Croatia: RoomOrders, The Young And The Silver Lining In The Cloud

RoomOrders Economics student interns from University of Rijeka, Croatia

Every cloud has a silver lining, and one needs to wait to see it, work hard to see it or, perhaps, even put the silver lining into the cloud himself or herself. In other words, there is always potential for something positive or beneficial to result from a negative situation and the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic has indeed been a negative situation worldwide in many aspects of life but particularly the existential one – the economy and the ability to earn a living, or to secure internships in order to prepare for future work to earn a living. As to the latter, it’s not every day that a company welcomes over 30 interns – especially not in Croatia.

When I came across a Press Release late last month by hospitality start-up RoomOrders in which it stated it has just done that, opening its doors to over 33 ambitious students from Rijeka University, who want to experience the inner workings of a global organisation I was impressed.

“It is unconventional and perhaps audacious,” said CEO Eugene Brcic Jones about the decision to accept so many interns, particularly since RoomOrders only has a handful of developers and other staff in its office in Zagreb, and that, well, that the world is in the middle of a crippling pandemic.

“RoomOrders does not want to be an ordinary company and this move reflects our different way of doing things too,” said Jones.

“Boldness is not a natural reflex for most people, particularly young people starting their professional careers. We hope our confident attitude and readiness to take on risks will rub off on them as well,” said in the Press Release Eugene Brcic Jones, whom I have interviewed before and wrote about his moving from Australia to Croatia in 2017 on a quest to contribute to the development of Croatian economy and democracy with his Western knowhow and entrepreneurial zest.    

Left: Eugene Brcic Jones Photo: RoomOrders

RoomOrders is a mobile ordering platform that allows guests contactless self-service of food and beverages in hotels, restaurants, bars, and cafes – whether they are in lobbies, poolside deckchairs or rooftops. They just scan or tap a QR code with their smart phones.

The company is a global leader in its niche and is used in leading chains like Hilton, Marriott and Accor, from as far as Brisbane to Boston and Belgrade to Barcelona.

Despite the coronavirus, RoomOrders continues to sign new hotels and resorts. It recently signed Swiss chain Hapimag AG, which operates more than 50 holiday properties all over Europe and the US. RoomOrders is currently being used in almost 100 hospitality venues around the world, on every continent except for South America.

I was interested to hear what this internship opportunity RoomOrders made available meant for the university students from Rijeka who joined the internship program and generally about their views on the profession they have chosen and their future and, so, I conducted an interview with six of them and here is what they had to say:

Studying economics in Rijeka, what do you think are the most important skills that a future economist must possess in order to succeed in the business world both in Croatia and internationally?

Lana Gunzi: “I am in my third year of undergraduate study of business economics, majoring in management at the Faculty of Economics in Rijeka. Among the most important abilities of economists, I would mention creativity, intellectual curiosity, precision, systematic, developed ability and adaptation to the team environment, and great responsibility for achieving success in the business world, i.e. for avoiding mistakes. I believe that these abilities of an economist are important for application in all markets, both domestic and international.

Magdalena Markus: “Just like for any profession, every economist should be passionate about their job, we have to understand the problems and needs of today’s world and economy, we have to be able to learn, grown and adapt because the world changes fast. Researching, reading and discovering should be a big part of being an economist. Also, I think it’s important to stick out in some kind of way, best trying really hard and doing the best job possible.”

Monika Branovic: “I believe that every successful economist is characterised by precision, systematicity, responsibility, and of course knowledge of mathematics and computer work, as well as a sense of communication, teamwork and a penchant for working with people.”

Barbara Sertic: “Personally, I believe that an economist must be able to perform the tasks and problems that lie ahead of him or her. I think that will and perseverance, meticulousness and organisation are important. Nowadays, it is harder to succeed and break into the market in any position, so I think that these features are of great importance.”

Tea Kranjec: “Nowadays, through various media, we can hear that there are too many economists in Croatia, from those with secondary education to those with Masters of Economics. Personally, I believe that economics encompasses a broad concept that appears in almost all industries, and every economist can find himself in a certain field and improve his knowledge and skills in it. The skills that I believe that a future economist must possess in order to successfully cope in the business world at the end of my studies are, first of all, the patience and perseverance that I learned while studying. Sometimes it happens that we all forget that successful results do not come by themselves but take time and hard work. Furthermore, it is desirable that every economist has developed good communication skills because they are necessary for the successful work of the team and for communicating with clients outside the company. Depending on the department in which the qualified economist works, the required skills will differ, for example an accountant who must be trained to work accurately with numbers, while the manager must lead and maintain good communication between all departments of the company, encourage cooperation among colleagues and lead business operations of the enterprise in accordance with the objectives of the enterprise. One of the most important skills that each of us should hone is the ability to manage stress that leads to more efficient work and prevention of more serious illnesses. I would like to add one saying that my parents repeated throughout my schooling, and that is: ‘How many languages ​​you know, that is how many people you are worth’; this is a very true saying that benefits every job candidate in Croatian and international companies.”

