Croatia's Foreign Entrepreneurs: Paul, from Manchester to Varazdin, via Somalia and Hvar

Continuing our look at the foreign entrepreneurs of Croatia, who are trying to make a go of things in an era of mass emigration, next up TCN founder Paul Bradbury on January 3, 2018. 

1. First and foremost, why Croatia?

A very chance occurrence. I was working as a humanitarian aid worker in northern Somalia when news came through that my house in the UK had sold and the money was in the bank. A few minutes later, I was watching CNN when a stunning 30-second advert came on. Croatia, the Mediterranean as It Once Was. One thing led to another, and soon I was the owner of a small house in the old town of Jelsa on Hvar. Soon after, I met a lovely librarian with gorgeous blue eyes, eyes which are also to be found in our two daughters. It turned out to be the best decision of my life so far.

INTRO YOUR BUSINESS, what is it you do?

I run the Total Croatia project, which started out as a blog called Total Hvar in October, 2011. From those humble beginnings with a beer and a laptop in a café on the main square in Jelsa, we have expanded to additional destination sites for Split, Zagora, Zagreb and Dubrovnik (with Opatija, Korcula and hopefully Sibenik and Zadar coming this year), as well as dedicated portals for Croatian wine, sailing, cycling and dental tourism. Our flagship site, Total Croatia News now has a sister, Total Slovenia News, and the latest baby will be born shortly, Total Montenegro News.


2. Tell us about some of the differences between your expectations of running a business in Croatia and the reality.

I expected to be able to trust lawyers to do their job a lot more. Finding a competent lawyer and accountant who will watch your back is an essential to succeeding in The Beautiful Croatia. My advice – if you hear a lawyer promising you that everything can be solved ‘nema problema’, run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.

The paperwork is a constant source of fascination and frustration. So much of it so pointless, and so many silly jobs exist to perpetuate the status quo. But I have become resigned to it and have accepted that I have to find creative ways to get through the bureaucratic wall of indifference. Activate Your Shaming Potential: How to Get Things Done in The Beautiful Croatia is one way, which works for everyone, for example.


(Launching Total Croatia News live on national television with Karmen Sore)

3. What (if any) bureaucratical issues have you encountered and how did you overcome them (i.e. any advice to the would-be entrepreneur?)

It took me a long time to realise (especially in Dalmatia) that trying to do things the ‘Western’ way does not work here. You have to adapt to local rules to get things done. If I had a kuna for every time I saw a Westerner come to Croatia with a plan for what Croatia needed, who then left a lot poorer not long after, I would be richer than I am today. It took me 11 years to realise the secret of being happy as a foreigner in Dalmatia, and it has something to do with managing expectations:

Do not try and change Dalmatia, but expect Dalmatia to change you.

It has. Irrevocably, and for the better.


My favourite story about a foreign investor who ignored local advice concerns the Brit who hired a Split lawyer for advice on investing in Croatia. The lawyer requested a 500 euro up-front fee for the consultation, which the Brit paid.

“My advice is to take a taxi to the airport and fly back to London. That way, you will minimise your losses to this 500 plus travel costs.”

Enraged, the Brit pursued his Western plans and left the country minus six figures in his account.


Adapting to the local way of doing things is essential. If I want to speak to an official in Dalmatia, for example, the traditional route of making an appointment is much less effective than finding out which café he frequents, then asking the waiter to send his morning coffee to the official. Very effective.

4. How is your product or business perceived in the Croatian market?

I have been extremely encouraged by the loyal following and support we have had from the very start of the Total Croatia project more than six years ago. Apart from being a useful information resource for tourists and the diaspora who do not speak the language very well, lots of local people read us daily, with my two favourite comments coming from the early days of Total Hvar.


The first was from an old lady who emailed me in Croatian with apologies that she did not speak English. She had lived on Hvar all her life and read every article we published, albeit through Google Translate. She thanked me for the site, noting how strange it was that she had learned more about her island from a foreigner in a foreign language than anywhere else.

But my favourite comment was:

“It is not fair or correct that a foreigner has the best website about Hvar.” Ah, that old gem of ‘a Croatian can forgive you anything except success.’ Apologies for working for free to try and improve things.

Despite what our many Internet trolls will have you believe, TCN is an apolitical site, and many locals have commented that they often prefer reading it that the more traditional Croatian media, as the political bias is not evident in a way that it is in much of the Croatian media. We are grateful and greatly encouraged that TCN has been so well received by so many locals and diaspora.

excellence-ministry (4).jpg

5. What were the opinions of your friends and community, were they supportive of your idea, or…?

My wife has been incredibly supportive from the very first day, and I am very grateful for her support and patience. She always knew that I wanted to be a writer, despite only writing my first article online at the tender age of 41. Everyone else thought I was nuts. Six blogs a day about Hvar in winter? What on earth will you write about? With more than 9,000 articles now online about Hvar, I think they have their answer.


