For Gerion Treska, the unpredictable world of entrepreneurship came naturally. The desire to explore how businesses are operating day to day was always there for him, despite being raised to behave well and follow the rules, something which he says is nothing new for societies in Albania and across the Balkans.
“Nevertheless, I did not manage well to feel right on being always in conformity. I have been involved in entrepreneurial experiences since very young because distinguished people allowed me to explore the day to day tasks of their businesses, which involves being a waiter, sales person, tourist guide, and so on,” Treska tells The Recursive.
While learning the ropes of the trade, Treska had worthy teachers, such as Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi social entrepreneur, banker, economist, civil society leader, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, whom he met in 2012.
“That is the milestone moment when I started working on the personal entrepreneurship path as well as of the local ecosystem,” he recalls.
Nowadays, Treska is the chief business officer at Tirana-based mobile and web development company Almotech, as well as program manager for Junior Achievement Albania, a non-profit organization dedicated to preparing young people for employment and entrepreneurship.
However, he still considers himself to be a “baby entrepreneur”, especially since there is a long path to success in countries such as Albania.
In an interview for The Recursive, he shares his thoughts on what lies ahead for the Albanian startup ecosystem and the many startups, companies, and founders that are exploring the entrepreneurial path in the Balkan country.
The Recursive: What are the biggest milestones for Albania’s startup ecosystem? What have you observed during the past years?
Gerion Treska: ’I am working on a startup’ is a jargon sentence now among the youth in Tirana, mostly. I am very happy every time I hear this phrase, but the ‘why’ you want to open a startup is still not very clear.
We have a lot of small businesses in our economy, this might be for many reasons, “be your own boss”, “don’t need to depend on others”, etc. This same big number can bring confusion between building a startup versus building a business.
So, we have started to ‘poke’ the startup world and initiate some kind of community/ecosystem. What brings me joy is seeing a considerable number of training programs, imitating incubators or accelerators, present not only in Tirana but also outside of Tirana as well.
The second largest milestone is that we have finally a few successful bootstrapped startups like Publer. This means a lot for the ecosystem as a role model of perseverance that builds up sustainable growth. On the other hand, we also have a few startups that have been on the investment radar for quite some time, grabbing some attention for both the ecosystem and the country itself.
What are the strengths and weaknesses that founders in Albania have?
Albanian founders are stubborn to stay in the market! That might be a great inner skill when you are a founder, both in the short and long term. But it also can bring a lot of trouble when working with a team, investor readiness, etc. The moment they have an idea or see a working concept in another market, they believe that is something that can be adopted or implemented in the local market, despite many factors of the market.
The illustration of this are many software house agencies in Tirana. Most of them started as a startup team, with an idea, but when they realized that the market was small, or it was not so easy to scale up into international markets, they started offering services to third parties, software building, websites, digital marketing, etc.
But they are also weak in perseverance. Being stubborn to stay in the market sounds nice and all, but because of the structure of the market, its size, bureaucracy, informality, and corruption, it is not easy to stay in the market.
These and many other factors contribute to testing and building perseverance for those who choose not to give up, but continue along. Sometimes we quit at the very beginning because on paper everything looked well, but things changed the minute the implementation started.
Which verticals and solutions are key for Albanian startups and do you see a potential first unicorn in the country?
There is a trend in Albania to turn all youngsters into programmers and coders. This worries me because agriculture and tourism are suffering for concrete solutions, support, and manpower. That is why I believe technology and innovation can bring effective and intuitive solutions to solve these problems.
Due to the brain drain, it has become hard to understand the verticals. People leaving means less manpower and more technology to manage “staying in the market”. This might also look like a good opportunity for decision-makers to refocus their strategies as well as working plans. Education too plays a great role, both formal and informal.
If we will have a unicorn it will be just because the founder has sacrificed so much of their and partner’s lives to reach that point. The ecosystem can not and does not know how to ‘raise’ a unicorn. For as long as investing in Albania is perceived as high risk in SMEs, let alone startups, the real investors will be very reserved to approach Albanian startups, or will have them incorporated somewhere else, outside Albania.
What are your goals for 2023, and for that matter the goals of the Albanian startup ecosystem as well?
The main goals of the actors are to be focused on continuing to nourish people with networking, education, and know-how to start their startups or businesses wherever they are.
It would be too ambitious to think that within the next 5 years we will have the first unicorn, because of the slow development pace of the ecosystem. If at the end of the next year we will have two more scalable and successful startups such as Publer, this will be a good growth sign.
Nevertheless, all comparisons and plans ahead should have a clear vision. Albanian founders need to participate more and more in international startup competitions, events, conferences, and training. This exposure helps shape the founder’s mind and perspective on what they will, or are building.
Nothing is done isolated or alone, that is why we need to shift from the solopreneur mindset to the team mindset. Hopefully, this exposure will increase awareness as well for the Albanian ecosystem towards possible angel investors or VCs.