Vuk, entrepreneur and PhD student
Vuk was born in Croatia and is currently living in Oxford, where he is a PhD student and the co-founder of Oraculum I.S. Ltd, a UK start-up specializing in big data to forecast political election results and economic trends. He has correctly predicted the Trump presidential election.
“In this kind of environment you either sink or swim, so you know that when you see a successful foreigner he or she worked hard and really deserved it”.
What do you consider your nationality to be?
Croatian, even though I feel quite cosmopolitan. I love my country, but I’m always open to living abroad and experiencing everything that big cities like London have to offer.
Have you ever considered yourself a Foreigner?
I don’t really think about it, but I am aware that I am a foreigner in the UK. It doesn’t really affect me that much given that the group of people I hang out with are also mostly foreigners. It was the case when I was living in London, and it’s the same now that I live in Oxford.
Can you tell us your story as a Foreigner?
I first arrived in London in 2010 to do a Master at the London School of Economics (LSE). After graduating I worked in the UK for another year, living with my then girlfriend, now wife. We both really enjoyed our life in London, however our priority was set on having kids, and London is an expensive place to have children. Particularly if you’re in your mid-twenties and just graduating from University.
We left the UK by the end of 2012, but I came back in 2016 to pursue a three year PhD programme at the University of Oxford. My initial reason for moving to the UK was education: the opportunity to study at the best universities in the world.
The first time I stayed in London for a year after the Master to get some experience (and earn some money) before starting a few projects of my own. As a result of one of these projects, four years later I came back and registered a company in the UK.
Why the UK? Because it’s very simple to open and run a company in this country. I really enjoy this freedom and opportunity that anyone can take advantage of, foreigner or not.
What do you enjoy about living abroad? What benefits you?
To be surrounded by people from all over the world. I was lucky enough to befriend really smart and diverse individuals. This challenges a person on a whole different level and opens up new perspectives in life. In all honesty, I can say that my experience of living abroad affected my life in a very positive way.
The first time I left home was in 2009, for a summer school in Berkeley (USA). It was this experience that encouraged me to pursue a Master abroad, which is when I decided on my career path in the academia. Oxford is now helping me in cementing this path, as well as opening a whole range of entrepreneurship opportunities. Who knows what the final outcome will be this time. All I know is that it will be good. And that’s what makes life abroad so exciting.
Do you think your experience as an entrepreneur would have been the same if you stayed in your country of origin?
Definitely not. First of all, I cannot get this level of education back home.
Second, my business. As I said, running a business in the UK is easy and straightforward, especially when compared to my country. When I had to make a decision of where to establish it, I chose the UK without much hesitation, despite the fact that income taxes are a bit higher here. It’s the regulations and uncertainty that kill businesses in my country, and I’m willing to pay a premium to avoid this uncertainty and get the institutional support to successfully run my business.
In terms of work, my company is a service company and we do all our services online, so it doesn’t matter where I am physically located.
How is your work usually perceived by local people? Do you have any stories?
One story comes to mind. Initially, I had a great success with my company (Oraclum Intelligence Systems, look it up!). We use the power of big data and social networks to predict elections and patterns of consumers’ behaviour. The big success story was that we correctly predicted a Trump victory in the US elections (see it here for yourself).
However, when we tried to pitch this story to the media it didn’t get through. I published stories about it on the blogs of Oxford and LSE universities, but none of the big UK or US media companies picked it up, despite all of our efforts (I even used the official Oxford PR team to pitch the story). On the other hand back home in Croatia we were all over the news as the only forecaster who managed to get it right.
This experience left me the bitter feeling that if I was British or American, the prediction would have been plastered all over the news, just as it happened back home. When I came to rationalize it, I figured that the media was in a state of shock, and having these three foreigners getting it right just didn’t fit their narrative at the time. Whatever it was, it was the only time I felt disadvantaged as a foreigner. Usually I never have that feeling.
What are your plans for the future?
I will try to balance between developing my company and academia. This means that I won’t be living in one place and that I will frequently have to travel to seize the opportunity of the moment.
Where is home?
Home is wherever my family is, my wife and two sons.
What words/ideas do you associate with "Foreigner"?
Hardworking. Coming to a new country, having no connections and not knowing anyone at first, is a difficult venture. The competition is much harder than back home and you have no immediate safety net to turn to. In this kind of environment you either sink or swim, so you know that when you see a successful foreigner he or she worked hard and really deserved it.