The booming startup ecosystem in Lithuania is gaining increasing media attention. Interactio, a startup that started its journey in Klaipėda, is among the often-mentioned success stories. We invited one of the founders of Interactio Henrikas Urbonas for a chat about startups and the city of Klaipėda.
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The journey of Interactio started in Klaipėda. Later on, you established an office in Vilnius, but also kept your Klaipėda office. Why did you make that decision?
Yes, our journey started in Klaipėda. As we grew and expanded to Vilnius, the decision to keep our presence in Klaipėda was very natural for us. First of all, our roots are here and that is important. The CTO of Interactio Domas Labokas and I are both from Klaipėda.
Another very practical reason is related to costs. It is not a secret that costs in Klaipėda are lower than in the capital. I believe that our success is largely built on the fact that we started in Klaipėda. We were able to find the talents that we needed and have a relatively large team from the very beginning.
Now, as we are growing, we come to really value the Klaipėda lifestyle. In very large cities, there are so many things that distract you: traffic, all the events that you might want to attend, endless possibilities that you are afraid to miss. Here in Klaipėda things are just simpler.
But isn’t it true that startups need all this abundance of events and information? It is often said that startups are a thing of large metropolitan cities.
Yes, that is true. If you just stay in Klaipėda, you will not be successful at building your network. It is probably easier to grow if you are based somewhere like Amsterdam. But then again, if you just stay in one city, your possibilities are limited. We often fail to understand how well connected Klaipėda is to the rest of the World. We have great connections to major hub airports from Palanga airport. I can leave in the morning for Berlin, spend a day there and come back to Klaipėda in the evening. And the small size of our airport is very beneficial - there are no queues, no multiple gates. It takes me 30 – 40 minutes from leaving home to being on the plane. So, my trips to Copenhagen are way shorter than trips to Vilnius.
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I was somewhat surprised to hear that you now live in a small village near Klaipėda. Now that Interactio is growing I was convinced you would choose to live in some large metropolitan centre with fast connections. Is that really not attractive?
My daily work life is full of speed and unpredictability, so after work I prefer to spend my time somewhere calm. Now I get back home after an eventful day and can enjoy the stars in the sky. This connection to nature is important for me, and I cannot find it in any city.
For me, fast-paced cities are not the best places for work that requires concentration. Klaipėda is not small, there are plenty of distractions here as well, but somehow, I feel freer here. Klaipėda has this unique vibe about it that just has to be experienced. For me, Klaipėda is the best place for creative work that requires more concentration. To some extent, this is very personal – I enjoy the slower pace of the city and the fact that I can walk everywhere. So, when I catch myself rushing through life, I know I need to go back to Klaipėda.
Finding calm after work © Personal archive
Do you see any weaknesses of Klaipėda?
Now, Klaipėda really is a perfect city for me, but it might lack some support for young startups that are just at the beginning of their journey. Klaipėda could benefit from a stronger support network. When you just take your first steps as a startup, it is essential to have a good network of mentors, who can introduce you to the whole startup ecosystem.
I remember when we just started, and we could hardly understand that we were a part of something global. We only started realizing that when we found our first mentors, who introduced us to the startup ecosystems in Finland, Denmark and other countries. Until you realize that, you can feel quite isolated, but that is just a perception. In reality, we are a well-connected part of Northern Europe: Copenhagen, Oslo, Riga are all just a short trip away. The best thing about this international network is that people there are willing to share, and they value us as an unsaturated market with loads of potential.
That network is also very important when you face your first failures. When you see the journeys of other startups, you understand that the challenges we all face are very similar. A couple of years ago we had a big event where our system crashed, and we were not able to provide the service. The conference could not take place as the translation was essential there. Then, the support we received from the startup community was lifesaving – they helped us understand that this situation was not in any way different from what other startups experience.
We often say that we learn from mistakes. Is that true or is it just a phrase we use to calm ourselves?
We definitely learn from our mistakes as well as mistakes of the others. It is interesting how with time we even define the failure differently. I remember, we used to take any major decline from a potential customer as a failure. Now, when a major client says no, we understand that it is not a failure - maybe they are too busy to think about translation services now and so we need to try next year.
It is important to see reality clearly. If we look at the numbers, we will see that we provide perfect service for 600 events and then something goes wrong in one event. Of course, this one event that did not work as planned is painful, but we also need to look at the 600 successes. With time and experience, we understood that we work in an industry where there is so much unpredictability that we cannot pre-test everything. When you work with events, you quickly realize that no two events are the same. So, all we can do is prepare for the fact that mistakes will happen and do everything that they would not happen.