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Expats.cz on CT24

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British Martin Howlings is the owner of a successful business. He runs a website for foreigners relocating to the Czech Republic. They find everything they need on expats.cz - from housing and work to where to meet for a beer. This online business grew from 5000 CZK. When 33 year-old Martin Howlings first arrived in the Czech Republic he never imagined he would stay. In England I became good friends with a Czech au pair. I'd never met anyone from that part of Europe. She had some issues with the family she was meant to work for... so I said she could stay at my place. That lasted about half a year. When she decided to go back home, she invited me to go, too. And I thought "Czechoslovakia? Russia?" I knew nothing about these countries, but I said "Ok" and left. I thought my friend lived in Prague, but her house was in Neratovice. So that's where I first stayed. The young entrepreneur loves modern technology. While still in London he worked in graphic design. But when he moved to the Czech Republic, he became an English teacher - like so many other expats. At the time I didn't have the opportunity to do much else. The first three months I just looked around. The truth is, without knowing the language, I couldn't work in my field. So I taught English - and I think I was a good teacher. But I hated having to explain to my students all the grammatical differences between English and Czech. I knew I had to find something different, more in line with what I loved - computers and internet. That's how Martin decided to take a chance and grow a business from 5000 CZK. I said to my father "I have an idea for a website to help foreigners get oriented in the Czech Republic." When I arrived, hardly anyone spoke English, unlike these days, and I remember how hard it was to find out about visas, residence permits, good restaurants and so on. That's why an internet platform was needed - where people with similar concerns could get answers. So we built a discussion forum where foreigners could share information. The cost of this application and the domain, was 100 pounds, roughly 5000 CZK. I didn't have it at the time, so I borrowed it from my dad. The site has been growing ever since. Now there 140 000 visitors a month. On expats.cz there are classified listings for things like jobs, and articles explaining things like "How to Open a Bank Account". There are many sections, but the most popular is Employment - which receives 1000 visitors a day. It's primarily for foreigners who don't speak Czech. You'll find openings at big companies like DHL, there are many listings for IT and other technical positions. The site also acquaints foreigners with Czech history and culture. Obviously it's mostly centered on Prague, which is also where most foreigners live. In the future we'd like to expand our services to other big cities, such as Brno, Ostrava and Plzen. It's about connecting foreigners with the local population. That's why our logo is an adaptor. People who travel the world need an adaptor so they can plug in to the local network. "Jdeme na to! (Come on, let's do this.) There are around 13 employees working with us in this office but there are others who collaborate off site - such as programmers. In all, our team is 20 people, which is a huge leap from 10 years ago, when I worked out of my bedroom. Of course there are Czechs, dealing with sales, there are Bris, Canadians, and we've had people from Pakistan and India work with us too. Over the years we have had many nationalities. I found this job on the site, and that's because my wife is foreign, so we're actually a part of the community. For me, working here is a huge change because I came from a bigger corporation and this is more of a family environment. It's completely different, and for me, a very positive change. It's definitely different from the company where I worked before. That was a big international company, and it was much more formal... more strict, I would say. This place is open, flexible and a fun place to work. It's a totally different atmosphere. It's quiet now, but we usually play music all day long. It's just pleasant. We communicate freely and openly. This office is more relaxed, more fun... the time is well balanced between lots of fun and really hard work. There's none of that monotonous work regime. Martin tries to strengthen relations between Czechs and foreigners on several fronts. From time to time, he holds special parties and participates in exhibitions designed for foreigners. It's no longer the case that foreigners have to teach English. There are many managerial opportunities here. Or work at call centers. Many start their own business. Of course, teaching English still works, but there's much more diversity than before. It's definitely great when a foreigner speaks Czech. Myself, I've been trying to learn for 10 years. "Prosím tě moje čeština není moc dobrá“ ("My Czech is very not good") But if they don't, it's difficult. And there's no denying it - Czech is a very difficult language. Many people need help. I think the Czech Republic is a very attractive country. The quality of life is quite high. You can enjoy it more. That's one of the reasons why foreigners here decide to stay 10, 20 years, or even longer. My life is here. I have a family - two beautiful children. I've decided to stay. I still feel British, but living in the Czech Republic. My family is very cosmopolitan. My wife is half Czech and half Danish, so we have roots here and there. On the other hand, her mother lives in the states, so it's all very complicated. Part of the family is in America, part is in Great Britain, part is in the Czech Republic and of course in Denmark. It's an interesting mix. One of the main reasons Martin decided to stay in the Czech Republic is of course love. We met at a karaoke bar... I was just leaving, he had just arrived, and then we didn't see each other for 6 months. We met again on New Years Eve, when Martin threw a party with his flatmate, who I was friends with. I came to the Czech Republic because I kind of had to. My mother is Czech, and so is her mother. And when my grandmother became seriously ill, my mother wasn't able to move here, due to work, but I was... so I came for that reason, but I stayed because of Martin. I don't really want the villa and that whole life. I'd much rather try living in different places in the world experience life differently - observe the similarities, the differences - be it Europe or Asia - and from that, learn more about myself. That, I find very interesting. I really love technology and I love travel, and if I had to say what dream I have for the future, it would combining these passions. That's why we are planning to launch a European project, where we can put our knowledge to use and develop a service for all of Europe. I would like to expand into other European countries while traveling.

Video Details

Duration: 9 minutes and 12 seconds
Country: Czech Republic
Language: Czech
Views: 340
Posted by: emphatogen on Jan 25, 2011

This mini-documentary on the success of Martin Howlings and the rise of expats.cz aired on the Kariera segment on CT24.

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