Breaking the Ice for Underwater Hockey

“This is for you kid,” said my uncle, “have fun!”

I was 12 and I got my first mask and fins. I loved it. I would go every day to the seaside, to the rocky pier, and dive next to rusty, oily boats. I would take a deep breath and plunge to depths eager to see what is below. And there were so many things: broken plates, coca-cola cans, and even some fish. I got better and better until I could freedive 14 meters deep to the old car tire hosting a crab who was surprised by a pimply visitor.

“This must be how being a dolphin feels like!” I thought to myself. They are air-breathing mammals, same as me, going periodically to surface to take a breath. Then they would dive under and play catch with each other.

28 years later I was killing my time drinking beer in a smoky Berlin bar. “..underwater hockey,” mentioned a girl next to me. I turned my head and joined the enthusiastic conversation about the obscure underwater sport. “If you did free diving, you should totally do it, it is great!” Sumi said. Playing underwater like dolphins? I was in.

When I came for Wednesday training, the entire team assembled to help me. I got pink fins from one person, a white hockey stick from another, and mask from the third. Alex took it as his job to train me before the practice match. We did puck pushing, passing, and turning in a small kids pool. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. I couldn’t wait to get into the big pool and score some goals. It was going to be great.

We entered the big pool and divided into two teams. I was assigned to be front right, as passing partner to Alex. “Start!”, someone shouted and we all swam towards the little green puck. As I dived in, Alex was already two meters in front of me. He didn’t have the puck for long, two people from another team attacked and engaged in something like underwater tennis. I got myself into action, meaning I got somebody’s fin in my butt, and somebody’s else knee in my face. I mean, I am not sure knee and fin were not from the same person, we were all a big ball of human flesh. In the excitement of that sexy moment, I forgot that air is a necessary requirements for a long life. My brain suddenly reminded me with a gentle thought “Air! Get some air or you will die!” and adrenaline overdose. I jumped out of the water like a mating salmon and started hyperventilating. A girl dived out next to me, took three breaths, gave me a look and dived down again. “Boy, these people are hard-core,” I said to myself and dived down. When I looked around, the puck was already on a different part of the pool. I mean, I am not sure if the puck was there, but there is where I saw an amorphous ball of hands, panties, and fins so I swam in that direction. As I approached, a battle of underwater tenis was abruptly interrupted by a white-pants enemy player who decided to play for himself and separated from the crowd. I swam to block his way, but it was like chasing a torpedo. He whizzed by me and put the puck in a metal goal.

Our brave team regrouped and started talking about strategy for the next round. My strategy was not to forget to breathe. At a start signal, we rushed again to the center, and this time I was watching for my chance from the surface. When crowd around the puck got smaller I dived in and actually got to touch the puck with my stick. My joy was not long-lived, as a member of the other team started fighting for it with me. In that tug-of-war, I was pushing as hard as I could, but the opponent had the same cunning plan. My brain screamed “Air!” and I went out. By the time my heart stopped pounding, the puck was again in our goal. Seems both my team’s strategy and my personal strategy to remember to breathe were falling. In addition, a team member told me that it is not allowed to push the stick with two hands. I guess the underwater police didn’t care because I lost the puck anyway.

In the third round, I didn’t get to any action, but at least I got some air.

Then, our team got a “penalty shot”. My team member would start in the back and I would be in the front. We assembled at the bottom of the pool and started. The puck was suddenly next to me, finally my chance! I took it, swam by the opposing player and went unstoppably towards their goal. Wow, can’t believe it, I am going to score. Then I noticed everybody stayed in the first half of the pool. I swam to the surface and Alex told me “You are not supposed to take the puck away when there is a penalty kick, we were just supposed to protect the sides pg the penalty kicker.” Andy Warhol once said, “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” It seems my future was not going to happen that day, and I will have to swallow much more chlorinated water before I become good with these underwater battles.

The game continued at the same pace for 20 more minutes. A lot of feeding frenzy scenes with human bodies all over each other like Berghain dark room at 4 am. Diving down, fighting for a puck, remembering to get air. Rinse, repeat. I got a better feeling for a strategy of the game, which is not surprising considering where I started. One time I even succeeded to intercept the torpedo with white pants, yay!

After half an hour the game ended. I thanked everybody for lending me their equipment and went for a long hot-shower meditation. My heart was still fast and chlorinated water was running from my nose. As I arrived home I dropped tiredly to my bed. With a smile on my face. Maybe my underwater play was more that of a sea cow than a dolphin, but still, it was a great, great experience that I want to repeat.


Wanted: Collaborative Writer in Berlin

“The advantage of collaborative writing is that you end up with something for which you will not be personally blamed.”—Scott Adams

This is a unique job, for unique writers. The client is a well-off individual, the owner of a boring software company. To compensate for that, he writes long, in-depth articles for his blog, Vice Motherboard or scripts for his YouTube channel. The problem is that he writes slowly, has little time, and has another 50+ ideas for unfinished articles. This is where you come in.

