To be surrounded by smart, ambitious and talented people, at work and at home is a blessing. To travel with them on Remote Year brings many new insights. We are able to deliver work via our laptops day in day out, becoming more digital savvy every week, and thinking about innovative designs, apps, and technologies each month. And most and for all — we all seem to worry about our digital-, data analytics- and technical skills, in case we ran out of jobs due to robots taking over. Technology brings global opportunities and personal challenges. What does it mean to local Croatian entrepreneurs?

During my first weeks on Remote Year — a year in which we get the chance to dive into more local experiences than we would get being a regular traveler in every country we travel too — I have done a track (a collection of activities during the month focused on one theme) about ‘local entrepreneurship’. Croatia is only independent since 1991, after being part of Communistic Yugoslavia. As you can imagine, this means that entrepreneurship and country governmental policies have been changing, and needs to find it’s ways. In this post-war country, what keeps these local entrepreneurs awake at night and could global technology get them back to sleep?

Global growth to bring back the fun in hobbyism and delicious, well-crafted beers?

First the story about a Split-born Beer Brewer. Brewing has always been his hobby, started very small in his own bedroom. Since a couple of years, he runs a small brewery, with about maximum five different beers. Setting up the business in a time where the government needs most energy to get established themselves, hasn’t been easy. His worries are about getting grip and understanding on (sometimes opposite) rules and governmental institutions. His worries are about how to improve the beer culture of Croatia. His worries are about driving business in a country with a fast-growing tourism segment. Big global breweries are trying to keep him out in a pretty aggressive way of the local bars (even though he does not even own 0,2 % of total market share). And now his challenge and deep wish is, how to make it a hobby again, instead of running a full-time business besides a full-time job. On the question, if he wants to expand to outside Croatia, or grow beyond the walls of his current brewery, his answer was clearly ‘No’. Should he be worried about robots taking over beer breweries completely? Should he think about blockchain technology to streamline his finances? Should he implement VR/AR to help one of his eight employees when a machine is broken? Would it bring back his hobby, better beer or more happiness?

More Croatian Wines in the rest of the world or more moments when everything just falls into place?

Second a story about Kairos — the local wine vineyard. With a lot of passion, the business of wine production in Croatia is growing, and knowledge on grapes in increasing as well. Beautiful to see that most restaurants and bars only sell Croatian wines! Whenever I visit a vineyard, with a view over a valley, bright sunshine and a clear blue sky, I’m imagining what would happen to this local wine lover when machines take over the land. When blogging about wines become more important than tasting.

Kairos -the name of this vineyard -means: ‘The fleeting rightness of time and place that creates an opportune atmosphere for actions, words or movement; the moment when everything just falls perfectly into places.’ Would the people who are producing wine with so much passion need to learn how to design better wine etiquette’s to get this done? What would happen to that little house on top of the hill, when we can taste and order the Croatian wines everywhere? Do we need that, or do we simply need more ‘Kairos’?

Facebook — your biggest enemy or opportunity?

The last track-event of this month was the visit to a local fish farmer, where we met a young woman of 24, who did set up an NGO to bring the voices of the people on the more than 1200 Croatian Islands together. It was inspiring to listen to the strong drive, and interesting to hear their struggles. What are their biggest needs? They are working with and for people who do not use a lot of social media, so what are the best ways to reach Island inhabitants? On the other hand, they hear their government saying that Facebook is their biggest enemy. So how to use social media platforms faster and better to increase influence?

Hairdressers in Zagreb

And then last but not the least, I went on a weekend trip to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Really needed a haircut, so I started to explore google maps and online reviews for nearby hairdressers who do speak a little bit of English. If you have time, google hairdressers in Zagreb. If you ever visit Zagreb you know what I mean. There are SO many hairdressers in Zagreb. When talking with the one I finally chose, it turned out that in general business are going well, so an excellent choice for many hairdressers to recently starting their salons. No concerns of robots dying hair, as the personal touch is so important. The only wish is to make it, someday, to London, apparently heaven for hairdressers. It sounded like there is only one concern, the concern of the healthy food trend taking over Croatia, ‘because we just simply are built for meat, a lot of meat’.

Should growth be limited?

So, entrepreneurs, companies, and NGOs in this country are fighting their own battles, to grow in this relatively small country. Their scope is the city of Split (or Zagreb), maybe a little beyond. As global travelers, we do see answers in scaling by bringing in technology, but it seemed that for many of these people that’s two, three of sixteen steps ahead.

I’m not saying these local entrepreneurs should not embrace what technology has to offer. But I would advocate for only using and implementing whatever makes the products and services better and the entrepreneurs happier. Our group of enthusiasts had ideas to make things simpler and faster by using pretty high end (although not in their experienced minds) technology, mainly for quick expansion. As said at the beginning, I love the smartness in this group, especially in combination with the eagerness to help other people. But most of the time we use too much jargon, are too much focused on fast global growth or we are simply a couple of steps ahead.

As much as I love traveling, and enjoy seeing local products becoming popular, my worry is not the personal challenge of robots taking over our jobs. It’s about robots taking out the heart, passion, and craftsmanship out of local entrepreneurship. Let’s try to keep the focus on humans. Let’s use technology smartly, for more joy, better quality of life. Life is not only about constant growth…

Are you also inspired on the limitations of growth and the question what kind of economy should the 21st-century economy be?  Check out this TedEx talk by Kate Raworth, about her exploration of the Doughnut Economy.

Next stop of my Remote Year: Prague!

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