As the head of Google Campus Warsaw, our guest today has had a critical role in the startup ecosystem in Poland. Rafał Płutecki started business in Poland by providing dial-up internet access to businesses that needed to be connected. Today, he’s connecting young businesses to much more than just a modem. Through the Campus he links entrepreneurs to the networks and resources they need to become global enterprises.
Mentions and links:
- 02:50 Intro
- 03:45 Rafał’s background
- 07:00 How Communism created entrepreneurs
- 09:00 Sweden proves you don’t have to be uncomfortable to be pushed into great entrepreneurship.
- 13:50 The launch of Google Campus Warsaw
- 19:30 Do bankers need to step up and support startups?
- 23:00 How Google Campus Warsaw plans to spread to the rest of Poland.
- 27:15 Does Warsaw or Cracow have the stronger starup ecosystem? ”
- 30:40 Upcoming events.
- 31:05 The Central-Eastern European exchange program
- 33:40 Outro
Good afternoon welcome Project Kazimierz listeners from Cracow and also we’re in two locations today.
And today we have a very special guest, Richard as tradition; I’m going to let you introduce Rafał. It’s actually someone you’re just saying before the show, you haven’t actually met but you both been in Poland for a long time in different cities doing a lot of great things, so we’re here with the head of Google Campus Warsaw. So Richard go ahead and introduce him.
As you said I’m always a networker, so I’m happy to introduce people I don’t know. Basically Rafał has a key role in the pro entrepreneurship start-up ecosystem here
in Central Europe leading Campus Warsaw but if you look at his previous career, he is one of these people who isn’t like a professional ecosystem support person, he may be now but in the past he was a highly successful entrepreneur in Internet Service Providers and insurance company and an investment fund as well as a job sport or so. But I think itis perhaps better for Rafał to introduce himself, rather than me and get it right rather me get it the wrong. Rafał could you just tell the listeners a little bit about yourself that I haven’t covered just now?
Hello everyone, Rafał Plutecki, head of Campus Warsaw. I am very happy to be with you all. In a general term yes I have been a serial entrepreneur, for most of my professional life and… technology and the Internet was at the heart of what I have been doing and actually my first project was still back in nineteen nineties. It was nineteen ninety-three when the Internet, still without the graphical browser, started to appear. I set up one of the first Internet companies in Poland – Internet Technologies. We were providing internet access that was dial-up access to corporate customers mainly but also consumers all over Poland. That was my start when Google was still not there and many other companies were not there and actually Netscape just launched their graphical browser which gave the Internet the completely new look.
I first came to Poland in ’89 and went into business here in ’91. I stopped working for other people then. What about your earlier career? Your CV shows that you studied in France, in Delaware and Harvard Business School so you’re obviously pretty educated in the West but what was your experience of education in Poland? Did you have a classic Polish education in the nineteen eighties? How did that work?
Yeah I lived in Poland until I was 18 and that was the last year of the communism and I decided that I am too ambitious for the communist times and I decided to go somewhere else. I was living in West Berlin, this is the place that doesn’t exist anymore, it was really fun place and then Paris and then the United States Delaware. I have studied business administration, international finance but also computer science in my early days and when I was at the University of Delaware, one day the professor of the business administration said “students tomorrow I’m going to send you by email for the first time your homework” that was 1991. It was very surprising for me to learn that I’m going to get homework via an email and obviously my first experience was just outstanding. I spent, I think, around 48 hours non-stop browsing the… still the text version of the Internet – various CompuServe, America Online and the University resources of the Internet at that time. I realized that this is my future, so after this inspiration, Poland open up to the democracy and the liberal economy started there was a huge start of the entrepreneurship in Poland’s and I went back to Poland. I had a very short three-month job at the Polish development bank but the Internet was something that I was looking for. This is what happened I met people, that were IT juniors and we decided that it’s time to build Internet access provider in Poland. This is exactly how it started, we have a lot funny anecdotes and also very interesting stories about that, but this is actually where I started. I started to connect companies across Poland to the Internet.
When you came to be doing business in Poland around the same time, although obviously you had the Polish childhood, I used to think my dissertation at the Cambridge University was about black markets and communist economies and why they were so pervasive and I felt that a lot of Westerns got Poland wrong because there was a lot of entrepreneurship. The communist system turned people into entrepreneurs, it didn’t stop people from being entrepreneurs and I’m interested to know your perspective on this, because you were too ambitious, so you left. But did you feel when you were 18 and leaving Poland that, like a lot of Polish people, were frustrated business people who wanted to be business people or do you think that the other view, that the communist system destroyed entrepreneurship. Because I hear lots of different opinions and I wonder what you think.