Your job will be to meet the client in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, and collaboratively work on new writing projects. The client will provide you with an idea, the reasoning behind an article, and an outline of a text. Your creative neurons will then do the magic of converting the rough idea into a popular article that will be loved and shared by geeks worldwide. This is not ghostwriting; you are going to be co-author on the piece. The salary starts from 260 EUR per thousand words.

Sounds interesting? However, there are some requirements you need to fulfill:

  • You need to be a better writer than the client. “Better” is a subjective term, but the number of readers and shares is not. Be prepared to show your best work and their impact.
  • You need to be on the geeky/science/philosophy side. If you noticed, all the articles above are non-fiction, and deep into geek culture.
  • You need to be funnier than the client. That is not going to be hard.
  • Native or near-native English writing skills.

And to recap, the benefits are:

  • 20 hours per week (half-time position).
  • Location in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin.
  • Working on a variety of interesting tech and science topics.
  • Competitive salary, starting from 260 EUR per thousand words.

Are you ready to change the world with your writing? Apply here.


Button-lift monster

mountain-fog-ski-lift-ski-resort 2

It caught me by surprise. It was a nice skiing day in Flachau, and I had taken my six-year-old daughter for her third day of ski school. “She is excellent!” the ski instructor had said the day before. “Tomorrow we can go to a real slope!” So I had brought her to the school the next morning and tucked a child ski pass in a pocket of her pink jacket. “Just show this pass when you go to the button lift,” I explained. She nodded. We sat down and waited for other kids to arrive. After few minutes of silence, it started.

“Daddy!” she said.

I turned around and saw tears streaming down her face. I hugged her tight and tried to comfort her.

“What is the problem, sweetie?”

“I don’t want to go to school today. I am afraid of the button lift,” she wept.

Here we go, I thought to myself. Fear of the button-lift monster, the one that suddenly crosses your skis on the way up so you fall and get dragged by the lift while spectators laugh at you. It’s funny because it is harmless—nobody gets hurt on the kids’ ski lift. Landing your butt in the snow doesn’t really hurt. But I knew my daughter’s fear was real—because the same monster has been chasing me.


Some people are born lions and some deer. I was born a chickenhearted deer. I was shy and scared of being hurt. Hurt physically or, even worse, socially. Therefore, while other kids were playing outside with balls and sticks, I was reading encyclopedias at home. I especially liked the “R” section because it had rockets. Some encyclopedias put rockets under “S”, in the space article. As a kid, I always thought such amateurs shouldn’t be allowed to write encyclopedias; rockets deserve a separate article. I was quite a happy child, doing my exciting and non-scary thingies. But adults were not happy about me. I was too shy.


“I am really afraid,” my daughter cried. I was holding her, while tears were relay racing down her cheeks.

“Don’t worry sweetie; everything will be fine.” I tried to comfort her. “Look at all these kids around; nobody is scared.” True, there were five kids in the same group. A younger kid was looking at her in surprise: “Ski school is fun!”

She was not always like that. As a baby she was loud and she started walking early. She would fall down, bump her head, and in a few minutes try to walk again. But then, after the age of three, kids in kindergarten separated into loud ones and shy ones. She went to the shy side, same as her father. I read later it was something genetic connected with the amygdala. I felt guilty.

“I am going to be there next to you. Your ski instructor is going to be next to you. And the guy running the lift is going to stop it if you fall down.” It didn’t help. If it’s easy, why are there three adults helping her?


Like when I was five and I had cut my eyebrow in an amusement park. I was bleeding but not scared while my parents drove me to the hospital. Once inside, the doctors had me lie down on a bed and put a local anesthetic over the cut. They told me it would not hurt but I didn’t believe them. If it is not going to bloody hurt, why are two doctors holding my head and a third one leaning over with a light on her head and large stitching needle in her hand? I totally flipped. Fortunately, a few weeks before, I’d spent a weekend with my grandparents in the countryside. My grandpa was disappointed that such a big boy still didn’t know how to swear. So he took a weekend to teach me every juicy Croatian swear word he knew. I could now defend myself. By eyewitness accounts, with every stitch that went into my eyebrow, my profanities increased by an order of magnitude. By the time the last stitch was in, I was combining the doctor’s vagina with slutty farm animals and her mother’s vagina and well-known religious figures. Christian religious figures. The hospital staff had never experienced anything like it. Neither had my mother, who was standing in the hospital room. We lived in a small city and for the next month she pretended not to recognize acquaintances on the street if they worked at the hospital. My father checked if my comic books had any swear words. He only found “@#$%&!


