We spoke in his favorite restaurant, Pastacaffe.
Juraj grew the Represent team in Prague. He started a number of projects during his university studies, including Appivia.com, a web apps development agency that ended up being acquired by Represent’s predecessor Prizeo in early 2014.
Did you have someone who strongly influenced your life?
It’s hard to pick a single person, but my karate trainer Petr Bílý comes to mind immediately. I took classes of traditional karate for about 10 years and always saw him as a bold leader with a strong character. After I left Bratislava, I attended multiple martial arts classes around the world, but none of the other trainers I met even came close to him.
What did karate teach you?
It taught me things like self-discipline, to never underestimate anyone and to never give up.
What were your first steps in IT?
I was interested in computers before I could read. When I was 4 years old, my father took a video of me randomly pressing keys on a keyboard on his Intel 80286. I apparently found the erroneous sounds very exciting.
Programming itself absorbed me relatively early as well — I started by creating websites for my favorite cartoons and things like that. Do you remember when Windows NT prompted you to change your password every two weeks? After I learned to write a string into a file in Delphi, I immediately applied it and created a fake password change dialog. When my sister later logged into the computer, I got her password and could use it to read her emails.
What kind of music inspires you?
The music I listen to varies over time, though there are certain genres that I find better for intellectual work. For instance, in order to get my high school diploma, I had to write a 400 page report — no, that’s not a typo. As the deadline came along, I had to work on it even in the middle of the night at a high school prom afterparty when everyone else had already fallen asleep drunk. I put on B-Complex, a Slovak DnB artist, and I was instantly in the zone. This was during a period of two weeks in my life when I got the least amount of sleep, something like 2–3 hours a night.
What is your family background?
I come from a family of academics, both of my parents have PhDs. My father teaches theoretical physics at Comenius University in Bratislava and my sister has 2 bachelor’s degrees from Cambridge, 3 master’s degrees and is now pursuing a PhD in Vienna.
I don’t even have a bachelor’s degree (laughs).
How did your parents cope with it?
They are fine with it now — it took them a while, though. If I had been more of an “alpha male” back then, I would have bailed on college way earlier. Although I learned some useful things during my studies, it cost me the knowledge and experiences I didn’t acquire because I was spending time in class.
How did you come to Represent?
I joined Prizeo, the company we worked on before Represent, in the summer of 2012 — I was part of the original team of software engineers hired to develop the product. After taking part in Y Combinator in California in March 2013, I left Prizeo to start a web development agency called Appivia.com. In an exciting turn of events, Prizeo acquired Appivia in early 2014, so I rejoined the company and started managing the Prague office.
Young managers sometimes have a hard time because of their age. Do you have any advice for people in your role?
The team needs to understand that there needs to be a single person who has the final word, otherwise the decisions will be inconsistent. However, when discussing an issue, we always choose the best solution based on good reasoning — we have very small egos within the company.
What qualities would your ideal co-worker have?
Extremely skilled, one of the best in their field; reliable and humble.
What is your motivation?
I like building products and enjoy working with smart people. In January 2014, we had the chance to build the kind of company we wanted to work at. We had the resources — it was only a question of our ability to find the right people and set the right culture. We wanted to create a company that people wouldn’t want to leave. If you want to find out if we succeeded, you need to attend one of our parties (laughs)!
What do you like the most in Prague?
I like Vyšehrad a lot. When my girlfriend and I moved closer to the city center, we rented an apartment next to Charles Square. We had lived there for about three months when we decided to explore new places in Prague and spotted Vyšehrad on the map. It was just 5 minutes from our place. I still can’t comprehend how come we didn’t realize it was so close by before we moved in. Now we visit Vyšehrad all the time.
What is your favorite restaurant?
I like Field and most restaurants managed by the Ambiente group. My favorite is Pastacaffé on the border between the Old Town and New Town. It has a cozy atmosphere, great cuisine, and amazing service. The first time I visited, though, I thought it looked like communist-era public swimming pool to be honest, but I quickly grew to like it a lot. You can get an amazing lunch and dessert, pay and leave within 25 minutes.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I’d definitely tell myself to learn more languages. I took German lessons for 6 years during high school, then stopped, and completely wasted a chance to speak German fluently.
Another piece of advice would be to invest more time in competitions called correspondence seminars, like trojsten.sk. These high school competitions in maths, physics and programming are organized by college undergrad volunteers. High school students solve a few sets of problems each year and the best contestants are selected for an invite-only outdoor education summer camp. If you’re good at math, you find out how to interact with people, and if you’re already good with people, you get even better at math. Almost everyone from Slovakia who works at top tech companies abroad participated in these seminars at one time or other. I absolutely recommend the experience to everyone.