Monday, 21 February 2022

Matija Babic on the Origins of, 20 Years On

February 23, 2022 - It is almost 20 years since the founding of Croatia's leading (and independent) media, Founder and owner Matija Babic reflects on the journey. 

Getting sued by the Croatian National Tourist Board, not once, but twice (and then finding out I was the only blogger/journalist they sued in the whole of 2020) has been a totally cool experience so far. And we still have about 20 years to go. 

You can keep up with the very entertaining shenanigans on the TCN Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit feature. But it is the stuff that goes on behind the scenes, that you can't blog about (but maybe I will one day) that has made this a fascinating experience. As well as finding out who my true friends are, and those who fade at the sign of the first discomfort. 

And the experience has made me appreciate what remains of the independent Croatian media even more (and I have learned a LOT about that in recent months). And my respect for those who fight the system has grown as a result. 

I get a lot of criticism for supporting and my friendship (I wouldn't say that we are close but I enjoy our chats over lunch a couple of times a year) with Index owner Matija Babic, and that is ok. The thing is, though, that I am more than comfortable with all the abuse I get from the haters these days (it makes me a little horny in truth), but I also remember those who helped me when I was in trouble. I was terrified when Mayor of Jelsa Niksa Peronja announced in a public meeting that he was suing me (rumour was for 200,000 kuna), quite for what I never found out. For after the theatrical announcement, which you can see above, the summons never came. Young Babic kindly offered me the services of his lawyer, Legendica Extraordinaire, Vanja Juric - a close friend today and someone who I enjoy having pints with after our hearings in court with the national tourist board. At least when their lawyer hasn't double booked and actually turns up. 

I didn't realise that 2022 will be the 20th anniversary of Index, and I had never heard the story of how it started. Here is a translation of Matija's post on Facebook, translated in full, on how it all started. 

Thank you for what you do. 


After my father died, his fellow warehousemen from Dalekovod raised money to help my family out. My mum decided to spend that seven thousand kuna on my very first PC. A few months later, in April 1999, as a 21-year-old motivated by Feral and the fight against HDZ and Tudjman's Croatia, I launched a couple of political sites: VlastNet, IzboriNet and VijestiNet.

Immediately after doing that, I created and ran the portal for the first Croatian internet provider Globalnet, but as Globalnet soon decided that it didn't want to pay us anymore (it was about 20 thousand kuna per month), I decided to launch my very own news portal.

Sometime around this time back in 2002, I started coming up with a hell of a plan for what was going to become Index, and nobody thought it would even make it to the end of the year. At the Nocturno pizzeria I opted for the name Index, people commented that the name wasn't very good because it sounded kind of student-like. We knew that Globalnet wouldn't let us go just like that. We'd been busy preparing the Index for months, and on the day we left Globalnet, almost everyone saw only an advertisement for the new Index portal on the website. Almost everybody! If you had an IP address of Globalnet, then you'd have seen the most normal portal. So, it took the team from the provider half a day to understand that we'd actually left and that now everyone knew that we're going to something called

For the next couple of months we were still working on Index, we bought tables from Emmezeta on my mum’s bank card and brought computers from home, and on December the 2nd, we kicked off.

Andreja Hudika (editor), Gordan Novoselec (programming), Neven Barković (music), Vlado Bulić (Pušiona column), Aleksandar Mlinarić (sales), Miljenko Nikolić (author of the term Breaking News/Prijelomna vijest) and me (design, manager, editor, editorial office, commentator). 200,000 kuna was needed to pay off the start-up costs and a few minimums for a year was invested in Index by Ivan Matić (the founder of Globalnet, who had also been deceived by them, too). Globalnet collapsed soon after that. I'd like to send my greetings to Tomislav Mileis, the first man I remember trying to steal and destroy us as a couple of enthusiastic kids. And he failed in doing so.

Marko Rakar then had a printing house and agreed to "compensate" for the printing of various promotional products in exchange for advertising on a (still) non-existent portal.

We worked 24/7, we were most looking forward to weekends and feasts on breaded hake with potato salad on Trešnjevka. I remember how little money we had from the situation when I wanted to make carbonara, but I didn't have enough money for the ham, so I came up with some form of "carbonara" using just cheese. I'm not writing this to be all ''woe is me'' but I remember all of this with sadness, it was a wonderful and innocent time, we were all young and money was the last concern on our minds, as long as we had enough to keep pushing Index.

