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Hacking the Prague Life: Why Prague is Perfect for the Startup Life

Prague is the little mother with claws. – Franz Kafka (Badass)

Prague is a fairly awesome place to live. It’s also a great place to be a developer, an entrepreneur, and an investor. That’s what this Blog post going to be about. But if you love history as much as I do, scroll to the bottom for a non-comprehensive, completely unofficial history. You’re Welcome.

Prague from Above

Why Come to Prague?

We’ll assume you’ve read one or two travel articles about the “Golden City at the Heart of Europe,” that are seemingly required to mention at least 3 compulsory items that define the Czech capital, home to 1.2 million people, for the outside world. Maybe you’ve had a few friends visit the city, and report back that the rumors are indeed true: great beer, and  amazing architecture.

While Prague’s reputation as a party city was well earned, particularly in past years, and ruthlessly exploited by local tourist traps, university exchange programs, and licentious “documentary” programs packaged to titillate western audiences with furtive glances into the very openly tolerated local sex trade, we’ll attempt to take a higher road. Not because we’re embarrassed to be associated with a city whose reputation in international circles is constantly riven by the media’s impulses to hype and stereotype, rather than weigh and consider.

Rather the opposite in fact: Prague’s progressive attitude towards foreigners and especially foreign business, its friendliness to investment and to immigration, and its no-nonsense pragmatism about personal freedoms makes it a place we love living, and doing business in.

(Update August 2016: We don’t mention the sex trade or party culture in order to glorify or promote it. We do so because it has sadly been a part of the city’s international reputation, particularly in the media, for many years. In our view, many people who have never visited have been given the wrong idea about the city, which is not defined by its marginal industries.)

And the tech industry agrees: since the fall of communism in 1989, the Czech Republic has become a haven for tech and service workers, producing over 150,000 technology engineers, countless business, economics and finance professionals, and becoming home to a huge number of highly skilled foreign workers, attracted by lenient tax policies, excellent living conditions, and one of Europe’s best, and cheapest, local and national transportation systems. These improvements have been felt in everything from the produce available in shops to the selection of craft brews in local watering holes and have seen thousands of tech workers and businesses flock to the city. It’s a good time to live and work in Prague.

5 Reasons Prague is a New Tech Hotspot

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Location, Location, Location

This is huge, and it doesn’t just apply to Prague’s general location in the heart of Europe. While it’s true that Prague is in an enviable geographic location, situated between Warsaw and Vienna, a two hour drive from Dresden and a less than 4 hour drive from Berlin, and while it has access to cheap European flights that put Kiev, London, Madrid, Rome, Paris, Stockholm, and a dozen other cities within less than 2 hours flying time, often for less than €100, that all discounts the reasons why Prague itself is worthy of being a tech capital on the world stage.

While “normal” commute times in London or Paris can stretch into the hours, and commute times in Moscow, or the San Francisco Bay Area can seemingly stretch into days, Prague based commuters face the daunting prospect of not having time to finish their morning reading before arriving at work. The transport is just too good. And while lowly tech workers in other major cities are forced to find accommodations far from the center, serviced by lonely, scary looking bus stations and nary a local café or bookstore from which to scam free WiFi, Prague offers the opportunity to snap up central flat-rentals at incredibly low prices. Because the local Czech population is relatively static, increased housing development at the city’s periphery has meant lower prices near the beautiful city center, as well as scandalously affordable housing in its charming inner districts, like Vinohrady, New Town, Letna, and Zizkov. Any of these districts offer beautiful, modern accommodations for less than €500 a month. Not for a flat-share, but for an entire flat. 

And since the late 2000s, the Czech Republic has joined with other EU countries in implementing the Schengen Agreement, allowing unregulated movement and employment for all Schengen members within its borders. The boon to local startups and the tech industry in general has been deeply felt.

