Interview with Julian Oehrlein

Croatian Oradian Won The Pioneers Challenge. What’s Next?

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We can say that Oradian, this year’s Pioneers Challenge winner, is truly an interesting startup, even though its area of expertise is finance [insert obligatory accountant joke here]. Oradian’s cofounders come from Croatia, Germany, USA and South Africa and they chose to be a part of the Croatian startup scene. Was that a wise decision and what the next step is for Oradian, Julian Oehrlein, one of the cofounders, revealed for Netokracija.

Julian Oehrlein, cofounder of Oradian, pitching at Pioneers Festival (photos: Pioneers Festival / Lichtschalter.tv; nechvile.cz)

Julian Oehrlein, cofounder of Oradian, pitching at Pioneers Festival (photos: Pioneers Festival/Lichtschalter.tv; nechvile.cz)

Oradian develops a core microfinance system and a platform that enables easy to use microfinance management. It is built in the cloud and is focused on emerging markets, especially Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. Last week Julian pitched at Pioneers Festival and won the main prize50.000 euros from SpeedInvest and meetings with Y Combinator’s, Techstars’ and Lemon Labs’ partners.

On the stage in Vienna Julian proved that he is a good pitcher – he told the story about Oradian’s customers, the people, not the software. He won the sympathies from the judges and from the audience and he won the first place in Pioneers Challenge. As he said, it was the perfect stage to present Oradian to a wider audience.

When I was working with a large microfinance organization in Asia, the management was in the process of limiting the maximum loan size for customers with a specific occupation. Management believed that this occupation had much lower repayment rates than other occupations. Luckily I was given the task of investigating this issue in more detail, before a final decision was made.

After 4 weeks of working through endless spreadsheets and spending time in the field talking directly to customers and credit officers, we made a significant discovery. The original theory was wrong. These customers had not repaid their loans because of civil unrest in the area where many people with the targeted occupation live. In other words, the occupation had nothing to do with low repayment rates. Needless to say, management quickly backtracked on the original idea.

Those events helped Julian realize that there should be better tools for financial institutions to manage their clients, accounts and financials. Technology is the only way to properly collect, analyze and store all the data these institutions need to operate effectively and efficiently, he pointed out – it is crucial for financial institutions to make well-informed decisions not only for their own survival, but even more because they manage their client’s hard-earned life savings and heavily influence their future.

My co-founders Antonio and Andrew have other stories to tell, which caused them to start Oradian, but what it comes down to is solving one of the world’s biggest problems. We can already see how we can affect change in a very positive manner, helping people manage their finances.

Julian’s advice for other startups is to do something similar while they are pitching – telling a compelling story is to talk about the real problem they are solving, which they probably experienced themselves. Of course, they should also talk about their solution and its differences from current solutions for the problem.

The total number of startups that applied for this year’s Pioneers Challenge was almost 1000 and Oradian was pronounced to be number one among them. The team was a bit surprised, but Julian thinks that the most important thing was that they truly know their customers and their struggle. And, of course, Oradian has the solution that already works in some of the world’s most difficult environments. Their market is growing – half the global adult population still doesn’t have the access to proper financial services, but considering the fact that five new persons in three minutes (yes, that is how long Julian’s pitch lasted) start using a new banking service, Oradian could reach half a billion new customers in the next five years.

Beauty and challenges of West Balkans

Oradian's team is pretty international, but their hedquarters is situated in Croatia.

Oradian’s team is pretty international, but their hedquarters is situated in Croatia.

One of the questions Oradian’s team member probably heard a lot during the past two years was – why Croatia? So, I decided to take a twist on that question and ask – why still Croatia? Do they still think that settling in Zagreb was a good idea?

We founded Oradian in Croatia just over two years ago. Back then the decision to be in Zagreb made a lot of sense. The city treats us well and has allowed us to grow. Yes, certainly not everything is great about running a – especially a small – business in Croatia but to be honest, personally I am tired of all the naysayers and negativity. Let’s look at all the positive aspects of being here: a great infrastructure with fiber optic internet lines and mobile internet even on the smallest Dalmatian island, relatively low cost of living, very cheap rent, one of the world’s cheapest and safest places to live.

No country is perfect, Julian continues, and it is not the entrepreneur’s task to solve whatever doesn’t work in her environment, it’s her job to find ways around these issues, be creative and make things work.

The next Bellabeat?

One of the advantages is also a lively Croatian startup ecosystem and Julian can name a lot of smart people with great ideas and products who come from this country. Not only that – there are a lot of recent success stories of globally oriented startups. Of course, there are concerns for the Western Balkan in general – the availability of risk capital.

It’s very difficult to find local sources of investment willing to take the risks associated with startups, and who understand the extreme time and resource constraints entrepreneurs are operating under. As more successes, like Oradian and Bellabeat, appear on the scene, hopefully we will see more VCs and angels targeting Croatia and Croatian startups.

Urška Sršen, cofounder of Bellabeat, passed the winning title to Julian at Pioneers.

Urška Sršen, cofounder of Bellabeat, passed the winning title to Julian at Pioneers.

While we talk about Bellabeat, it is important to notice that the person who handed the title for this year’s Pioneers Challenge winner was Urška Sršen, cofounder of this Croatian startup. These two startups have a lot of in common – they are both connected with Croatia, they both won Shift Challenge at the local startup conference Shift Split and they both won the Pioneers Challenge soon afterwards. The next step for Bellabeat was Y Combinator – could that be the next step for Oradian as well?

Looking at Bellabeat’s journey, Y Combinator might be the obvious next step for Oradian. However, while both Oradian and Bellabeat are young, ambitious technology companies from Croatia, our business models are still very different. Bellabeat is currently offering a smart mix of software & hardware for the consumer market in developed countries. Oradian is providing a software service for the enterprise market in frontier economies. We are currently evaluating a variety of different options and will choose the one which will help us develop sustainably in the right direction.

Bellabeat raised a significant seed investment for this region, 4,5 million dollars. Oradian is currently fundraising, looking for investment partners who bring both funds and additional benefits. Julian points out that different business models and markets demand different solutions and implementation strategies.

The Oradian’s team grew to over 20 people from 9 different countries and, like many other perspective startups, they are constantly looking for new talents, mainly engineers, who fit their culture and are interested in solving big problems with the latest technology. You can also be@oradian.com and join this startup in its ambitious mission. Somehow, we have a hunch that there is more, much more to come for Oradian.