The apartment in Trešnjevka, which acted as a newsroom, fortunately had a bedroom, where I mostly slept for the next year, so Index had news at night as well.

To act as a newsroom with two people, I invented a script that pulled news from the agency in real time and automatically distributed and ranked the news on the front page and in columns by the ratio of publication time and readership. People thought there were at least ten of us doing all of that. In order to survive financially without cooperation with politics, the mafia and tycoons, we paid people illegally, through student contracts. Some of our greatest discoveries of corruption were written by journalists from other media, who weren't allowed to publish what they'd found on their own portals. I also paid them illegally, and I'm proud of that.

It was a time when everyone paid for everything ''under the table'' but that's the case in brutally corrupt countries: they create laws that no one can obey and still manage to survive, and for friends... what's needed is created, while for enemies, it's the law.

I was constantly performing stunts and coming up with explosive stories and projects so that I'd be constantly in the newspapers without needing to fork out a single kuna for advertising, and I'd be a guest of all live shows. I gave up TV appearances 10 years ago because acting like an arrogant, smug tattooed character was causing me too much stress. And there was less and less acting, I'd started becoming the character I'd invented for TV more and more.

These and many other legal and a few less legal tricks are the reasons why Index, as it is, indebted to nobody, still exists today.

Many times they tried to extinguish and destroy us (and they, starting with Linić and Šegon and their minions - you guessed it - ended up humiliated and forgotten by the world, but not by me, I'll still be seeing more of them), many times they crossed us, some of my closest associates left me more often than that, thinking that we were doomed to fail. Eventually it gets to the point where it doesn't even disappoint you anymore. That said, Index is now the most financially successful portal in all of Croatia.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of this endeavor, where we became the strongest Croatian media portal out of an impossible situation, not from scratch but from less than zero, to more than a million readers a day. To all who have harmed us or tried to destroy us I have returned or plan to return the favour at least threefold. Everyone except Severina, I forgave her because I consider her a great person, I hope she finally understands that Index wasn't guilty of anything.

To all who helped us I have given back to or plan to give back to you at least five times over. I have a couple of months to figure out how we’re going to mark this anniversary. Thank you for being with us for these 20 years.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

TasteAtlas, budućnost online preporuka hrane: intervju s Matijom Babićem

14. travanj 2020. - Tražite preporuku za dobru hranu, ali vam je već dosta lažnih osvrta na TripAdvisoru? Pročitajte izvještaj o napretku nakon dvije godine o projektu TasteAtlas, globalnoj lokalnoj karti hrane s osnivačem projekta, Matijom Babićem. 

Prošlo je skoro dvije godine otkako sam s Matijom Babićem, koji je najpoznatiji kao vlasnik najneovisnijeg i najpopularnijeg portala vijesti u Hrvatskoj,, porazgovarao o njegovom novom projektu nazvanom TasteAtlas. Značajan je to bio iskorak od svijeta vijesti na Balkanu, ali radilo se o projektu koji se bavi jednom od Babićevih najvećih strasti - gastronomijom.

Ideja je bila brilijantna, ali jednostavna: stvoriti globalnu mapu lokalne hrane, specifične za određenu regiju, s detaljnim podacima o svakom jelu, kao i najboljim mjestima gdje to jelo možete isprobati - prema preporukama koje ne dolaze s TripAdvisora ili sličnih stranica, nego ih daju kritičari hrane i stručnjaci za gastronomiju. TasteAtlas bio je pokrenut prije dvije godine, možete pročitati i moj intervju (na eng. jeziku) s Babićem taman prije nego je projekt objavljen javno u travnju 2018. godine.

tasteatlas-matija-babic (1).jpg

Babić je trenutačno na turneji po Aziji za TasteAtlas, te se u ovom trenutku nalazi zatvoren u Vijetnamu. Pristao je otamo odgovoriti na par pitanja i dati nam izvještaj o tome kako napreduje projekt TasteAtlas.

1. TasteAtlas je projekt nastao iz strasti, koji je nastajao tri godine, a uskoro će mu biti pune dvije godine. Jeste li zadovoljni time kako stvari s njim napreduju?

