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I’m from Croatia and heard stories of one unicorn after another being minted in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany or China. The gig economy was booming as freelancing platforms democratized work and talented individuals were rewarded with best-in-class compensation.
I’d think about the impact that could be made — and the financial rewards that could be gained even from remote parts of the world — but had yet to see examples of technology catapulting entire countries into global success.
Croatia is a post-socialist country with a population of 4 million and the main economic driver is tourism, which makes up 19.6% of its GDP. Since we became a democratic nation in 1991, almost all of our industries have been privatized and sold off to the highest bidders. When I was growing up, this was a place where, even the term “entrepreneur”, was considered a bad word.
Today, things are very different. Over the past decade, Croatia’s IT industry has seen a growth rate of 11.2%. In addition to this thriving tech ecosystem, since the country’s accession to the EU in 2013, start-ups have access to all the benefits of the European scene. When factoring in the size of the economy via GDP, Croatia now sits as one of the world’s top ten countries in terms of unicorns, alongside the US and UK.
This is an astonishing feat.
Related: What I Learned From Building a Unicorn: Be Challenged, Not Stressed
A thriving start-up ecosystem
Throughout my career, I have been fortunate enough to cross paths with many inspiring entrepreneurs. These include the founders of Croatia’s two unicorns: Rimac Automobili (an electric supercar company that recently bought Bugatti) and Infobip (the global cloud communications platform which acquired my company SHIFT back in 2021).
Soonicorns such as Bellabeat (a wellness company that develops wearable computers for women) and Oradian (a cloud-native core banking system for financial institutions across Africa and SE Asia) are following closely behind.
It’s not just the founders who stand to reap the benefits of these events. Both Rimac and Infobip have mandated that every single employee be entitled to stock options through ESOP schemes. They’ve set high standards and a wonderful precedent for all future up-and-comers to do the same.
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Fulfilling tech’s promise
The effect these liquidity events could have on Croatia could be magnitudes higher than what the world saw with Skype in Estonia. We can expect not just a handful of billionaires to be minted, but also thousands of employees to also be financially empowered. When we take into account that the country’s population is less than half of New York City’s total, these events demonstrate the potential to lift us into a higher socioeconomic class.
If you’re a founder driven to create something much larger than yourself with a spirit of collaboration, I’d say you have an extraordinary future, rich in opportunity and wealth, waiting for you.
Whenever you need to reinforce your belief? Just remember Croatia.
Related: How to Build a Startup Ecosystem