Up to now, our regular Rockaway Insider newsletter has focused mainly on upper management. In the new year we would like to gradually also feature those whose work is frequently hidden behind the scenes, but is…
Five years ago he left a career with Mid Europa Partners, the largest private equity company in Central and Eastern Europe, for the then relatively unknown Rockaway Capital investment group. As Robert himself often says, it was a risk that paid off.
What key thing has 2020 taught you?
It reaffirmed that every crisis leads to revolutionary things, ones that at the beginning we might not see, but that in a couple of years we’ll know were brought about by this crisis. In my view, the current situation will, among other things, accelerate the adoption of blockchain, which we’ve started investing in and have established a leading European fund in this domain. It also became evident that betting on digitalization and on-line in general was the right thing to do years ago, because if this crisis has any winners, those are on-line players. But it’s more about the fact that 2020 accelerated trends that were evident to us long ago. On a personal level, last year I found out how hard it is to do online schooling with kids at home. It has increased my admiration for teachers, who deal with this on a daily basis and are able to maintain positive attitude and patience in the long run.
What is the number-one rule that you follow at all costs in your business?
If I really had to pick only one thing that I follow and that has paid off for me, it would be authenticity. It’s of course a broader concept; to me it primarily means the ability to remain oneself under all circumstances. It’s related to not being afraid to defend yourself and assert your opinions, but at the same time being ready to accept the opinions of others if it makes sense. In short, it means healthy self-confidence, which makes you unafraid of surrounding yourself with people smarter than you, which is probably the most important thing for long-term success in any business.
One learns from one’s mistakes. What mistake taught you the most, and what, specifically?
It’s not a mistake as such, but more of a handicap I feel I have. I somewhat regret that I didn’t start my own business earlier. I spent nearly 15 years in high-level positions in London, which was a great experience, but at Rockaway and the companies in our portfolio I have been meeting lots of people who built something of their own right after school, which is something I envy them a bit. When I was graduating, more than ten years after the Velvet revolution, the general opinion here was that the cards had all been dealt and one couldn’t come up with anything new, so I told myself that I had to accomplish something abroad. And you simply can’t build a career at a London investment bank and at the same time have your own business. That’s why I don’t regret it, the years I spent abroad is something nobody can take away from me and it was excellent, but it’s true that I don’t have that experience of building a business from scratch.
What is your most important piece of advice for new entrepreneurs and start-uppers?
Have a big vision and stick to it, even if everyone around you is trying to convince you otherwise. Stay close to your customers, even when you grow bigger. Always think two steps ahead of your actions and decisions. But above all, as a person, keep your feet on the ground, stay authentic.
What do you consider the greatest benefit of your business for society?
I won’t say that we change people’s lives, that’s a cliché. But I’m proud of the fact that we have succeeded in building something that’s unique both locally and perhaps even at the European scale. We created a go-getting investment group that’s capable of supporting unique start-ups in their very beginnings, such as Productboard, for example, but at the same time we’re capable of doing buy outs like Mall Group and building it into a large regional group. The Czech Republic has lots of capable entrepreneurs who know how to build a business, and lots of investors who know how to invest money. But only a few are able to combine the two, and even fewer have achieved this on an international scale. And we’re succeeding in this.
What question are you asked most often, and how do you answer?
Why am I always reading something on my smartphone? My kids ask me that, but even my wife thinks I’m addicted to my phone. I don’t think so, I can go without it for even an hour (smiling). But it’s true that thanks to mobile phones it’s hard to balance work and non-work. When my father opened the newspaper at breakfast, everyone understood what he was doing. Instead of that, at breakfast I pick up my phone or tablet and I go through my e-mails and read about what happened in the world overnight. My children don’t understand that, for them the tablet means fairy tales, while for me it’s work. When I started my career, we all sat tethered to our computers. Today, thanks to mobile phones and tablets, we can work from wherever, but that makes it that much harder to balance it out. I’m not very good at it, I admit.
What life hack helps you most in your work?
I have found balance in life. On Monday I look forward to going to work. On Thursday or Friday I look forward to the weekend. All my life I’ve gravitated towards doing work that is enjoyable and fulfilling. If that’s not the case for you, change it. Now, or it will be too late. Life is too short.
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