Bryn Perkins - unafraid to launch a business - or two - in Prague

24-08-2004

My guest this week is American Bryn Perkins, a Geology major from L.A. who lived in Alaska and travelled through Europe in 2000 before settling in Prague. Since then Bryn has tackled the Czech language as well as launched a number of businesses, most recently the Prague Daily Monitor - a daily website offering a broad synthesis of English stories about the Czech Republic from a variety of different sources including Radio Prague.

Bryn joined me in the studio recently and I began by asking how much of a traveller he was.

"Well, I wouldn't call myself very well travelled, because I've never been to Asia or to Africa, which is where I was planning to go, I was planning on travelling around the world. I got to Europe and I was spending two weeks in every major city and when I got to Prague I decided to stay for a month and due a project with a friend, and it was long enough that she took language classes and convinced me to take them too. After three weeks of taking Czech it actually felt like I was staying somewhere instead of passing through all the time and it occurred to me I could 'just stay' and that's when I did."

I'm actually surprised that hearing Czech for the first time didn't scare you away! It's a very difficult language to learn...

"I think what I find really interesting about Prague and the Czech Republic is that it's different. Because it was so far away and because the language just didn't make any sense to me at all, that made it something different. The first time I said a word, without having to translate it from English into Czech, I was walking in the street and there was a guy walking and a car was backing up and didn't see him. And I shouted 'Pozor!' [Be careful!] and the guy kind of jumped out of the way and said 'Diky, diky!' [Thanks]. I was so pleased: it was the first time I'd ever said anything!"

You've been here a relatively short time to absorb all of these different levels of politics, of economics, in the Czech Republic: you launched a website more than a year and a half ago dealing with 'news' but why news at all?

"That's a good question but I have to correct you: I am interested in it professionally but what I'm really handling is the business side of it. The editor is Theodore Schwinke, who has been a journalist and lived in this city for eight years, is really much more qualified and that's why he's the editor. Um, I was interested in helping create this service because I was an English-speaker, I'd been in Prague for two years and I didn't know what was 'going on'. There's Radio Prague of course, there are certain publications, there is the Prague Post, there are some other sources, but I wanted to make it really convenient."

What are some of the different elements to take into consideration when launching a website?

"Certainly there are a lot more considerations than I took! A lot of it is basic business, which I think everyone has to learn how to do. For example, we figured we needed about one one-hundredth of the marketing and energy and money that we actually needed to let the world know about the Prague Daily Monitor. What did we do? We went around to get everything we could find about Prague and the Czech Republic. Periodicals and other information. We looked for free sources to link to, and I have to say Theo developed this whole thing, he found it all, and we put it in a format that's easy to read and easy to find just what you're looking for. Certainly, in terms of money the business side is most important, business people are the ones advertisers are most trying to reach, but we are really trying to reach everyone. Culture, sports, events, but also the meat-and-potatoes, which is the business and the news."

I'm curious: what is something that can go wrong?

"We send this out as an e-mail, it's HTML, when you look at a webpage on the internet that's what the webpage is made of, but when you send an HTML in an e-mail it turns out there are a lot of things that can go wrong, and everybody looks at it in their e-mail programme a little differently. So, it took us a while to find the right selection of settings so that it would look good for everybody. For a while there all the people with Macs were just unable to read the monitor. But, now I think we've got everybody."

One of the dominant aspects of the Monitor in terms of the web-design is it's straight-forward. What happens when more advertisers get on board, they need more space. How will you deal with that?

"I look forward to that problem {laughs}. Well, the whole idea behind the Monitor is to give the information to readers efficiently and clearly. And there aren't two hundred ads on the page, just two or three and these stand out. Our business plan is based on having just a few ads that sell for more, because we have such a clean design and we have readers looking at this one page, they don't have to click-through many, many times, which is the norm on many sites. But, as a result these are higher-value ads. So, I think we can add a few more without losing that kind of clarity."

Would you generally describe yourself as an 'entrepreneur'? This is not the first business venture that you've taken part in...

"You know, I first described myself as an entrepreneur I think less than a couple months ago, just because it seemed like a more accurate word than any other. But, mostly it's just that I wanted to do something that wasn't out there, being done in a way I thought they should be. And, it turns out if you're going to do that in this day an age that means you're going to become a businessman, that's suddenly what you've become, because you're working for yourself, not anybody else. I like to think of myself a s a producer, as a person who finds the people who are interested in something, finds people who can make it, puts the tools in the right peoples' hands and lets everything work. My goal is to make things work so well that I'm totally 'unnecessary' - that's always my goal. And, then find something else that I can make work better."

What made you decide to go into the book-selling business? That was before you launched the Prague Monitor. The reason I ask that is because I still remember the original Globe Bookstore in the early 90s, a kind of legendary bookstore. But, after the Globe moved locations and became something more akin to an internet cafe it seemed like the English bookselling boom was over. I can't see how that would appear to be that promising a project, although Shakespeare and Sons has become a great success.

"I think you hit it exactly. Say an expatriate comes to this city, lives here for a little while, gets the hang of things a little bit and thinks 'hey, there's something I can do, I think I'm going to do it. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot more thought that goes into it sometimes. But, I think, speaking for myself, to come here, to find a niche, to find a life here, was a really empowering thing. And suddenly I found an understanding of how things work and it felt like I could do many more things. So, when my friend Roman Kratochvila came and asked me if I wanted to join him and his two Czech friends if I wanted to start a bookstore I thought it was a great idea. I'm certainly not sorry I did it but it was a lot of work. A year and-a-half of working a great deal with them I realised my vision was a little different from theirs and I decided to concentrate more on the Monitor, and we parted ways. But having put that amount of energy into something - and it works - I am now more selective now about what I put my energy into and how I spend my time."

www.praguemonitor.com

24-08-2004