Croatia's Foreign Entrepreneurs: Dave, from Belgium to Opatija Riviera

By 7 April 2018

Continuing our look at the foreign entrepreneurs in Croatia on April 7, 2018, meet Dave Roosen, who swapped life in Belgium for the gorgeous Opatija Riviera, from where he runs a logistics, freight forwarding, ship charter and brokerage business.

1. First and foremost, why Croatia?

The choice of Croatia became obvious from the very first time I visited the country for business in 1999.

By visiting the country more and more in the years after, with a frequency of few times per year, we established some really good personal and business contacts, and we can say we fell 'in love' with the country and its more relaxed and Meditteranean working atmosphere   (very underestimated if we look at it today, we need to work much harder then ever before but it's very different indeed)

So at a certain stage in life, we needed to make a choice, and much to the surprise of many Belgian contacts who said "what the hell is there to do in Croatia", we took the plunge ;-)

It was the best decision we ever made.


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

My expectations were actually that the seaports (a field where I often ‘move’ myself) would be running and managed more smoothly and with greater flexibility, but that has proven to be the opposite in most cases – you need a lot of patience and explanation to reach your target, take it with silk gloves as we say, easy and careful ;-).

Also I was surprised in the beginning that many people always complain how hard it is to find a good job here, and the experienced people are always busy/busy as they mention multiple times on phone …but between 12h00 and 14h00 …and after 16h00 …lunch/coffee/relax/home ;-)…whereas the culture where I come from , I cant remember having a real lunch outside the office in the last months even, except when being out with a client or so.


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

Here I think patience is key! We opened our company in 2013 (5 years ago now) when Croatia was not yet in the EU (99% of my contacts declared me crazy that I didn’t wait 2 months more and everything ‘would be ‘ easier …a laugh ;-) …The relevant authorities we contacted (lawyer, notary, banks) told us the opening of the company would be done in max 2 weeks …. it ended up being 2 months ;-) ..but again, we were ready for it, because we knew in advance it would be like that …..advice to all that want to start a business here …make sure you connect with the right people (I am sure most of us can feel that from the start) , make sure to doublecheck all they arrange for you, let it be translated into your own language which is necessary for better understanding, never pay anything too enthusiastically in advance before the work is done, and ALWAYS have the company stamp with you, Croats can’t act without it ;-)


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

Actually, very much to my surprise as a foreigner, it was perceived extremely well… Project business-wise in our job we didn't focus at all on the Croatian/Balkan business initially, as we realize(d) very well that this is/was an impossible task as a foreigner.

Business is/was created globally, only we were domiciled in Croatia, which was the case for sure for 80-90% in the first 2 years .

After that however, don't ask me why as I never planned this, more and more global players found their way to our small team and the very dedicated personal service we give, the latter maybe being the exact reason for that, as well as having the advantage of speaking English, German and French fluently as well...I don't know for sure, how it all happened, but this is what it did, and we are very happy of course ;-)


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

Openly of course everybody said ‘YES YES GO FOR IT’ ….but obviously we knew and felt very well that loads of them were silently thinking ‘NO NO NOT SO SURE’ …but for sure they were so-to-say supportive of our idea, be it a little sceptical ..but hey, 5 years later we are still here, and without too much trouble I must admit.

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

Actually, we are lucky to say that so far no real big challenges have crossed our path, and with the positive and professional approach we always strive for, things run pretty well I must say, growing year by year.

I am of the opinion, when thinking outside the box, there is some good potential project business in the Balkan area, be it many times financed by outside (Government) organisations, but I think it is developing well... We are not a company running behind things like the bigger ones do, but more intend to wait till projects are in the final execution phase, and that's where we can come in if clients are happy to use our expertise.

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

Absolutely YES, even earlier (which is still my biggest regret today)


8. What are 3 things you love about Croatia?

Only 3 ? ;-)

- in my job, we make good friends and we learn from them
- cliché but the climate, food, warm character of people, the country just breathes love for me
- relaxed life provided you can make it yourself

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

⦁ less bureaucracy for sure, but isn’t that the case in many countries
⦁ a bit more English in the international business climate (banks, ports, lawyers, government)
⦁ speed, flexibility and automatisation

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

Take a coffee with them first (I wouldn’t know how to survive if I were not a coffee addict myself ;-), bring the business subject easily and carefully (never too blunt), zig-zag with them and reach want you want to reach, nice and easy, no stress (polako polako)

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

Take your time, do it easy and bring a LOT of patience and tolerance, and be ready to run around multiple times to multiple organisations to get something achieved and get the right paper in hand that you need ….bring some little money to pay every little service and tax-stamps, take an official translator, and most importantly; bring or make an official stamp with your company name+registration number……zero action without it !!

To learn more about Dave's business, visit the R&B Global Projects website.

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