Meet a stubborn Croatian on a mission to forever change the negative mindset while building a networking empire of like-minded optimistic business people.
She was championing Mystery Shopping in Croatia, while barely 26 years old, opening her first company with a minimum, or better said, no funds at all, in the business environment that was not ready for the venture that required all sorts of flexibility. Today, these stories are funny openings during her small talks, but way back then, they were difficult tasks she was determined to overcome. Being labelled as a ‘serial entrepreneur’, she wasn’t afraid of selling her first business that forever marked Croatian retail, or embracing motherhood and personal changes that will turn her life upside down and lift a few eyebrows. Today, she leads a few successful projects, ‘Business Cafe’, ‘Zaokret’ (English: Shift), ‘Žene i novac’ (Eng. Women and Money), to name a few. For anyone needing a helping hand through (still) demanding Croatian business culture, Kristina would be the best mentoring hand, and her Business Cafe, a place where you could find your ‘tribe’.
There are 2,065,523 small businesses in Australia employing less than 19 people, but accounting for 97 per cent of all Australian businesses by employee size. I will use this remarkable example purely because I currently live in this economy. Our ‘new’ democracy can’t have the wisdom of the 100’s-of-years-old one; however, you think we should learn faster. Do you feel something is changing with our mindset too?
Small business owners are real heroes in every society. Entrepreneurs create new value; they create jobs, they solve problems and add value to everyone’s lives, not only to their customers. Once entrepreneurs see themselves as such, then the rest of society will value them more as they deserve. Also, I think we can start seeing how business can be the source of good for the whole of humanity. Therefore, I truly believe things are changing, and 2020 is making those changes faster, whether we like it or not.
Kristina Ercegović | Business Cafe
Very often you talk about the legacy, mentality and expectations that someone else has to sort our problems, instead of us accepting that problems are ours too? Do you think we’ll ever achieve that high level of accountability?
Yes, we will have to, life forces us to. It is up to us how quickly we will accept the lessons we received. It is a question of raising consciousness which then leads to a mindset change. We usually say it takes time, but actually, it takes one and then a few more people who dare to lead and show by example.
The first step in any change is always acceptance. Being responsible, doing what you can instead of complaining about what you can’t, being thankful for what you have, not looking at what you still don’t have, don’t compare, envy, compete, instead focus on what you can do with resources that you do have, and act. Change is the only sure thing, and those who survive and bounce back after falls are the ones who adapt to changes quickly, act and create.
That way of thinking and acting is a product of mindset and mindset is a consequence of awareness. So what we all have to do is raise awareness – that there is enough for everyone in this world. That the best thing to do is to is just to BE you, and related to business means expressing your talents and packing them into products and services and offering them to the world. And we have to cooperate. That is why I joined and co-founded Voice of Entrepreneurs Association (Croatian: Glas poduzetnika), and we try to influence and create what we call Croatia 2.0. That is the one from my vision also. I am in charge of the education of our members, and we start in Fall. Because without knowledge, there is no transformation, and transformation is what we need in Croatia now.
What is the essential set of characteristics successful people you meet have?
Resourcefulness, realising you never have enough time, money, people etc. just do what you can with what you have. Resilience – quickly recover and stand up after failing, and yes, you will fall and fail. Grit and passion and never giving up. Love – successful people always do what they love and enjoy. Gratitude – they are grateful for everything and every one, each moment, everything.
Can you explain the concept behind the Business Café? How do you attract your audiences?
Business Café started in 2010 because after I held ‘Be your own boss’ (Croatian: Sam svoj gazda) workshops and about 300 people began calling me to meet for coffee. In Croatia, 57% of business deals are done over a cup of coffee. I realised people need a follow-up and the support of like-minded people. So we started with simple events – we would invite three guests (both sexes, all ages, all industries) to share their road to success, then we give out gifts from sponsors, and then people network. In the meantime, it spread in 25 cities in 7 countries. But also I realised people are not buying event tickets, but they have a sense of belonging and hope, and they know they are not alone, our motto is finding your tribe and growing your business.
Our guests openly talk about their mistakes as well, and by sharing the experience, we all learn together. During the COVID-19 we moved events online, and in 2019 we started Business Café International – for foreigners in Croatia. All recordings are available on our Youtube channel, but we continue to do smaller events as well. People come on their own and through a recommendation. Business Café grew into a very well known movement.
What were the most exciting business collaborations you channelled through that project?
So many deals and more importantly, friendships and honest human connections were made. It is hard to say. People call me ‘Connector’ (Croatian: Spajalica) and a ‘good spirit of entrepreneurship’, saying I’ve done more for promoting and creating an entrepreneurial climate in Croatia than any government so far. For example, when Mate Rimac came in November 2019, there were so many people wanting to take a picture with him and ask him a question. I gave a chance to one young engineer to follow Mate together with my colleague who watched Mate from the crowd and made sure he gets out on time. He explained to him his invention for car brakes, and Mate gave him directly several phone numbers and suggestions about who he should contact and how. He opened the door for him, and shortened time for success for several years, and that shows how great he is and the spirit of Business Café, all guests share knowledge, experience, contacts, they are willing to help, support others to succeed as well.
