Back In Ljubljana

Back in 2008, we invested in a small team out of SeedCamp called Zemanta. They were located in Ljubljana Slovenia but I met them in London. The following summer I visited the company in its hometown along with the Gotham Gal and our son Josh. I blogged about that trip here at AVC.

In the ensuing years, the founders moved back and forth between the US and Slovenia, encountered significant visa issues, and eventually built a strong business team in NYC and SF and Seattle. So the board meetings have been held in the US for the most part over the years with a few in London as well.

The founders decided that it was time to have a board meeting in Slovenia again and I made the trip yesterday (with some delays as noted in yesterday's blog post). Last night, as we walked through the lovely center of town along the river I was reminded of that trip we made four years ago and the wonderful time we had here.

We have a few portfolio companies that were started outside of the US and where the dev and product teams are still located in the home territory but the business team has moved to the US. This is a time tested model and has certain advantages. But it is easy to focus on the business team in the US and forget about the folks back home who are actually building the stuff.

I am excited to spend a morning with the "home team" and get to see the new offices. I've learned a lot working on the Zemanta investment, most notably that entrepreneurship is alive and well in many places around the world. It's great getting out and seeing that in action.

#Blogging On The Road#entrepreneurship#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Avi Deitcher

    Most int’l companies I have seen follow that model: R&D & product at home, sales & marketing in the US. But I have seen a very few lately who insist on everyone in home country. Their philosophy? Too easy for a disconnect between the people deciding the product, building the product, marketing the product, and selling the product. Downside? No one lives really close to the customer.Haven’t seen enough data points of the “everyone overseas together” to form a real opinion yet. Any thoughts?

    1. awaldstein

      Don’t see how this can work without sales in the market country.Sales is a customer activity. Your feet need to be firmly on the markets turf.

      1. jason wright

        you don’t receive sales calls from call centers in India?

        1. awaldstein

          Not from companies that care about my business.And this includes customer support. I simply won’t do business with companies that push my calls into a vortex.

          1. ShanaC

            i’ve decided the vortex exists no matter where the customer call center (or person – I think southwest’s Customer service is actually out of individual homes

          2. Donna Brewington White

            I did a VP Talent Management search for a concierge company where all the customer service reps work from home — massive work force and a rapidly growing business. I love the concept because it opens up the potential for a workforce and provides jobs that would often be offshored.BTW, did you get my Edna text message? It was quite a story — my daughter and I trying to get this photo of a woman who looks like the real life Edna in order to send it to you.

          3. ShanaC

            Nope, sorry didn’t get that text πŸ™ Actually, edna is based on a real person…

      2. Tin Dizdarevic

        Hi Avi, our sales team is US based as we primarily sell to US firms, but to jason’s point, our sales team works with our support team, which is both in NY and Ljubljana, to troubleshoot and help our customers and we’ve found a good formula where it works.

    2. fredwilson

      I think you need a founder in both places who are regularly going back and forth to provide the right level of communication and coordination between product and sales

  2. Avi Deitcher

    BTW, nice to have you posting in the morning my time!

    1. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

      I have heard of GMT Greenwich mean time…never heard of AMT…Avi mean time :-)Yes. I agree …it was good to see ‘our’ morning post at AVC.

      1. Avi Deitcher

        Hey, I am a nice guy, not “mean”! :-)So nice, in fact, that we can call it KMT (Kasi Mean Time), if you want.Besides, don’t they call it UTC = Universal Coordinated Time nowadays?

        1. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

          ha…ha….I humbly accept the honor of KMT!!!

    2. jason wright

      i’m still yawning,… and where’s my breakfast?!

      1. Avi Deitcher

        In Ljubljana!

        1. jason wright

          then that would be cold porridge for lunch πŸ™

    3. William Mougayar

      Where are you? I thought you were in NY.

      1. Avi Deitcher

        Nope. I live in Israel, but all of my work is North America-based. Hence my many different timezones.

