Day Four: Warsaw to Krakow
After a short night and a brief visit in the Hack Reactor house in Warsaw, we drove to Krakow. Our first stop was to check out the Hacktory hardware gaming hackathon, and I was blown away by the quality of the hacks. Over a period of just five hours, the teams had built some of the most imaginative and fun games I have seen at any hackathon, even ones that lastest much longer. It was especially impressive considering that most of the participants were working with brand new hardware platforms.
The team that won both the audience choice award and the jury prize had built a side scrolling game in which you controlled two characters at once, running forever at the same speed and jumping over obstacles. As input it cleverly used the accelerometer data from two Dice+ dice that the player holds in both hands. I hadn’t given the electronic device much of a chance before, but perhaps they are on to something after all.
One concerning trend that I’ve observed throughout our trip through Poland, however, showed up again at the hackathon. The participants were mostly engineers who were very good at their craft. They seemed, however, to lack the confidence of many engineers in Silicon Valley. They mostly whispered their presentations with slouched shoulders, not making eye contact with anyone. Compared to the over the top stereotype of engineers in Silicon Valley – confident, fit, hipster, healthy, stylish, etc – there was a big difference. I suspect that this is because engineers in Poland don’t get the same kind of recognition they get in other startup ecosystems just yet.
Significantly, more than half the people I spoke to in person during our trip were not engineers. I’m not sure why this is, but I hope that when I come back, some more engineers will come to our events.
Day Four: Krakow
On Friday morning we had a tour of the Hubraum co-working space and incubator and talked to some of the startups there – Duckie Deck, a maker of educational games for children and VORM lab, a design lab focused on sensors and smart devices. The level of execution and atmosphere in the companies was very impressive and definitely in the same league to the Hubraum we have in Berlin.
In the afternoon we visited two of Krakow’s most well-known startups, Estimote – a hardware and software company based around the iBeacon technology – and Base, a SaaS CRM. Both of them have US-based investors and are leveraging their Polish roots for a competitive advantage.
Base was developed by a software house in Krakow that later merged with the company. The entire 70-strong engineering team is still in Krakow, even though the sales and marketing office has moved to the US. This is a great example of two trends. First, the engineering talent of software houses in Poland is increasingly moving towards local startups, now that there are local investors and that outside investors are more willing to put their money into foreign companies.
And second, that you can launch a profitable SaaS product from anywhere in the world. Base is a slick, well-designed product and most of their customers probably don’t know or care that it’s a Polish company.
Estimote’s only office is in Krakow, which is where they design, prototype and build their own hardware. This way they can ship end-to-end hardware products out of one office with incredibly low turnaround. US-based hardware startups can’t afford this luxury and have to fly to Shenzhen every time they need something built beyond the prototype stage. This mechanism of combining a high-tech talent supply with the relatively low cost of labor in Poland enables some interesting businesses that couldn’t be built the same way in the US or Germany. I hope we’ll soon see more of this.
We rounded off the day with dinner at Ancora and a night out in Krakow. Of all the places we visited, I was most enamored with Krakow. The city is vibrant and beautiful, the startups are very smartly executed and the people and atmosphere are just like in Berlin or San Francisco but without the hubris. I’ll definitely be back.
Having spent the last few years in Silicon Valley, Jonas is now in Berlin working on his Twilio-powered company HipDial (which will be coming soon to Poland).