September 30, 2022

Keo Sar: “Serbian founders have a clear vision of the problems they are solving”

In his interview for Netokracija, Keo Sar, co-founder of the company Metamall Group and an experienced startup mentor, spoke about the Serbian startup ecosystem, its differences compared to the foreign market and the potential for future growth.

Kao Sar has extensive experience in mentoring international accelerator programs and starting from October, he will be one of the mentors at NINJA Accelerator program in Belgrade, which is organized by the Initiative “Digital Serbia” and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

To what extent does the business culture here differ from other markets you have encountered during your career?

Keo: The biggest adjustment was the language. And not necessarily in the sense that people don’t speak English, because mostly everyone speaks it in Belgrade. It was more in the context of what is said versus what is meant. Serbian is a more literal language than English, so sometimes you have to extract meaning from what is said as opposed to literal interpretation.

I would say the second adjustment was filling out the paperwork and engaging multiple agencies to get things done, like registering a business and opening a bank account. It has improved, but there could be better infrastructure to support digital entity registration and identity verification.

In that respect, it is different from the US market where I have spent most of my career. An example of that is that I registered several companies in the USA while I was here in Belgrade. Ease of doing business will be key to the growth of the ecosystem.

What is your experience in working with local founders, what do you see as their main advantages, and what are their disadvantages?

Keo: I had the opportunity to work with some startups and some founders in Serbia. The local founders I’ve met or worked with generally have a clear vision of the problems they’re trying to solve, they are really open to feedback, and very supportive of other founders.

The main strengths I see in local founders are that they are highly technical, resourceful and well connected locally. Areas where I see opportunities for improvement are understanding the nuances of raising capital, growing and expanding outside of the local market, and building scalable operations.

As an investor, how do you comment on the fact that Serbia had an incredible 600% growth last year when it comes to the amount of investments collected?

Keo: 600% is incredible growth and it’s great to see. Anyone who has been a part of that growth should be really proud of it. It is not surprising considering the great companies, founders and other operators that I had the opportunity to meet in Serbia.

I am aware of several programs and organizations that are doing an incredible job of bringing the Serbian technological ecosystem out of the shadows and into the center of attention, and this can be seen in successful investments. I see the future of the domestic ecosystem in several ways. Investors like recognition and proof of concept, so I think that the more successful stories come out of Serbia, the more attention and capital they will attract.

For those who are committed to building a domestic ecosystem, I would advise them to focus on how to tell the story of the ecosystem and make a compelling list of “why exactly” the Serbian ecosystem can be attractive to investors.

As an experienced startup mentor, you can cover many areas. What do you like most about working with startups and why?

Keo: I’ve always seen myself as a problem solver, and startups generally exist to solve specific problems that the founders are passionate about. Not only that, but you also have to deal with the challenges inherent in trying to build a company. So I really enjoy the dynamic nature of startups.

There is always a puzzle that needs to be solved. I also love meeting and working with smart and passionate people who, driven by their mission, can change the world.

My criteria for participating in any startup is, what are the problems they are trying to solve and how does that have a positive net effect on the human experience? I’m focused on the end user, so I’m constantly thinking about the customer or customer experience, because I think technology is only as good as the impact it has on people.

As an expert at the NINJA accelerator program, what do you expect from the startups that come and what can you promise them?

Keo: I’m really excited about it. I started trying to connect the dots and people within the Serbian tech ecosystem at the beginning of the year, and that led to being part of the accelerator, so I’m honored first of all.

What I expect from startups is to do their best. The reality is that your product or service will have competition, so you should know how you stand out from the crowd and understand why you think you have the right team and technology to solve a specific market problem.

I also expect the startups in the program to be open to feedback and to understand that it comes from the best of intentions. Startup is hard and mistakes will happen. I would say being adaptable is important. The development of a startup is not a linear path and sometimes the direction turns out to be wrong and has to be changed.

I promise to do my best to be available for questions, to be a good listener, and to offer an objective view. And finally, I’ll help connect founders with people and resources.

Join our community

Serbia offers great opportunites for tech professionals — a place full of life, fun, with unparalleled quality of life once you’re a part of the booming tech sector. If you’re a tech professional, have a look at life in Serbia and our featured employers. If you’re looking for a technology partner in Serbia, see this page.

Featured Employer

We provide premium development services including programming, responsive design, development of native apps, full-time server management, content writing and all other technical aspects that you need. We are trusted by many Fortune 100 companies around the world and have over 200 development professionals.

Learn More →

Need help with anything? Drop us a line!

How can we help?

Hi there — please fill out this quick form so that we can get back to you.

About Tesla Nation

Tesla Nation™ is a project by SEE ICT / Startit started with the goal of choosing the best technology inventors and professionals of Serbian heritage and connect them to partners from all around the world,
inspired by the vision and ambition of Nikola Tesla.