Nikolina Benko: “I think the most important thing for any economist is to always be ready to adapt to new market situations, we live in unpredictable times and only those who react quickly to change can ensure survival. Also, a good economist must be creative and think ‘out of the box’ when making decisions, sometimes it is necessary to look at the situation from several different angles to truly understand how best to act. The job of an economist mainly revolves around numbers, so it is expected to be accurate and ready for long-term analyses.”

What did the opportunity for internship with a company from Croatia, RoomOrders, doing business around the world mean to you?

Lana Gunzi: “By joining the internship with RoomOrders Inc., I was given a great opportunity to apply my previous knowledge into real practice. RoomOrders Inc., is not a common company, but offers the possibility of insight into the real, the market and the everyday situations. Trainees are divided into three branches Marketing, Sales and PR and COMMUNICATIONS, where we learn new skills, gain new knowledge and life experience.”

Magdalena Markus: “For me, this kind of internship means a look into the real business, and how it works. It’s a great experience that I can carry with me in my future employment wherever that will be. When you’re studying economics in Croatia, there’s not much contact with practice, just theory, so I’m glad to be getting this opportunity and doing more than just reading and studying.”

Monika Branovic: “Well, for me, this is a unique opportunity to find myself in a certain field of economics and thus continue my education at the graduate school in Rijeka. I also think it’s good to have some experience in the company so that I can more easily adapt to the business world after graduation.”

Barbara Sertic: “For me, internship at RoomOrders is very important. I know that it will bring me a lot of experience because through the tasks we perform every day we learn how a growing company operates. I am grateful for the practice we do, and I certainly admire our mentors Eugene Brčić Jones and Gerhard Šarić.”

Tea Kranjec: “I would like to thank our prof.dr.sc. Herija Bezić and assistant Davorin Balaž of the International Economics course, who enabled me to get involved in the work of a young and innovative company such as the start-up company RoomOrders, Inc. For me, this is a new experience that moves away from the classic learning from manuscripts and books, but allows us to contact people from the business world who pass on their knowledge and experience to us. I believe that this seemingly short experience will contribute to my future employment, if not in RoomOrders, Inc. itself, then in other companies. Such collaborations should continue and actually increase so that it is not something new and revolutionary but that it becomes quite normal for students to have work experience before graduation like students around the world have.”

Nikolina Benko: “I see the collaboration with RoomOrders as an opportunity to take a peek at what business really looks like not only in Croatia but also globally. I believe that through theory we cannot understand enough how business actually works and that with this experience we will certainly know after college what awaits us and what is expected of us as employees.”

Is it difficult to secure internships for students in Croatia? Do you have any ideas how to improve the situation as far as this is concerned?

Lana Gunzi: “I think that the big problem of Croatia is precisely because it does not have an organised possibility of practice within its faculties, except in the field of medicine, teaching and educational fields. While economists get this opportunity only in the third year of undergraduate study, by choosing the elective course Practice. Therefore, this internship opportunity, organised by Teaching Assistant Davorin Blažin and prof.dr.sc. Bezić as part of the International Business course, is an opportunity not to be missed.”

Magdalena Markus: “When you’re studying economics in Croatia, the practice is really down to its minimum, you get just two courses during five years of schooling that include practical work, and I don’t think that’s enough. I think that more company’s like RoomOrders should offer internships and educate young people. Also, I think that the country’s whole educational system should encourage less theory and studying for tests and more life and work experience incorporated in the studies.”

Monika Branovic: “I think that in Croatia it is harder to provide students with internships, especially for us economists. Well, I don’t have any ideas, in fact, I think that the faculty should provide that, just as our professor prof.dr.sc. Heri Bezić and assistant Davorin Balaž provided something like this as part of the International Business course, for which I am very grateful. It is also an ideal way for students to gain some insight into the business world and develop, and it is interesting because it is not only a strict theory, but we perform tasks and solve problems that occur in the company.”

