Why Belgrade? Interview with Marko Srdanov, Timeless Music

Belgrade stands as one of Europe’s oldest cities, destroyed and rebuilt many times and is located on the mouth of the longest river in the EU, the Danube. A gateway from East to West and with a rising startup community, it’s set out to harvest the best of both worlds.

We recently had the chance to talk an Aussie who made the move to Belgrade, Marko Srdanov of Timeless Music, on making this move from Sydney to Belgrade four years ago.

Marko is Co-Founder of Timeless Music (Australia) and Founder of Hajduk Spirit Distillery (Serbia).

Here’s what he had to say:

What made you decide to move your business to Belgrade? 

With regard to Timeless Music the main benefit has been to be where our business partners are. We deal with people from various countries in the EU and attend music biz networking meets like Reed Midem. With Australia being so far from anywhere we couldn’t engage with our partners on a more personal level. As Belgrade is less than 3 hours from London, I can make a day trip to go to a face-to-face meeting and get things moving much quicker than from Australia. Digital connectivity has made things more efficient when it comes to running a business but when it comes to doing a deal you have to meet people face to face.

Also being here in Europe exposes a person to new ideas and opportunities. After living in Serbia for a couple of years, I saw the opportunity for starting up a distillery. Due to a long tradition of distilling spirits, Serbia has a very favourable laws regarding the production of spirits. For example here, it is legal for people to make spirits for personal use. As a result moving into commercial production is quite straightforward. Added is that the government heavily subsidises agricultural production which distillation falls under. With an inexpensive experienced labour force and low prices of commodities, the conditions are very favourable. In comparison, an operation like this would cost 5 to 10 times more to start up in Australia.

How important has your Australian network been to get started over here?

The Australian music industry has representatives in Europe i.e.: APRA / AMCOS as well as major labels. As we have been doing business with European companies for a while the move was smooth.

In Serbia there is a solid expat community, still developing but well connected. An Australian has made a Facebook community ‘Belgrade Foreign Visitors Club’ that has been very useful in getting settled into the groove of things. They also get together and have social events throughout the year so there are networking opportunities.

Have you raised money in Europe and how did you find it compared to Australia?

We raised the start-up capital in Australia for Hajduk Spirit Distilling. However the government subsidies here in Serbia are playing a major role on further development as the subsidies range from 40-50% on distillery equipment. The Serbian government is actively working on drawing business through agencies such as the Serbian Development Agency.

What is it like to do business in Belgrade?

The biggest cultural difference is that Serbian culture is all about doing business face-to-face. Going out to see people, business lunches and developing a network of connections is a big part of the job. In Australia this culture of doing business has almost disappeared with the take up of digital technology, most people are happy to correspond via email or phone rarely seeing one another in person. In my opinion, while this has enormous benefits in running a business, it is detrimental to doing business as limited contact limits the sharing of ideas.

In Serbia this personal approach of networking is very powerful especially as the country has only seven million people. Peoples personal and business networks are quite diverse, which is very useful as a good connection can yield many others that you require for doing your business. Added is that through regular face to face interaction new ideas or opportunities often pop up in discussion.

Are you working as a remote team or did the team move over with you? 

We have been working remotely for over four years since we moved to a cloud based operation. Digital music distribution has no need of an office or warehouse so it was a logical step to make once we stopped manufacturing physical CDs.

As well as our team in Australia, we have local talent doing backend work. With a tech savvy, English speaking, highly educated, young population, Serbia is a great place to find people. For startups, it is especially useful as the costs associated with labour are much lower than in other countries while the talent has the knowhow to deliver what you are looking for.

What do you love about living in Belgrade? 

The vibrant culture and the social aspect of human interaction makes it very enjoyable to live and work here. For me personally, social and business are one so working with like-minded people is fantastic.

Top 3 tips:

  1. Do your research on the place you wish to live, customs, culture, laws etc.
  2. Get in contact with groups that are already on the ground in the city you wish to go before you decide to move.
  3. Allow adjustment time once you arrive, Australia is far away from the rest of the world in more ways than just distance. European culture is different on the surface but at the end of the day the same things drive all people. When you arrive look, listen and ask questions until you figure how to integrate. Remember that you are integrating not the other way around so when you hit a hurdle, and you will, remember that.  After that go for it

Thank you to Marko Srdanov for this interview. You can contact him at Timeless Music

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