A Great Talent Pool at a Great Price

Prague is just an incredible place to live, and its low prices and business-friendly atmosphere make it a dream for finding and keeping talented developers. The city is home to thousands of Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, and Czech developers. And their skills can be won a fraction of the prices for similar talent in Paris, London, or Mountain View. Developers still earn more than the average wage in Prague, but when the average wage is somewhere slightly above €1200 a month, its not hard to imagine how employees become more affordable. Typical pay for a developer in Prague is around €2000 a month. This is competitive pay in Prague, but affordable from an international perspective- about on par with the pay for similar work in Spain.

Where should you go to start your business? Prague is an easy choice.

Where should you go to start your business? Prague is an easy choice.

The influx of skilled developers for Ukraine, Russia, and other areas of Eastern Europe has created a market full of steeled hackers, looking for employment at very reasonable pay levels. The level of English spoken by locals is also quite good, and foreign developers generally find few if any issues with local counterparts, who know that a pre-requisite of working in a technology firm in the Czech Republic is a mastery of English.

For these developers, joining a Dev Team in Prague is often infinitely better than doing the same work back home. Prague’s base of talented developers is affordable, and very happy to be employed here, where the local standards of living are quite high, crime quite low, and the future very bright. Low income taxes and permissive business licensing practices also make contracting with freelancers incredibly easy and cheap. For a few hundred euros, virtually anyone can obtain and use a Sole-Trading License, or “Zivnostenski List,” giving them the right to self-employ, and file taxes as a knowledge worker. Even better, Czech pro-business policies mean these “Sole-Traders” can obtain social insurance for a pittance, and full health coverage for only a few hundred euros a year, as well as a below-the-line tax write-off on income up to €20,000 Euros, meaning the price of doing business for a contractor in Prague is virtually nil, and the savings can easily be passed on to employers too.

In addition, current condition for starting an SRO or LLC in Prague are highly favorable, and recent legal chances have streamlined and simplified the process further, making starting a company in the Czech Republic practically a one-step process.

Few Major Competitors = Open Season for Small Teams

Part of what makes Prague ideal for a small startup is the lack of major competitors in the area. While a number of banks and large internationals draw on the local talent pool for .net development and IT services, only Microsoft, Skype, and search giant Seznam work on major software development in Prague. This leaves room for a multitude of smaller companies and software teams, along with a good field of incubators and accelerators fostering talent. Initiatives around startups are common, partly due to the large base of potential investors in the local market, and the high level of local talent: Accelerators StartupYard, Node Five, and Startup Camp , co-working spaces The Hub, and our home base TechSquare, are just a few examples.

Why We’re Here

What have we learned so far? A beautiful, global city that offers low prices, a great lifestyle, is free of restrictive economic policies, encourages immigration and loves foreigners and foreign business is the perfect place for a great idea to catch fire. It’s as simple as that: Prague is the place to be. That’s why we’re here.

We also just love this city. Read on to find out why.

5 Things the BBC Always Fails to Mention about Prague

Reports from abroad typically focus on a few items. So you probably know that beer in the Czech Republic is not only some of the best in the world, but also the cheapest, typically priced below the cost of bottled water. You probably know about the throngs of tourists who clog a few small areas of the city during the tourist seasons, and you’ve probably heard about the aforementioned brothels, liberally sprinkled through the city. Here’s what you may never have heard:

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A view of Tinska Church from Old Town Square.

Prague Has One of the Best Public Transport Systems on Earth

That’s a bold statement, but let’s break it down. Prague’s 3 metro lines boast 57 stations, with over 300 kilometers of track connecting the center of the city with most major business, housing, and commercial centers. A current expansion is connecting the city center directly to the airport. It is the most-ridden metro in the world by percentage of population, with about 600 million passengers a year. And while this may conjure images of London’s insane masses of people crowding onto Underground platforms at rush hours, or Paris’s dingy centuries-old stations caked in the decaying stink of millions of sweaty travelers, Prague’s metro stations and trains are the most spacious in Europe, and shockingly well ventilated- toasty warm in the winter and freshly cool in the summer.

The Prague metro moves up to 2 million passengers on the typical day.

The Prague metro moves up to 2 million passengers on the typical day.

