Paul Jozefak is the managing director of both Otto Group Digital Solutions and Liquid Labs in Hamburg, Germany. And he is both US and Slovak national. Even though living and working outside Slovakia, he is always looking for ways to support our startup ecosystem. The following story is quite a strong proof. In mid-October 2016, Mike Butcher published a news story on TechCrunch about Slovakia based startup, Vectary, raising USD 2.5M by BlueYard and moving to NYC. More than a month later, Paul published this blogpost explaining his involvement as advisor. And expressing the joy that, finally, there was a Slovak story for him.
Most people at this point know that I am originally from Slovakia. Although I grew up in the US, I was born in Bratislava. Although “home” never really was the country of my birth, it somehow always remained who I was. You can only imagine my dismay at having so many times heard my friends and acquaintances from there actually very negatively speaking of the country. Everyone had or has their reasons, but I chose to see things from a different perspective. I basically chose almost from the point where I moved to Europe back in the 90’s to figure out a way to “work” in Slovakia.
It started out at SAP Ventures, where I for years looked for investments somewhere in Slovakia. It never really panned out although I looked at a ton of them. In summary, the easiest way to sum up my reasons for always saying no was the mindset. Thereafter followed Neuhaus Partners where too I never successfully found anything to pull the trigger on. Again, the companies I found and people whom I did due diligence on somehow never checked all the right boxes. It was getting better but still wasn’t at the point where I would have put money to work. Unfortunately, with the switch to Liquid Labs, I left the investing side of the table.
Yet, I still continued spending time in Slovakia trying to give back in little ways here and there. I also tried to source people from the country for companies I was building or to point many people in a direction to find new jobs. It remained frustrating but continued getting better. I started seeing glimmers of hope here and there around 2011. My participation in the Slovak Startup Awards (thanks to Neulogy and Michaela Jacova) opened my eyes to a growing scene. I remained positive and finally saw funds on the ground making investments. Yet it took time.
Fast forward to late 2016. I’ve finally found what I was looking for (ignore the bad U2 lyric reference!). Let’s back up a bit though first. Over a year ago, I remembered first encountering two guys who were doing something with design. Since I don’t come from this space (and am not a design guy anyway), I kind of blew off the business. I initially liked the two founders but honestly didn’t pay much attention. I think we then bumped into each other once or twice….I really can’t remember.
Anyway, fast forward a bit and I am at a conference in Vienna. I get a message from one of these two guys asking if I’d have time while in town. I was flying out the next morning and really didn’t have time…..it wasn’t just some reason to try and blow them off. Yet they were persistent and basically were like “we can get in a car now and come over.” That willingness to make it happen led to my saying sure…for no other reason than that I liked their motivation. What I liked even more was that they wanted to ask questions. They didn’t specifically ask me to give them money or make introductions. They simply said “we want your help!” Combine motivation with a passion for what you do and the willingness to seek out advice and take it. That’s how you move forward and get my attention.
Pavol and Michal brought me up to speed about what they do and I liked what I heard…..they offer an in-browser 3D modelling engine attached to a community driven platform (not just some “design stuff”). Their energy most importantly was refreshing although they had a bunch to learn. Nevertheless, from meeting to meeting I feel like these guys are improving by leaps and bounds. I, basically, offered to them that I would make some introductions and very specifically said I would only introduce them to the VC’s whom I thought “fit” and who could be good investors for them.
I also made clear that I am doing this because I truly believe in the founders and their business. I was able to convince Ciaran that this was the case and he too acted quickly. We set up a call a couple days later and Pavol and Michal were shortly thereafter in Berlin followed by Ciaran coming to Bratislava. I was on the sidelines speaking to both sides but I was always rooting for Pavol and Michal and was super happy to see Blueyard end up investing in Vectary a couple months later.
So, in a short twenty years, there’s finally a business I am involved with in Bratislava. I will continue “working” as an advisor to Pavol and Michal and know that they will go far. Most importantly though, I feel like there will be more to come from this tiny EU country. So much has happened over the years in Slovakia. Funds are on the ground…international investors are looking at deals…a couple exits (although small) have happened…..BUT most importantly there are founders who are doing what needs to be done….hats off to you Pavol and Michal for keeping me excited!
These founders will beget additional founders, and I am positive that we will, eventually, see a significant, venture-backed exit out of Slovakia. I am confident that Vectary will go on to do great things and build an international business, yet they won’t remain alone and this is what my last twenty years coming to this country have been about.
The text was published on Paul Jozefak’s blog site. We are publishing it with his kind permission. To see the original post, follow the link.