Ne i da. Očekivao sam puno brži start, nisam mislio da ćemo pet godina programirati i puniti i polako se uhodavati, i da ću pritom u to ulupati toliko novca. Start je bio očajno spor. Međutim prije nekih pola godine krenuli smo se relativno brzo dizati, neke od ideja su se uhvatile na Google, i počeli smo relativno brzo rasti. Još uvijek nismo A liga gastro sajtova i travel guideova, ali došli smo do svakodnevnih 50 tisuća različitih ljudi, najviše iz Amerike, čime smo jači od uglednog talijanskog Gambero Rossa recimo, ili sjajnog weba Great British Chefs. Tržišta gastro siteova i travel guideova su toliko zakrčena da se u njima strašno teško probiti bez fantastične ideje ili jakog zaleđa, puno jačem nego što ga ima i jedan Gambero Rosso. Ja nemam nikakvo zaleđe, ali vjerujem da imam znanje i dosta dobru ideju kako da sve to provedem i uđem u A ligu. Uvjeren sam da ćemo do kraja godine postići financijski break even, a da ćemo kroz koju godinu postati vodeći sajt za međunarodnu gastronomiju.

Kako Index dnevno posjećuje između pola milijuna i milijun ljudi, ove mi brojke još uvijek djeluju sitno, no prezadovoljan sam s trenutnim tempom rasta.

Na kraju, oko mojih emocija oko projekta treba ipak znati ovo: ja nisam fokusiran na novac nego na lifestyle. Želim raditi lijepe stvari u kojima uživam. TasteAtlas mi to omogućuje. Da, počinje i zarađivati solidan novac, ali to mi nije bio prioritet. Prioritet je napraviti sjajnu stvar koja će se ljudima svidjeti, dizati je kvalitativno i kvantitativno, a novac onda dođe sam od sebe.

2. TasteAtlas su popratili međunarodni mediji diljem svijeta, a školskoj djeci preporučilo ga je kao izvor informacija irsko Ministarstvo prosvjete. Promatrati kako vaš projekt postaje zaista globalan mora biti zaista zadovoljavajuće. Što su vam bili najbolji trenuci ovoga putovanja do sad?

To je bilo sjajno, oduševljen sam s tim. Oduševljeni smo i kad nam se javljaju učitelji i profesori, najviše iz Amerike, da nam pokažu kako njihovi učenici uče iz TasteAtlasa. Osim toga, najviše me razveselio jednominutni prilog o TasteAtlasu u središnjem dnevniku talijanske televizije. Talijani, kraljevi gastronomije, hvalili su se time što su talijanska jela pri vrhu top liste bugarsko-hrvatskog startupa. Kakva vremena.


3. Proizveli ste neke sjajne lokalne mape hrane po cijelom svijetu, pri čemu se čini da su karta sireva Francuske i karta tjestenine Italije posebno popularne. Što su vam najpopularnije stranice do sad i koje regije su vas iznenadile razinom interesa?

Naše najpopularnije stranice su top lista najpopularnijih i top lista najboljih jela na svijetu. Osim toga, imamo sjajnu stranicu sa sirevima. No, trenutno najbrže rastemo na onim stranicama s kojima smo na vrhu američkog Googlea, a to su japanski deserti i skandinavski deserti. Puno jakih pojmova nam ovih dana ulazi u top 10 na Googleu pa očekujemo velik rast, recimo na Indian Food koji svaki dan traži preko 200 tisuća ljudi. Fish&Chips je na engleskom Googleu ušao u top 10, od takvih pojmova imam ogromna očekivanja jer smo jedini sajt na svijetu koji nudi sveobuhvatne informacije o njima: i opće i povijesne informacije o jelu, i recept, i popis najboljih restorana. U Engleskoj svaki dan Fish&Chips traži pedesetak tisuća ljudi. Dovoljno je postati broj jedan samo na jednom takvom pojmu da budemo skoro pa isplativi. A mi ćemo postati broj jedan na desecima takvih pojmova. I pritom ćemo zaista pružati posjetiteljima sve što ih o tom može zanimati.

4. Ljubitelj ste dobre hrane i često putujete. Kako ocjenjujete svoja iskustva s TripAdvisorom kao korisnik, te koja su vam lokalna jela ispala najboljim otkrićima dosad?

