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EIR Vineet Devaiah: Build a product and scale it quickly outside your country

Vineet Devaiah is the first Entrepreneur in Residence to come to North Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania after a year of COVID-19 travel restrictions. In this interview we will hear his first impressions about the respective ecosystems.

Vineet Devaiah was born in India, and he has traveled the world running his business and helping other entrepreneurs. During the past year, he settled in Luxembourg, and suddenly he got an opportunity to come to Skopje.

Swiss EP: First of all, welcome to the Western Balkans Vineet. Can you tell us something about you? What do you do? How did you decide to apply for the Swiss EP Entrepreneur in Residence program?

Vineet: I usually spend my time traveling and helping other entrepreneurs run their businesses, but I couldn't do that in the past year. A few months ago, I talked to my friend Carsten (founder of Sales.Rocks), and he mentioned that I should come to North Macedonia. I already had a workcation deal with a local resort, so I guess all things come together. I like the deal — I get to ski a little, work a little, see a new country and be a part of the startup ecosystem here.

Swiss EP: You are also running your business. What do you do?

Vineet: The company I run is TeliportMe.Com. It is the world's largest 360 image sharing and virtual tour platform. Our customers are mainly small businesses that run either real estate companies or tourism companies (hotels, hostels, or hospitality space). It's a SaaS product plus the consumer product — B2B and B2C product.

Swiss EP: How have you survived the crisis?

Vineet: It was tough. I would say that 2019 was one of the best years for tourism. We had many customers from this industry. But, in February 2020, our revenues fell by 90 percent, and it almost destroyed us. But, we managed to launch a new product, find a new marketing strategy, and a market penetration strategy. We came up with a different pricing point to attract customers. We had to pivot and do things differently. Back in March, April, May, June, July, we barely survived. After that period, the business slowly started to go up. Still, it's not up to the state that was in 2019, but at least we're back to being profitable.

Swiss EP: That's good news. Since you came to the Balkans, you have worked with a few startups in North Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo. What is your first impression of the local startup scene there?

Vineet: The ecosystem here in North Macedonia is quite good. It's much better compared to some other countries. I saw a lot of grassroots activities. I like how Startup Macedonia does an excellent job of supporting their entrepreneurs, whatever way they can. Entrepreneurship is not that easy, especially when you are working with high-growth startups. The failure rate goes up exponentially when it comes to this kind of business. It even gets trickier when you're working out of the Balkans, for example, or you don't have access to capital, and you don't speak the language and don't have a big market. So, given all of those constraints, I think what Startup Macedonia is doing here and what Swiss EP is doing here is pretty admirable. You are all trying to create some activity. The reason why I just call it activity is because you need that. It's like a butter-making process. All you do is shake the milk really hard, and then you hope the butter comes up. That's kind of all you can do as ecosystem builders, as people who support startups. All you can do is make sure that you're constantly, aggressively, optimistically shaking the milk, and then you hope that the butter rises out. We try our best to give the best advice, and we try to point out the obvious things that people don't see. But in the end, the role of ecosystem builders is to continually create activity and continuously be positive and optimistic that somebody will come out of it because all you need is one big success. A thousand more entrepreneurs will come.

Swiss EP: You have also met some entrepreneurs here. What do you like about them?

Vineet: First I need to say that the region has many nice things — the food's great, the people are friendly, and everybody is very helpful. The Balkans are happy people. They like to enjoy life, have a coffee and a good meal, and be outside enjoying the sun. I met some entrepreneurs, and I think they are trying their best. I believe they are trying very hard. What could be very beneficial for them is constant exposure to people who are a couple of stages ahead of them. When I started, most of the advisers and mentors I got started companies in the 80s. It didn't help me. Yes, they were successful, and yes, they had a brand name, but it doesn't help me on a day-to-day basis because my problems in 2013 were different from what they had in 1980. I missed on my journey as an entrepreneur — a mentor who was a few steps ahead of me. Today, I feel that if I can be that mentor for some of the entrepreneurs, that would be great. I'm still in the weeds, and I believe that I can help.

Swiss EP: You indeed were helpful, at least according to the feedback we got so far. We spoke about the things you like. But is there something you don't like that our entrepreneurs could improve?

Vineet: I spotted two problems with entrepreneurs here. The first one is — they think too small. It's not a mistake; it is difficult if you don't see the success and opportunity to copy it. And the second thing is they're very attached to grants. All their planning and all their ideas and everything that come up from an entrepreneurial mindset fit into the grants they can get. Just to be clear — I don't blame them for it. It's something that I don't like. They should be free from these constraints, and then they could probably be more successful.

Swiss EP: What is your advice for entrepreneurs from Western Balkans, based on your current experience and what you've seen so far? What would you say to them?

Vineet: Well, I think my advice would be to build a product and try to scale it quickly outside their home country. Many people are trying to scale it in North Macedonia, Albania or Kosovo, and those are solid goals. But these markets are too small, and they plan for that market right now. Plan for a bigger market, and then you'll see success. It's not easy to scale your business to another country or globally. You need to establish a base, find customers, reach out to them. It's not easy in Europe as much as it is in the US. It's a little bit easier to get customers in the US and reach out to people and call them than it is here in Europe. But it is possible.

Swiss EP: Thank you Vineet for this advice and for all your insights. Enjoy staying in the Balkans.