He started his first business from the bedroom of his parents flat as a teenager, today he is one of Croatia’s leading businessmen…
Saša Cvetojević has come a long way from those humble beginnings, cultivating an impressive portfolio that spans over two decades. In 1989 Cvetojević founded Insako, a distribution and logistics firm which is a very successful medium-sized business today. He also has invested interest in a number of other companies in the health, IT and telecommunications sector, was an active member of CRANE – Croatian Business Angel Network, and two years ago co-founded Croatia’s leading startup accelerator ZIP, which gives startups the platform and infrastructure to develop their innovative ideas.
Having served on a number of board’s, including the board of the Croatian Health Insurance Fund, and being a recent winner of the Croatian Public Relations Association’s Communicator of the Year award, Cvetojević is a man with many strings to his bow. Croatia Week caught up with him this week at the offices of ZIP for a chat.
Hi Saša, thanks for taking the time to have a chat with us. A lot of young people, especially the educated and creative ones, are leaving Croatia in large numbers to pursue careers abroad. How can Croatia keep them here?
It is not just one thing but a number of things need to be done. Croatia is a great place to live, but at the moment not a great place to work. We have great weather, food, its safe and if you asked those who come on holiday they would say its a fantastic place to live, but we need to make it a fantastic place to work.
One of the biggest problems here is bureaucracy. For example in Croatia it takes on average 188 days just to get all the permits and paperwork done to build a warehouse, which is a big improvement however on the average of 379 days a few years ago, and 9% of the total investment will be spent on getting this paperwork. In most countries it’s around 1-2%. So, we need to remove a lot of the bureaucracy. We need to make it easier to get a job, make it easier for those to develop and advance their careers. We need to remove the frustration and create conditions which enable people to do things.
We also need more positive role models in business which shows people that you can be successful in Croatia. It is slowly getting better, there have been improvements but there is a lot more to be done.
What in your opinion is delaying these things from happening and creating a better business environment?
I think the mentality here still is one which has been inherited from the days of socialism. There is a sense of entitlement in the thinking still of a lot of people. They feel that they are entitled to benefits or something when that is not how it is in most places today. That leads to people being immobile. People are not so keen for example to move towns say from Zagreb to Osijek for a job – they will make excuses.
Despite all of that, you are somebody that has managed to succeeded in business here. What has been some of your best moves on the way?
I would say that my success is not down to any specific moves or decisions but the result of a lot of hard work over a long period of time. I have made many mistakes, but if you are making more good decisions than bad ones over a period of time then you are on the right track. Don’t expect things to happen overnight. I started my first business from my bedroom at my parents place when I was a teenager. My first business meeting was in my bedroom. Some people look at me now and think success has just happened overnight but it is the result of working hard and gradually doing the right things over a long period of time.
You say you have made many mistakes on the way. Any major regrets?
There have been many mistakes a long the way. I have tried multiple things, invested in projects that have failed. I bought real estate in 2008 when prices where at their peak. I took mortgages for them in the Swiss franc and I remember a friend saying that it was a move that even the riskiest hedge fund manager would not have made.
Another real regret I have was in March of 2012 I received an email from Mate Rimac, the Croatian inventor who has become very successful with his company Riamc Automobili. Mate at that time was looking for investors in his business which was just starting off. I was one of the only ones who took his offer seriously and even went out to his factory in Samobor to see him. I had just been burnt investing in a project before that so decided against investing in the business. I still have his email today and wish that I accepted his offer.
Going back to Croatia needing more positive business role models, Mate Rimac is definitely one of those and we need more like him. What he has done with his business has been amazing. There are a number of very creative and successful business people here doing some great things. We need more of them.
We have a lot of readers from the diaspora, some who would be perhaps interested in moving to Croatia to invest or start up a business here. What would your advice be to them?
Obviously Croatia is not the best country in the world to do business in. If you are an investor or business person then you would go to at least another 60 countries (according to the latest ease of doing business index) before you would start something in Croatia. But, when there are other factors at play, and there is a connection to a place or love then it makes sense for some people and its easier. For pure economic reasons it is not the best place in the world, but there are some industries that are doing OK, such as the pharmaceutical and ICT industry.
One of your latest projects, ZIP (Zagreb Entrepreneurship Incubator), where we are today, is doing some good things for the Croatian startup scene.
Yes it is. It was founded with the aim of helping aspiring entrepreneurs build their ideas and companies. Here we provided them with key resources necessary to develop their products, such as a space to work, an environment to network, which is important, and access to a number of mentors who can help advise them on how to set up their business model.
You were the first person to own a Tesla Model S electric car in Croatia and are the unofficial ambassador for car here. Will we be seeing more convoys like the one we saw last year here?
Last year I organised a 2,200 km adventure from Zagreb-Beograd-Priština-Skoplje-Tirana-Podgorica-Dubrovnik-Split to promote the Tesla. It is a project I really love. It is an amazing car with so many benefits. I was in Pula last week and they have a new charging station in front of the Arena amphitheatre. I went to a concert, left it to charge and it was done when I came back. However there are still not enough charging stations in Croatia. I would like to organise a Tesla convoy through North Africa next.