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

Why Munich? Interview with Chris Hitchen, Investor

While Munich may be the city in Germany best known for beer-drinking (think Oktoberfest) and being the true heart of Bavaria, it also has a burgeoning startup scene, with major founder festivals like Bits & Pretezels, attracting startup enthusiasts from around Europe.

We recently had the chance to talk to an Aussie who made the move to Munich, investor Chris Hitchen, taking the leap from Melbourne to Munich seven years ago.

Chris has been an active angel investor since 2007, was a venture partner with Australian VC Square Peg Capital until 2015, and is now a venture partner with European VC EQT Ventures, one of Europe’s largest VC platforms with approx. $600m that supports ambitious founders on their journeys to global success.

Chris has been co-founded, lead or invested in several major businesses and influential businesses over the years, namely co-founding Hynt, a native advertising platform for brands and retailers, which he sold to German ecommerce business Zalando in 2017.

Here’s what he had to say:

What made you decide to move your business to Munich? 

The truth is that my wife “made” me move to Munich, where she’s from. That said, I love Munich as a city given it’s central location in Europe, moderate climate with four distinct seasons, access to mountains and lakes, great infrastructure and quality of life. From a business perspective, travel is much easier for me now as I can cover key markets like Berlin, London, Scandinavia and Tel Aviv with shorter trips. That helps with trying to balance family life.

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

Actually it wasn’t critical, but I think we can make it easier for newcomers. When I first came to Germany in 2002 I was a corporate employee, learning German and how to do business in Europe. When I returned in 2013 after almost eight years in Australia, I knew very few Australians here, so I built my own network the old fashioned way. At that point I wish I’d had faster access to the founders, companies and co-investors I was seeking. Perhaps I can now provide that sort of support to other Australians coming here to set-up.

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

Yes I’ve supported several companies in raising money in Europe and of course I’ve invested in quite a few as well. It’s ten years since I raised money for my first start-up in Australia (Getprice), so VC and tech. Investing in general have changed substantially in most mature markets since then. Documents tend to be more standardised and good investors are both more open to direct approaches and more willing to work hard for their “customers”, the startups. Australia has a much larger pool of venture capital now and there are many good angel investors who have built and/or exited successful companies and who are reinvesting in new founders.

Europe is still a collection of markets that can be quite different, although in recent years there has been an increasing amount of cross-border investments as VCs look outside their home markets. There are some sectors in which focused capital has been slower to emerge, i.e. Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things, but this is changing and Munich in particular is well-placed to take a leading role given it’s heritage in manufacturing and industry. The first funds focused on this space are now emerging.

What is it like to do business in Munich? 

Obviously German is the spoken language, but not speaking German is rarely a barrier as the Germans tend to speak great English. In general I’ve found that it can take a little longer to build strong personal relationships through business and perhaps the formal Sie vs. informal Du system is partly responsible, although in start-ups it’s rare to use the Sie form.

Whilst it’s not really a cultural issue, coming to terms with the German tax system was a challenge, particularly as it relates to investment structures. This is an area that could be simplified for new arrivals (although not by me!).

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

I had a remote team for a while, but the tyranny of distance catches up with you at some point and once I understood the cost advantages of (particularly engineering) resources in Europe, it was a no-brainer to focus here.

You can hire great international talent in Berlin, although there is a lot of competition from larger tech businesses now and many are looking to markets like Barcelona and Lisbon for a steady supply of quality, affordable talent. Munich is OK with top universities like LMU and TUM (and their combined technology management program CDTM), but also competitive and more expensive than other European markets as the cost of living is a little higher.

In the more mature start-ups I’m involved with, I’ve seen that there is no quick-fix to hiring consistently great talent. It’s hard work and you need to put a lot of effort into employer branding, culture and remuneration structures.

What do you love about living in Munich? 

I love the proximity to other countries and cultures. I love the rich green landscape, mountains, lakes and the sport those afford. I love the relatively small size of the city, it’s architecture and the fact that you can get almost everywhere on a bike. The Bavarian culture (it’s more than what you see at Oktoberfest, though that’s fun too!) is wonderful and so rich in tradition, including the world’s best beer.

Top 3 tips:

  1. Don’t decide where to live based on hype alone. Think about what’s important for your work/life balance.
  2. Find the right advisors for personal and business planning so you make smart decisions about structures.
  3. Make an effort to learn the language. You may not need it to get by, but that’s exactly why Germans will appreciate it when you try.