Barbara Sertic: “This is the first practice I am doing, in Rijeka, so I have no knowledge about how hard or difficult it is to secure it in Croatia. If the problem is to offer students an internship, it would be great if our example showed how important it is to offer students an internship. I think this experience is great for us, the students, but also for RoomOrders.”

Tea Kranjec: “Many students during their studies do various incidental / part-time jobs in order to earn a living, cover the costs of studying, etc. In Croatia, there are rare cases of internships, especially for students of Economics. I think that the practices were abolished because they were reduced only to making coffee, and not to doing realistic tasks in the company’s business. I think that providing internships by educational institutions is not difficult, which can be seen from the example of our internship organised by two people (professor and assistant of the course International Economics). I don’t think it’s that hard to secure internships by college but it’s the companies that mostly don’t like to take too many risks and introduce some extreme innovations like the 33 interns at RoomOrders Inc. Companies should set aside places for students because they are actually the ones who represent their future workforce that brings innovative entrepreneurial ideas. If companies are ready to accept trainees, they must also be ready to instruct them well in the company’s business and the tasks they will perform.”

Nikolina Benko: “Work practice in Croatia is performed mainly through elective courses in certain years of study, so in fact it is not even mandatory. I think working in practice is good for any young person before they are actually ‘thrown’ into real business. The opportunity we got is a very rare practice here, I have not heard before that someone gave young people without experience in Croatia so much responsibility and trust. I hope that the news of the collaboration between RoomOrders and the Faculty of Economics will encourage more faculties and companies to dare to give students the opportunity.”

You are the young generation that will one day shape the future of Croatia – if you were asked what you will do to make that future in the economy desirable, what would be the opportunities or possibilities in the business space that you would also like to be involved with.

Lana Gunzi: “When I think about the future and the job I would like to do it would definitely be project management because working on projects is what fulfils me. It offers so many opportunities for progress and I believe that with this choice of job I would be able to make big changes in Croatia, by introducing new innovations and using all the limited resources available. At the moment, a lot of ideas are spinning in my head, and I would like all this not only to remain on the ideas, but to succeed and put them into practice.”

Magdalena Markus: “I think that Croatia is a great country, with many possibilities, and with the right ideas it could become so much more than it is. I think that the most important thing is to turn to the people. Better educational system, better opportunities, encouraging them to stay in Croatia, opening businesses and working and making their money here. I hope to work here one day, because I love living here, and helping in the economic growth in my country, I’m not quite sure in what way, but I believe I will find a place for myself.”

Barbara Sertic: “I believe that every day is an opportunity, or an opportunity to do something of quality, be it in college, at work or in your own home. We create new opportunities every day, and in order to one day be able to improve Croatia, our society and / or our own business, we need and must use these opportunities.”

Tea Kranjec: “Since I am finishing my studies this year, I will do my best to look for a job in smaller private companies in order to gain knowledge in the field of economics that interests me, and that is specifically finance – accounting. My interruption of studies does not mean giving up economics, but it represents an investment in additional practices, study of professional literature and additional lifelong learning programs with which I upgrade the acquired knowledge. I was thinking of starting my own smaller business in the city where I live in the future because I have no plans to move outside of Our Beautiful One ‘Lijepa naša’. I believe that Croatia has a lot of potential and such beautiful examples as internships for young students contribute to improve the image of our country’s economy. As I have already stated, I believe that more companies in the Republic of Croatia should have courage to include students in professional internships so that we can boast of not only the beautiful Adriatic Sea but also of smart and hard-working students.”

What do you dream about when you dream about the future Croatia?

Lana Gunzi: “The dream of a future Croatia is not currently shown in the most colourful of pictures, but I think this is because of this epidemiological situation that has moved us all away from some set goal. However, Croatia is a country that has more than enough potential to break into various branches, starting with tourism and the entire economy. In the near future, I hope for greater changes and the creation of a stronger Croatian market so that we do not have to depend only on seasonal tourism.”

Magdalena Markus:I dream about happiness, prosperity, young people creating their lives here, full preschools and schools, my parents in a happy and safe retirement, lots of opportunities, new ideas, businesses and growth in every possible way.”

Monika Branovic:  “I would like us to be able to talk about a more developed Croatia in the future, where young people actually want to stay, because they are the future of this country. In addition, unemployment is still a big problem in Croatia, and lower yields than, say, in developed Germany disrupt the quality of life of Croatian citizens.”

