How to build a solid startup ecosystem might be very well our common compulsion among the CEE markets. It’s a tough endeavour and every little successful step towards this goal deserves to be known as example.
Here we are with Natasa Djukanovic Director of International Sales of doMEn, the registry of all .ME domain names for Montenegro. She will tell us how the .me top level domain extension and the people working for the registrar served as a catalyst for the startup ecosystem in the neighbouring country.
Natasa is also a co-founder of Digitalizuj.Me, a non-governmental, not-for-profit, organization that examines the transformative power of technology through various projects and lectures. She is an activist and a tree huger. at domain.me registry
Natasa worked in three different industries, three different kinds of companies, big and small, public and private, on commercial and financial as well as technical. But what suits her the best is whatever gives her freedom to express her creativity and planning skills.
How to Web: What role has the local community played in Domain.me’s growth and evolution and what role has Domain.me played in the evolution and growth of the local tech ecosystem?
Natasa Djukanovic: The Domain.me opened up as business in 2008, when the company signed the agreement of managing the national domain name .ME with the Government. It was at the same time that the community in Montenegro started to build up.
But since Montenegro is a very small country of only around 700.000 people, the community is much smaller and the influence of the community on domain.me itself as a business wasn’t and still is not relevant. Domain.me’s market is mainly in the US, and abroad.
On the other side members of the team of Domain.me are one of the first initiators to connect the community. These domain.me team members, in addition to other influential people from Montenegro created an NGO which supports and grows local tech ecosystem through series of lectures and workshops, with the idea of education of young people about startups and management especially in the digital world. This Digitalizuj.me (which means digitalize me) NGO is in fact recognized as a main connector within the community.
On the other hand domain.me organized programming school in 2009, and every year since then, together with Mathematics and Natural sciences Faculty, we have a growing number of high school pupils learning about programming every year. Through this educational system we are building on with a new base for the community.
In your opinion, what do startup ecosystems need to succeed?
A startup ecosystem first and foremost needs a good education system, with a good connection with real life apart from theory of the official education system. On top of that, community plays a very important role in terms of connecting people with different skills and ideas to start on their businesses.
Every startup ecosystem also needs their individuals, especially successful ones, to help back the community and support and educate the next generations through their example of success and failure. This circle of giving back is very important (because those who have gone through the first circle and succeeded can transfer their knowledge much better than any book).
How important is that startup founders travel around the CEE region to meet other startup founders and discuss common problems? Do you think this happens often enough? Why (not)?
That’s very important because in the end we are parts of much bigger communities and thanks to all the conferences and events within the region that is possible. However, I think this meetings are not happening often enough, probably because of the amount of work we all have to do and the lack of time. Exchange of ideas and experiences on the regional level, especially here, where the cultures are similar, is very important.
What is the composition of the startup ecosystem in Montenegro and who are the main actors involved?
We have a couple of typical startups (by common definition of a startup), but a very strong community in which we haven’t yet been able to involve all the people who could be very important parts. There are startup meetups, organized workshops, and one big event a year – Spark.me. This conference’s important part is the startup competition where we give the prize of going to TechCrunch Disrupt StartUp Alley (the tickets, accommodation and a booth in the Alley).
You said education plays a very important role in developing a startup ecosystem? How can you boost this synergy?
Yes, education is a very important condition to have a good startup ecosystem, but I am not speaking only about traditional education system. We work with the Mathematics and Natural sciences Faculty to offer additional programming skills, and Summer camps of programming but also through organizing startup meetups and exchanging of experience and having successful startups involved in the process. It’s also about the willingness of individuals to learn and share knowledge, especially in organizing lectures and sharing content/books…
Do startups in Montenegro deal with the same issues as in the ones in Romania or around the region when it comes access to financing (too few angel investors and VC funds, not enough financing opportunities for early-stage startups, etc)?
We have no business angels nor VC funds, but still, lots of accelerators visit (Eleven visits twice a year, Hub:raum too) and give opportunities to the startups to present and pitch. I think the lack of funds gives a special value to the startups coming from this region, because they then have to be better in what they are doing, more persistent and have better presentation skills than the startups from the areas where there are more financial opportunities.
What type of activities have you seen benefit and impact the most startups in Montenegro in a positive way?
We are still in the phase when opening up in terms of asking for help about the product/service a startup is working on is the most important step. Learning and developing later is much easier. I think the common problem is that people don’t share and look for help enough. Is either that kind of shyness, or the “I can do it on my own” attitude, and that should change in every sense.
What abilities and mindset do successful entrepreneurs from the region have that sets them apart from the pack?
Persistence. In order to succeed one needs to endure and show special skills of adjusting, but mostly what separates success from failure is hard work and diligence.
How did you manage to build a community around Domain.me and what values do community members appreciate the most?
That would probably be up to the community members to say. What we think is the most important we bring to the community is education and communication. Giving opportunity to people to say what they would need. We also work a lot on bringing the change and support innovation. If you support communication then you can easily connect to the needs and wants of the community.
What startup success stories do you discuss with first-time founders when looking to inspire them to keep pursuing their goals, no matter the obstacles?
We never speak about Facebook and Google stories, if that’s what you mean, nor the Skype or anything similar from Europe. We speak about Lean method a lot, and about MVP to make people focus on their products and speak with other people (community).