It’s ridiculously cheap too. All-access passes will run you about €20 a month, or €15 a month if you buy a yearly pass. That’s crazy value.

As if that weren’t enough, Prague is also home to Europe’s hands-down best tram network, comprising 30 lines during the day, and 9 at night, making most destinations within 5 kilometers of the city center accessible by tram within 5 minutes’ walk, 24 hours a day. And that’s ignoring the dense network of busses and trains that make public transportation in and out of Prague an urbanite dream come true.

Prague is Home to the Best Hamburgers in Europe

No, seriously. Prague is a haven for hamburger lovers, as well as fans of virtually any foreign cuisine. Travelogues often focus on Czech cuisine, which is amazing on its own, but they usually ignore the incredible depth of possibility when it comes to dining in this city. Prague offers a world class selection of food options, at prices that foreigners just don’t believe.

Prague’s whirlwind love-affair with a good burger is meticulusly documented by Prague’s own resident hamburger guru, Prague’s most read English language Blogger, Brewsta. If it has meat and a bun, he’s written about it. You won’t have any trouble getting recommendations.

Really? Prague?

Really? Prague?

Did we mention it’s cheap? A solid meal in Prague will cost less than 8 Euros, which is closer to the price of a coffee than a meal in many European capitals. And the Czechs don’t scrimp on portions. Value is important. Even for higher-end eats, Prague offers incredible selection at insanely reasonable prices.

I’m sorry, you’re telling me that this Authentic Thai Red Curry with exquisite Jasmine rice, shrimp skewers, cocktails and dessert is going to cost 15 Euros? How is that even economically possible?

Czech Coffee is Really Weird. Bad weird.

Ok, so nobody’s perfect. The Czechs have amazing cuisine, and a good taste for foreign delights as well, and they serve amazing beer in amazing variety, but their coffee leaves a little to be desired. The Czechs aren’t sure what espresso really is, it seems, and are damn sure not going to change their minds. The truth is, like the English, Czechs prefer tea over a steaming hot cup of java. It’s okay though- while Czech coffee may be sub-par, there are a zillion great cafes in this city that do it right. And you will find a proper cup of tea in this city, almost anywhere you go. So it’s not all bad. Plus, the coffee machine at TechSquare, home to StartupYard, is highly decent. You’ll be set.

 Czechs Love Foreigners

I’m gonna get a few comments from self-righteous Prague expats who demand, indignantly, that this isn’t true at all. Well you can all take a jump off Charles Bridge, because Czechs loves foreigners.

Not just because they have money.

Not just because they have money.

While it’s true that Czechs have a reputation for being a little odd and bureaucratic-minded, and while they may seem a bit cold on first blush, they’re amazing people, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The Czech Republic has been host to legions of foreigners for centuries. As the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and a major city under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Prague has attracted expats from all over the world. Even today, the country is host to a huge Vietnamese population, brought over starting in the 1970s, originally to staff manufacturing positions in the auto-industry. Today  the Czech Vietnamese occupy a near exclusive niche as the country’s green-grocers, running the majority of the “Potraviny” (small food shops), and a growing number of popular asian restaurants. What’s more, the Czechs almost universally love the Vietnamese among them, lauding them for their business skills, their strong family culture, and their good manners, making the Czech Republic one of only a few countries in which a large minority of immigrants poses few political problems.

Prague also has a vibrant gay scenewith a number of clubs and gay-friendly bars, mostly located in Vinohrady, a neighborhood situated in a beautiful, newer part of the city, in the hills just south and east of the center. Vinohrady is known as the “gay quarter” of Prague, and offers a good variety. Among the most popular with locals and expats are Termix, a small dance club known for good prices and a lively atmosphere, and Saints Bar, a home-base for many gay expats, providing a welcoming, friendly and cosmopolitan atmosphere for any kind of visitor. Venturing out of Vinohrady, Czech establishments are still very gay-friendly, and discrimination against gay and lesbian visitors or locals is not common.

The airport is in fact very nice.

