For humans, a generation lasts about 30 long years. In but for humans in the tech industry a generation lasts five short years. Old companies die. New people come, look around, and build something new. Then after five years they move on – they either succeed or quit.
But Poland was slightly different. The generation took a few more years to mature but when it did it came ready to change the world. Here’s a short history of the Polish tech industry from my perspective.
1991 – Computers Climb Out Of The Swamp
When the Solidarity-led government took power, importing computers and building basic infrastructure was the big thing. Computers were pretty boring back then and Poland was fixated on its own technology. They weren’t connected to the outside world and I, personally, preferred to travel and publishing guides for folks who were suddenly able to travel. But that quickly changed.
1996 – The Rise of (Polish) Giants
Few people wanted to change the world in Poland back in the 1990s. We were really focused on ourselves. We created our own search engines and three teams performed really well: Wirtualna Polska, Onet, and Allegro. Allegro is a forgotten Polish unicorn that built something phenomenal with ecommerce in Poland. Allegro was the eBay of Poland and it was even bigger than Amazon. At that time a thriving eco-system existed but hardly any international startups were founded – why bother about the world as there is so much to do at home? The great exceptions were? Three customer service companies, GetResponse, Ivona and LiveChat.
2001 – Lost Generation
Things were hard in 2001. As far as new companies were concerned it was a desert. Entrepreneurial people who created hundreds of companies stayed with these companies that survived and maintained steady growth: they picked corporate life instead of building new wave of startups. It was a true discontinuation of tech entrepreneurship and it hurt the ecosystem immensely.
2006 – Startups Everywhere
The local startup ecosystem suddenly blossomed in 2006. Startups in online media, ecommerce, social media and hundreds of other companies popped up overnight. The founders were well-connected and had lots of experience. There was just one problem: like Narcissus, Poland was in love with itself and the small Polish market. There was an old joke about the curse of 38 million. If the population had been 3.8 million or 380 million our tech ecosystem would have had more unicorns per capita. But at 38 million we only had a few. This continued for a few years until…
2011 – San Francisco, An American Dream
There were a handful of people who had a dream – an American dream. Folks like BaseCRM, Estimote, UXPin, Growbots succeeded in achieving it. There was another group of companies that conquered the world with headquarters in Poland including DocPlanner, Brainly, Picodi, Brand24 and a bunch of others. All these people started few years ago and now are now well-developed companies. There are also now a couple of startup hubs with thriving culture with Warsaw and Kracow leading and Gdansk, Poznan and Wrocław following up. All of them are one ecosystem that is under the radar.
The best thing I hear about the startup scene in Poland now? “Gee, it is amazing here. Why doesn’t anybody know about you?”
2016 – The Crossroads
The tech world is merciless – either you move forward or you die. I deeply believe that the critical mass is reached and Poland is the next big place. I hope Poland can overcome its self-centrism I am looking for the next generation of entrepreneurs who will take over from the old guys. Here’s to successful startups with multimillion financing rounds. Sto lat!