Who hasn’t succumbed to a great offer on an online deals site? Locally, Slevomat was the first on the market and its popularity soared; spawning copy cats and expanding regionally. Founder Tomáš Čupr actually began launching the company when he was still in Sheffield, England preparing for his return to the Czech Republic. A strange string of events led Čupr and three friends to spend the summer of 2004 in the Sheffield area, to which he returned and ended up living there for five years. Čupr studied information technology at the Brno University of Technology, worked in website development, internet marketing and car financing before returning to Prague in 2010. He sat down with Expats.cz to talk about Sheffield, his newest projects and business lessons learned.
You have Slevomat, Dámejídlo, a restaurant delivery site and you just co-founded Kouzelná Almara, a package delivery and payment shop for e-shops. How’s that going?
I think we need to expand regionally to be more attractive to other websites, also add logistics so key shops will trust that we will deliver their package fast and reliably to other cities. In Kouzelná Almara it is my role to be a mentor. These days I am fully focused on Dámejídlo, which is growing pretty fast. We are just building the food delivery market in the Czech Republic and creating demand. In the past Czechs had only pizza delivery but we are showing them that it is possible to order burgers, steaks or Asian cuisine easily via the internet.
For the e-shops that use Kouzelná Almara, it is going very well, but it’ll take some time. Customers like it, but e-shops are used to making money on logistics and they need convincing. They need to make a decision between customer service and money.
You recently started Slevomat Ventures, what are your plans for the company?
I think Slevomat itself has a massive customer base; it works with thousands and thousands of merchants and also has a large sales force. I think it makes sense to keep launching projects that aren’t similar but can be leveraged by Slevomat’s strong resources. If you use Slevomat it means you probably have disposable income. If you are going to use a food delivery service, it means you probably can afford to eat in restaurants, the target audience is similar. Slevomat works with many restaurants, so the contacts are already there. There are many projects that can be done like this – launched separately but can be helped by Slevomat, it increases the probability of success. It’s not very active to be honest, Dámejídlo is the first. I want to prove the concept first.
So that’s what you’ve been doing since you’ve been back in Prague. Tell me about Sheffield and why you decided to return to the Czech Republic.
Upon returning to Brno in October, after the summer in Sheffield, I found the atmosphere a bit grim. Sheffield was such a great experience; it was the only city in England I knew. I liked it; it was in the middle of beautiful countryside, nice people, quiet but still central. It’s not so industrial anymore, there’s lots of service industry. I was shocked by how the bus drivers were nice, people in the shops smiled. I returned to the Czech Republic after the crisis hit. I really noticed a mood change in people, it was very obvious something had happened, the smiles were gone. I was at a crossroads. I had a business partner there to run the company so I decided to come back and see if things had improved here and they had.
Do you see anything exciting happening in online Czech companies?
It sounds cheesy, but Dámejídlo is one of the more exciting projects out there – it fulfills a need. There’s a lot happening online; design, shopping clubs, fashion, but do you need another pair of shoes? No matter how busy you are you have to eat. I don’t want to sound like I’m blowing my own trumpet but I haven’t seen a brilliant project recently. Apiary, an API design platform company recently received some venture capital funding and what they are doing will enable a new wave of websites to be built in different ways and more functional, they have a massive future ahead of them. Anything to do with mobile or payments, I’m watching that space very closely. But if I think something is exciting, we’ll do it.
What’s the best business lesson you’ve learned?
Pick your business partners very carefully. It’s like building a house with someone. You need to click on a personal but also a business level. You’ll get pissed if you are the only one building the house and the other party only wants to live in it. It will save me a lot of heartache in the future because I had this experience early.
What’s next for you?
I’m focused on Dámejídlo – we’ve only just begun here. I’m the kind of entrepreneur who builds something, gets it ready for professional management and if it’s good for the company, I move on. We are at least 12 months away from that happening here. Unlike other companies we’ve built our own logistics so we can deliver anything, not just food and this is a big barrier to any competition. Ultimately we want all logistics under our control so we can guarantee the food is on time and hot. If a restaurant or courier screws up, we will call and let the customer know. We want the ability to offer total satisfaction. Great service wins is a very valuable lesson I learned in Britain. Czech people are starting to realize they want it. If you have the same price as the competition but better service you will win.