The airport is in fact very nice.

While Prague’s epicenter is like that of any European capital, with its mix of hucksters selling cheap glassware, and its snooty restaurants with waiters that seem angry to find themselves employed, this tourist corridor is thin and porous. A 5 minute walk from Vaclavske Namesti (Wenceslas Square), puts you in Local Country, where the beer flows for under a Euro a half-liter, and the indigenous Czechs will jump at the chance to “Kecat” (“bullshit”), with foreigners of all variety, and show off their language skills.

Czechs are big talkers, especially after a few Pilsners. Most have a few words of English, and few are afraid to use them. There’s a thriving community of expats already living in Prague, and few Czechs haven’t had a friend who was an English teacher, or a foreigner working in technology, banking, or sales in one of the local corporate headquarters.

Czech Universal Translator Technology.

Czech Universal Translator Technology.

The Czech Republic has focused concertedly on the western service market since the fall of communism in 1989, and it shows: Prague is home to major offices for ING, Monster, Shell, BP, Raiffeisen Bank, Deutsche Bank, Disney/ILM, and many others, and over the years, the business landscape has made English an essential skill for Czech workers, who often seek the best positions within foreign companies based in Prague. The massive influx of skilled foreign workers has also created a network of businesses to cater to them. Here are a few of my personal favorites (not at all an exclusive list).

The Globe Cafe and Bookstore

The Globe 

One of Prague’s oldest expat institutions, this restaurant/cafe/bookstore is home to numerous clubs, activities, and special events centered around Prague’s expat community. Events including Film Nights, Quizes, Book Clubs, Happy Hours, and live Concerts dot the calendar of The Globe, and it enjoys a loyal following among local students, as well as groups looking for an international staff, friendly service, and a lively but friendly atmosphere. Also home to one of the best English language bookstores in the city, The Globe has something for just about everyone.

Fraktal

113A favorite, particularly for Prague patrons living in the quieter Letna area of Prague, West and North of the Center, this funky bar and restaurant serves some of the city’s very best American food, including authentic sandwiches, soups, and burgers. Fraktal’s friendly atmosphere and good eats making it the perfect meetings spot, especially if you’re living in the Letna area.

Cross Club

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I’m not even really sure how to describe this place. I’ll just list things: 4 floors, at least 5 bars, a cafe, a movie theater, 3 dance clubs, an outdoor restaurant, and quite a lot else. Cross Club is a local institution with literally something for everyone, from Drum and Bass clubs to Trance, to a quiet cafe for a coffee and snack. Its surreal steam-punk design and labyrinthine layout will convince you there’s something to discover every time you visit. Weird? Yes. But it’s vintage Prague.

Roxy

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Like Cross Club or the Globe Cafe, Roxy is an institution. It features a music club downstairs which is one of the oldest in the city, and the best loved. Upstairs it features a salon-style cafe, often home to art exhibitions or film festivals, taking advantage of its cavernous back rooms to host film students or “48 Hour” film-maker competitions. This place is home to many, and a great starting point in Prague’s most “stylish” dance-club district, on Dlouha Street.

Prague is a Mecca of Modern Cinema

Yes, the Czechs love cinema, and not just their own. The city plays host to literally dozens of incredible film festivals each year, where French, German, Czech, and even Icelandic films debut and draw big crowds. The city boasts an impressive roster of local and independent theaters, among them the eminently popular Bio Oko, and the equally dominant Svetozor, Aside from that, mainstream theaters are in abundance, with at least 10 multi-plexes in the city, boasting offerings in 3D, 4DX, and Imax. You’ll never miss a release in Prague, and if you pine for the cinema from back home, it’s highly likely you’ll find those films playing here as well.

Local Resources

The local community of expats has grown and evolved in the past decade, to become a vibrant and rich resource for newcomers. The most popular portal for expats is, unsurprisingly, Expats.cz, featuring news, community, classifieds, and a good deal of expat-targeted business ads and even employment opportunities.