For me an entrepreneur is a person that wants to change his life. He’s really for better, because he’s not satisfied with his status quo and in the early nineties opportunities opened up and many people just decided that to try. There are no big competitors, there are no niches that are taken by big companies and let’s try to build something. I think a lot of people went into the business, not just because it was an opportunity but also because there was no other way to make a living or it was let’s say the alternatives were very poor.
Yes, but I’m thinking more about the impact of the pre-’89 system on the business culture, because I felt that in a way people had to be quite enterprising to survive under communism, when the system doesn’t work teaches creativity and I wonder whether you agree with that or, looking back not like in the 90’s with hindsight the opportunities were there, although I can tell you a lot of my friends from the UK felt that I was completely crazy to move to Poland as a lot of Polish people thought I was completely crazy to move.
They still think that Richard.
We won’t spend a lot of time on this, but what impact do you think the communist period had on the business mentality, maybe of the whole region, because I see it as mixed by and I don’t see it is entirely negative.
They argue that in the socialist economy you lack all triggers or motivation to build your own business, because everybody’s equal, and I rather get a salary but if you look at the place like Sweden, which is the second largest unicorn factory in start-ups after Silicon Valley this is a very safe and very comfortable place to live. So I think it’s sobering the socialist approach to life it is more the entrepreneurial culture and how it is calculated and again in Sweden, you have the guys that build Volvo, the guys that built Skanska and many other companies, which are global and I think that if you simply cherish this kind of approach that you can build the company the entrepreneurial culture is there. In terms of Poland entrepreneurial culture was not there in the definition that we had amazing role models but actually we had dreams and we had no other alternative to build a company, so I think that created this the first wave pf entrepreneurs but obviously we are generalizing. Most of people in terms of statistical approach to how we view the population, most of the people will not or should not become entrepreneurs. This is not for everyone. But obviously, we should be definitely cherish and promote entrepreneurship as such.
I’m glad to hear you say that, because i was involved in the Światowy Tydzień Przedsiębiorczości – bringing Global Entrepreneurship Week to Poland and back in the 90’s with Shell the life of our program to promote entrepreneurship and I felt that back in the nineteen nineties it was really… now it’s kind of normal and fashionable to promote entrepreneurship, it wasn’t like that back then and do you think that in a way things have gone to fat, the people who shouldn’t be entrepreneurs are being encouraged to go into business or do you think the situation is about right to the moment.
I think the, especially for technology entrepreneurs, the situation changes positively from year to year. What is happening is that we have two big forces – first of all is we have a huge EU funds available to first time entrepreneurs, we have billions of euros that will be granted to start-ups, so the capital barrier is much, much smaller than before and secondly we have the supporting ecosystems which are bringing out in so many cities across Central and Eastern Europe and all over the world that they really teach the entrepreneurship, that they teach the boot-strapping, the ways to quickly and effectively build your business once you have determination and great idea or great problem you want to solve, so I think that there should be more entrepreneurs and the opportunities right now are bigger than 10 or 20 years ago.
Google Campus Warsaw has only recently launched and it’s not the first one in the world. I’ve done some events in your sister organization in London so might be an example. Is there anything different about what you’re trying to achieve here compared to London or Tel Aviv all the other ones?
Each Campus around the world has the same mission – to support the local start-up ecosystem, to support the local start-up communities and to enable the next generation of entrepreneurs to learn, to connect and to build companies that hopefully will change the world. So the mission is the same in every Campus. In terms of our approach and the way we work the functions of Campus is also the same – we have the cafe area, that this is where the networking starts with the fast Internet access, we have a even space area where anybody can attend events all of them are for start-ups and all of them are… huge majority of them are for free; we have acceleration programs that companies are fine-tuning their minimal viable products or fine-tuning their go to market strategies; we have co-working space and obviously all the community events which are very important so anybody interested in the start-ups can set up a community event. So this functions are the same all over, the mission is the same and also we have a global programs that also are the same and available so we had a gaming and acceleration program in November, in December we have a Campus exchange program in Warsaw where we have invited start-ups from across Central and Eastern Europe to join our program to learn how to globalize their ideas and then we are running around 5-6 global programs each month for start-ups, for all the Campus members across the globe. So the main idea, the main mission, and the main way that we work is the same. However each of the Campuses are actually solving its own problems which is particularly the existing market so London has a different situation, because this is much bigger and much more mature market, they are putting more diversity, on the female entrepreneurship and so they have diagnosed biggest problem is there are start-ups, Korean start-ups know how to globalize their products and their solutions. In Poland our mission that we have in mind is to create a new brand for the region, for Central Eastern Europe as a start-up brand. We would like to tell the world and create the visibility internationally that, first of all the region has the population is almost 200 million in 20 countries, where over half of them 105 million live in the Schengen EU-NATO area, that’s for free; secondly we have, as the region, we have more technical engineering graduates each year than the United States, we have lower cost of living in all of those areas which makes having an engineer much easier task, we are various computer science or engineering competition world-wide, usually in top five countries which mean Poland or Ukraine or somewhere from the region is usually taking two or three spots out of the five, so we have engineering talent, we have excellent competencies, we are the quantity and quality of those engineers are great. But the entrepreneurial system is not really ready to turn those engineers into global entrepreneurs and that’s our mission we want to bring this start-up knowledge and we want to popularize that knowledge by supporting the ecosystem all across Central and Eastern Europe and if we do that, if we use those strong points from the region… plus we had this huge billions of dollars, billions of euros that are coming from EU funds. This seems to be a task which is achievable; it’s very ambitious but is achievable so that’s our regional mission for Campus Warsaw.
