was a kind of critical mass.
One of the things that you just touched on, Richard, I think it’s an interesting point, if you are listening to this and you are interested in building a startup community in your town, may be it’s not quite there.. just an example, I’m in a publishing business for triathlon, and the triathlon industry is a very new industry, and it’s very fast growing, and one of the things that I’m trying to do in this industry is organizing different key vendors to support each other and I always make a point, “Hey, when I launching my product, it’s not really competing with you instead of trying fight over the pie, let’s grow the pie” because this sport can be much bigger, and I think what I’m seeing in Krakow is between Richard, you Piotr, and some other people is, you are helping business that technically could be competing for workers or capital, but, you know, if we just make Krakow better destination we’re gonna attract worldwide talents, worldwide money into the destination, I think with the Google startup initiative and the Deutsche Telecom in Hub:raum where I’m right now, there is really nice synergy of people trying grow than pie rather than fight over the scraps.
Absolutely. It is exactly the essence of it…let’s make the pie.
Google for entrepreneurs is very significant I used to say that logo of Google for entrepreneurs is used to be on main market square of Krakow was more powerful than Queen of England. I’m not so serious I think that for many people relating to tech is more interesting is coming to event in Google. It’s always like “how can that be – Google is a webpage.”
In fact Google had been here for a while, that was very significant, but you know Google setting up its campus in Warsaw in the capital city, Warsaw is the city to the north of Krakow, that has a historic rivalry. In fact it still…
We lost capital to Warsaw, now we lost Google to Warsaw.
One of the very key people in our industry within Google was called David Ostrowski who still with Google I believe, he was saying if Krakow is so good at this, Krakow should help Warsaw, help Wroclaw because if these cities grows up, it’s great for us also, because, you know, may be someone do billions in Warsaw if they do fantastic, for sure will come back to Krakow, or Krakow people can invest or even, you know, if it’s in Berlin or Vienna or Estonia, it’s still in the ecosystem.
I mean you are touching different things. I think, you know, that the architecture of innovation is distributed architecture. This is not one hub that pulls all resources, but there are local hubs, local centers at all of them are interconnected, they are connected with each other. I mean it seems that this model is really happening in Europe, so there is a question whether it is London or Berlin is bigger and will be the destination for tech innovation. I think the answer is neither, both of them will grow, each of them is different, each of them has different strong points and different weaknesses. So it’s the same in Poland, the key is to be connected to be able to help people who…to introduce people to others who can really give them good advice, good connection or good business contact, it’s the point. So I think it’s very good for everybody, for Krakow, for Poland, for Europe, that Warsaw will be a strong center..
Yes, and I often been asked what it’s like to be foreign businessman I’ve been longer in Krakow – for 24 years – than anywhere else in the world, in fact, I was really in foreign business when I have.. I used to run a company where I had guys from Serbia and from Macedonia helping Brazilian clients to reserve mining machinery in Ukraine and Russia for use in Western Europe. And was it really a foreign business? I didn’t know what it meant. And even right now, last week I had a Frenchman who represents a Japanese company talking to us about using American products to deliver solutions to museums in Western Europe, and I think that idea that there are some developing countries that are behind and there are advanced countries that are ahead is true in statistical terms, but people here in Krakow or in Poland who are just as sophisticated as the people in Oxford or Cambridge or in California, may be not the same numbers, but as you said the key is the connection just the awareness that with a click of the button we’re all in the same conference room.
Absolutely. I mean you touched different things also you know if, you know, sometimes it’s good to be outside the main centers, because you can think differently. If you are in the main place than other people there are, you know, fashions, there are buzzwords, and if you slightly in a smaller place, you can look at things from different angle.

“Sometimes it’s good to be outside the main centers, because you can think differently. If you are in the main place than other people there are, you know, fashions, there are buzzwords, and if you slightly in a smaller place, you can look at things from different angle.”