        1. William Mougayar

          That’s the smart way to be global while local.

          1. Avi Deitcher

            It has its price, but it works. The Israeli start-up and tax scene needs to mature quite a bit before it’s worth my putting in the effort there.

          2. William Mougayar

            But it’s still the best ecosystem outside of the US, comparatively speaking. See my last blog post on SUM πŸ™‚

          3. Avi Deitcher

            Yes, it definitely is. It has a long way to go, although having lived through the late 90s boom and the late 2000s boom, I see huge improvement.

  3. Shawn

    Couldn’t agree more. Ljubljana is an amazing place to visit and often overlooked by the masses who travel to Europe (very much like some startups). What surprised me the most from my trip back in 2005 was just how developed their infrastructure was in comparison to surrounding countries (as you also noted in your other post). If you have the time/inclination, a trip out to Bovec definitely won’t disappoint and if you are up for it, the canyoning is guaranteed to get the heart pumping πŸ˜‰

  4. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

    Made for America really works … Slingmedia’s slingbox was 100% designed and developed in bangalore just 2-blocks away from where i lived in bangalore.It works when a well-thought-out-product is in the making where there is less of pivoting. The disconnect and disagreement will bounce like a bear at the time of pivoting…development team can never understand why and why ….and will start asking …. what is wrong with the people of USA. That is when the challenge begins for the founder and investors.

    1. Avi Deitcher

      Fantastic insight.

    2. ShanaC

      this is really brilliant – do you think there are ways around this?

  5. Donna Brewington White

    Gorgeous photo! Glad that Plan B worked and you arrived safely and in a timely manner it seems, but I can’t imagine what is happening to your internal clock right now given yesterday’s travel adventures.One of the aspects I enjoy about AVC is to be able to follow along vicariously on your travels and this time even getting a peek at how Zemanta is functioning on different continents.I am greatly intrigued by the idea that a company no longer has to be completely subject to geographical restrictions in forming the team and that people can explore opportunities outside their immediate geography. I have experienced this with clients for most of my career, but in terms of job opportunities not so much. There is still a lot of resistance to the idea of geographically dispersed teams but I believe we will see this changing, especially as technology continues to make us more accessible to each other and as the right talent becomes harder to come by and companies have to become more flexible. I would love to be part of helping a company figure out how to have a thriving culture in a geographically dispersed environment.But even in dispersed arrangements, there is still great value to getting people in the same room from time to time and it is heartwarming to think of how affirming it must be to the “home team” that you made the trek.

    1. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

      Where there are advantages there are always challenges.btw, r u also travelling donna?

      1. Donna Brewington White

        Because of my strange hours? No, Kasi, I just live this way.

        1. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

          I used to be night owl during my last 2-years of my studies…literally…going tobed at 7.a.m and sleep until 3-4 p.m….those where strange years.btw, u deleted some part of your reply why?… 2-minutes ago i saw 2-paragraphs…worried about NSA πŸ™‚

    2. awaldstein

      Getting on a plane to meet the people you do business with is almost always the right thing to do.Doing a lot more Skype call with my Office Hours offering working pretty well.Skype is better than phone but nothing beats face-2-face if you can swing it.Trying to set up an office hours morning in Bryant park for the next month. Free Wifi, under a tree. What an office!

      1. ShanaC

        how about much larger telepresence systemsAnd better be early – it is hot as hell in ny

        1. awaldstein

          I’ve used them when I worked at large companies. Skype works as long as you can get face-2-face at times.Yup, hot. I start early…

      2. Nick Ambrose

        Indeed. A company I worked for purchased a company in Romania, probably 10 years or so ago, and of course the three founders (who lived in the US, quit as soon as their earnouts were done)While telecon’s, and Video meetings were essential, a continual onsite presence was also vital (which is how I learned that whenever someone came to visit, the “managers” would start an immediate crackdown of “the Americans are coming, you guys better work way harder than you normally do or they will come in here and fire you all”Suffice to say it was the managers, not the (already hardworking) employees that were let go ….