“Each Campus around the world has the same mission – to support the local start-up ecosystem.”
That’s fantastic and for anyone listening to this who’s not from either Warsaw or Cracow and we have listeners all over the world, I did three events in Google Campus London but I live here in Poland and it was really straight forward to… obviously you need our credible event but we were setting up an alumni event for the school I went to, something for the Oxford and Cambridge alumni society so anyone anywhere in the world who wants to do something in this region potentially, provided what you do make sense and is pro start-up community you can potentially book space and the point about the Google brand is it gets people to come who otherwise might not that is it i used to say in Cracow Google for entrepreneurs logo did more than the president Miasto Kraków because people like to be close to global brand and obviously Google isn’t the only global brand but it’s a kind of door opener to get people to come, that’s one coming. The other is in terms of what’s missing, yesterday I was hosting the Open Coffee Cracow meeting, which happens every second Thursday and we had a lawyer show up and every now and again we get a lawyer and one of the big things that’s missing is what I call the support groups, the accountants, the lawyers, the bankers who in other countries might regularly show up to these events and it is absolutely remarkable that in two and a half years of Open Coffee Cracow we’ve had one banker show up once. People from the investment front in Innovation Nest and certainly some others do show up but it’s absolutely extraordinary. I think it would be… I told the city of Cracow they should make a survey of all the bankers in Cracow just asking them who’s the person for start-ups to talk to because most banks in Cracow don’t have anyone who’s dedicated for start-ups there are people to service the EU programs but that’s slightly different than the start-up community and do you see a role for Google there and like actually kind of embarrassing people like the law firms, the accountants and the bankers into realizing that if someone from PKO is invited to visit Google to explain who is responsible for start-ups will notice they have nobody in that they might change their organizational structure?
It’s very interesting that you say so, because our experience is completely the opposite – in the first week we had so many bankers, accountants, consulting teams, strategy firms, all of them are supporting Campus Warsaw and we’ve run so many even with them that we don’t have this problem.
Fantastic! Well I hope our listeners in Cracow now feel stimulated to show up and maybe things have evolved but it’s extremely good news because i feel that the great thing about this connected world is the benchmarking effect that if something could happen somewhere then everyone else should rise up to the level of the best available example.
We are very fortunate and you are right at mentioning that Google is magic brand and we are able to get the resources which have been, I would say, dormant resources for many, many years and there are excellent people that are supporting the ecosystem from all angles so we have amazing mentors both on the products, technology, legal, consulting, taxation and even international jurisdictions. We have excellent sign up of investors and venture capital firms from Poland, from region and internationally. We have amazing group of members right now we have four or three thousand six hundred members which have signed up for our Campus and we are hosting around 2-3 events per day. We have so many meetups so the quality
is really thriving and amount of quality of start-ups is just amazing I am really surprised that so many quality start-ups thinking literally with very unique technologies and products. I think it works and we are also attracting a lot of people from across Poland we have visitors from Cracow, from Wrocław, from Poznań, from Gdańsk all of them participate in various events but also we have fifteen percent of international membership and so we have our guests from the across the Central and Eastern Europe but also from Western Europe – we have German, Italian, English and of course from the east – Ukrainian, Belarus entrepreneurs that are coming with start-ups and or the leader start-ups. We have twenty-five percent female memberships which we also want to invite and encourage. We run the number of programs especially for females, for female entrepreneurs. We are actually starting very soon Campus for Moms – this is usually the young professional ladies which are very qualified to build a company and are having a child and without so this kind of support it will be more difficult for them so we are just bringing this infrastructure for all of the groups and this is just a starting point because Campus Warsaw actually only has this week it’s the eighth operational week. So we’re just starting. At the next phase will happen in the second half of this year is the most of our content, resources and get a better networking with all of the cities across Poland and Central-Eastern Europe so that’s our goal.