TripAdvisor mora hitno poduzeti nešto oko algoritma preporuka i prepoznavanja lažnih kritika želi li preživjeti. Michelin me zanima kad želim predstavu u restoranu. TasteAtlas preporučuje najkvalitetnija i najpouzdanija mjesta po mišljenju profesionalnih kritičara, s naglaskom na lokalne. Gdje god dođem isprobam sve vodiče, ali TasteAtlas je već neko vrijeme najkorisniji alat za pronalazak pouzdanih autentičnih restorana.

Još uvijek ima gradova gdje me TasteAtlas odvede na neku bezvezariju, ali sve ih je manje. Ove godine lansiramo TasteAtlas Awards s popisom najboljih legendarnih restorana na svijetu, gdje je još jedan ključan faktor: starost restorana. Ako je netko opstao 100 godina, vjerojatno nešto vrijedi. To će bit bomba projekt i dodatno će podići korisnost TasteAtlasa. Ukratko, gdje god putujem pratim što mi fali od informacija i kakve bih informacije želio, i onda u tom smjeru nadograđujem TasteAtlas. A nakon što do kraja posložim TasteAtlas, idem na idućih par globalnih projekata kojima se jako veselim.


5. Projekt je i vama donio mnoga otkrića, jer pokrivate mnoga lokalna jela iz cijelog svijeta. Jesu li se na vašem radaru pojavile neke nove lokalne kuhinje o kojima prije niste mnogo znali? Ako da, koje i zašto?

Carska ruska kuhinja me oduševljava. Kavijar, blini, haringe, stroganoff, vodka, kvas. Mislim da je ruska kuhinja najpotcjenjenija sjajna kuhinja na svijetu. Na lošem glasu je zbog komunizma, koji je uništio hranu kao što uništi i sve ostalo. Ali ta sovjetska hrana veze nema s carskom ruskom kuhinjom, koja meni spada u top5 na svijetu, uz talijansku, japansku, singapursku i američku.

6. Kod takvog globalnog projekta, pretpostavljam da su lokalne dojave više nego dobrodošle, bilo da se radi o informacijama o jelima ili o originalnim fotografijama. Ako netko želi doprinijeti, kako to može učiniti?

Proces je jednostavan: registrirati se i preporučiti restoran za neko jelo, ili i neregistriran poslati informacije i fotografije o nekom jelu. Sve informacije su dobrodošle, ali niti jednu informaciju ne objavljujemo prije nego što je dodatno provjere naši autori. Jedna od najvećih snaga TasteAtlasa je što nema bullshita. Niti kritike za restorane ne odobravamo ako nam se ne čine argumentirane.


7. Što slijedi za TasteAtlas?

Kao što sam spomenuo, ove godine ključan projekt je TasteAtlas Awards - popis legendardnih restorana i najboljih jela na svijetu. Osim toga, pokrećemo bazu proizvođača i proizvoda. Potom još par meni ključnih stvari i aplikaciju, i onda mogu na iduće projekte krajem iduće godine.

8. I za kraj, pitanje za vas kao osobu koja sad ima dobar pregled gastronomije na cijelom svijetu, je li istina da mi Britanci imamo najgoru hranu na svijetu?

Nikako. Imate senzacionalne pive. Odlične pite. English breakfast jedan je od najboljih na svijetu. Yorkshire puding je bomba. Fish&Chips je bomba kad se dobro napravi, uživam u restoranima koji se tim jelom bave pažljivo i elaborirano, pa opisuju koliko je koja riba flaky. Afternoon tea mi spada među najbolje gastronomske rituale uopće. Pubovi su sjajna mjesta za jelo, piće i druženje, malo kultura ima tako sjajnu atmosferu kakvu vi imate u pubovima. Mislim da je britanska hrana i cijela atmosfera koja je prati odlična.

Možete provjeriti svijet lokalne hrane na TasteAtlasu na njihovoj službenoj stranici njihovoj službenoj web-stranici.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Founder of Invites you to Join his New Media Adventure

New international food and wine portal in the making

Monday, 7 December 2015

Matija Babic, the Man Behind Croatia's Most Popular Website,

TCN meets the man behind Croatia's leading news portal, Matija Babic from Index.