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July was no exception when it came to the OpenCoffee Split Meetup: apart from socialising and exchanging business experiences, a lecture titled “Building a Startup in Croatia with a Nordic Twist” was held by a Finn who started his own IT business here in Croatia.
Ilkka-Cristian Niemi shared with the audience stories about growing up in his home country, life and work in Poland, the decision to start a business and run a software company in Croatia with a Scandinavian perspective and experience.
Niemi was born in, what he considers to be, the Finnish equivalent of Split: the sunniest town in the country where he spent a typical childhood in a middle-class family. As a child, he was very devoted to volleyball and he won a silver medal at the Finnish Junior Championship. “Maybe I should have fully committed myself to volleyball and become a professional player,” he reminisces.
His first ties with Croatia lie within the 1998 FIFA World Cup when he memorised our country’s name and started following the success of our football players.
As a student, he moved to Poland through the ERASMUS program where he decided to start his own business after finishing college. However, what he wanted to do first was gain experience in his home country so he worked in areas of HR, marketing and headhunting in various companies.
“My first boss has become my best friend and is my business partner today,” he revealed.
He spent a year working for several outsourcing companies in Katowice, Poland. After that, he moved to Warsaw and slowly got more in touch with IT.
With friends who worked in different IT companies he fantasised about starting a company together in the future.
“West Finland, where I come from, is home to the largest number of entrepreneurs in our country. It appears as though it is in our blood to start our own company. However, no one in my family has ever been an entrepreneur. Personally, I was inclined to plan everything and avoid risk, whereas as an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to take risks. Fortunately, over time I became more confident and ready to take risks,” Niemi admitted.
Entrepreneurial adventure in Croatia
After spending his first summer in Croatia back in 2013, he started to come here more and more often, both to the seaside and to Zagreb.
His love for Croatia started to grow: “This is probably the most beautiful country I have ever visited. Furthermore, I found the following facts as advantages of starting a business here: Croatia is a member of the European Union, it has a great location, it is well connected to all European cities, people are well-educated and have great potential and their tech scene is in the process of evolution and growth.”
He spent more and more time thinking about relocating and entrepreneurship.
“We took our time coming up with a business idea and then at a New Year’s Eve party while I was sipping beer in a sauna, we came up with the perfect name for our future company. Software Sauna! We looked up the domain name and since it wasn’t taken we bought it right away in the morning,” he remembers.
In 2017, they tested the market and in 2018 they launched a business in our capital. Their main scope of work is web development, but they have also engaged in the development of mobile applications.
“We are focused on finding the best developers. We only employ seniors. We don’t have project managers or team leaders,” Niemi reveals.
In Software Sauna he utilizes all of the knowledge he has acquired so far and this is the first startup he has been working on. Prior to this he spent a total of 11 years working in 5 large companies.
“I am a big supporter of good management and I believe that a company’s biggest asset lies in its people. I wanted to create a company whose employees would love coming to work and wouldn’t mind the Mondays, but would be pleased with their colleagues as well as with the meaningful work they do. It is my job to reach out to potential clients and provide employees with desirable working conditions and opportunities to do cool things. I want them to feel comfortable; as the executive I don’t find it difficult to go to the supermarket to get drinks or snacks if they desire so.”
If you want to find out more about the planned expansion, the potential opening of a Split office or the details of working with Finnish clients from Croatia, you can watch the recording of the entire lecture on our YouTube channel!
Translation of the original text: Ana Vidić