6. What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced in business in Croatia?

I spent years trying to work with local authorities. They had the budgets, I didn’t. Naively, I thought that they would be pleased with the work I was doing and want to encourage me with financial assistance. It was at that point that I learned the difference in Croatia between receiving ‘full support’ from an institution and ‘financial support.’ It was only after many years that I learned that much of the budget is allocated to perpetuating the status quo. As I had no politics and was a foreigner, what was the point of supporting our project?

These days, apart from struggling with the bureaucracy (a burden lessened by my fabulous accountant, Gordana Dadic), I mostly do my own thing. I am finding that people with similar visions and goals as myself are becoming easier to find and work with. And independence of thought and speech is a beautiful thing.

Total-Year-in-review (9).jpg

7. If you knew then, what you know now, would you have come?

Absolutely. My only regret is I did not really get to grips with the total absurdity of life here until recently. Evelyn Waugh is my favourite author, and he would have had a field day in The Beautiful Croatia, were he alive today. My next book will be called The Beautiful Balkans: Running a Media Business in Uhljebistan.

8. What are 3 things you love about Croatia?

If you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would have given the standard answers, such as lifestyle, beauty and climate, but since starting Total Croatia News 2.5 years ago and becoming more immersed in the daily grind of life in modern Croatia, I now have different answers:

The humour – I still think British humour is the best in the world, but Croatian is not far behind. It is certainly a lot blacker, and one needs to have a really good grasp of the language to get the most out of it (I am not quite there, nor will I ever be), but I have laughed more with Croatian humour than with any other.


The conspiracy theories – the longer I am here, the more addictive life becomes. What AM I doing here as a foreigner? Coming from such a colonial power as Britain, of course, means that I am obviously a spy. But for whom? MI6, CIA, FSB, Mossad, those Serbian spy chaps – I have been accused of all the above.

Only when I admitted that my 13-year mission on Hvar was to monitor the olive harvests in Pitve and Vrisnik before moving north to collect data on pumpkins in Varazdin County, did people realise the true seriousness of my mission.

Starting Total Croatia News has taken things to a new level. So far I have been accused of being Tito’s lovechild, Putin’s lovechild, Soros’ lovechild, an agent of ISIS, a right-wing fascist and a whole host of other wonderful combinations. TCN’s mission is sinister, bankrolled by dark forces with large coffers (I wish!).

The concept that TCN could have grown from an innocent blog about tourist information is unfathomable. Keep the conspiracy theories coming, the TCN editorial team finds them highly amusing.

I recently wrote a piece on a visit to Kumrovec, the birthplace of Tito. Whatever the politics, it is an interesting historical tourist attraction. I was amazed to learn that, in among the more than 100 world leaders who came to his funeral, among them was Kim Il Sung. I alluded to this in the article, and the reaction was amusing and typical. From the right, I was attacked for being a Tito lovechild, from the left, trying to link Tito to the tyranny of Kim. You can’t win, and the sad thing really is just how much creative time is wasted with Croatian Internet trolls. If only they could focus on something positive once in a while, their lives would be so much happier. As a Brit, I can write ‘Dubrovnik is beautiful’ and someone would complain I was an undercover agent working to undermine Croatian heritage. Tragic, pathetic and mildly amusing.

I love the fact that every foreigner must have an ulterior motive, that it is not possible that a foreigner can live in Croatia and not be a millionaire. I am working longer hours and earning less than I did 25 years ago, with the standard bills, rent and several TCN mouths to feed each month. But, of course, I am a foreigner, so it must be easier for me. It isn’t.

The third thing is people. Croatia has a wonderfully talented younger generation. It is sad that so many are (understandably) choosing to emigrate, but I have met some truly inspirational young Croats, especially since the move north, who are doing exceptional things with technology and tourism. The old corrupt regime will not last forever, and it is a true delight to see these young and determined minds contribute to the new Croatia.

9. What are 3 things you would like to see improved in the business climate in Croatia?

A stronger connection between bureaucratic procedures and logic.

Appropriate action to be taken against corrupt and useless officials.

The introduction of a concept called transparency.

the-bench-jelsa (4).jpg

10. How is it working with Croatians in terms of a business mentality?

Ha, difficult one. I have to say that if you can find a really good and reliable Croat, they are as good as anyone in the world, if not better. But to find those gems, one has to travel quite a distance, at least in my experience. After a few false starts, I am thrilled with the current TCN team, and they are showing ever greater initiative and innovative ideas. So much so that I can now go days without even visiting the site, knowing that the quality is there.

11. Advice for foreign entrepreneurs thinking of coming to Croatia?


But if you are not willing to mould your pre-conceived Western concepts to the Croatian reality, you will struggle and probably fail.

Get a great accountant and lawyer – they will save you time and money, as well as much frustration.


Get used to the fact that people will want you to fail. A Croatian will forgive you anything but success is sadly a truism.

Look at your expectations, then halve the predictions of profit and double the time frame for success.

Things ARE getting better, albeit slowly.

Financial success is only part of the story. The lifestyle, the safety, the perfect location for bringing up kids, the nature and the weather all offer what cannot be found in more 'civilised' countries anymore. It is a very important factor. And if you are a fan of Evelyn Waugh, there is perhaps no better country in all Europe.