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Why OKRs are perfect for the Balkans

In the Balkans, unicorns used to be confined to storybooks and fairy tales, but now they are part of business conversations. Startups like Romania’s UiPath, or Croatia’s Infobip and Rimac, have gone on to achieve billion-dollar valuations and have shown what is possible.

Recently our senior consultant, Marcus, visited a client in Serbia and was hugely impressed by the great strides that have been made to make the Balkans a launch pad for innovative, high-tech companies. This part of the globe, formerly 'Eastern Europe', is now an enormously fertile ground for tech entrepreneurs with dynamic startups.

Let’s look at why. Most importantly, there is a strong pool of talented and qualified IT professionals. For decades, big international companies have outsourced IT work to the Balkans. The skills reflect a tradition of strong maths and engineering education that goes all the way back to communist times. The workforce is young, ambitious, and resilient.

Traditionally, cities like London, Berlin, Helsinki, and Stockholm, have been regarded as having Europe’s most advanced startup scenes. It’s true that access to venture capital is much easier in these destinations, but nowadays if you try and launch your venture in London, you may find that all your funds get eaten up in the first few months by rent and lawyers’ fees.

In comparison, rents and taxes are much lower in the Balkans and while there is still red tape, there are lots of government initiatives to support a startup ecosystem. There are fast fibre-optic internet connections. English is widely spoken as the common denominator language for the region. Stunning mountains and scenery support a good quality of life. Cities like Belgrade have a lively culinary and nightlife scene.

While there are lots of coders in the Balkans, one barrier to success is the limited pool of people with business and marketing experience. By definition, a global-scalable product must have broad appeal. Even Belgrade is regarded as missing core talent on the business development side. Sales and marketing have been outsourced to places like London or Silicon Valley where those skills have been honed to perfection.

So where do OKRs fit into all this? Since their inception, OKRs have been associated with startup communities. Companies like Google, Amazon, LinkedIn, Facebook, Netflix, Oracle, and Slack, all used OKRs to help them achieve outstanding success.

Startup entrepreneurs are always brimming with ambition and vision, but a lack of focus can be deadly. Here are some of the main reasons why startups should use OKRs as a goal-setting framework:

1) Focus

OKRs are known for bringing laser-like focus to companies. In the early days of a startup it can become chaotic and it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important and waste energy on unimportant matters. Knowing your North Star metric is vital.

2) Attracting investment

We talked about this in a previous blog here. Potential investors want to see a proper analysis of business strategy performance, and realistic potential. In other words, they want to see that a startup knows what it’s doing and where it’s going.

3) Team alignment

In the very early days, alignment might not seem like much of an issue. If a team is all working around the same kitchen table, or in a parent’s garage, then you’re living and breathing the same ideas. The problems can start with the scale-up. OKRs are the best way of gaining holistic alignment.

4) Get ahead of the competitors

An important advantage of OKRs over other goal-setting frameworks is agility. OKRs are generally set each quarter with frequent check-ins. This way if something isn’t working it becomes apparent quickly and can be changed. When a startup is in its sprint mode, this shouldn’t be overlooked.

The biggest takeaway from OKR Advisory’s trip to the Balkans was seeing the huge amount of talent there is. The main natural resource has become its grey matter. Talk of chasing unicorns and being the ‘next Silicon Valley’ make good headlines, but there’s no doubt that this region can play an important role in the international tech scene.


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