Lukáš Tyl and Jiří Ptáček: Find the gap in the market
Boasting big-name clients such as the National Museum and Respekt, NETservis is one of the long-term success stories of the Czech dotcom startups. It was founded by two men fresh out of their teens.
How did NETservis start?
I actually ran into my colleague at a protest march against [Český Telecom]. We’d known each other for years, but we met up again at this rally against high internet fees. Český Telecom had a monopoly here at the time, and you had to use their service to connect to the internet. So we talked about the possibility of developing a new company. And I think it was about half a year later that we set things up.
When was that?
It’s around 10 years ago now.
What made you believe at age 21 that you could develop a successful business?
We didn’t know [laughs] if it would be successful or not. But I think we saw an opening to do it: It was a time when the internet was really taking off in the Czech Republic.
There were also obvious problems here with the connection. Many connections were dial-up and not broadband, and so you had to pay for every minute you spent online. Now it’s better. I think there’s something like 6 million people using the internet in the Czech Republic today. But when we started, it was around 1 million, and we had nothing to lose. We [thought] we could just try things out and find out later whether they worked.
I was pessimistic. I kept saying that it wouldn’t work. And my colleague was always the optimist. He said, “No, it’ll be fine.”
How did you manage to land top clients like the National Museum and Respekt?
[laughs] I don’t know. I think it’s the transparency of our company. It’s a critical thing. You need to show clients everything they want to know – the number of employees, your turnover, your profit. I think this is a good thing since it’s not the norm in the Czech Republic to offer this information publicly. When it came to our first client, I believe my partner just showed up to set up a meeting at their company, and he offered our services directly. And we sent faxes [laughs]. Now it’s very, very funny. But we sent a lot of faxes to companies to get our first clients.
What do you think distinguishes NETservis from other companies offering the same type of thing? What makes you special?
We can offer complete services, starting from an initial website analysis. Many people think that we start with design, but it’s not true. We begin with an analysis that determines demands, needs, the expected audience for the site, what they’ll be doing there and so on. And then we add web design, programming, search engine optimisation and hosting. It’s a complete package. Of course, we’ve been here for more than 10 years and so it helps for clients to see [laughs] that we won’t be closing down tomorrow. Another key factor is that we like this work. We’re doing this because we like it.
How’s business today? Are you being affected by the financial crisis?
Yes, we’re being affected, but positively. The demand for our services is growing by around 70%-80%.
One reason is that people who aren’t on the internet are starting to see that they need it. Another is that the costs of other advertising media – print, TV, radio – are often high, and you can’t always see the results.
The internet has one advantage: You can see very easily if your investment is good or not. So, we now have a lot of work [laughs]. I think it’s been one new presentation each week since the start of the year.
In general, what do you think it takes to build a successful business?
In the first year, you have to put in a lot of time: 12 to 16 hours per day. I think that anyone in the Czech Republic can set up a business. We started without any capital of our own. We only had some funds we’d made from selling computers. So I think it’s possible to start without money. And I don’t think it’s harder now. At any time, you can find a gap in the market.
What advice would you give to another young person wanting to start a company?
Work hard. Make a business plan.
Did you make a business plan?
What are your future plans for NETservis?
Not a revolution, but continued evolution: growth. You can see this growth in our results, our turnover and profit. And, of course, we must continue to love our work. I believe that if we still enjoy this work, we’ll do it well.