Piotr Wilam, Co-founder, general partner and leading investor at Innovation Nest
This is the famous example from the II World War when there was issue of shipping to bring goods from America to Europe, and the British ship-building engineers who were the best in the world apparently was so busy building ships, because German u-boots were sinking them, but it was impossible to lend our ship-building expertise to the Americans. An an engineer… in fact, professor Charles Handy from London Business School writes about this that an American engineers interested in “Kaiser” which is German name.. that became known as the “liberty ships” and the time to build the liberty ships was… I think it was prefabricated, so he used production line methodology for ship building and provided [unintelligible] they can do ships in 5 weeks rather than 9 months and so the lack of British know-how actually gave to Americans the clean sheet to do it better, so these days I have to say that the first thing I say to a Polish entrepreneur if he tells me that there’s no one doing it is “Have you done research in English, at least?” And I won’t switch to Polish, but he said “nie, nie, nie.” And then I say “Well forgive me for saying, but you know, the chance is that you’re the first in the world, compared to anyone, if you haven’t checked in English are quite small.” And always try to buy what you’re trying to sell, because, there’ll be some little shop in Cincinnati that’s doing that already. You can learn from that, it’s tremendous, it’s so much easier than it used to be.
The great thing about Poland is one of the hardest languages in the world to learn which I’m learning right now, and if it’s been done before, chances are that it been done in English speaking market, Polish all know English, most of them at least in the tech scenes, they can go research and bring it in Poland, so I think there’s a great chance for innovation in Poland based off of the fact that they do this linguistic barrier to entry here in their own market, but the flip side to that, Richard which you always bring up, and this is why we are doing this podcast in English, even though we’re centered here in Poland, one: I wouldn’t be the co-host, but two, we want to reach a global market. So you’re confining yourself to 40 million people market, but that can be a good and a bad thing. How have you seen that play out in investments?

“The great thing about Poland is one of the hardest languages in the world to learn which I’m learning right now, and if it’s been done before, chances are that it been done in English speaking market, Polish all know English, most of them at least in the tech scenes, they can go research and bring it in Poland, so I think there’s a great chance for innovation in Poland based off of the fact that they do this linguistic barrier to entry here in their own market, but the flip side to that, Richard which you always bring up, and this is why we are doing this podcast in English, even though we’re centered here in Poland, one: I wouldn’t be the co-host, but two, we want to reach a global market.”

Samuel Cook, Entrepreneur
I mean we at Innovation Nest we are only about these products that are global, that are not designed for a single market. And I think it is a founding idea of Innovation Nest that this local mindset it was a barrier, it was a bottleneck for Polish entrepreneurs. So our idea is that we should have… if somebody is building… I mean it’s not only our idea, Internet is like that… because of Internet the world is like that. If you want to build something, you have to be the best in the world, not the best in Krakow, or the best in Poland. If you make a coffee shop, it’s not an Internet business, it’s different story, you have to be the best…

“If you want to build something, you have to be the best in the world, not the best in Krakow, or the best in Poland.”