A recent addition to the scene has been Facebook’s Crowdsauce CZ page, where you’ll find veteran expats answering questions ranging from visa issues, down to where the best donuts in the city can be purchased. The community here is large and highly active. A great resource.

The local English language newspaper, which has recently fallen on hard financial times, is The Prague Post [Update The Prague Post shut down in early 2016]. Prague also features a Russian-language paper, Prague Express, and a German paper: Prag Zeitung.

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The Legend Begins : An Unofficial History of Prague

Deep in the heart of central Europe, across plains and dales, and over misty mountains, in the gentle bend of a deep river, lies a city. That city, built on the ancient ruins of a castle keep, between the jutting escarpments of several riverside hills, has stood for over 1000 years.  Named “Threshold,” by its ancient Slavic inhabitants for the way it sprawls between steep hills across a wide river, like a gate through which a millenium of history has passed, it retains that ancient name today: Praha, or Prague.

A Basic History

No one knows when Prague was originally settled, but archeological evidence uncovered in the past century has shown that there are been people living here in fixed settlements since at least the 4th century AD. Burial chambers from this period, discovered in the hills of the modern city, and along the river banks, reveal bodies buried on one side, with trinkets and talismans revealing their Celtic origins. Long before the expansion of the Mongol Hordes into Eastern Europe, and the subsequent movements of Slavic peoples, in their thousands, into the low-lying lands east of Germany, there were people living here.

Rise to Greatness

Ruled by a series of vassal kings and neighboring powers, in modern times, Prague grew as a trading city with good natural defenses, to become the Capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Still centuries later, it was incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and finally, at the end of the Great War, it became the capital of a modern state, Czechoslovakia. This multi-ethnic state comprised 4 major ethnic groups, with commonly intelligible languages, stretching from Eastern Ukraine, across Slovakia, through Moravia and Silesia, and to Bohemia, with Prague as the capital.

Charles Bridge, originally called Stone Bridge, was built during the height of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Armies of Darkness

The first Czechoslovak Republic was an economic powerhouse, the 10th largest economy in the world in 1920, with world leading dominance in heavy industry, transportation, and more importantly (at least for the Czechs), beer. Beer flowed heavily and generously for 20 years, until the Czechoslovaks found themselves invaded and divided by Nazi Germany into three separate regions. The Czechs would not get a chance at real independent statehood again for 50 years, as Russian troops swiftly moved into the capital to replace the German occupiers, and Czechoslovakia became a satellite state of the Soviet Union; a member of the Warsaw Pact.

Return to The World Stage

Though brief flashes of independence and reform flared in 1948 and again in 1968, Czechoslovakia remained under the thumb of Soviet Russia until 1989, when the Velvet Revolution -the peaceful dissolution of the Warsaw Pact- began. Wasting no time, the Czechoslovaks established a broadly reformed government, led by the playwright and dissident Vaclav Havel.

In a fit of pique however, the Slovaks filed for divorce in 1993. Fed up with what was seen in the Czech lands as Slovak foot-dragging on reforms, and what was seen in Slovakia as bullying by the Czechs, the nation split in two, dividing their assets in a 1 to 2 ratio, with the Czechs getting the greater part. The divorce was amicable, with the citizens of each country being allowed to choose their citizenships, and retaining the right to reside in either country. Havel, infuriated by the development, resigned as President, only to be drafted by his parliament as the first President of the new Czech state, which he remained for another 10 years.

Havel was universally loved and admired, and I was present at the public gathering that occurred the night following his death, in which most of the city, and a good deal of the nation, gathered in Prague’s center to lay candles at the feet of the statue of Saint Wenceslas, the patron of the Czechs. The Czech people have a wonderful sense of history. A sense of their place in it, and a willingness to engage with it that makes them unlike any other people I have ever met. They’re not afraid of the future, either, and that makes them formidable and brave. New technology and new art blends here with the old- this city is not a museum, but a living, breathing work of art, that has taken 1000 years to build, and is not going to be finished soon. It also makes Prague a wonderful place to live. I hope to see you here soon.

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