Kyiv is a very European city, which is good for doing business, Marco Drost says
On April 6, the Netherlands will vote yes or no to a deeper cooperation between Ukraine and the EU.
The destiny of Europe's biggest nation is potentially in the hands of the citizens of the Netherlands. The future of nearly 46 million people now depends on whether the Dutch decide to support Ukraine's association with the European Union.
This is exactly why, Ukraine Today with the cooperation of Euromaidan Press has launched #DUTCHINUA project. Our goal is to gather the views and opinions of the Dutch businessmen and entrepreneurs who work in Ukraine. As well as provide analysis by the experts from the Netherlands who can assess the influence of the referendum on the future of Ukraine and the E.U. as a whole.
Join me now to discuss the Dutch business in Ukraine with the founder and CEO of "Smart documents" Marco Drost.
Volodymyr Solohub: Mr. Drost, you came to Ukraine back in 2009 to open an office of your company here in Ukraine. What was the main motivation of your company to start business here?
Marco Drost: Well, I was looking for programmers. It was quite difficult at that moment and still is, I think, to find programmers in Holland. This is small country, and Ukraine has much more people and many good programmers. I looked at the website of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and it said: "If you are looking for programmers, than look in Russia, St. Petersburg, or in Ukraine, or Romania. And I started in Ukraine, and I liked it so much, that it was an easy choice for me, I had a good feeling with it. It is a very nice country, very nice people. So I think this is a place to look, and I just started, and it went quite successful.
Watch the #DUTCHINUA interview with Ton Huls
V.S.: You've been working in Ukraine since 2009, you are living here. During this period you have been in Ukraine through some turbulent times. What is your overall experience about doing business in Ukraine and about living in Ukraine for this time?
M.D.: It's very interesting. Now in Holland everything is very well arranged, sometimes overarranged, it costs a lot of money. People do everything or you need advice, you have to pay quite a lot of money. And in Ukraine I see also that people are willing to help to each other out, and they think they also get something out of this, but more with some good will. As in Holland you see here you want to start entrepreneurship, really starting now, and Holland is already very developed, very professional, but it can also be boring and limiting. And in Ukraine there are so many options, so many things to do. It is also interesting to see that you were told about different country. At first I thought: "Oh, these people here, they are nice people, we are all people, what's the difference in this country? And then, after two-tree years, I say: "No, everything here is upside-down. Now it is also difficult, but very interesting, because I'm an entrepreneur, I like challenges. Now Ukraine is definitely a challenge, but you get growth from challenge. It's a good thing – tough and interesting.
V.S.: Well, this time when you are in Ukraine, it was very difficult for the country, for business, in particular- it was the times when Yanukovych came to power, when corruption was a skyrocketing, how did you manage to build your business in these conditions?
M.D.: Well, I was lucky because I have a software company, and software is what you can't grab, also it's going over night or day always to Holland, where we have headquarters. And we are very flexible. I always asked my director here how our security worked. He said, there were no problems. And we never paid any bribes or whatever for security, besides our normal security company for protecting our office building.
V.S.: But the government was starting these roots. The government officials were demanding bribes, and when companies were refusing to pay bribes, they were forcing them to do that by creating the unfavorable conditions. How was it with your company, with your business?
M.D.: We did it quite well. It was a little bit strange for me that our administrator every New Year went to the Tax Office to give some whiskey and cigars, I asked him: "Why you do that? This is considered like bribe in Holland." He said that this is just to keep friendship and it is small. And besides that we never had any problems. But it's a good thing that you say, because in 2012 I saw that Yanukovych regime was taking more companies, hi-jacking, like at Deribasovskaya street, I mean some restaurants, and I heard the son of Yanukovych took these restaurants, as a zero investment, by help of some people and judges. I saw pressure coming so I thought: "Do I want to be here? I can go anywhere in the world where I want, why do I want to be here? Then I chose to close the office here and go out of Ukraine. It didn't happen to be because of an English friend who had a party here in Kyiv. His birthday was when the revolution started here and a big crowd was around a church, and Vitaliy Klitschko was there, and I saw from a taxi (I was just driving a taxi and taking pictures). I said: "What is going on there?" The driver said: "There'll be a revolution tomorrow". I had an apartment at Hreshchatyk (Kyiv's central stree), and after this birthday party of my friend, in the morning I went to the window and I saw hundreds and thousands of people going by at Hreshchatyk and going to Maidan. Next days I also spent a lot of time talking to students. They had those fishing rods for protection, covering their arms with towels against the police… It was so exciting, I liked it, and since then I was more or less back in Ukraine, because I saw hope, I saw people want to do something, want to build the country. It was a big difference then before.
