Almost a year ago, I was introduced to an organization called CEED who’s mission is to develop and connect entrepreneurs who want to grow as leaders, build their companies and give back to their communities across South Eastern Europe and Africa. The introduction was to show a small traveling group of entrepreneurs how entrepreneurship has flourished in Chicago.
The seven entrepreneurs that visited are from the former Yugoslavia, countries like Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia. These countries only changed their economy from government run to free market in the last 25 years such that much of the current workforce entered during those former closed economic times. Entrepreneurship, therefore, is relatively new to the culture.
Following what must have been some sort of positive feedback, I was invited by Alja Gajsek to visit the local Slovenia branch of CEED and speak with the entrepreneurial community. Here’s what happened!
The first event held was a Slovenia community event with about 80 entrepreneurial and executive members. Managing Director Andrej Solinc introduced me to get things going. We talked about my entrepreneurial story, building a global business, leadership and values and so much more! Halfway through the planned two hours, we took a break to have small group discussions among the attendees, which loosened people up to start asking difficult questions. We finished the Q&A and moved to the informal networking where I had the chance to talk to members of the local community.
The following morning, we held a small breakfast format with 12 people, hosted in the ABC Accelerator to talk about leadership in a deeper way. One spirited conversation that we had was how to work with other cultures. Slovenia’s largest European market is Germany and many of the attendees had German subsidiaries or worked for German companies. Since cleverbridge is headquartered in Germany for the last 15 years, I had a lot of experience and thoughts to share! We also spent quite a bit of the time talking about leadership and the cleverbridge Leadership Model, about which I previously wrote.
In the afternoon, a tech specific group of 15 gathered for us to discuss why customer experience is king and how to be prepared for the age of customer experience. We discussed disruptive billing models, such as Slack’s “you don’t use it, you don’t pay for it” and Josh Inglis’ YouTubeTV “Wow” billing experience. The second half of the three hour session was a detailed walk through how we think about, document and align our staff with our customer success team into a competitive advantage.
After a quick stop to Spin Vinyl in Ljubljana, the final session was over dinner with seven global business leaders. We shared challenges with building businesses across borders and were blunt about some of our own failings, reaching the conclusion that we’re all in the same boat. No matter how the business appears on the outside, there are always challenges on the inside.
I have to say that there’s a lot of great things happening in the Ljubljana entrepreneurial community, if not the entire country. CEED has clearly done some great things to build up a visible community, just like the ITA and TechNexus has done in Chicago. Slovenia already has at least one unicorn, Outfit7, and one groundbreaking startup, bitcoin exchange Bitstamp. What I saw in just a few days makes me believe, both personally and professionally, that this isn’t the last time I’ll be in Slovenia.