Barbara Sertic: “I think about it often. One day I would like to see more job openings, growing companies, a better relationship between employers and workers. Today, young people are ambitious and hardworking, and I think that is exactly why all this will come true.”

Tea Kranjec: “When I imagine Croatia in the future, I see a lot of young educated people, even a lot of them who left their country in search of a better life, or those who returned to stimulate the Croatian economy for the better with their efforts and work. I see that Croatia does not rely only on tourism, but also invests in other beauties that are currently less prominent. In addition to natural beauties, the work of industries that are currently in the minority and investment in Croatian Railways, which could use their modernised trains to transport people eager for adventure and travel throughout Croatia and beyond, should also be highlighted. And of course, I hope that this whole pandemic will end as soon as possible and return our lives to normal.”

Nikolina Benko: “I would like Croatia to one day be a country where everyone has a chance, and more importantly where people believe that everyone has a chance. Of course, I also hope for a better economic situation because we are a country with really a lot of potential. I would like Croatia to be a country where young people are taken seriously, to be given an opportunity like this in which they can show that they can create new ideas even without experience. Also, a better education system with less theory and more practice because I believe this is still the best way to acquire knowledge.”

Ina Vukic

Croatia: Championing Small Business With Western Knowhow – Interview With Eugene Brcic Jones

Eugene Brcic Jones, CEO Venatus Jones, with family
Photo: Private Collection

Launching Venatus Jones Business Breakfasts in Zagreb on 11 December 2019! “Our ultimate goals is to become a bridge for diaspora to move to Croatia”

 

When Eugene Brcic Jones packed his family, Australian wife Michelle and toddler daughters Eden and Emerson on an adventure to Croatia over two years ago, the plan was to give Croatian life a trial period and return to their Sydney home richer for the experience if things go sour. The deadline for their little experiment recently expired, and we caught up with the Jones’ to see if they were digging in their heels or considering retreating back to Australian shores. In the meantime, we found that Eugene has been globetrotting as the CEO of a hotel app start-up called RoomOrders and founded Venatus Jones d.o.o, a booming consulting group for small and medium-sized businesses, which is now being run by members of diaspora, just like himself. Given that RoomOrders is featured in leading hotel brands from Sydney to Boston, Las Vegas and Kathmandu to Zagreb, and Venatus Jones is becoming a motor for changing business mindsets, we figured it’s likely they will be sticking around for the time being.

A few days ago I caught up with Eugene Brcic Jones for an interview to follow up on his and his young family’s move to Croatia.

It’s been just over two years since you moved your family from Sydney, Australia, to live in Zagreb, Croatia. I recall you telling me before you left Australia that you will “give it three years” to see if this return to your Croatian homeland will work for you and your young family. Has it?

Interestingly Michelle and I had this same conversation last night. It’s the million-dollar question in our lives and comes up every now and then – often when I’m on the back foot trying to sugar-coat something typically bad in Croatia. Is this it? Have we succeeded, are we stuck here now, for good? I guess while we are agreed, our life here is fun, the girls are happy and healthy, we’ve got a bunch of really good friends and it’s definitely worthwhile continuing, at the same time, we have become rather spoilt and have agreed to keep the Croatia or Australia, or even somewhere else, question alive for as long as we can. I think we have come to some sort of secret pact that keeping this question perennially open will be key to keeping ourselves committed to making our lives better every day wherever we are. For now, it’s a conditional yes to Croatia, and it seems it will remain working for us in the foreseeable future.

Eugene Brcic Jones
Photo: Private Collection

Would you generally describe your first couple of months of returning with your family to live in Croatia as a “soft landing”?

No, I would describe it as pretty bumpy, particularly in the first year or year-and-a-half. Croatia is not exactly Switzerland; the economy is in a funk and its transition from a corrupt socialist regime to a normal functioning free-market society is going much slower than anticipated. Politically the old structures and social elite still hold strong sway and promised reforms are just rhetoric for election time. There is no real agent of change, many potential drivers of change are emigrating and while disappointingly, diaspora is still seen in the media and by top brass as hard-line nationalists and extremists, so our influence or lobbying is not very effective.

For a soft landing you need to quickly find sustainable work and afford the luxuries you indulged in Australia. I wouldn’t advise moving here just for the sake of it, you can’t eat Croatian flags and songs, the beautiful landscape and climate. You really got to be able to create a much better life and it’s important to have a good job or business – or investments back home doing all the work for you.