        1. awaldstein

          I don’t believe that remote management works.Teams and leadership are all about people and you simply need to touch flesh and work together to make the times that you aren’t, work.Wonder why I have 4M AA miles;)

          1. Nick Ambrose

            Indeed, which is why you need to grow and mentor local managers (or move :)When you have a remote staff of 50 (that grows to over 300) then obviously local management is critical (we inherited some poor ones and some good ones, and unfortunately hired some poor ones — and good ones too)

          2. awaldstein

            There are lots of ways to do this of course.For myself, I’ve always had senior staff on the ground, usually people that moved and took up residence there.I also found that how this worked depended on where we are talking about. Culturally when I’be done this in Asia and Europe they were different.

          3. Nick Ambrose

            Yes, it’s definitely ideal if you can do that.I was supposed to be that person but it’s rather tricky to leave the US for any length of time on a green card and be confident they will let you back in, so that didn’t work out so well.I don’t know if eventually they managed to get people to move there or not.

          4. awaldstein

            I’m in year four of advising consulting work so culture may be shifting.I do mentor international teams via Skype but mentoring and managing are very different. The former works really well.

          5. pointsnfigures

            Agree. Tried to relay that to a startup, and they didn’t get it. I do think that if the core of the mgmt team is in one place, and they have some remote workers it can work.

      3. Donna Brewington White

        Your office hours concept is intriguing to me. I meant to ask you about this when we met. I have been thinking about setting up a space in Santa Monica for this.

        1. awaldstein

          We can talk.Most are Skype some are in person. Not doing calls.They are two one-hour sessions per month, some are every week.They are not management but mentoring from an advisory perspective. Focused. Time focused.They work.

  6. jason wright

    Where is Zemanta incorporated?

    1. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

      I think U.K. (their legal page says so).

      1. jason wright

        a safe jurisdiction for investing with confidence.

    2. fredwilson

      London because of seedcamp but we are changing that to the US now. We wanted to wait to make sure it was worth the investment. It is now

      1. jason wright

        what’s the upside of moving Z from London to the US?

  7. Khalid

    Hi Fred.Are you going to stop maybe in Germany again?

    1. fredwilson

      Yup. In late Sept

  8. Roger Ellman

    I love this example of global business cross-fertilization. Business crossess and connects the world. Beyond boundaries.

  9. joemedved

    I’ll be there next week for a Celtra board meeting. Slovenia has some great entrepreneurs and dev talent.

    1. fredwilson

      I heard you are going to stop by Zemanta and say hi

  10. awaldstein

    Getting to know people on their own turf on their own terms is priceless in any relationship.I have clients in Europe and showing up there is never convenient, always essential.BTW–reblogged your photo of the bike share there. Wonder if you could do a bike share Friday with pics of the community on bike shares wherever they are in the world. Honestly, have no idea how many there actually are.Safe travels. Drink Vitovska!(Information you didn’t ask for–>Kras/Carso is one of a few wine regions that spans two countries (Slovenia/Italy) and where the political boundary is somewhat arbitrary as the culture, the grapes, the language is all the same. Amazing spot!)

    1. Aaron Klein

      There is little that can replace getting on a plane and seeing people in person. I have to admit…I’ve made a few hacks to flying that have me not minding it that much. I even welcome it to some extent…the phone stops ringing off the hook and I have more good thinking time.The hacks? Biggest one was centralizing my flying to one airline. Loyalty pays, and for me, it means accelerated security lines, boarding first so I never have to check bags and always getting great seats in exit row, economy comfort or a free first class upgrade.Plus the right equipment…a great well-organized backpack, a roll aboard suitcase and a MacBook Air with all-day battery. πŸ™‚

      1. awaldstein

        Yup….Loyalty programs for air and hotels do really work as comfort and efficiency are energy boosters.The other travel piece for me was exercise and working it into the cycle somehow.You’ve got to be both disciplined and healthy to get yourself into the time zone of where you are traveling to. Exercise helps me do that.

