HomeResourcesThe Accidental Founder SeriesWhy Our Company is Based in North Macedonia (And Why We Stopped Recruiting Elswhere)

Why Our Company is Based in North Macedonia (And Why We Stopped Recruiting Elswhere)

Whenever I mention that our company is based in Macedonia, the reaction is invariably a mix of surprise and curiosity. 

After all, it’s not every day you hear of a business choosing to plant its roots in this landlocked country of around 2 million people, once a part of the former Yugoslavia. 

And to be honest, if I hadn’t traveled extensively myself, Macedonia might have remained just another name on the map for me as well.

But here we are, years into making what some might call an unconventional choice. 

So, why Macedonia? 

Let me peel back the layers of this decision, sharing why North Macedonia isn’t just a location for our headquarters, but a crucial part of our company’s identity and success. 

Founding Days (5 Years Ago) And The First Employee

If you’ve been following our ‘Accidental Founders’ series, you’ll know that Shortlist’s inception, much like many other aspects of the company, wasn’t a result of meticulous planning, but rather a fortunate stumble upon success. 

In fact, planting our roots in Macedonia, a cornerstone of our success, was as accidental as it gets.

Before diving into the “Why Macedonia” story, it’s essential to rewind to my days with NinjaOutreach. 

This venture was a mosaic of a global team: developers from Ukraine, marketers from the Philippines, and customer support reps from Bangladesh. 

As a digital nomad backpacking across continents, having a team as diverse as the places I visited felt natural. This setup wasn’t just about work; it was a cultural mixture, mirroring the diverse experiences of my travels.

When Shortlist was born, it was almost instinctive to replicate this global blueprint. 

So, there I was on Upwork, crafting a job description for a digital marketer to join us on the Shortlist journey. That’s when Viktor from Skopje, Macedonia, entered our story.

Honestly, I’d love to say there was something extraordinary about Viktor’s profile that caught my eye, but truth be told, it’s been half a decade. 

However, Viktor aced whatever criteria we had back then, and just like that, he was part of Shortlist.

Viktor wasn’t just our first hire; he inadvertently became the cornerstone of our Macedonian adventure. His insights, work ethic, and local knowledge were invaluable. 

And when the second hire turned out to be his sister, it became clear that Macedonia was more than just a pin on the map for us. It was becoming part of our identity.

The Decision to Establish Headquarters in North Macedonia

When I think back to the decision to set up Shortlist’s headquarters in North Macedonia, it really came down to a few key moments and choices. 

After hiring Viktor, our first employee, the need for a second team member arose quickly. 

Now, instead of repeating my experience with NinjaOutreach, where the team was spread across different countries, I decided to try something different… 

I chose to double down on Macedonia.

The reason was simple: I had seen the challenges of a dispersed team firsthand. In NinjaOutreach, as we grew, it became harder for people to work effectively together. 

It was fine when the team was small, but as more interaction between different departments was needed, the limitations of being in separate locations and time zones became clear.

So, with Shortlist, I took a different approach. 

I decided to source talent from the same country, even the same city, to see if it made a difference as we scaled up. 

It meant I was often the only one not physically present, but the focus was on building a cohesive team in one place. This wasn’t just about logistics; it was about creating a stronger, more unified work environment. 

That decision to focus on Macedonia has shaped a lot of what Shortlist is today.

The Impact on Company Culture

Establishing Shortlist’s base in North Macedonia has profoundly shaped our company culture, blending local values with a global perspective

Darko, leading our Business Development department, captures this essence perfectly. He points out that having the majority of our team based in Macedonia has been a crucial factor in our growth and success at Shortlist. 

“The creation of a unique team culture, rooted in our early days, has been instrumental in our journey. he notes, “The team culture established from day one enabled us to navigate early challenges effectively and to continually attract top talent.” 

Despite the diverse backgrounds of our team members, there’s a profound sense of unity and belonging. Darko proudly states, “Our team boasts a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences, yet we are united by a shared sense of belonging to our ‘little family’ at Shortlist.”

Emi, our Branding Lead, contributing to this narrative, highlights the power of working with people who share similar values. 

“This special connection feels really unique, and I think it comes from the close-knit culture we have, influenced by Macedonia being a small country.” 

In Macedonia, the sense of community and familial bonds is strong, and this extends naturally into the workplace. 

Emi adds, “We’re used to treating our workplace like a family, and that closeness drives our shared commitment to the company’s growth.”