I experienced disappointments professionally at the start and it brought on doubts and anxiety. We were enjoying Croatia immensely, but on the other hand, we were burning cash, our window was closing, and I started developing panic attacks in the middle of the night.

Realising that work may not be the best solution, I started my own business, Venatus Jones, and it wasn’t until the business started growing, when I started getting clients happy to pay for my service, that I started to breathe again. Things got better by the day. The strain around my chest loosened, my mood became more optimistic and Croatia became more enjoyable.

I don’t know if it’s an elixir for everybody but opening my own business from the start would have softened my landing considerably.

Eugene Brcic Jones on Venatus Jones d.o.o.
Photo: Private Collection

What has been the biggest pleasant surprise about living in Croatia today?

The biggest pleasant surprise is how much Croatia has changed in the last two years. It’s probably to be expected, all the countries that joined the EU needed time to feel the dividends of entry. Markets have opened, businesses have gotten funding, the country is emerging from its shell. Perhaps the top-ranking visitors to the country best reflects the progress and diversity, previously the top tourists were Germans, Italians and Hungarians, now it’s Americans, South Koreans and Chinese. I find the variety of people visiting the country creates a vibe, alters the ambience. If you stroll through Tkalciceva 10 years ago you would only see cafes and cevape joints, now you have Greek, Lebanese, Sri Lankan, Korean, Turkish, Italian and Mexican restaurants. You have pubs and hostels, it’s a hotbed of activity and culture.

Venatus Jones d.o.o. RoomOrders app featured in business newspapers and magazines

 I understand you have been keeping yourself very busy lately, you have more than one business? 

Well, I started Venatus Jones as a consulting or coaching agency, helping micro, small and medium businesses grow to the next level. Over a year ago, I developed a 40-week program and now I have three associates, also from diaspora, Gerhard Saric (Germany), Aleksandra Papac (Australia) and Mark Mocnaj (Canada), helping me develop the business toward becoming the indisputable champion of the little business man in Croatia.

Our mission is to make consulting accessible to everyone, no matter how shallow their pocket. Sure, it means we are the most affordable business coaches around, but we are also the only ones with over 100 years combined Western experience and a passion to help everyone who needs our help.

This open approach led me to some very interesting clients and new opportunities including equity or partnership in businesses. My first client was the Bagatin Clinic, led by extremely talented Ognjen Bagatin, who is winning international awards and virtually single-handedly putting Croatia on the global medical tourism map. Then I helped the Museum of Illusions become the fastest growing museum chain in the world. But with RoomOrders, cooperation ultimately led to a stake in the company and assuming the role of CEO.

The Venatus Jones model is now leading to more and more opportunities for equity stakes, while our ability to customise our assistance has opened a new relationship with Croatia’s leading research institute, Rudjer Boskovic, which is led by the amazing mind of Australian David Smith.

We could say that Michelle is the trailing spouse in your family. What challenges does that present for her personally as returning expats? 

Michelle is helping me keep papers and she has her hands full making sure our books are run smoothly. We often travel together on business and have tried to bring the girls with us to get them to understand the virtues of work early on in life. Michelle seems to have bonded closely with mothers from school and made her own friends, mostly expats or friends of expats. It’s tough sometimes to be away from family, parents and two brothers, but I think they communicate more than when they are in the same country. We also try to holiday in Australia or have her family visit us as much as possible.

Eugene Brcic Jones and Michelle Brcic Jones in New York November 2019
Photo: Private Collection

Given that you have had a successful life in Australia what have been the best experiences in your path to forge a satisfying life in Croatia during the past two-and-a-half years?

The best experiences have been ones shared with family and friends. I don’t think there is a weekend that goes by that we do not catch up with several friends. In fact, it would be extremely rare that we don’t catch up during the week too. For me personally, a day does not go by that I do not muck around with friends at least on the phone. It’s a lot more social here and you feel like you are a part of other people’s lives, it’s a really big comfort. Everybody knows when you are dealing with something, feeling mellow and need cheering up. And if you don’t need cheering up, then you will be the target of jokes, to cheer everybody else up.

What has been the most frustrating part of beginning a new life in Croatia as a family?

The most frustrating was the start, struggling to become financially secure, everything gets on your nerves if you don’t have enough money. However, having been to doctors, hospitals, government institutions, etc we can honestly say we have had exceptionally positive experiences. Michelle is probably frustrated that learning Croatian is so hard and that my mum and dad love to come by with a magnifying glass to look for specks of dust or find out if the kids are being fed enough cooked meals. She’s over concepts like ‘propuh’ (draught) and curing everything with ‘rakija’ (brandy) but generally she finds humour in it all.

