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Nina Angelovska: Startups can Create Magical Things for the Economy

Nina Angelovska recently exited Grouper, the startup she co-founded ten years ago. We talked with Nina about her past experiences, present engagement, and future plans.

After ten years of paving the way for disruptive technological startups and e-commerce businesses in North Macedonia, Nina made a successful exit and started a new chapter in her life.

Nina Angelovska is an entrepreneur, co-founder of the startup Grouper, president of the Macedonian E-Commerce Association, former Minister of Finance, UNCTAD eTrade for Women Advocate, mentor, speaker, trainer, and a very positive role model for the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and beyond. Nina also participated as a mentor at the 1st WEW in Zurich in 2017. We talked with Nina about her personal development in the past ten years, her present position, and her plans.

People usually connect your name with Grouper, but besides that, you have done extraordinary things in the past few years. One such thing is starting the Macedonian E-Commerce Association. What was your motive in initiating the Association?`

When we launched Grouper in 2011, e-commerce in the country and the entire region was almost non-existent. People, institutions, customers, and companies were not online, let alone shopping online. Over the years, we faced numerous challenges, and to resolve them, I had many meetings with different institutions trying to explain how e-commerce works. Our hard work led to Grouper becoming a game-changer, and I was recognized as an e-commerce symbol. While I was lobbying for changes that could benefit the entire e-commerce community, I got the advice that I would have a much stronger voice if I represented five to ten companies instead of just one entity. At the same time, I was invited to different international e-commerce workgroups, including the UN Conference on Trade and Development in Geneva and the Swiss Association for E-commerce (NetComm Swiss). At these events, I talked with many people, learning and collecting pieces of the e-commerce puzzle. Finally, in 2017, we established the Macedonian E-commerce Association. Many companies and different stakeholders supported our work. Soon, we became an e-commerce ecosystem that included banks, IT software companies, marketing agencies, delivery companies, and relevant institutions. Now we have more than 100 members, and we have achieved a lot. We are working in many different fields, such as comprehensive e-commerce analyses, mapping challenges for the companies, and developing projects and programs to reduce barriers.

That's excellent! Do you think that such an association would have helped you when you started in 2010?

Yes, definitely. But it's always the chicken or the egg dilemma. Somebody needs to be the first to prove that there is a market. I like to use the snow metaphor—the snow was very deep, and we were the first to walk, and we cleared the path for many other companies that were starting after us over the years. It is the same case with Grouper and the Association.

Throughout the years, you've been very active in the startup community, motivating young people and mentoring. What does mentoring mean for you?

It's such a rewarding feeling. While I'm giving, I'm actually receiving energy. For me, mentoring is also a learning process. I have mentored various teams, students, and women from different countries. Some mentoring was intensive (usually with people setting up the business), some were less demanding with advisory and occasional meetings. I got messages from many people telling me how I have encouraged them or changed the way they operate. I believe that all these messages give me motivation and inspire me to be better, too. I was also mentored by and worked with a lot of Swiss EP experts, as well as the peer-learning with entrepreneurs from our startup community. I think that is what mentoring is about—trying to give to somebody, make them better, and improve yourself along the way.

You are heavily engaged in the startup ecosystem. Do you still plan to be active?

Yes, absolutely. I think that startups are magic. They can create magical things for the economy—creating jobs, doing innovative things, and bringing incredible energy. We should appreciate startups because being an entrepreneur and running a startup is one of the hardest things that anyone can do. So I will keep supporting and keep encouraging startup founders in any way I can.

What would you say would be the most valuable lesson a startup founder can learn from your example?

If we could do it in North Macedonia ten years ago, you can do it now, too. This is what people should see from our story: we built a startup by the book, disrupted the current market, established an e-commerce ecosystem, connected with others, innovated all the time, earned international recognition, and found international partners who would develop the story further. So, even from the Balkans, from starting a startup ten years ago, you can be recognized, you can do great things, and you can make a successful exit one day. Honestly, this is not something we planned. We were doing what we love, building it with passion, struggling, and enjoying the process.

In the end, what is next for Nina?

I stepped down as CEO of Grouper when I accepted to join the Government as Minister of Finance in August 2019. Now that the process of acquisition that I headed as a co-founder is completed, after a decade of super hard work and “sacrifice” that being an entrepreneur brings (especially during the last year)… I plan to take a deep breath. Although I have certain work arrangements I will use this period to evaluate the options and reflect before I make any next big decision. I am slowing down a bit the super-fast pace and taking some time for myself, family and friends, while continuing the passion and efforts for e-commerce development as President of the Macedonian E-commerce Association and UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women Advocate.

Good luck, Nina, and thank you for this excellent conversation.