New vision, familiar love brand. Where is FTRNW headed in 2019?

“We want people to go on the edge of their professional comfort zone.”

In the interview, you’ll find out:

  • why diverse teams are beneficial, even though it doesn’t seem like that at first,
  • what’s FTRNW’s strategy of scaling to new markets,
  • how is the new Global Head implementing the concept of inclusion,
  • what skills did she obtain in a global law firm that she’s applying in the FTRNW project,
  • how does she blow off steam,
  • what are FTRNW’s greatest challenges in the upcoming 6-12 months, and much more.

 

A lot’s been cooked up in their kitchen lately.

Having started out in March with FTRNW Tuesdays, regular weekly meetups, they managed to cover such topics as AI, Product Design, Green Economy, Work Transitions, Electromobility, Scaling of Social Impact and many more.

Just recently, they closed the applications for the regional startup competition FTRNW Awards and BootCamp is successfully behind them, with 8 early-stage startups lined up for the Grand Finale.

In November, 20+ top notch international speakers will come to Bratislava to talk about the “Future of Human Existence”. Among them such names as Otto Fabri, the Principal Engineer at Faraday Future (ex-designer at Tesla Motors), David Rowan ex-Wired or Safia Qureshi, CupClub founder and CEO.

Corporations, SMEs, startups, students, NGOs and municipalities, as well as freelancers – people from these ‘bubbles’ can find a sweet treat according to their taste within the FTRNW project. Three formats, eight team members, tens of speakers, hundreds of attendees.

Who is managing it all? FTRNW Global Head Janka Bargerová. And here’s her story of how FTRNW has changed and matured over the 2019.

 

Janka, what is your definition of innovation?

It’s something – and I really mean something, because it can come in various forms – product, service, approach or process – that checks three boxes: it brings new added value; it generates a profit – be it financial, social or ecological; and third, it should spark interest and have its own audience or a customer.

What is a good example of such an innovation?

I’m very much interested in education, so I will go with LEAF Academy in Bratislava. FTRNW itself is also quite an innovative project – bringing value in connecting bubbles – people and projects who would otherwise not meet and running events where these connections are taken further. And we have seen tremendous amount of innovation recently sparking on FTRNW BootCamp, with 25 early-stage startups from CEE presenting their pitches.

You spent 16 years in a global law firm with subsidiaries all around the world. That is a different playground than a small startup team organizing an international event. What have you brought in from the “corporate” world to FTRNW?

I learned how to lead people while taking into consideration their personal characteristics and motivations. Every person steps into a role with her own dreams, goals, and motivations. Everyone is different, uses different means of communication and sees priorities from different angles. That’s what forms how people work and I need to reflect on that and combine that.

The fact that the law firm was opening offices in the MiddleEast, Asia, and other regions, helped me cooperate with people from various backgrounds, cultures, and genders and above all, personal passions and priorities. It also taught me to work with remote teams and understand the big picture of managing a project.

Does the FTRNW team consist of diverse, strong personalities?

Surely:) we are a bunch of strong-minded people who have expertise and opinion. But I love working with diverse personality types where one’s strength is another’s weakness and vice-versa. Such a diverse team is a challenge for themselves and the leader: everyone speaks their own language, and at the beginning they drive each other crazy. However, when the team understands each other and people learn to cooperate, they can help each other a lot.

If the person isn’t convinced that there’s value in cooperation with others and that together they can achieve a better result, everything becomes forced. And you can do that maybe in a kindergarten, but not in a workplace. Otherwise people will get burnt out or passively ignore each other.

In a heated atmosphere at FTRNW, we are creating great value and learn alongside how to cooperate and also have fun along the way.

I assume then that you are no micromanager.

I am and I am not. My approach is not a directive one, it’s more about facilitation of various priorities. Sometimes I step into detail, especially when I feel we are diverting from our mission and I challenge my fellow team mates to view things differently. We have the goal set, we know where we want to get, what we want to achieve. Then it’s just about working together so they all see the value in fulfilling the target also in their own areas.

FTRNW has transformed a lot over the recent years. It’s not just about finding the most innovative app. Your definition of innovation suggests that you’re going after innovations in a broader context. What’s the new vision?

We’re trying to transform FTRNW into a platform that connects people and projects with the goal to bring a higher added value of innovation into an ecosystem. For now in Slovakia, then we want to scale it to Central Europe and Britain.

