Creative Dock’s Pavel Zentrich talks German business culture, green politics, pet insurance made easy, and more.
by Jan Strmiska
He has been part of the senior management at multinationals such as Dell, Microsoft, Sony, and Sony Ericsson. He speaks five languages and has worked in six different markets. He’s raising three children with his wife Alice, each child having been born in a different country.
Pavel Zentrich lives in Munich now and he’s the new CEO of Creative Dock Germany. We have called him to take a peek into the near future.
What will 2021 look like business-wise?
I can see two trends. One group of customers are not doing so well nowadays and they are under extreme pressure to reduce costs. We have been working on some products for them and we also cooperate with consulting firms in this area.
Then there’s the second segment of customers, companies which––I’m not saying they are making profit out of the COVID-19 situation––but they have managed well or optimized their business models. Those are the ones who have a taste for expansion and are open to new ideas. That’s where we see big opportunities. But it certainly won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.
And what about technologies?
I think that the trend of commoditization, or democratization as the economists tend to call it, will continue. That means going further in making things cheaper and universally accessible. I’m talking about products like our Sečteno. Instead of having a part-time accountant, you will be able to benefit from automation.
Then some say that the advanced technologies like machine learning will be dominated by a handful of big players. I don’t really think so. I know that the common notion is that a crisis makes the strong stronger and the weak fall. This is certainly true to a large extent but in the long term, it will also lead to a release of other resources. Big companies will lay off a lot of fine people due to rationalization and austerity measures. Not because they would be incompetent. And these people will come to the market with their heads full of ideas. Such people are actually already setting up start-ups and new firms. So I’m an optimist in this regard.
Setting up a business in Germany
Where is the best place to start a technological business in Germany? Does it have to be Munich? Certainly not. Germany is very decentralized, so besides Munich, there are other places such as Berlin or Hamburg. But if I had to pick just one place, I would actually say Munich. There are a lot of coworking places here. When you are setting up an IT firm, you get an office basically for free. You just need to apply for some kind of a supporting program and they’ll back you up, including sharing know-how.
In the United States, big corporations are drawing the prices high in the Silicon Valley, so that smaller start-ups are forced to set up offices elsewhere. Does this happen in Germany?
Definitely. Often, a new start-up catches my attention and then I find out it’s in the middle of nowhere, a place I’ve never heard about. On the other hand, thanks to modern infrastructure, you can build a company virtually anywhere.
Is Germany the same as the Czech Republic, where a lot of people choose to live in the countryside and commute to a big city for work?
Well, you don’t have that much choice. I’ve read that the average salary in Munich is approximately 4.000 to 5.000 euro, which seems like a lot. But that’s before tax, which eats up 35–40%. And given the fact that the prices have skyrocketed, you’re left with no other option than to move further away from the city.
Of course, young people especially are trying to live in accord with the concept of Nachhaltigkeit, which means sustainability. So, things like going back to the nature and organic production resonate here very strongly, but I don’t think there is a mass trend of relocating to the countryside. I actually think it’s the opposite, the big cities still possess that magnetism. Here in Munich, there is a shortage of 60.000 apartments and it’s getting worse every year. Yet, commuting is not that easy.
Sustainability vs Performance
You mentioned that environmental issues are big in Germany these days. Is this driven by politics, business, or the general public?
The green trend is huge now, and not just in Germany. To illustrate––a group of banks led by BNP have just granted Tesco a 3.5 billion loan for development. It is a substantial sum, indeed, but the interest rate is flexible. Its size depends on their carbon footprint, how much plastic they produce, and so on. See, this is the reality nowadays. It’s both a big trend and a huge business.
What else is trending in Germany?
A lot of funds are now being invested in pharma. Also, digitalization gets a lot of support, which is something Creative Dock can benefit from. Under the pressure of the corona-related situation, a lot of companies are moving their operations from offline to online. That’s also something that is pushed by the state and financed with public money.