How often do you run the event in Croatia?
Ten events a year. Due to COVID-19 we have had two live and 13 online events until summer, and we plan to continue with six live events in Croatian, 4 in English plus at least one monthly online so 22 in total annually. I think it has potential to spread abroad among ‘our people’, but we need support and help with that.
What do you offer under the brand of ‘Zaokret’?
Shortly, business consulting, I help small entrepreneurs build their business without burning out.
Your business guidance recommends the absence of fear and worries, and ‘just do it’ attitude. If you fall, you recommend dusting yourself off and march forward. I do see that mentality outside Croatia being a ‘default behaviour’. How often do you succeed, and how often have you failed?
I am sure I fail daily, but I don’t see it as a failure. I see the failure as a learning mistake; you learn, and then you move on. That is again, mindset and culture. It takes time, and it takes people, and showing by example and honestly talking and sharing stories.
Women have a unique role in business organisations. What do you think is a specific of the Croatian business ladies? What are their strengths?
Due to circumstances (many wars in the past 100 years) they/we are very very strong women. They can do everything and on their own, because they have and have to. However, due to our system still strongly influenced by a patriarchy background, they lack a sense of self-worth not realising their value. Unfortunately, they don’t appreciate themselves and their talents, thinking they don’t have anything special to offer to the world, and they do. Also, many are being belittled because of that feeling of less value. That is why I started in July 2019 the new project ‘Woman and Money’ (Croatian: Žene i novac) to empower and support women in making money and leading the life they choose. I am looking to go international with that project – having a portal translated into English, but I need a partner for that.
You unify spirituality and business, aiming for the ‘meaning, passion and thought’. How much people change after working with you?
Hehe, totally! That is why the name of the project is ‘Shift’. But I would say I just help them in being themselves; I don’t change them, I help them be more authentic. Encourage and support them. I see myself as a mentor and a teacher, and mentor helps you to be more yourself. I used to teach entrepreneurship at two private universities. It is hard to describe how rewarding it is for me to share experience and knowledge.
Your declaration of ‘overthrowing the culture of mourning’ and vision of ‘Croatia as the best place to live and work’ is powerful and genuine. How far do we have to travel to get there?
It is up to us. We can do it in less than ten years if we choose leaders who will guide us. Until then, let us all do what we can and support each other and each initiative going into that direction.
You successfully built a personal brand. What is the most challenging thing about it, as opposed to people that can find at least a bit of protection behind the company brand?
I did not build it on purpose; I am just me. I am 99% extrovert, and always open to share info, contacts, knowledge, and to help, encourage, and always ready to quickly answer all media questions. And to be honest, I enjoy being in the spotlight, at least most of the time!
How do you organise your everyday work, what type of applications or tools do you use, and how do you keep yourself productive and organised?
My answer will surprise you. I don’t make plans, nor write goals, nor use any apps. For me, it is essential to do what I love, what makes me happy and what is according to my values, and for that, I don’t need any apps. For daily and weekly tasks, I use pieces of paper. I used to be type an ‘A’ personality, perfectionist, high achiever, but after my burnout, I learned my lessons. Still, people are surprised by how many things I do daily. I just do them! I have time for myself, but I also simplified my life a lot. I only do what I love and what matters to me. I carefully select how I spend my time and more importantly, within my home. Maybe that is the ‘secret’ ingredient.
When do you feel most inspired? What is your favourite day of the week, and why?
When I am by the sea, sometimes early mornings, sometimes late evenings. My favourite day is Friday, and I don’t know why it just is. Maybe because Friday is my day to meet people, have those coffees, lunches, dinners, it’s a habit I enjoy. What inspires and calms me is writing. I wrote five books; hopefully, two more are coming – how to build a business without burning out, and it’s (not) about money.
Your roots are Dalmatian, what do you recognise ‘as typically’ Dalmatian in you?
My friend from Sarajevo Amra told me once – you are born by mistakes in Zagreb, you have so much passion and southern blood coming out of you! I would say I am very passionate and I know how to enjoying life to the fullest in every moment regardless and yes I have a temperament and ‘dišpet’ is a word I know very well! ‘Fjaka mode’ is something I think we should export and teach the whole world how to live and enjoy, hygge, lykke, ikigai, we have our authentic cultural concept. Dalmatian people know how to live.
Where do you see yourself at 80 years old?
In Dalmatia, when I’ll be around 50. I am now 44, and I plan to live only six more years in Zagreb until my son finishes high school and then I am on my way where I belong, by the sea.