LFP198 – Tech/Fintech in Central and Eastern Europe w/Adam Niewinski co-founder OTB Ventures

There are at least 70 cities in Europe which have at least one unicorn in them – a very different pattern from the US/UK ecosystems. Over 20 of these cities are in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). There is thus far more to CEE than a place to near-offshore your tech or dev team. In this episode Adam gives us both a tour de force et tour d’horizon of the vast region that is CEE –  – I was certainly impressed with my lack of knowledge of the tech landscape in the region which has developed super-fast. 

Adam is a rara avis having been a multiple-times founder, bank CEO and now long-term regional VC so has a super-good 360 degree perspective on the area which he leads us through.

Five years ago Adam co-founded OTB Ventures, an early-stage CEE VC based in Warsaw, who invest $1-15m in their CEE portfolio companies,

Topics discussed include:

  • is tech concentrated in Warsaw or is it spread around Poland?
  • other tech hubs in Poland
  • Adam’s career journey – from great anecdote about how he started at BCG through founding several companies including perhaps of the first Fintech in the region in 2000 and Bank deputy CEO-ing
  • experiences in Ukraine [in passing the podcast was recorded before the recent troubles]
  • Angel-investing experience
  • pivoting from Angeling to VC with a buddy who had been in Intel Capital for 18 years
  • Kiev back in the day
  • when was the CEE tech boom?
  • reviewing the major features of the tech landscape in:
    • Poland – 15-20yrs ago gaming industry was the early market leader with global reach; other sectors increasing over past 5yrs.
    • the mid-size country gap – market big enough to get some success but not so small that one has to globalise right away
    • Finland (some count as CEE (?!)) – very key
    • Estonia – the largest number of tech unicorns per million people in the world
    • Lithuania
    • Ukraine– less local market and more connected to the US market
    • Czech – cyber-security especially
    • Slovakia – developing fast
    • Romania – UiPath listed on the Nasdaq is now worth $20bn…
    • Bulgaria – eg Payhawk (who were the guests in LFP187)
  • the importance of local successes in encouraging other entrepreneurs to believe that they too can create a success in the country
  • reasons to offshore in CEE:
    • price – pre-pandemic techies 1/3-1/4-ish of London rates, now ~1/2 London rate
    • quality
    • quantity
    • longevity as market less hot
  • how to use CEE
    • less about offshoring and more about putting the whole tech team in the region
    • centering on a co-founder moving back into the region
    • centering on a key tech guy in the region
    • key-person-centric rather than “map centric”
    • importance of not just regarding people as “interchangeable resource” hence importance of deep cultural insight into the country one chooses in CEE
  • importance of global market thinking – eg Klarna, Transferwise
  • outlook for next 5-10yrs
  • “innovation is no longer happening in corporations but in startups by entrepreneurs”
  • funding is now available in CEE countries
  • “if the tech is good it is global not local”
  • the long-view as the current tech boom marking the end of the WW2 period with CEE back as part of the continental economy
  • OTB Ventures stands for Outside of The Box Ventures
  • supporting founders not telling them what to do
  • what he role of an investor is
  • OTB focuses on real/deep tech – disruptive technologies that scale globally

And much much more 😉

Share and enjoy!