        1. Aaron Klein

          Absolutely. A huge must. I’ve had to start doing it in the evenings or the hotel gym is busy and I don’t get it done.

          1. awaldstein

            Work is a marathon for certain. Being in shape really helps.

      2. Donna Brewington White

        I get a lot of value out of my time on planes as well. Either good work time, or good downtime allowing myself to read things I typically don’t have time to — like fiction, and doing the crossword. But you are right — some hacks and routines and the right equipment make a difference.

    2. ShanaC

      err, I need to relearn, but ok, i like the idea

    3. fredwilson

      We drank a lot of Slovenian wine last night and I enjoyed all of it

      1. awaldstein



        Lots of good posts lately, Gadgeteer. Nice to see you’re back to your old self.

    4. LE

      “I have clients in Europe and showing up there is never convenient, always essential.”How does that work billing and cost wise? Who pays and under what circumstances? [1]I can see the value. Just curious as to the money transfer.[1] For example I can see how someone might have clients in Europe and want to travel there anyway so it’s a way to be able to deduct a trip cost, but I also can see a client paying for the travel obviously or simply covering it yourself if the opportunity is large enough.

      1. awaldstein

        There is no one rule fits all.

        1. Donna Brewington White

          For me, this is discussed in creating the agreement (i.e., contract).

          1. awaldstein

            Advisory and consulting economics are their own beast to tame.The only standard I have is Office Hours and its a small piece of my work.

      2. Donna Brewington White

        Generally, when I travel on a client’s behalf and/or at their request, the client reimburses travel expenses. If I do something for my own benefit on that trip — like stay an extra night, meet a friend for breakfast, court a prospective client, then I cover those costs, of course. Most of the time this is for a nationwide search for a senior enough position or one where culture and values fit are so significant that meeting personally is imperative.I have tried to convince my clients to do more recruiting in Hawaii to no avail.

        1. LE

          When doing that do you also meet with the spouse of person being hired and/or family?I would think that is important with regards to pinging for family life or impact and level of career supportiveness.To bad you don’t do medical doctor recruiting. All the conferences are in nice places. [1] You could attend one conference and come away with a large quantity of potential candidates. Actually you could probably find conferences in Hawaii (or St. John or any nice place) and do the same non-medical. So you work backwards.[1] I attend these with my wife. They are always in nice places and the best hotels.

          1. Donna Brewington White

            Good call, LE. I do meet the spouse for certain types of searches. I don’t really interview the spouse, but I observe the couple’s interaction and respectfully ask the spouse questions about the candidate. Body language of one when the other is talking is a huge signal. I also invite the spouse to ask me questions which tells me more than if I was asking questions.Even if I don’t meet the spouse, I encourage the client to do so for a senior level hire — just meeting casually for dinner.Anytime an offer involves relocation, I try to suss out the spouse’s perspective.

  11. William Mougayar

    I think staying where you are and marketing into the world or the US is a lot easier than it used to be 4 years ago.If you have a strong team of developers and innovators outside the US where it’s generally a lot cheaper, why disrupt them? Keep them there, and build bridges to the US and where the markets are. That’s been the Israel model for many years.

    1. awaldstein

      No question its easier. It’s still not trivial.The key is and always has been the team that spans the market and where the product gets built.

