November 16, 2022

Patrick Collins: “Talking about building a startup ecosystem, Serbia is on a great path!”

Interview by Netokracija: An experienced startup mentor analyzed the Serbian ecosystem and gave useful advice to domestic founders whose technological startups are ready to conquer the world market.

Patrick Collins, an experienced mentor in accelerator programs for startups from the USA, recently visited Serbia, where he had the opportunity to get to know the domestic ecosystem. Taking into account the forecast that the export of the Serbian IT industry will exceed 2.5 billion euros this year, Netokracija talked with Patrick about the strategies that domestic founders should undertake in order to expand into the foreign market, as well as about the future of the Serbian startup ecosystem in the next five years .

Patrick has spent the last 10 years working with startup companies in order to help them build technology infrastructure through lead generation, sales, account management and recruiting, with the goal of expanding into global companies.

His own startup, a B2B lead generation software, has grown from 0 to 27K in the first 13 months, and the startups he has advised have raised over €40M in the last three years.

Patrick’s expertise is in helping startups take a data-driven approach to sales with a focus on customer service as a key sales driver. He is a mentor at many accelerator programs across Europe, of which the most important one is Startup Wise Guys.

You had the opportunity to work with dozens of our startups — how would you describe the domestic startup scene?

Patrick: Before this summer, I had never been to Serbia, but now I am on my fourth trip here. In 10 years of experience working with startups, I have traveled all over the world and been exposed to different startup ecosystems.

My first impression of Serbia is that it is clear how much work is being done to give startups the best chance for growth. By this I mean startup accelerators, investors and the state working together to promote entrepreneurship and creativity.

I believe that if a startup wants to be successful, it needs to feel safe to take risks and test ideas, and in order to do that you need to either have seed funding or at least mentorship and guidance to get you started. With a strong background of talented developers in Serbia, product development technology has always been there.

However, the transformation from developer to founder means you need to have a comprehensive and balanced view of sales, marketing, recruiting, investing and all the other skills needed to grow. My experience with the startup ecosystem at the moment is that the past two years have made a lot of progress and now homegrown startups are really gaining momentum.

There is still a huge progress to be made until Serbia can really produce consistent global startups, but I am excited to be a part of it and I see a very positive future in the next five years.

As a sales professional, what specific behaviors and strategies do you recognize in our ecosystem?

Patrick: It is very difficult to generalize a country and its behavior, because every startup founder is unique in his own way. However, I often see that a country’s history always influences the sales mindset of companies. I’ve worked with many countries that have had a very strict political upbringing, so their tolerance for risk, breaking the rules, and taking risks is often limited and that can affect their approach to starting a startup.

Serbs are incredibly warm, hospitable and kind people by nature and my goal is to help transfer that culture into the way they sell and communicate with potential customers. I see that the Serbian founders are on the right track and that they have the necessary skills to break into the startup market.

You are very active on Linkedin. Why do you think this network is so important and how can we best use it to our advantage?

Patrick: This may surprise you, but I don’t like LinkedIn too much. My approach to helping growth hacking startups is to find the channels that are best for their industry, target the audience and focus on it.

I feel that lately social media has had a very toxic effect on the culture and the way people communicate with each other, so I tend to promote channels that can help a company make sales, even though often I don’t like those channels too much for my personal use.

However, for most startups that sell directly to companies (B2B), LinkedIn is the best channel. The main reason for this is because many people are not satisfied with their communication skills, so LinkedIn makes online business communication easier.

The best formula is to first focus on building your network just to meet people, then start a LinkedIn newsletter once you reach around 3,000 connections. When you start your newsletter, focus on LinkedIn events and LinkedIn audio. The overall goal is to focus on educating people and teaching them what you do, what you know, and why people should work with you.

What is the key to the success of good accelerator programs and what kind of startups do you think these programs are ideal for?

Patrick: The main focus for any accelerator program should be the culture and how they treat their teams before, during and after the program. If the focus is only on short-term success, the point of starting the program is lost.

It can take eight years for a startup to reach full maturity, and some of the work done in the first three months as part of an accelerator may still be relevant eight years later. In Serbia, I had the honor of working with DSI (Initiative “Digital Serbia”) and Quantox (Q-labs), and it is clear that this kind of culture is in their focus.

As part of the accelerator, the startups will go through an emotional roller coaster. That’s why it’s essential to build trust as that’s the only way you can encourage teams to persevere, even when the pressure and stress are unbearable.

The only other factor is how good the accelerator is at building its brand and attracting the right teams. Searching for startups can be difficult, and being in a successful accelerator means learning and being guided by other teams around you, so being around ambitious teams is key.

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