1. First and foremost, why Montenegro?
The choice of Montenegro was a mixture of luck and self-awareness, I knew I wanted to live here, on the seashores of a warm country, with great food, nice people, where life was simple and a place that retained a human dimension, I just didn’t know that place was called Montenegro.
The additional caveat was to have favourable conditions for opening and running a business, as at the time I was twenty years old and I had started the previous year my first company, a Cultural Magazine.
The process that led me to pick Montenegro was to compile a list of all suitable countries around the world paired with all the living and working conditions that I was expecting. I would then proceed to rate each country on a one to five scale for each parameter, and somehow Montenegro was right on top of the list.
INTRO YOUR BUSINESS, what is it you do?
I'm the Owner and CEO of Wall Street International, one of the most constructive media companies and in-depth journals in the field of online publications among those dedicated to culture, issues, and events affecting daily life. After co-founding few companies, I launched WSI Magazine in 2011, with two partners, as an educational hub that focused on tracking cultural content and creating a hi-end multimedia tool dedicated to the information needs of its readers.
I serve on the boards of directors of several companies, including Villas Link, a luxury villas rental that operates mainly in Italy and around the Mediterranean, Admaiora Group, a pure B2B that provides concierge services and charters, Cecchi de' Rossi, a fashion company that produces the highest quality leather bags treated with wine and was named the most promising designer at this year’s Fashion Week in Milan, and LeZahir, two hotel complexes in Madagascar, as well as being the manager of a real estate investment fund.
I'm a high-school dropout and kick-started my career by working in the Chianti production when I was fourteen years of age. Early in my career I became a white-collar working for the second biggest translation company in the world which lead me to move to Australia and later to the United Kingdom while working for a renowned Investment Bank. My entrepreneurial activities started upon returning to Italy where I successfully launched my first business. In 2012 I decided to relocate to Montenegro where I've been living for the past six years.
2. Tell us about some of the differences of your expectations of running a business in Montenegro and the reality.
The most prominent difference is that people actually try to help, giving you recommendations, introducing you to the right person that can solve your problem and they take care of the community like a big family. I would have never expected locals to be so kind-hearted as they usually look very serious, but once you break the first barrier they are extremely genuine, and a hand-shake is worth more than ink on paper.
As a rule, I always try not to have expectations, but I can definitely say that Montenegro positively surprised me, running a business is extremely easy especially after experiencing the entrepreneurial hustle in Italy.
Something that I came to terms with is the “polako” attitude, arm yourself with patience as everything moves slowly, before talking business you’ll have to meet for a coffee, a week to receive a document is the norm and calling insistently will not help your cause. Once you embrace this attitude you won’t have any stressful situation, but at first can be extremely frustrating.
3. What (if any) bureaucratical issues have you encountered and how did you overcome them (i.e. any advice to the would-be entrepreneur?)
When I bought my car here in Montenegro I had to drive daily and couldn’t wait a month for my license plate, as you can imagine it didn’t take long before the police stopped me, the officer laughed and told me: “In another country you would need to pay a big fine, but since my sister works at the Department of Motor Vehicles we are aware of the delays they are experiencing.”
Another issue I experienced was with the “boravak”, the local name for the Residency Permit. After five years of regular renewal they rejected my request informing me that I had to start the process from the beginning, as usually after the first five years in which you need to renew it yearly you can have the permanent residency in Montenegro.
A piece of advice I would give to any person moving to Montenegro is to be ready to adapt, the country is fairly young and currently undergoing a major step in their history, therefore laws and procedures are constantly changing. The country has such a small population that in case you experience a strange or new problem you can directly contact the Ministries which can solve your issue in almost no time. That’s one of the beauties of Montenegro, you don’t get treated as one of many, each individual is unique and they are willing to address their shortcomings.
4. How is your product or business perceived in the Montenegrin market?
I have the luck of being able to separate my business interests and the country in which I live. We have several readers in Montenegro, but no business relationships or customers. Also, my other businesses have no ties with the country, which personally I deem it to be an incredible freedom.