How are you following through?

We have 3 products, or – better said – 3 event formats: FTRNW Tuesdays, regular educational and networking afterworks, FTRNW Conference, tech & innovation conference and FTRNW Awards, regional startup competition. Each of them has a different structure and different target groups. Though these events are isolated in time, we are intentionally connecting them through topics, audiences, and also via mentors and speakers. For example, someone who is a mentor at BootCamp can also be a speaker at FTRNW Tuesday. A finalist of startup competition can bring interesting content to Tuesdays. A Jury member from Awards Regional Round can be a host of a panel at Conference. Startup competing in Awards can find partnership on Conference and become a corp-up.

Where do you stand with scaling to the neighboring countries?

That’s a challenge. We first need to build the brand awareness abroad and then setup up operations and build teams. FutureNow as well as the former StartupAwards are well-known love brands in Slovakia but abroad the awareness of the brand is weak. We have a long way yet to go.

What is your strategy?

We want to scale all three formats with different strategies. The FTRNW Tuesdays will be more about outbound, while with the conference and competition we’ll concentrate more on the inbound approach. What that means is to expand the Tuesday’s format into the countries where HubHub coworking space is already established, and make them a regular event there, building on existing HubHub community adding our new own bubbles.

In regards to the startup competition, the applications were open to 16 countries of Central and Eastern Europe this year, where we actively scouted the startups at innovations hubs and startup centers. We want to continue doing that and strengthen the cooperation with local innovation and startup hubs. As for the conference, it’s more about the usual marketing tools to attract more people from the region to join.

 

I know you believe in the concept of inclusion, which you are a big proponent of. How are you applying it in FTRNW?

You’re right about that, even though it’s probably not the traditional understanding in terms of social inclusion. For me, the notion represents blending together different social “bubbles”, letting others also experience a different point of view, different opinions on a topic. It’s simple – when you’re working on a project, you have two options: either work on it on your own or include others into it, while costs stay the same.

Any examples?

We implement this philosophy on multiple levels. First off, we’re in cooperation with LEAF Academy. The students participate in creating the content for Tuesdays, where they can also present themselves. In terms of the conference, they join as volunteers and help us with the organization.

Another level is the cooperation with municipalities. We provide space to talk about such topics as living in a city, and invite guests like the Mayor of Trnava, Bratislava’s Chief Innovation Officer, an urban activist, and others. A special category is inclusion of early-stage startups into the Tuesdays content, which would usually not happen but we give them space and promote them in order to help them grow.

What are your top 3 challenges as the Global Head of FTRWN in the upcoming 6-12 months?

First, it’s to validate that the new strategy of the target group expansion is a good idea that can survive. This goes hand in hand with raising money so the project can become self-sustainable.

The next challenge is the team. I want to prove that the team diversity not only makes sense but – in spite of initial discomfort – is beneficial and move the project forward.

Thirdly, it’s the scaling to other countries part. I have quite a respect for that because it’s not something trivial. We don’t have that much experience with scaling in our team, but I’m working to gain it along with a network of people that can help us make it happen.

What does FTRNW need to achieve, or where does it have to be, so you can tell yourself “Okay, this is it, that’s where we wanted to be”?

That will happen when the key players of the innovation ecosystem in the countries where we want to be will look to FTRNW as the go-to connecting platform. And at that time, they’ll know that it is the place to meet someone and create something new, while providing the added value to the environment around them.

Tough challenges, I can say. Do you have a mentor or a buddy who accompanies you through all this?

You’re right, it’s complex, and it’s also the first time I’m leading such a big project just on my own. So I think I will need a mentor who will help me both with the scaling part, as well as with more structural approach to things as I’m more of a visionary person.

What’s your way of blowing off steam?

Bicycle and coffee and prosecco on a terrace. Silenk walk in the forest. Oh, and I also travel a lot.

 

– – –

Who is Janka Bargerová?

Cilantro: yes or no? Absolutely yes

Audiobooks or hardcover? Hardcover

Coffee or tea? Coffee

Mac or PC? Surface

Cats or dogs? None of them

Sweet or salty? Salty

Morning or evening? Morning

Theater or cinema? Theater

Spring or autumn? All seasons

Superman or Batman? None of them, I am seeking superheroes in my own circles

 

Author: Michal Tomek, Founder of SlovakStartup