If you’re an American tech startup, you absolutely would want to be based in Silicon Valley. If you’re a tech startup in Europe, London is the obvious choice, unless you’re on a budget. Then it would be Berlin, which boasts a whole neighborhood filled with tech startup offices called “Silicon Allee”. But if you’re a tech entrepreneur behind the former Iron Curtain, who must cater to the Central or Eastern European technology user, where do you turn?
Image courtesy of Flickr user Rosaura Ochoa
The answer is Poland. While the 2009 economic crisis ravaged most European economies, Poland’s GDP actually grew 1.6 percent. Its currency, the Zloty, has largely avoided the fluctuations suffered by the Euro. This secure economic environment has made Poland, and especially its two largest cities, Warsaw and Krakow, ripe for international investment. In tech startups, a little money and support can go a long way when hiring talent and paying rent is cheap.
Screenshot of google.com
After some research, I found that tech startups exist all over Poland, in fields from nanotechnology to new materials to app development. I was surprised to find that many social network and social media marketing companies exist there too, with outspoken entrepreneurs at their helms, who have been working in the industry for almost as long as Mark Zuckerberg. Take for example Mariusz Gralewski, who founded Poland’s most popular business networking site, GoldenLine, in 2005. He’s now an active investor in early and mid-stage startups and offers them guidance regarding strategy, user experience and visual designs. He’ll also be a judge at Warsaw’s inaugural Startup Weekend, a competition where entrepreneurs are challenged to design and plan a startup in just 54 hours.
In fact, Poland’s social media usage is starting to look more and more like Western countries, with 54% of Poles over 18 on a social network, compared to 58% in the US. Usage is divided evenly between domestic sites, like nk.pl, and international ones like Facebook. This has not stopped Polish entrepreneurs from bringing social media marketing to the country, despite the fact that 88% of Poles say they don’t follow brands on social media, according to a 2012 study. Social media monitoring company Brand24, headquartered in Wroclaw, offers extensive data collection and analysis service packages for $19 to $999 per month. Their mid-level package ($99) promises 500,000 mentions per month, hourly updates, live customer service, and monthly Excel reports filled with statistics.
Screenshot of YouTube advertisement on Brand24.net
Though Brand24 has since chosen to open up a second headquarters in New York, where both founders now work, other social media companies are focusing exclusively – at least for now – on the Polish market. FollowUs, a social media campaign design company, promises to “build trust in your brand” by designing, creating, and distributing high quality content. They understand that working to “dispel doubts related to purchases” is just as important as forming positive associations with a brand or product for the Polish consumer. They’re headquartered at a tech startup incubator called Reaktor, where they share an office with eight other Polish startups, to encourage collaboration and networking.
With the increasingly high concentration of tech startups, international capital, and ambitious entrepreneurs working in Poland, a promising new way to access a major European consumer base is emerging. Whether or not companies will choose to take advantage of this opportunity, how soon, and in what way remains to be seen.