V.S.: You think about re-opening your office here, what gives you this confidence that you can do business in Ukraine again?
M.D.: I have a lot of experience here, I know what to do, what not to do. I must say Kyiv is already a very European (city), it is very safe, it is very good for doing business, people come here from the whole country to find normal jobs, based on possibilities and their knowledge, not based on family ties or friendship, but really on quality. And I recognise this, like it is in Europe, and you see it happening here. You see also people start wearing funny things, like big earrings - men with big earrings - you have seen them also in countries like Latvia, a few years earlier. I think this is a good sign, people express themselves and want to be themselves. This is different from what it was in 2009 when everybody wanted to look like businessmen, like 'I have money' - this is gone, you see change. This gives hope. At this moment I was mostly with an outsourcing company, more like a virtual office, and colleagues came here, it worked really fine, we didn't really need a steady office, I used the offices of those outsourcing companies. They did good quality (job), I liked the people, (I liked) to work with them, I saw no problems. At least, if you are in a software (business), it is a great place to be. I mean the best.
V.S.: Do you see the support from the government for software developing companies? Because Ukraine's President Poroshenko, in his 2016 speech (at the beginning of the year), said that IT is one of the top priorities for the government. So, do you see that this is the priority for the government?
M.D.: I don't see it enough. If we look at the tax possibilities for IT, they try to make it higher because they are all work in SPDs and pay low taxes and all IT people complained and they kept it low. So, as long as they keep taxes low, this is something that is supported. But I think they (the government) can do more, using IT to make things more efficient. For example, you don't have to go from one office to another office. When my wife changed her name here, that took about a week, going everywhere. In Holland I go to the city office and everything is done automatically. There is a lot of things to be improved here I and think this is something that I would like to see that the government really invests in IT to make things more transparent and also it brings down corruption. They say it but now they need to do it. It is not so difficult. For example, the Baltic State did good job there… But in Ukraine I don't see it enough.
V.S.: There is lot of debate in the Netherlands right now whether the Dutch government should ratify the Aassociation Agreement between Ukraine and the E.U. and there is even a referendum scheduled for April for the people to vote. A lot of Ukrainians are keen on this deal and the government is very excited about this deal. Do you think that this Association Agreement between Ukraine and E.U. will be beneficial for the Netherlands?
M.D.: I think definitely it is beneficial, because Ukraine is one of the greatest agricultural countries with the best soil in the world. And in Holland there were always the best technologies in agriculture and now we have great universities, really a lot of patterns also, and the combination could be fantastic. I know some companies are active here, but this can be much more. The Dutch people don't understand this Association Agreement, and there is not enough information in Holland. If you look at a website, you will find a lot, but if you watch TV, I don't see so much information. But the embassy here also says that it will come in a month. We will wait and see. I heard there was more fuss about it here in Ukraine than in Holland. In Holland we have different things to focus on, which is a pity but this is how the news works.
V.S.: What is your personal position on this referendum in the Netherlands regarding the Association Agreement?
M.D.: I think it is quite shocking that there is a referendum, because I didn't see any referendum about the other things and I wonder how this came to place... I know they collected signatures of people but I think that they didn't give the really good information when they got these signatures, who is behind this. It is very strange, to be honest. And this is not something for Holland to do something like this, because it is about trading and about improving business. Holland has a very long history in trading all over the world, you can find Dutch people all over the world, so we should support it, and we live on this and I see big opportunities there. So, it is very strange for me. I am almost ashamed that the referendum is there, I absolutely hope that everyone will vote "Yes", but the problem is that they don't understand it really. After these problems with Greece and refugees, they (the Dutch) say - Oh, my God, (there will be) more problems". This is not true.
V.S.: Do you think media and other participants will be able to convince the Dutch people to vote in favor of this Association Agreement or, in your opinion, it is doomed?
M.D.: It is not doomed, but, honestly, personally I am quite afraid of it and it depends on what the media will tell people. It is not really on the news what will come, but now it is all about refugees. It is about 200,000 refugees for Holland, that's a lot of people, well, but 70 percent will not stay, because they are not real refuees. What is left - it is not so big group. But people are focused on that. And politicians make a lot of fear like: "Syrians are coming". So that is the news. People are afraid. And also this Association Agreement…I think together it is a negative story. But it should not be! This is an opportunity and this is good either for Netherland or Ukraine.