Apart from that, there are huge discussions in Germany about moving from the traditional diesel and petrol cars to hybrids and electric vehicles. Approximately 10% of the GDP is connected to the automotive industry. And the same applies to agriculture. There’s a conflict between sustainability and performance. There have been suggestions to set up minimal prices for buying up, while farmers are under big pressure not to use fertilizers and pesticides. Which leads to those conflicts. Farmers go on strikes, blocking the traffic in Munich with their tractors.
How do the Czech and German business culture differ? Although we’ve all ended up wearing sweatpants anyway.
If I got up, you’d see that I’m wearing sweatpants right now! I don’t want to stereotype but generally speaking, the business culture in Germany is more formal than in the Czech Republic. The way you establish the first contact is different. To exaggerate a bit, the best way to get to know someone business-wise is to go get a beer. This doesn’t work that well here in Germany. People divide their work and their personal lives more strictly.
Yet naturally, there are exceptions. Our CFO is my number one door opener. And his relationships, or leads if you like, are unbelievably friendly and informal. You would never expect something like this from a German finance guy. So you can’t really make generalizations, but the truth is that there is certainly more hierarchy here. When we approach an insurance company, for instance, there’s always the traditional assistant who arranges the meeting times and other technicalities with us.
Pets can get life insurance, too
What is Creative Dock’s biggest project in Germany?
We have been hard at work on some seven projects. Mostly, they tackle our traditional fields such as finance and insurance. The important thing is that our pet insurance project finally looks ready to take off after a two years’ effort. We have found partners who are willing to invest in it.
How does this pet insurance differ from the other ones?
It might come as a surprise, but the traditional pet insurances are terribly complex and complicated. There are various dog breeds with different levels of aggression, and thus a different risk of health issues or injury. So, when you want to insure your dog, it’s certainly not instant. You can’t just answer a few questions on a website and get the insurance. That’s not how it works.
We decided to be disruptive and make it much easier by coming up with two types of microinsurance, which you can both get very quickly. For example, the one that handles injuries is useful when your dog gets hit by a car and you need to go to the vet. In such cases, it really doesn’t matter what breed the dog is, how big it is, and whether it’s more aggressive or submissive. This approach allowed us to make it easier, cheaper, and quick. And it opens the door for upsell and for closing a complex insurance contract at the end of the road.
And you want to build this alone?
Our major partner is a big European retailer of pet food and related goods, so there is a nice connection there. Of course, we have prepared several models on how to sell it to the customers. We believe that we can get it up and running very soon.
Is there any special licence needed for pet insurance?
Yes, it’s a regulated industry. That’s also why we have been working on it for so long. The crucial part was getting a good partner, which we did. One that’s very digitally advanced, too.
Is your dog insured?
I don’t own a dog. But otherwise, I have so many types of insurance that I could really use an app to keep it all in one place for me. Just this weekend, I bought private health insurance for me and my wife. Healthcare is also a big issue here. The services for private clients are substantially different than for people who only have public insurance. Recently, we have witnessed some things that prompted us to do it, even though it’s not exactly cheap.
Dog lovers across Europe
Are pet insurances common elsewhere in the world?
There are some services like this, it’s not terra incognita. In Germany, less than 5% of dogs are insured, though. So, the products exist but they are not massively used. It’s a great opportunity. Look at the UK. 75% of dogs are insured there. And in Scandinavia, the number exceeds 90%.
Does this mean that Brits love their dogs more than Germans? It’s rather a question of emotions versus pragmatism. I’m not saying everybody is like that. But in the Czech Republic, if someone has to decide whether their pet should undergo surgery, whether to invest in its health, and then compares that sum with the cost of a new puppy… I know it sounds horrific but a lot of people don’t have such strong emotional bond with the animal.
But it’s a very sensitive topic. It might have something to do with the fact that people are not used to investing in themselves either. As they say––most people will take their car to a repair shop but they won’t go see their own doctor.