Tell us a little about your background.
I studied political science and European integration, and wanted to be a politician to change my country. By being in youth politics and then as an advisor to politicians, I saw that change through politics was practically impossible in the late 90s. I joined a political newspaper, and started to manage it, without any managerial or business experience, which was a disaster in the first few months. Then we decided to go into online publishing and got more visibility and therefore influence on the net. Business-wise, this turned out to make more sense. So this was my first contact with the Internet.
Later on, we applied for the Slovak franchise of EurActiv.com (now EurActiv.sk), then other country iterations. This is how I found out that it was easy to replicate some business models throughout Europe. I then co-founded the biggest online airline ticket reseller pelikan.sk and expanded to the Czech Republic and Hungary. I co-founded my next company to provide software programming for our Internet companies Monogram Technologies. I have invested in several tech companies and sold some of them.
Most recently, I co-founded a private technology transfer consultancy called Neulogy, whose main mission is to help research institutions and R&D companies commercialise their inventions. We gradually found many interesting investment opportunities and decided to launch our own fund to provide financing to spin-offs and startups in Slovakia. The fund is one of the many European funds backed by the European Investment Fund. The current team consisting of Michaela, Christian, Jaro and myself is going to invest more than 23 million euros in technology companies.
Why and when did you become an investor and how important is the financial return to you?
I became an investor when I saw the potential of the technological companies around me. I had already earned some money, so I reinvested into new ventures. The financial return was certainly important, but the substance and complementarity of other things was also an issue to me. During my time at Monogram Technologies, we decided not to focus on Central Europe but be a bit more ambitious. We decided to acquire Radlight.com, a Slovak media player company, which had a great video and media experience. That gave us an advantage with later companies such as StreamStar.com and ColosseoEAS.com.
Tell us about a time you failed. What made you get back on your feet?
By having built an online airline ticket engine, we thought that the next logical step would be to invest in travel content sites, which turned out to be a mistake. I would rather buy ads than manage editors and fight with a founder who doesn’t have a clue about my goals and didn’t want to work towards them.
What has changed in the investing scenefrom your first investment until now?
Founders are looking for investments and not for loans. This is a good start already 🙂 Inspired by few successes in the region, online media like TechCrunch or inventures.eu are educating entrepreneurs. The investor community has developed quite a lot. Also investors have had some returns already, so they can co-invest and they are quite intrigued by this.
What do you think about the startup scene in Slovakia? Do you think startups should go abroad if they want success?
Slovakia is the smallest market in Central Europe. Every neighbour is bigger than us, and you have several important capitals 50 to 350 kilometres away from Bratislava. This means that the necessary institutional capital was based there physically until now – our fund is going to break this tradition. Concerning the market size, 5,5 million people is too small of a market to do anything serious. At pelikan.sk, we invested into an elaborate air ticket platform, which was very sophisticated at that time and still sold just 30.000 tickets a year. With much less investment and technical skill, a similar Chinese search engine sold 30.000 tickets on their first day, 80.000 the second day and so on… Now you can see the problem. That is why Slovaks have to concentrate on foreign markets, due to the lack of domestic demand. This could be a competitive advantage. We are receiving more and more business plans that are globally targeted.
What kind of people do you work best with?
Those who are better than me. So I can delegate 🙂
What do you look for when investing in a company? How important is the technology when you’re looking at a new investment opportunity?
Of course the technology is crucial, but especially in Slovakia you have to look for an ambitious team with sales and presentation skills. Here, we tend to believe that technology is everything and forget to check the business model, size of the market or even exit potential.
What’s common across your investments to date?
Great teams and lack of ambitions, or too much modesty. We tend to complement this skill 🙂
What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about you?
That I am a businessman! I am less motivated by money than most people I know.
How do you spend your free time?
I try to spend it with my most challenging startup: my family made of one wife, two daughters and a dog.
Complete the sentence. Working with you means…
…that I like when people contradict me. It’s challenging.
Tell us about your last investment – what attracted your attention, and what made you close the deal?
My last personal investment before the launch of our fund is an online diagnostic platform called www.Diagnose.me. It is a very personal affair, because had it existed a few years ago, it would have helped me solve a serious medical problem. The other reason is that the co-founder is a very experienced Slovak entrepreneur Lukas Alner, with whom I really enjoy working.
Do you invest in international companies?
As a fund, we will invest in companies that need to have something in common with Slovakia. Eitherthe technology background, team, incorporation or angel investor. But what does an international company really mean now?
What types of businesses are proving most popular at the moment in Slovakia?
Considering what I have said before about the small market, the copycats have small space to succeed, so things that are unique and scalable are successful, like ESET, Sygic, Elcom, ColosseoEAS, Visicom and many other examples. We seem to have an edge in security, in video processing, visualisation, computer vision, 3D printing and other cutting-edge hardware-software products, so we are seeing a lot of interesting R&D companies in this space.
Besides providing capital, what else do you do with the companies you back?
I tried in the past and we will try with our new fund to help them grow, and expand internationally. We are an entrepreneurs’ fund, with people, investors, advisors and mentors who are ready to contribute their know-how in addition to the money we invest. Not many Slovak entrepreneurs have access to such a value added without having to move away. I believe we can have home-grown successes with the team and investor community we have built around the fund.
What would you recommend to the people who want to get you onboard?
To have ambitions without bullshitting, and not to ask for high valuations at the entry but at the exit.
How can startups get in touch with you?
We have a website: www.neulogy.vc, we all have our linkedin, twitter and other accounts. We are active and present at many startup events. We are the founders of Startup Awards, which is a flagship startup competitionin Slovakia and a good way to move your startup to the next level.
Don’t even think of getting in touch if…
…you have a strategy and you don’t want to know what we think about it.