Hungarian Entrepreneurship SWOT A Blog Series by tandemLEAP
Mary and Lannie are the founding partners of tandemLEAP, a business management consultancy based in Budapest and NYC. They have lived and worked in Hungary for 4+ years, and have been a part of the international launch of 10+ companies.
One of the most common topics we are asked to comment on are the differences between Hungarians and Americans. Who are the better clients? Who work harder? And more importantly, who would you rather have a beer with? (Trick question: we will drink beer with anyone!)
We have traditionally shied away from making any sort of generalizations about Hungarians (though we are quick to poke fun at our own countrymen’s quirks and stereotypes, particularly the ones we seem unable to escape from ourselves!), but what we can share are some specific insights and stories from our experience living and working in Hungary and with Hungarians for the past 4+ years.
Hungarians are not afraid to work hard – they don’t even realize they are half the time.
We are continually impressed by what our Hungarian colleagues can turn around in a short amount of time. Mary was once in a last minute pitch meeting where one of the founders turned around an amazing custom presentation pitch deck in less than 24 hours, with real market research, and a great story and design. Most Americans we know would negotiate at least a week for that amount of work, or make lots of excuses as to why the end result was rushed or sloppy.
Hungarians are everywhere.
Somehow we seem to always be stumbling upon seemingly random connections to Hungary, even where we least expect it. Many of our American colleagues and friends have revealed some Hungarian ancestry. Others have Hungarian spouses (with Hungarian wives doing a great job getting foreigners to stay and work in Hungary!). But not only are the familial ties strong, there is also a rich history of innovation and thought leadership that comes from Hungary, whether or not it is always attributed. We recently found out one of our American clients (who had no direct connection to Hungary as far as we could tell) is a student of the Pickler parenting technique, developed by a Hungarian in the 1950s.
Putting Americans (or any non-Hungarian group) on a pedestal.
This attitude comes up a lot, and while it may be part of why we earned some of our first contracts in Hungary, it’s something Hungarians are going to have to get over if they want to really compete and succeed in the global marketplace. One recent example is a young founder with a new choose-your-own-adventure type video app that allows users to create interactive video stories for their family and friends. When asked why he wanted to launch in the US, why he felt this was the right target market, he simply said “Oh, well, because Americans are much more innovative than Hungarians.”
If Americans are known for being more innovative, perhaps it stems from a general tendency towards laziness. We will work hard to avoid having to work hard – many innovations tend to be a result of trying to automate or get out of doing some other labor-intensive process, freeing up time we can be spending on other things. Ultimately it’s not a matter of which cultural group is inherently “more innovative,” but rather internalizing the fact that innovation and creativity is not limited to any country or demographic, and allowing this realization to be a source of inspiration rather than imitation/fear.
Collaborative spirit is lacking.
I’m sure most of you know the joke about the pits of hell and how people are kept there – according to the joke, people are organized by nationality and Satan uses different tactics to prevent them from escaping the various pits. Outside the Russian pit is a guy with a machine gun who simply shoots down anyone near the top. Outside the German pit is a simple sign that reads, “Do not leave the pit.” But the Hungarian pit is the most curious of all – it seems to have no special measure keeping its denizens where they are. The punchline is that Satan knows he doesn’t need to do anything to keep the Hungarians at bay, because as soon as one person gets close to the top, all his friends pull him back in.
Though this often produces a chuckle and knowing smile, the sad reality is that the spirit of the joke rings true. We have noticed more than once someone enjoy a deserved success and then seems to become a popular object of derision in the rumor mill – success downplayed, negative feedback propagated. The mentality is definitely shifting in a positive direction, and we have seen many great examples of collaboration and support within the Hungarian startup community that we are a part of, but this still feels like a big area of improvement needed to foster and sustain innovation.
But don’t take our word for it!
Over the next few posts leading up to the #Hunnovators conference, we will interview other entrepreneurs and teams who also sit somewhere along the Hungarian-American business dimension and share with you their stories. Our aim is not to convince you of anyone’s opinion, but rather continue the dialogue and hopefully raise awareness of some of the successes coming out of Hungary recently – not just the big headlines, but also the passion projects that are quietly chugging along behind the scenes.
Would be happy to continue the conversation in NYC or Budapest – please don’t hesitate to reach out!
Mary Collins and Lannie Moore