Eugene Brcic Jones
Photo: Private Collection

How have your Australian wife and your Australian-born children managed the transition of living in a different culture with a different language, they needed to learn? Are there any formal Croatian language classes for people from a different language background coming to live in Croatia, such as Australia has for migrants?

Croatia doesn’t really care about diaspora or returnees. They can say all they want, but if you turn learning Croatian into a business, rather than a free service of national interest, then we call bullshit. The kids initially resisted learning Croatian and we put them in an English-speaking program. Nowadays their resistance is fading and they are picking it up in leaps and bounds, scaring Michelle into thinking she will never know what they are up to. I think Michelle will cave soon; a woman can live on Netflix alone only for so long. She isn’t making animal noises to the butcher anymore and is starting to show she knows more than we suspected too. She gives me a funny look sometimes, like I’m in big trouble, there is no way she doesn’t understand what I just said.

Luckily the language barrier in Croatia is not so high, there are truckloads of expats moving to Croatia every day. There is so much English on the main square in Zagreb, and few younger people are not fluent speakers.

What are your children’s general impressions of life in Croatia having spent a majority of their young lives in a different country, in a different community culture?

The girls are happy, it is visible in their eyes and lively antics. They have friends and are a notable part of our community. The pizza guy Nermin saves lollypops for them, the bread shop knows they want chocolate krafne (doughnuts) and their conversations with the hairdresser downstairs are epic. It is a giant relief to be in such a safe country, where you are integrated in an environment inhabited by humans with feelings, a soul, a voice. People notice when you have gone away and are keen to know where you have been, what it was like and where you are going next. Sure, a lot of it is gossip, but people generally care once you become part of the scenery of their lives.

Eugene Brcic Jones with daughters in Croatia
Photo: Private Collection

How difficult or easy was the visa and residency process for your wife and children?

That wasn’t so easy for Michelle. I think we are probably breaching some bureaucracy even now. We should probably go check, it’s been a while, she probably has to go sign some forms and buy some stamps. The kids were no problem. They got documents through me and we have been in and out of stitches, vaccinations, dentists and the usual kids growing pains without any issues. Michelle has gotten healthcare and social welfare through the company, so it’s not as difficult as the horror stories say.

What if anything do you, at this time, miss the most about life in Australia?

At this time, when it’s freezing outside, I miss the warmth. The winter lasts so long here. Even though most people go skiing, it’s fleeting, there is still a good five or six months of cold weather. It forces your activities indoors and limits the fun, although Advent has a nice, warm and tingly feel. Christmas is beautiful especially if snow falls, but the rest is boring, cold.

Once upon a time there were lots of things that are common in Australia that you couldn’t get in Croatia, like Japanese food or Vegemite. But nowadays there is not much to miss apart from some dear people and memories of youth.

Eugene Brcic Jines with daughters – enjoying the Croatian snow-fields
Photo:Private Collection

Finding a job as a returning expat – how easy or difficult is it in Croatia?

Hard. Very hard. And that’s not the problem. The problem is if you do manage to get a job, it’s likely to be low paying, or not enough to afford a comfortable or eventful lifestyle. Of course, if you are a professional, maybe in management, banking and finance, IT or similar discipline, then you have all the leading global players and jobs with them may be a lot easier to find and they are likely to be well paying. Michelle and I often comment how Croatia seems a lot like Australia in the 80s, it’s a good time to start your own business, especially tradies and people who can work online.

Eugene Brcic Jones on Croatian TV
Photo: Private Collection

What is the life of an entrepreneur like in Croatia?

For me personally, it is an amazing buzz, even though Croatia has a warped view of entrepreneurs. Previously it was hard to make it if you were not part of the party, so now when people see wealthy people, they think they are corrupt and made it because of their network, family or other ties to people in power. People expect money to come overnight and do not realise it takes years and years to build businesses and one false move, or even bad luck, could make it all flop overnight.

But as they say, one man’s loss is another man’s gain. And that’s what I’ve modelled Venatus Jones on, taking advantage of all the opportunities. All the complaining, all the laziness and scepticism, the tough luck stories and reluctance to have a go is music to my ears. It just leaves a lot more opportunity for those of us who want to work hard. There is definitely an enormous potential in Croatia, there is so much someone with experience from abroad can do to capitalise on their knowledge. The greatest asset I think is our work ethic and know-how. We know how the free market system works. We know competition is stiff and only the toughest survive, so we hustle, we adapt, we fight to get what we want. We know there are no free meals and you can have anything you want, only if you work had to claim it.