“Google is a magic brand and we are able to get resources which have been dormant for many, many years. ”
What you said leads directly into my next question, because obviously being based in Cracow there was this sense that the city might lose something. How do you envisage let’s say – not maybe now – but strategically how do this is the relationship between Campus Warsaw and the regions of Poland? Not just Cracow but obviously there are other major centers like Wrocław, Poznań, Trójmieście in.the north of Poland and so on Katowice… do you see having some outposts or some kind of outreach program or ambassadors or something like that?
Yes exactly. We obviously… the way the ecosystem works is… we are not coming up with the plan, we are inviting the community members from other cities to come to discuss with us about the best ways we could benefit them and together we will create a plan. So this will be a joint community work what are the best ways to use that so we’re meeting with various groups and asking them for their opinions, for the ideas and the most probable option is to have partners in the region which will be usually some sort of co-working event space and acceleration programs. These typical start-ups will be our partners and we would involve membership from both to discuss over various formats like the device stream, demo days, introduction of start-ups, vertical events like live stream to special speakers that we have in, not only Warsaw but in Cracow or Budapest. We may have excellent speakers and those events can be live streamed so we’re going to come up with a clear plans which are realistic to implement that we would like to the hole and they go all the three things – first of all its branding and the visibility, we would like to create Central-Eastern Europe as a start-up region and this should be a brand and we have to build this visibility across the region between us we would like to know what is happening. There is an amazing work and amazing start-up in Budapest, there is Warsaw, Prague – we know very little about each other so we should create is visibility among ourselves and also builds visibility to the rest of the world, so whoever from Silicon Valley or Hong Kong to see what is happening in the region he would have access to all our resources and our information so visibility is number one. Number two is knowledge transfer, we obviously need to support those ecosystems with knowledge and excellent guest speakers, excellent resources – there can be physically
present but they also can be live streamed, so we want to definitely bring our content or content, all content ideas around entrepreneurship and building start-ups to those ecosystems but also these ecosystems will bring those programs to other places because I see that there are amazing people that can run amazing programs that are based on everywhere so this is not just the one directional assistance it is above directional. And the third thing is the globalization, so we can create a center of European demo days for various stages of start-ups or various verticals and show the global investors, global markets how they can engage with the Central European start-ups, so this is what we want to achieve in this three points and hopefully we were going to help the old ecosystem grow.
Sam’s been sending me messages saying this is a three way interview and Sam’s hardly said a word so over to Sam.
Hey Richard it’s really appreciated here in the history of Poland every time I’m putting myself in a situation it’s fun to hear how you went through 20 years ago. A couple comments and observations from the conversation – I was really drawn to Google for Entrepreneurs when I moved to Cracow as a brand so I can attest firsthand that the way I met Richard and became so connected in the community was through Google for Entrepreneurs. That ecosystem in Cracow really I credit it with making Cracow the place that really strong start-ups have been founded. How do you see Warsaw? I was talking to Piotr Wilem bout this and he said that Cracow was the strongest start-up community and a lot of people credit Google for Entrepreneurs. How do you see Warsaw right now evolving even in the short eight weeks that you’ve been running, how do you see the Warsaw start-up scene and the rest of Poland, where do you see Poland over all the different cities and how things are emerging
The way we look at Campus Warsaw mission that we are not putting any borders between cities or even between countries so we look originally at the start-ups and we also not comparing, because it’s useless to spend time to try to differentiate. We actually want to unite ecosystem, so every day I’m meeting great, great entrepreneurs from Cracow, from Wrocław, from Gdańsk I met amazing people from Prague yesterday I met people that have built a hundred million dollar companies in Lithuania this one last month and these are all entrepreneurs that at some point of time have been helped by a mentor, by somebody from the ecosystem. What I see is we need to approach regionally in that entrepreneurship and I see Cracow entrepreneurs, because of the Google entrepreneurs’ initiative for a couple of years in Cracow. As Cracow community benefit is really a lot, so that’s proves that those ecosystems really work and if they’re done with passion, with great content this really works. So that Cracow is the best example that the professional ecosystems done by Google really work and they bring the benefits so I’m seeing so many amazing entrepreneurs all over the region and all of them would love to connect with us and we are a hundred percent inclusive, we are inviting and we are working with all of them.