    2. ShanaC

      Israel is really different – they had a strong connection to the US way before they went the way of startups

        1. Vineeth Kariappa

          India is no way similar to Israel. No1 finances “products” here,VCs in India idolize Samwer brothers. From Alok Kejriwal, one of the only people from India who has created anything yet,

          1. William Mougayar

            I was referring to the “Bridging” part where there are similarities. Not implying that the 2 countries are similar, but how they leverage resources and relationships across the ponds.I’m specifically referring to the IT outsourcing industry which is close to $100 billion now. That’s a lot of money going back to India and as you well know, that employs millions of people, and it’s a good thing. That is a strength that can spill into the startup ecosystem gradually.(you know I worked for Cognizant for a few years, and have been to several parts of India)

          2. Vineeth Kariappa

            at present everything in tech in india is about money, nothing else. no1 gives a rat’s ass about “relationships”. Read the last few paragraphs of the blog. Nothing similar with India n Isreal. Those guys have their own fighter jets!!! Indians take kickbacks when they purchase anything.

          3. jason wright

            Iive been negotiating with an Indian owned corporate in recent weeks. you are absolutely right. money is the only metric they recognize. it’s almost a psychological illness.

          4. Vineeth Kariappa

            while negotiating never use %s, they will talk to your competitor. If your talking about IT, they charge approx 1/2 the rate compared to the US companies. Pay the employees 1/10th. Use that metric, don use %s.

  12. VukaΕ‘in

    Come by Rijeka, there’ll be a great startup event there, There will be a lot of cool startups from this part of Europe attending, mine included πŸ™‚

  13. Brian Kurth

    Love Slovenia. If you haven’t already visited, try to get to Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj if you can, Fred. Glorious.

    1. fredwilson

      I am dying to. Can’t do that on this trip though

  14. JimHirshfield

    I have fond memories of my trip to Ljubljana 4 years ago. Such great hospitality. Honored to have served as Zemanta’s first US employee.

    1. fredwilson

      Badge of Honor

    2. William Mougayar

      You drank their wine, and served your time πŸ™‚

      1. JimHirshfield

        Good wine…very good wine.

  15. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

    This is great. I hope one of these days you invest in France.

    1. William Mougayar

      I think he does constantly…by eating French food πŸ™‚ I do the same. And French wine, deserts & cheese of course.

      1. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

        A few more million like you guys and we’ll get unemployment back down below 10%. ;)Founder, Noosphere

        1. William Mougayar

          What does Noosphere do? How can we help?Maybe the AVC community can help get you users or visibility. In my experience, there’s an incredible amount of camaraderie and collegial helping each other here, even if you don’t ask. I’m sure you know.

          1. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

            You guys are indeed awesome, and that’s why I’ve decided to come back more often.And sorry about the plug for my company, it’s my email signature. (I always respond to Disqus comments by email.)

          2. William Mougayar

            Don’t be sorry about marketing yourself or your company.

          3. ShanaC

            don’t worry about it – these things happen

          4. Donna Brewington White

            I’ve missed you. Accueillir Γ  nouveau!BTW, no apology needed, one of the most enjoyable things about AVC is learning about people’s businesses and work.

          5. LE

            For noosphere, a few ideas.a) get a presence in the US. An office, even a virtual office and phone number is better than being only in Paris.b) .io not a great idea. duplicate site content with a .com Not seeing the tie in to what they do with the name either.c) Pricing is in euros “€19/year”. No reason you can’t have a 2nd site which is just US based in USD. For that matter I would recommend to anyone to have sites dedicated to particular geographic areas. At the very least give $$ pricing that’s quick and easy. (Or Canada, or UK etc.) even if you are pricing in euros.d) Pricing seems to cheap compared to the value. No reason you can’t jack the price up to take advantage of corporate people with more money to spend. Perhaps add a “personal email consult level” at an additional cost [1] or private webcast, skype whatever. Would imagine just the questions people ask would be of value to your regular users as well.[1] In the past we’ve had products where we’ve offer email support and “phone support”. The phone support was charged at, say, $15 more per month. Some people (those spending OPM) gladly paid it. Instant revenue with no down side.

      2. pointsnfigures

        time to roll out that weight gain post.

    2. fredwilson

      I would love to. Just need to find the right thing

      1. William Mougayar

        Fred, this is the french blog to follow that chronicles the startup scene in France. It’s in English

      2. William Mougayar

        Whitings, Paris-based just raised $30mil, but they included corporate VC’s.