5. What were the opinions of your friends and community, were they supportive of your idea, or…?
Mostly negative or without a defined opinion, as at that time Montenegro was an unknown country, for European people it was hard to locate the country on a map and when I specified the location they would comment about the war in the Balkans, with ignorant stereotypes or simply with disbelief. But I must say that in the past couple of years the situation changed, Montenegro is becoming a renowned touristic destination and several publications feature it in the top spots praising its beauty and nature.
6. What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced in business in Montenegro?
I don’t recall any challenging part of running a business in Montenegro, just make sure to surround yourself with the right professionals to help you with the legal aspects, bookkeeping and bureaucracy.
This is true for Montenegro like any other country, learn the laws, procedures and your obligations to make sure your business runs smoothly, without cutting corners or trying to be smarter than the system, this is the best recipe to never have to face challenging situations.
7. If you knew then, what you know now, would you have come?
Absolutely, the past six years only solidified my perception of the country. The more I live here the more I want to spend time in Montenegro, and personally I’m a nomad, I like to experience different cultures, travel and meet people. The fact that Montenegro was able to convince me to stay this long is a testament to the life/business conditions that the country offers.
8. What are 3 things you love about Montenegro?
Communities, here there’s a community for everything, expats, business, start-ups, food, hiking, if you have a passion you’ll find a group of people that share the same interest. A little over half a million people and so much diversity, this is an inclusive melting pot.
Another aspect I love about Montenegro is the natural heritage and the diversity, with five national parks and highly characteristic small cities the discovery is a never-ending process. In two hours you reach every corner of the country, from skiing resorts to sea paradises.
Investments are valuable for the country, and they know how to welcome entrepreneurs, with an attractive taxation system and ease in the procedures.
9. What are 3 things you would like to see improved in the business climate in Montenegro?
Certainty in the laws and taxations, countries need to understand that owning a business is an uncertainty in itself, instability in the market, competition, employees etc.. An entrepreneur needs certainty in order to plan strategically the future and the investments, plus business regulations need to be consistently applied.
I haven’t seen any corruption, but I’m aware that this is a big problem for Montenegro especially for big investment coming from abroad and in the real estate sector. I’d like to see urban plans, declarations of intent, a crack down on “gifts” and a judicial system that becomes efficient.
The last thing I’d like to see is the construction of a digital society, with a small territory and population they have the perfect conditions to become a model for eGovernment following in the footsteps of Estonia.
10. How is it working with Montenegrins in terms of a business mentality?
The business mentality was completely absent, especially considering that 40% of employed people work in the public sector, the aim for a person completing the studies in Montenegro is to find a job in a Municipality or to work for the Central Government.
I’m pleased to see a shift happening in recent years, more and more youngsters are opening businesses, venturing in start-ups and working in the private sector. Personally, I admire these people as in most cases they go against the will of their parents to follow their own path in life.
It takes a lot of courage to open a business without financial aids and an ecosystem that helps companies at the embryonic stage to develop. Compared to other European countries there aren’t many funds available for young entrepreneurs, women, businesses in the agricultural sector, start-ups and tech companies.
Therefore, I encourage all established entrepreneurs in Montenegro to mentor and help other businesses to thrive.
11. Advice for foreign entrepreneurs thinking of coming to Montenegro?
If you made it this far in the interview I’m assuming you’ve already packed your bags!
My advice would be to deploy introspection and understand what you need in your life, what are the main features a country should offer and how it’s going to develop in the near future. The best practice I have is to always have options, as without options there’s no decision, make a list, evaluate the potential candidates and try to give a scientific score to each.
Montenegro is no way perfect, but if you want a stress-free country, where you can enjoy life while running a successful business than this might be the paradise you’ve been searching for.
Looking forward to having you as our komšije!
Personal website – www.rubenvergaram.com
Wall Street International – www.wsimag.com
VillasLink – www.villaslink.com
Admaiora Group – www.admaioragroup.com
Cecchi de’ Rossi – www.cecchiderossi.com
Le Zahir – www.lezahir-lodge-nosybe.com