Rafał I just wanted to tell you from a personal experience, I came to the opening and I come to Warsaw now a few days a week and the Campus is really amazing and if you’re listening to this you can go sign up online for free, join the mailing list and you’ll get notifications of all the great events. One thing that Google Campus is going to sponsor this podcast and help put out the word about the great episodes, the great interviews were having on here which is really helpful to us as a podcast and we thank you for that and also Ewa Wysocka of Good Try Consulting here in Warsaw used to work with me and my previous company is world-class marketing talent she and I are deciding to put on a marketing meet up and we’re just wanted to launch it and I met with Magda, who’s your head of program here and she’s been so helpful telling us how easy it is to set up an event like Richard you did in London and we’re gonna start doing these marketing meetups and it’s really awesome to have the promotional power of Google to promote those events and hopefully we get some great people in, teach great marketing skills to the to the ecosystem because Richards talking about the business side is what Poland needs to develop. The legal, the accounting, the sales and marketing side so thank you for all the great support you guys are providing on that, it’s been really… from a user perspective it’s been a great experience here
Thank you very much for the nice words and is just the beginning, As I said you know that we had eight operational and we have so many ideas how to fill the ecosystem so it will be just amazing, amazing roles for all of us in the next couple of years.
Yeah and just upcoming programs if you’re listening to this you’re a mom and you’re in Poland the Google Campus for moms program is going to be 13, I think, 14 week program I’m going to be teaching there with Ewa for one of the weeks and also
marketing meetups are coming up that we’re going to be scheduling periodically and I think you have the Central-Eastern European exchange in June that Magda want me to be sure that we promote and talk about that. Closing this out Rafał, Central-Eastern European exchange what is that program coming up, I think, that’s one of your major programs coming up this summer?
Yes we are bringing some Central European start-ups, from hopefully all of those countries and we help them scale up. So this is about scaling up and the ideas the teams are really amazing and we also sponsor that program so people just have to travel here but we pay for accommodation, food and all of the content so this is what we bring to the table in terms of the ecosystem. We cannot obviously do it every week, every month but these are the things we are helping with.
“You come with your dreams and ideas and we turn them into opportunities and then into global corporations.”
Yeah and if you’re interested if you qualify for that just go to the Google – campus.co/warsaw or you can just google it, I bet you could google it and find it pretty easily. Google Campus Warsaw and find out if you qualify. With that Rafal I know that you’ve been generous with your time with us today, I know that running start-up community for 200 million people is very, very challenging, that you’ve been traveling a lot so thank you very much for your time, it’s been truly inspiring to see the short progress that you’ve made here in Warsaw – you know being a consumer both of the Cracow Google for Entrepreneurs program and now in Warsaw. It’s great to see that Google’s doubling down on there I think very a profitable investment so
far in Poland so thanks for joining us.
Thank you very much, thanks Sam of all and Richard – when are you coming to Campus Warsaw to run your event? You have to come!
Okay I’ll do a deal if I just negotiating – if you come to an event we hosting in Cracow I’ll come to some you’re doing in Warsaw, does that sound fair?
I love Cracow. You’ll have to invite me to tell me what it is.
You know very British sense of humor. Seriously I’d love to come and do something and I’m just changing my job at the moment and I’m gonna need a bit more time in a few weeks and I’d love to come up. I’ve got many ideas but a closing message may be -obviously within the start-up community you have like people to know about to but if there’s someone listening to this who isn’t really plugged into the community what’s the most important message you can get out to someone who is not part of the community right now, who’s finding this conversation rather strange, doesn’t know anything about us?
Well, I mean, we always tell people you come with your dreams and ideas and we turn them into opportunities and then into global corporations.
That’s pretty persuasive. I think that’s a fantastic note to finish on. I will certainly come to Warsaw, I’d be glad to support what you’re doing and maybe contribute something myself somehow and Sam normal does very nice clothes so I let him do that
We’re sitting here Google Campus in a former vodka factory and I think that the opening the head of Google Europe gave a great, John Britton I think, gave a great analogy that is is flowing here it’s clear it’s exported all over the world and inspires creativity and I think anyone who comes here will find that a a Campus for Warsaw they’re not serving vodka but certainly the spirit of what Poland’s the best former export was is here and I’m it’s a great its a place. Thanks again for joining us Rafał, thank you Richard for helping me host this I look forward to seeing all of you and Richard at Campus Warsaw and Rafał down in Cracow and everyone here for future events, thank you