Is that what you teach Croatian companies?

Well, sort of. Usually Croatian companies that need our help have the resourcefulness and drive, otherwise they would not be alive in the market. What they mostly lack is strategy and planning, they don’t have a mentality of goal-setting, persistent improvement. We usually help them think in cycles and plan growth in a structured manner, expansion through setting targets, building capabilities and executing professionally. Most of it is coaching, helping companies perform better, identify weaknesses and improve results in a repetitive way.

Eugene Brcic Jones (R)
Photo: Private Collection

I understand you see diaspora as a pool for employees. Are you hiring?

At this point, the pillars of Venatus Jones are colleagues from diaspora because they have a wealth of unique experiences to share and can be onboarded quickly and seamlessly. They can talk the talk and walk the walk. Most of us from diaspora have parents who have businesses or worked for Croatians with businesses and these experiences are invaluable. Venaus Jones is in expansion and anticipates a huge labour shortage mid next year.

One of our ultimate goals is to become a bridge for diaspora to move to Croatia and to that end we are looking for an investor (high financial and social return) from diaspora to help make our wish come alive:  To provide diaspora a job and roof over their head on the first Monday they arrive.

The idea is to interview via teleconference and offer jobs as soon as future employees arrive, so they have an immediate source of funding and so they have a place to stay, straight from the airport to their “half-way” house. We would offer a competitive salary and free or low housing for three months, so employees can get on their feet and allow others to enjoy the same privilege.

Each employee will manage their own cluster of clients and effectively have the opportunity to run their own business.

The need for business consulting/coaching is extremely high and we need the right staff, culture and work ethic to impact huge social change, to champion Croatia’s businessmen and women.

By all means, spread the word. Yes. We are hiring and our focus is on diaspora.

We are launching Venatus Jones Business Breakfasts on Wednesday 11 Dec. between 08:15 – 08:45 at Forum Zagreb in Green and Gold building on Radnicka 50. Free entry.

And the foreseeable future for you and your family? Croatia or Australia?

Given the targets we have set and current momentum, I think it’s safe to say we will be hanging around a bit longer.

Interview by Ina Vukic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Wave Of Businessmen In Croatia

Eugene and Michelle Brcic Jones

Almost a year ago we wished Eugene Brcic Jones and his Australian wife and two toddlers the best of luck with their big move to Croatia. I caught up with the Brcic Jones’ for a cup of coffee as light flakes of snow tried to stave off the start of Spring in the heart of the capital Zagreb.

How would you summarise your year? Is it all that you expected?

Yes and no. No, because some promises of great work opportunities were broken and we ultimately had to resort to our own devices and one or two of our back-up plans. Yes, because we know Croatia is still a basket-case country and we expected it to be a rollercoaster of ups and downs before we find our groove.

Eugene Brcic Jones

So, it’s a bad experience?

No, I wouldn’t say that. We that knew that while we were leaving Australia, tens of thousands of Croatians were leaving in the opposite direction – and not out of curiosity or sense of adventure. You need to be realistic. Croatia is a beautiful country, but it is highly dysfunctional and has limited opportunities. On the bright side, our little setback led to me starting my own business and being the master of our own fortunes.

What kind of business?

It’s called Venatus Jones http://www.venatusjones.com.It’s a consulting and coaching service for small to medium-sized companies to help grow their businesses to the next level.

And there is work for that kind of service in Croatia?

Most definitely, there’s a strong demand brewing. I compare it to Australia when our parents came out in the 1960’s and 70’s and started trades with no real experience running businesses. Luckily, the Australian economy was booming, so their businesses thrived too. So too, Croatians today have little experience in the private sector. Market economies are cyclical, consisting of periods of stagnation that can be very challenging for companies that don’t get expert help. There is lots of evidence even in the Croatian community in Australia of businesses failing because they did not hire managers or consultants, or educated sons and daughters, to guide them through the typical patterns of peaks and valleys.

There is a big gap for this type of work because most entrepreneurs running SME’s in Croatia don’t have any financial background and desperately need assistance to lift their businesses to the next stage. Obviously, they have great business intuition to build their companies from the ground up, but they lack the education and training to elevate operations, restructure or expand into new markets, etc.