This philosophy has been integral in fostering unity and a shared sense of purpose within our team, making Shortlist not just a workplace, but a community where each member is valued and connected.

Recruitment Strategy Shift

Reflecting on our journey, it’s clear that our recruitment strategy has evolved significantly

Initially, we experimented with talent from various parts of Macedonia, but it wasn’t long before we realized that this approach had its limitations. 

In essence, recruiting from different regions within the country felt similar to sourcing from other countries entirely. 

The slight advantage of a common language was there, sure, but the core issues remained the same as they were with NinjaOutreach – a dispersed, disconnected team.

In the spirit of transparency, I must confess that we did deviate from our Macedonia-centric model on a couple of occasions. 

We hired a developer from Serbia and a designer from Croatia, both decisions influenced by pre-existing relationships (the designer was a colleague from my NinjaOutreach days). 

Given the nature of their roles, remote work was feasible, but this setup wasn’t without its drawbacks. 

Despite their contributions, these team members often felt detached, particularly missing out on the regular team-building activities – dinners, holiday parties, and the spontaneous camaraderie that comes with being physically present.

Viktor, a central figure in our journey, strongly advocates for our localized approach. Reflecting on the balance between remote and in-office work, Viktor said, “Even though remote work is often appreciated, having the ability to interact with other people in real life is often more productive, more engaging and overall better. Therefore, we have an office but offer remote days too. Being native aka speaking the same language and being in the same time zone definitely helps a lot too.”

That said, our team has been, and for the foreseeable future, will remain predominantly Macedonian – about 95%. 

Yes, Macedonia is a small pond to fish in, which can make recruiting a bit challenging. However, given that our hiring needs are modest, typically just 1-2 new faces a year, this hasn’t posed a significant problem. 

More importantly, this focus on local talent has fostered an incredible sense of team cohesion, making us more than just coworkers; we’re a close-knit family, thriving together in the vibrant heart of Macedonia.

Overcoming Challenges

Navigating the complexities of being a US company with roots in North Macedonia has been a journey filled with unique challenges. 

As Viktor points out, one of the main challenges we’ve faced is the time zone difference. “Often you’d have calls and email exchanges way past Macedonian working hours,” he explains. 

While Viktor has adapted to this, often preferring to work later, it’s a significant adjustment that can impact social life. 

We’ve found ways to mitigate this, like rotating team members for late shifts and setting boundaries, such as blocking our calendar past 5 PM on Fridays. 

Viktor adds, “Practicing the policy or even letting a client know that our usual response time via email or phone call is within 24 hours is another way to deal with it.”

Another challenge, according to Viktor, is the geographical and cultural distance from our primary market

“Being overseas means you have to compete with native US companies,” he notes. This challenge is gradually diminishing in significance as the focus shifts more to the quality of work and ROI

However, Viktor admits, “On occasions, you can’t help but wonder if having a more anglo-saxon name on a cold email or an American accent on a call would make a difference.” 

On the plus side, I believe that my presence in Philadelphia has been crucial in bridging this gap, providing a sense of balance and familiarity for our US clientele.

Darko, reflecting on his experiences, shares a similar sentiment. “Macedonia may be a small, lesser-known country, but it’s a hidden gem,” he says. 

He has observed a stigma associated with being from Eastern Europe, especially in his role as the leader of the Business Development department. 

“In the early stages, there was noticeable hesitation in prospects’ voices,” Darko recalls. However, through consistent, high-quality work, the Shortlist team has been challenging and changing these perceptions. 

“We are gradually changing the narrative about Eastern Europe, one business day at a time,” Darko proudly states.

These challenges, while daunting at times, have been instrumental in shaping the resilience and growth of our company. 

They have taught us the importance of adaptability, cultural sensitivity, and the power of defying geographical stereotypes through excellence and integrity.

Looking Forward

As I look toward the future of Shortlist, I’m filled with a sense of excitement and determination. Our roots in Macedonia are a vital part of our identity that will continue to shape our journey. 

Going forward, we plan to deepen our engagement with the local talent pool, tapping into the wide array of skills and creativity that Macedonia offers. 

This doesn’t mean turning our backs on the global stage. Quite the opposite, actually. 

We aim to leverage our unique position here in Macedonia to offer something different to the international market. 

Our experience here has taught us the value of a closely-knit team, and we intend to maintain this ethos, blending it with the diverse perspectives and insights that come from our clients and partners around the world. 

The future for Shortlist is about growth, but not just in size or revenue. It’s about growing our capabilities and our commitment to making a positive impact both locally and globally.

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