If you’re in business then you’ll know it’s all about seeing the opportunity. Back in August when a friend of mine sent me a link to the Entrepreneurs in Residence programme I was excited.
Go to a country you’ve never heard of.
Work with start-ups.
Mentor, deliver workshops, do talks.
It was the perfect reason to leave the sunny beaches of Malaga and the laid-back Spanish lifestyle.
What I didn’t know at the time was that Macedonia, or more importantly, the people here, would teach me so much about business.
I was in shock for most of my two months stay here.
80% of people earn up to €400 a month.
18% earn between €400-€1000.
So 98% of people live on less than €1000 a month.
To put that in context, to hire a software developer or marketing expert full time with 2+ years of experience you’ll invest about €500-€800.
The cost of living here is super low too. An evening meal with wine in a good restaurant will set you back around €8.
I was coaching a sales training company who, for a 3-day sales training course, were charging €65.
Plus, everyone, like all people, speak amazing English. Every workshop, talk and mentoring session was delivered in English.
Aside from the low viewing figures of Monty Python and lack of beans on toast, the understanding of ‘Western European’ culture is phenomenal.
And, unlike other ‘cheap’ countries, there is only one-hour time difference from the U.K.
This idea that money can stretch much further here is fascinating for me. Imagine how much further your budget would go here… My advice would be, if you’re thinking of employing people, this region would be a very good place to start.
In Skopje, the countries capital, the start-up scene is fabulous!
There is a whole range of accelerator programmes, incubators, co-working spaces and funding options.
In the U.K. my experience has been that start-up support is highly targeted. So for young people or industry specific. I’ve certainly never had any funding for any of my start-ups.
But there is one big problem here.
Knowledge is not the most important thing to a start-up. After all, you do have Google.
What’s important is that you need to take action.
In Macedonia, like everywhere else in the world, start-ups need to take action. They need to take risks. They need to learn from experience, success and failure.
One of my colleagues here said, “You don’t always know what success looks like, but you do know what it takes to fail.”
Setting up a business is a process.
We know that you need to understand your customer, their needs, and design a solution to fit. Then all the other stuff too. But skip a step and you’re going to make life much more difficult in the long run.
There’s a lot of talk about ‘breaking out of your comfort zone’ but how do you even know where your comfort zone is?
I never knew there was a place in the world I could buy a pack of ciggys for €1.50.
As I’ve been mentoring here I’ve realised that you can’t know your own blind spots.
So talk to people from as far away from you as possible. With as varied experiences as possible and listen to how life really is for other people.
Sharing this work with people from the U.S. , Australia and Spain I’ve really come to understand that every community has different values. Even when you think the culture is the same.
Think you know your customer?
You probably don’t.
Go out there. Talk. Listen. Experience. Travel. Learn. Do new things. Say YES to living.