    3. William Mougayar

      Did you see yesterday’s FT article about the French startup ecosystem?”French dreams of a start-up renaissance” -They highlight Criminal Case by Pretty Simple and Les Pigeons of course.

    4. William Mougayar

      Just saw this from Rude Baguette:French Government reforms will reduce 80% of administrative cost for companies…

  16. kenberger

    how much have costs changed, compared to your comment 4 years ago that it was about half that of Italy?We are going to Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia in Sept/October, so will be reviewing your tips and those in these comments !

    1. fredwilson

      The Slovenian economy is stragglingIf anything its gotten cheaperThey need more entrepreneurs to fix that

      1. Nick Ambrose

        Romania also is an excellent place for reasonable cost yet people that are well educated, speak good english and have good Software development skills.Hopefully they will manage to keep that up now they are going down the path of more freedom … definitely not an easy path to navigate but hopefully they will succeed

      2. Donna Brewington White

        The great economic answer. Entrepreneurs.(Personally, one of the reasons I am so bullish and want to pour my life into supporting entrepreneurship.)

  17. aminTorres

    This reminds me of a question I’ve wanted to ask for some time now.If you, Fred, were to stir a tech startup community in a location where there is virtually no signs of a community, how would you go about it?I would love to hear what the AVC community says about it.In any case, great write up, Zemanta seems like a cool company, have a great time there.

    1. fredwilson

      The way Feld did it in BoulderHe wrote a book about it

  18. William Mougayar

    Well, the word is out: The US Tech Startup model works, and all parts of the world are trying to replicate it. Paul Singh said it best:”You don’t have to be in Silicon Valley, but Silicon Valley has to be in you”I just wrote about this, Global Startups Should Build a Bridge to the U.S. market (pimping)http://startupmanagement.or…

  19. Kirsten Lambertsen

    It would be really interesting to hear how you think it’s changed since your 2009 post. There were a lot of comments on that one about the area’s potential and future.

  20. Brett Pharis

    We use Zemanta and couldn’t be happier with their product. I didn’t realize ‘homebase’ was in Slovenia, very cool!

  21. Boris Wertz

    Business travel is usually no fun – flying into a place, having back-to-back-meetings, flying back. One of my portfolio companies has operations in Shanghai and once a year we have a board meeting over there. It is a long flight so we all stay for 2 days. But it is probably the only time in the whole year when my business travel feels a bit special and I have a bit of time to soak in the city and a foreign country. So enjoy your trip to Slovenia.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks Boris. I had a wonderful 24 hours there. I am now on my way to Brussels for a business dinner

  22. mikenolan99

    In 2007 part of my MBA studies was at the University of Economics in Slovakia Eastern Europe is a fascinating entrepreneurial environment. Our lectures revolved around the “velvet revolution” – transforming a state-owned economy into a private ownership economy without bloodshed.We also met with a young CEO trying to get an airline started, the managing director of DELL Eastern Europe, toured the Samsung Factory there and the brand new Audi/Volkswagen/Porsche plant.I also had a chance to present a short class on Entrepreneurship to law students in Prague.What fascinated me was the clean slate attitude – a generation of new entrepreneurs, who are witness to an amazing transformation, and are building the Eco-system from scratch.Glad to see USV on the ground and providing capital.

  23. leigh

    a bit off topic, but i have to work waaaay too hard to figure out what Zemanta does (and i know what Zemanta does – or did). Given how challenged many publishers and advertisers are in understanding the myriad of platforms out there, focusing on benefit is good, but explaining what it does first, better πŸ™‚

    1. awaldstein

      platform fatigue is unfortunately not connected to discovering solutions that really work.

    2. fredwilson

      Good feedbackI will let them know

  24. george

    Slovenia is beautiful – country and people! Like you, I really appreciate and value interacting with overseas businesses – it’s truly a great way to wake up the mind and create new inspirations.