Thank you to Chris Hitchen for this interview. You can contact him via LinkedIn.

Why London? Interview with Brennan Ong, LawAdvisor

With the recent events of Brexit and the chatter on Berlin being the next big thing for startups, old favourite London may have lost its shine. Despite this though, it’s proving to still be an innovative (and reliable) city to move your startup to.

We recently had the chance to talk an Aussie who made the move to London, Brennan Ong of LawAdvisor, making the move from Melbourne to London six months ago.

Brennan is the founder and CEO of LawAdvisor. He is a qualified lawyer, developer and former PhD scholarship candidate researching the future of legal practice. Brennan was the winner of the Chief Justice’s innovation award for his role in the development of the Supreme Court of Victoria’s cloud-based case management system, was a shortlisted finalist for the LexisNexis Centenary Book Awards for authoring a book on dispute avoidance, and through LawAdvisor, wants to use his understanding of modern day technologies and legal process to allow the profession to better meet its goal of providing access to justice.

Here’s what he had to say:

What made you decide to set up a headquarters in London?

LawAdvisor was launched in Australia in June 2015 and have since seen over 1000 lawyers sign up, over 200 client engagements weekly and over 4000 questions answered. This sparked interest not only from international investors including Lars Rasmussen, co-founder of Google Maps, but also multinational corporations based in London who were interested in our legal technology. By following leads and listening to the barriers and frustrations that lawyers, law firms and big corporations encounter on a daily basis in relation to their legal needs, we were able to build on top of our primary technology, and develop an entirely new product suite, namely, LawAdvisor Corporate. This product was launched with several UK based corporations in June 2017.

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

We have been incredibly lucky to have the support of the Australian startup scene who have helped shape and grow us over the past two years. I greatly appreciate the input and advice I have been given from extremely smart minds who have mentored me along this journey. Their introductions to London based businesses and contacts has certainly helped set us up and develop the credibility in the London market which has made things much easier from the word go.

That said, everyone likes to give you their two cents, and sometimes you need to stick with your gut instinct which doesn’t always take you down the same path a those before you. In those instances, my team at LawAdvisor have learned to trust our gut as we’re confident in the vision and what we can achieve which is beyond anything that has been done before. Sometimes it just takes stepping out and going for it!

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

We have been pleasantly surprised by how open-minded and willing to embrace innovation the London legal scene has been. We have London based stakeholders investing in our LawAdvisor Corporate product and new consumer focused features in the pipeline for our core product.

We have now established a great network in London, and haven’t been able to keep up with the interest from potential investors and corporations wanting to use our product on a large scale.

The London legal sector does seem to be somewhat more forward thinking and open to change than the Australia market, so it’s been easier to engage investors and clients, as we present solutions to the problems associated with the antiquated processes that the legal sector have known for eternity.

What is it like to do business in London?

From my experience, London business is perfect for extraverted personalities (which may explain why so many Aussies move here)! Business often always involves social interactions, whether at the pub, a fine dining establishment, or over a clay pigeon shooting range. People tend to forget that people and human relationships are at the heart of any business transaction. So make sure your clients like you first and foremost, and you’ll realise that when mistakes occur, they are more likely to give you leeway!

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

Although we have spent considerable time in London during the past six months – negotiating deals and preparing for our launch – our core team is still mostly based in Australia, working out of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane. We have now hired some team members based in London, who will be our foot soldiers supporting our UK launch. Although it comes with it’s challenges (most of all the time difference!), it’s great having such a flexible and diverse team!

What do you love about living in London?

London is an incredibly exciting and vibrant city filled with amazing food and things to do. I work pretty long days and most weekends so there isn’t a lot of time for leisure or European escapades, but I like to take time out occasionally and enjoy the city and culture. One thing I love are the countless opportunities to meeting interesting people in London, whether it be in a lift or on the tube!

My top 3 tips for Aussies looking to move to Europe would be:

  1. Make sure you do your homework first and understand how your product/service is different from those already in the market
  2. Put yourself out there – make contacts, follow up with leads, socialise!
  3. Start preparing your liver: Londoner’s love their booze!

Thank you to Brennan Ong for this interview. You can contact him at LawAdvisor.