Piotr Wilam, Co-founder, general partner and leading investor at Innovation Nest
In the street.
Yes, on my street.
But then you still compete with Starbucks and international…
Yes, exactly, but they would becoming…so, yes, this is metaphoria,
It’s somehow our message… what we do here in office hours, people come, entrepreneurs come just to chest?, to get a feedback. And it is what we see and what we want to encourage, do things that are really good, that are really good worldwide, do the best in this specific field that you are in. And this is the way how do world works, and this is how internet makes world much smaller because of communication. So our direction is from local to global and this is what we have in mind, and this is our message to entrepreneurs, “Think about build really good things and be the best in the world in things that you are doing.”
Yes, and we will post show notes with links to that Innovation Nest there’s also startup stage, startup community event, Piotr has a very interesting blog which he writes in English which makes it available to…or articles anyway, which is available to the world, but I think, Poland, often it was said that Poland is too big for its own good, but if you come from Estonia or your come from Lithuania, or Bulgaria, it’s kind of obvious that the local market’s small, but if you come from Poland maybe it can be a mistake, because 40 million people somehow it’s feasible…
I mean it happens it other markets. Recently I was looking at startups that got A round funding in London and in Stockholm. And I have to say that these Swedish companies were more interesting because most of them… all of them were global companies, because Sweden is small after all. And with the London based startups, there were plenty of them that have a natural, you know… that were devised, designed for the local British markets. So you know there is this curse of 40 million.
London as a city is a bigger economy than some countries, it’s 15 million people and, you know, as someone who lived in Cambridge before I moved to Poland… There’s a very strong sense in Cambridge, that maybe most of the money is in London, but that there are the guys who invented…
Cammon Cambridge is a separate land. It’s provocative.
The guys who invented Bluetooth, CSR, came from Cambridge, and Autonomy, who were I think acquired for 11 billion pounds by Hewlett Packard, and reduced in structure…It was very entertaining number of global companies that came from Trinity College Cambridge and compare it to most countries in Europe. But then I don’t want to…
And you were there Richard, too.
In my college in Cambridge there was the Dolby room. Dolby was a researcher for Pembroke College, Cambridge. When I was renting it for parties I made joke about it about there not being a problem with the noise, and the guy who … because obviously, Dolby is famous for their noise reduction technology.
Anyway this is not about Cambridge, this about Krakow. We’re being rather optimistic, and apart from the technical scene, there’s a strong cultural scene, beautiful city center, but if you are thinking about the problems and the things, you know, because people may be listening and thinking successes, you know, kind of if Krakow’s making it, fine. What are the dangers, what if things go wrong, what should we need to fix here in Krakow, in Poland if we want to keep up our place at the top table, if such a thing exists.
I think that the main danger is time. So now the trend is rising, now this community and other communities they are going up. So the number of good companies coming out of these communities is growing. These best companies are growing, but the main question is about speed. How fast this growth will take place? Because, yes, as I told you earlier, I mean there are prosperity times and there are crises, and so, you know, this good trend will not last forever. We have to grow fast to make it stable, to make it really sustainable. And it is in my opinion, you know, is challenge. So we should not… I mean I’m really proud that there are a couple really great companies that are here, that are growing, but, you know, we should create a pyramid, there should be best companies, there should be companies that are, you know, at the scaling stage, and that should be these starting companies, people who join, for the first time, startups, students, others who look at these communities and there is something fascinating in them for these people… And all this, all this should work. So we should not be happy that we’ve achieved something, there is a long road ahead and we should really, really work hard.
I met your wife, Agata, not only through the TEDx Krakow talk she gave, but the TEDx movement is famous for spreading ideas. And I think one of, recently in the NPR TED radio, the most recent episode is about success, and one of characteristics of success is great character persistence, I think it’s very important for the younger generation to realise that this prosperity, relative prosperity, is not to be taken for granted.
You know we haven’t succeeded yet, and the we have Estimote, or Base, or Brainly, or Seed.io, or…
I not going to list the companies invested by Piotr, cause he’ll think I’m trying to be nice, and you can see, I think you can see all on the Innovation Nest website, the investments you’ve made.
I think we need to… complacency is very dangerous, and the other thing is ambition, for me the ambition is to have a world class company. It doesn’t necessary have to be sold. Joel Spolsky who invented Trello was here in Krakow, and he just said that if you can have 100 million dollars, 100 million customers and get 100 dollars a year from 1 percent of them, that’s a 100 million dollars business, and if he can do that with 20 guys, he is quite happy, you know that’s like, it’s fine… it would be wonderful to have more [unintelligible] in tiny niches, it doesn’t have to be a Skype, although a Skype would be nice, it’s just that how many people aim for the best company in the world. I think we do have some ambitious people, but they need to make it happen, right?
And Piotr, one of the interesting thing as an outsider coming in, who literally traveled the world and settled in Krakow about 6 months ago to start my… start putting roots down, because I was traveling remote businessman and I realised that I got towards a certain revenue level that that works for a lifestyle business, but not for a business where you really want to build in scale and build something enduring. And I knew that I needed to settle down, and one of the things that fascinated me when I came to Krakow was the …I’m a history junky, I love history and architecture and all that stuff, but also this very young spirit of the town which comes from the Jagiellonian University, AGH, Technical Mining School.
And you know, I heard some people refer to this as “Dragon Valley” and trying to evoke image of Silicon Valley, aside from the great air quality here that we have, may be that’s what they’re talking about with Dragon Valley…
But there seems to be a lot of ingredients here for something very special. That’s one of the reasons I decided to settle down here. In Silicon Valley in the United States, which unlike Europe is the undisputed technical capital, heavyweight capital of innovation in the United States, and the ingredients to that seem to be, first of all, Stanford University – an amazing engineering school or talent pool, and second of all, a reputation for innovation, but really I think the last ingredient is money. Silicon Valley you can walk down the street and they’re throwing money around like crazy. And I think that there’s a lot of ingredients going on here, but from your side, where you come in, how do you develop a network with people to bring more money whether through your fund or other investors, and say “Look what I’ve got going on here.”
Because at the end of the day the key ingredient, and I’m seeing this at Hub:raum, is Deutsche Telekom’s come and they doing some seed investing, but how do you create that alchemy, have you studied that a little bit, and what your plan for bringing this piece of the puzzle to Krakow?

“There seems to be a lot of ingredients here for something very special. That’s one of the reasons I decided to settle here.”