Sometimes they only need a little hand in developing strategy, aligning processes, advertising or automating sales. Some clients are shocked that you could easily call your bank and ask for refinancing.

Demand for Western business knowledge is strong and companies here need to learn how to move away from socialist-type practices, like relying only of VIP’s – veze i poznanstva, rather than introducing new strategies or opening multiple channels.

Is getting clients easy?

Surprisingly, yes. Initially it was hard breaking down reflexive resistance, the stubborn Croatian know-it-all mentality. They ask “Where were you smart-ass when I built this business from scratch?” People here try to hide their ignorance by dismissing advice, saying “everything is corrupt here and this is not America; those Western theories won’t work here.” But as long as you are fair in pricing, they will give you the chance to demonstrate value and build a professional relationship.

Luckily, a large number of businesses here are at crossroads and delivering some low hanging fruit will allow you to develop trust and demonstrate value early on in the relationship.

One of the most rewarding things about this business is that it allows my clients to grow and employ more workers. I really believe that small to medium sized businesses will become the backbone of the Croatian economy, just like they are anywhere else in the developed world.

If you allow me to give Venatus Jones a plug, I think that we need to stop chest-thumping and start doing things at coal-face level to help lift Croatia to the next level. It’s something us ‘wogs’ know how to do.

So you are staying in Croatia?

At this stage we are still fighting like the average Croatian, but I’m also looking to recruit in the coming weeks. If there are any Australian/Croatians looking for a job in this field, they should send us a line.

How has your wife and children, Eden 4, Emerson, 3, settled?

Michelle loves being here and has created a close circle of friends, while the kids are like free- range chickens here, so care-free and full of life. Michelle enjoys the food, the downtime with coffees and the dramatic change of seasons. Croatians highly value social life and put friends, family, fun and relaxation ahead of material things and that suits us just fine.

What is the main difference to Australia?

The main difference is distinguishing between ‘standard of living’ and ‘quality of life.’ All the Western polls indicate Sydney and Melbourne among other Western cities as the best places to live based on living standards. Even Croatians fall for this illusion, thinking new buildings, cars, streets and all the material abundance translates into a great life, but it doesn’t. Quality of life is the key, how we spend our most precious resource – time. How long do we travel to work, how much time we spend with family, how often we see friends, how healthy we eat, how much time we get to just breathe and think about our spiritual happiness. I think we glorify being busy in Australia, we postpone life for tomorrow, which never comes. Croatians don’t even know there is a difference between standard and quality of life, they are morbidly cynical and pessimistic. I’m

sure their lives would be so much better if they were more optimistic and celebrated the few things they have that are better than anywhere else in the world. It would probably motivate them to participate in change and bring it about sooner.

So many people are emigrating from Croatia, what are your thoughts as someone who went in the opposite direction?

I think it’s good that people have the courage to try their luck outside their comfort zones. As long as they have realistic expectations of how hard it will be elsewhere, I truly hope they make it as most people would never leave Croatia if they weren’t forced to do so economically. It’s actually very sad that we have such poor government and that people are forced to leave just like in Tito’s regime, ‘trbuhom za kruhom.’

What do you think is the problem?

Well, the problem is quite simple and so is the solution. Croatia has serious structural problems but it does not have the political will to fix it. Reforms, from taxes to the judiciary, cannot be introduced because the people perpetuating the problems are also the ones required to introduce them. We are essentially asking them to cut the branches they are sitting on.

Is there any hope for change?

Sure, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are new entrepreneurs emerging, with lofty visions and strong work habits, independent of the government. If you look at what Mate Rimac is doing with the world’s fastest electric sports car or Ivan Mrvos with smart benches or Neven Bakic with his STEM revolution in schools, there is hope. I hope I can help a lot of SME’s adopt Western strategies and employ armies of young workers, the best we can do is to try and be the change ourselves.

Is there a secret to surviving in Croatia?

Given your experience, would you recommend others to follow your footsteps?

Sure. Croatia is a great country to live, it’s beautiful and the social fabric makes it easy to bond, but people need jobs, financial stability and opportunities to pursue their dreams. If you can’t find work or start your own company, then your future will be uncertain and you may be on a bus or plane out of here before you even get a chance to really appreciate it.

I would advise that people do their homework, prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Fingers crossed, it could be the best thing that ever happened, or you can always return back and pick up from where you left off, no regrets.

Eugene Brcic Jones/Ina Vukic

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