Andrej grew up in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia. He studied at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic; in Nottingham, UK, and started his postgraduate studies at the University of Oxford. There, he met Bryan Baum and Leo Seigal with whom he created the Prizeo fundraising platform and took part in the famous startup accelerator, Y Combinator. Having sold Prizeo in 2015, together they focused on a new project — Represent. Represent was bought in 2016 by CustomInk, but its founders remained in the company in managing positions.
People see you as a young and successful entrepreneur. What do you consider to be some of your first accomplishments?
I travelled a lot at a young age. By participating in various student competitions in robotics and computer science, I was able to visit different European cities for finals, which was very enriching. I’m not sure if that can be considered an accomplishment, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
When you were small, did you get a lot of praise from your parents or did they lead you to modesty by treating your achievements and success without a fuss?
My parents always supported me and were extremely happy about my success each step of the way. Though my mom does keep saying that maybe I should go back to school and finish my studies! Sometimes she says I should get a proper job, but I know she’s just kidding.
Was it hard for you to bail on Oxford?
It was one of the most difficult decisions in my life. On one hand, I had a pretty straightforward path — a prestigious degree from the University of Oxford, an amazing supervisor and colleagues, and being able to study a field that I love with my whole heart. Studying at Oxford gave me the intellectual stimulation that I had always wanted, and it was the safer bet.
On the other hand, though, I could go for this uncertain prospect —leave to focus all of my time on an early-stage project. We wanted to help charities to raise money by using celebrities efficiently, but no other company like this existed, and we were not sure it would even work. There was no money cushion to save me if the project failed. There was no school to come back to. I knew that everything was at stake.
But in the end, I decided to try it anyway. At that time, I was already working full-time on Prizeo—in overdrive, in fact.
Tell us more about your beginnings with Prizeo in Prague.
We started in a temporary office located in Prague 5 which was quite far away from everything. Most of us had a 1-hour commute which was exhausting. Very quickly, we moved to a flat in the city center. There were six of us there at that point, and most of us are still with Represent.
The new flat had no meeting rooms, and there was very little privacy. For example, we regularly interviewed new hires in cafes — usually in café Nona. Trams rattled and banged outside, and the loud noise from the street was really distracting. Back then, these were the conditions in which we asked our interviewees to code and write algorithms.
Who makes up the Represent team?
The best of the best.
Does that motivate you?
I’ve always loved working with great people. You can work on interesting projects by yourself, and, fortunately, it’s also not that difficult to find a job that will earn you a nice living. But working with exceptional people on amazing projects and earning a living at the same time? I think that’s special.
I’ve always felt strongly that our company should be special in this regard, and that is probably my biggest source of motivation. We hire the best people we can find to make the best team, period. That’s a very rare thing and I’m very grateful for it.
Are you not motivated by the financial side of a project?
Of course I am. I think there is a strong correlation between the value you create for society and your financial compensation. If my work wasn’t financially interesting, I would try to find ways to fix it so that I can be sure I bring value.
Do you have a morning routine?
I don’t have a fixed morning routine. I travel a lot — I guess I don’t have the convenience of regular, routine days. In LA, I wake up early around 6 am, usually skip breakfast and dive into my morning calls. After a few hours of work, and once businesses open, I head out and grab something quick on the way to the office.
In Prague my morning begins much later, often after 8am. I like to start the day with a meeting over a proper breakfast or enjoy a good brunch. Like here at Bistro 8, for example.
What about your daily routine?
It depends on the type of work I need to do that day, so my schedule is always different. Some days are full of meetings and calls, some days I can dive in and finally knock something off my to-do list. By the way, that list is getting progressively more difficult to arrange.
I used to run on a maker’s schedule where I would allocate 4-hour blocks to a certain task to get things done. These days, I run on a manager’s schedule and divide my day into one hour blocks.
How much time a week do you spend travelling?
Last year I flew 45 times, or about once a week. Mostly it was between Prague, London, Los Angeles, Fairfax, San Francisco, and New York City. My 2016 started out pretty crazy, but now everything is falling back into place so I hope to cut my flights to half that number this year.
I bet you must have some excellent travel and packing tips.
Most of them are just to help you get through security with as little hassle as possible. But if you travel a lot, it’s important to have universal outfits so you can attend a dinner or go out casually in the same attire. It can be done, you know! The skill lies in combining different clothes articles, and dressing up and down. I also have my own special way of packing, so I can travel as light as possible.
I see you are a clothes minimalist; are you also a minimalist in design or tech gadgets?
The less I have, the less I need to carry. I mainly focus on what I really need. Everything is in my MacBook Pro, so that’s basically all I have to take along with me in addition to my credit card.
What are your favorite apps?
I mainly use Slack and an e-mail client. I get a lot of emails, so communication takes up a good half of my day, and if I were to neglect my inbox for some time I can easily see those e-mails piling up and becoming unmanageable.
I developed my own e-mail client because I didn’t like using Apple Mail. In my client, you only see one email at a time — to help you focus and get through my inbox — and you can archive, forward or answer e-mails with simple keyboard shortcuts.
Have you ever felt burnout?
In business, there are always ups and downs, but I think it’s not in my personality to worry about things like that too much. In times of doubt, I always fall back to thinking that we have a great team, and hence we can overcome any setback. Worst case scenario — if something were to go terribly wrong, we can all find amazing jobs elsewhere.
If you didn’t have to travel anymore, where would you settle down?
That’s a tough question! I would probably choose London for a while, but I’m sure that would change. I definitely like life here in Prague.
What do you think are the biggest advantages of Prague?
Prague is a metropolis with everything you might wish for — nature, excellent services, restaurants, lots of leisure activities, and, of course, plenty of people you can work with! In a smaller city you would need to seek out people to collaborate with, but here, you have a large concentration of those who care and want to do bigger things, and have the skills to do it.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Well, it depends which younger self you mean! It’s hard to generalize life advice — I’d say something different to my elementary-school self and something else to my high-school self. But I think it’s always essential to learn foreign languages. As the world gets more globalized, foreign languages are becoming a table stake and nothing will create more opportunities for you than being fluent in a foreign language.