Samuel Cook, Entrepreneur
There are two pieces: money and know-how and network that is connected with smart investors. And it’s obvious that it’s smart money is the main issue, so to have more smart investors investing in Krakow, so what we do now we have started a pilot of our second fund, and we started to invest not only…we have two goals: one goal is to invest not only in Poland, but also in European startups, and the second goal is to build a network of investors… to know people, to be credible, to have trust, and to encourage them to co-invest in companies that are here in Poland. So this network is the key answer… is the answer to your question. To encourage people to show people that there are some things really interesting going on over here. And that these companies really have very huge chances to succeed, because if you invest in a company there are some numbers, there is a product, but there is also the team, there this entrepreneur. If you are a foreign investor and you see for the first time a Polish entrepreneur who is placed somewhere, it is very exotic, I mean investors will not invest because it’s strange situation. The investor has to be familiar with this environment, has to see, for example, Polish entrepreneurs who succeed with other companies, so it’s all about the perception of risk. If you don’t know, if it’s a new situation for the investor, then the risks could be everywhere, this perception of risk is big. And to make it familiar, to make a network, to build credibility, it is the essential thing. So I believe in open society, in open economy and bringing these smart foreign investors who will invest here. It’s very important I think. If they will come… On the other hand, there are local investors like Richard, like me, and if we succeed, we will invest more, so it is all dynamic, the others will join, the others will invest as well, when there will be exits from companies, employees of these companies will make money in such a way, and they will be investing.
So you pull them up to your level.
Yes, exactly, but the most important thing is to be world class, do really good things and to attract the best investors over here. Of course there is… in the success of any company there is the important element of luck, so it’s not something that we can plan that it will happen, but it’s something that I believe in that it will really happen, and there are signs that it is happening.
So, we start with some companies, some of them start to be successful, then the network attracting other investors, attracting smart investors from abroad and the whole, you know, there is a snowball start to roll, it gets bigger. And we are observing it, but we should, you know, make it roll very fast, to build this critical mass as fast as possible.
I think just as we come towards the end of this, I would say that it’s good to mention the word “luck”. Poland used to be an unlucky country within the European Union and outside the Eurozone there in euro crisis and being a member of NATO when horrible things were happening to the east, and many things, and it’s sort of a part of the Polish mentality to feel that we are a rather unlucky country, but right now Poland is in quite a good place compared to many of our neighbors.
I would argue with that, if I may.
You are Polish.
Poland was a lucky country for several hundred years, and then we just had 2 hundred years of very unlucky.
Ok, and I can say that as a British person we are remember the Roman conquest and the Norman conquest, and the French conquest, so we also have our bad periods, so we have some things in [common]… and had our good periods too, but I’m not in favor of imperialism here in Project Kazimierz and the startup community, we welcome foreigners here in Poland, we welcome people from other parts of Poland. Even Warsaw. [Laughing]
But last of all Warsaw.
Dear listeners, it was a joke.
Krakow has a tradition of being a trading center, and trade brings people together. And one of the good things is that quite of Poland reputation that the reality is better than the reputation, and one the things we can do is manage expectations, if at each contact point things that are better than people expect, that Krakow is way more beautiful than people expect… There was former Prime minister called Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, who said that when he went to Western Europe representing Poland as prime minister, he felt that you know, like a monkey that had walked into the room, and they were like “the monkey walks on its hind legs,” and “oh, the monkey speaks English.” And this was 10-15 years ago. But … I was a real while ago that this was sort of sense that things are much better thans people expect, and you know, on that perhaps optimistic note, I’ll just hand it over to Sam to close the podcast.
Yeah, and Richard I think you got a great point. Poland to me was never on my radar until it just happened to meet someone from Poland and decide to visit it, and it definitely blew me away in terms of my expectations. I think the last part that I would just like to congratulate both of you on is, you know, you need an education center, you need innovation, you need money, but then the the last part is you need this leadership… and business leadership culture in Krakow is the last key ingredient, and I think both of you have been leaders in developing that. And Richard you have to do another show on the leadership part of business versus the money side, cause I think that’s a fascinating topic, and that’s the part of the world that I came from and my background and training. So thank you both, Richard, for bringing me together here with Piotr, and thank you both for leading this community that I’ve adopted and decided to grow my entrepreneurial venture in. And you know every week I spend here I’m more and more thankful that I ran into this great group here. And with that Project Kazimierz listener, thank you for joining us for another episode, this I hope was educational for you and gave you some ideas no matter where you might be in the world, whether locally in Krakow or Poland, even if you from Warsaw we welcome you and definitely from any other part of Europe or the United States, hopefully this’ll give you some ideas. If you are not from Krakow or never have been here we would love to have you visit, and definitely drop us a note on the blog, if you do plan on coming to visit, and make sure we are welcome you to our startup meetings, and Open Coffee meetings and things that are around here, cause we love to meet all our listeners who feel inspired to visit this great innovation hub in Central Europe. Thank you again for listening, and thank you, Richard and Piotr.
Thank you Sam and Richard.
You are very welcome.

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