Back on ski slopes, my daughter was still in tears. At least she is not making a scene like me in the hospital. I decided to play it cool. “You are crying for nothing. It’s easy. You will see.” The ski instructor said we could start walking toward the slope, which was five minutes away. It looked like my daughter was crying less as we walked hand in hand. She just needs to cry it out, I was thinking. She can’t quit now. What kind of life lesson would that be—to just quit every time you have an irrational fear? The other five kids are going to learn skiing and she will never learn?


Similar as singing for me. I always found it dreadful. Our music teacher in primary school had demanded that each of us sing in front of the class to get our mark. She would randomly open the class register and read the name of an unlucky bastard. When it was me, I refused to sing. No matter if the three previous kids sang, I didn’t want to do it. Just give me an F and continue with it. One time we learned how to intonate rhythm, which was quite easy because you sing te-ta sounds instead of words. When it was time to sing, she looked at me. She skipped the usual class register routine, so I didn’t have time to start panicking properly. I decided to give it a try. With a lump in my throat, I started singing: ta te ta fa te fe, ta fe te ta ta te, ta te ta fa te fe. I finished without a single pause or error. Then she said to the whole class, “Zeljko did it without an error. Which means that all of you can also do it—it’s that easy.” My cheeks blushed. I guess that everybody’s good for something, even if it’s just to be a bad example. To this day I refuse to sing.


My thoughts moved back to the present time. My daughter was still crying and I was getting annoyed. Is that the way she is going to lead her life? Hiding from irrational monsters while everybody else is having fun? I decided I would not let that happen. No way. “Stop crying. You are just being a baby!” I raised my voice. I needed to push her so she could overcome her fear. You always need to push yourself. Don’t give up to the fear, fight that monster. I pushed myself that way when I was younger.


Take the time I had asked a girl on a date for the first time. I was in high school and I had been seeing her every day. We had a really nice communication going on. She would smile and I would get goosebumps. I thought it was obvious I fancied her. I would offer to come and study at her house. She would make me a sandwich. But that is all I would get, no kisses or anything. Not that I tried. I was too scared. So I decided to take it to the next level, to ask her for a date. I contemplated my fear for days. One day I decided to call her on the phone; I didn’t want her to see me nervous. I put my red phone on the floor and sat in front of it. For thirty minutes I looked at the phone digits in silence. They looked back at me. My heart was pounding. The scene looked like an advert for cheap long-distance calls. But I decided to fight the monster. I picked up the handset and dialed the number. She answered the phone.

“How is your day going?” I tried to be cool.

She started talking about homework, as that was often the topic of our conversation. I was thinking, though, this conversation wasn’t going well. I mean, mathematics is sexy but not in that way.

“Do you have any plans for tonight?” I said.

“Actually no, I am free tonight. Why do you ask?”

“It’s a nice day, maybe we could go to the city for drinks?” I replied.

“Well… yes, I guess we could go. Were you planning to invite somebody else?”

She was clueless. After all that math and all those sandwiches.

“No,” I said, “I wanted only the two of us to go for a drink. You know, like a date.”

“A date?! You are kidding, right?”

“No, I am serious.” I decided to go all the way. Fuck being cool. “I like you. I like when you smile, I like when we talk. I think we would be a nice couple. That is why I am inviting you for a date.”

There was a long pause. The beating thing in my chest wanted to jump out. Onto a silver platter, maybe? Then the silence stopped.

“Ha ha ha, ha ha ha!”

She was laughing.

“Ha ha ha ha!”

I really wanted her to stop.

“Why are you laughing?” I asked.

“It’s funny! I’m shocked! Why did you think we had something going on?”

“Well… I thought it was obvious that I like spending time with you. Doing homework, talking in the class. Didn’t you notice?” I asked.

“Listen, I like you as a friend. I don’t want to go on a date. Nothing is going to happen with us. I can’t believe you asked me that! Let’s finish this conversation and talk about it when we see each other.”

That was the end of the conversation. After she hung up the phone, I held onto my handset for some time. It was the first time in my life I had asked a girl on a date. It didn’t go quite as I had hoped.

People in high school noticed I was a bit sad that month. I guess she noticed it too, but she never said anything. She avoided conversation about it. To this day we haven’t exchanged a word about it.


Standing in the snow, I couldn’t understand why my daughter was afraid of the stupid button lift. Even if she broke her goddamn legs on it, that would be minor pain. Physical pain is nothing compared to the pain caused by other people.

She was still crying. My strategy of being tough didn’t help. I realized I was an idiot. Why am I pushing her to go on the lift if she doesn’t want to do it? So I can make her a “strong” person? So I can cure my childhood frustrations through her? I am a fucking idiot. Let’s just ask the ski instructor for a refund and call it a day.

But as I was facing the ski instructor, I remembered something. As a kid I panicked the most when I had a choice, that is, when I thought my panic could stop the scary thing from happening. When I was faced with something certain, I would often accept it.

“You know what?” I said to the ski instructor, “She is only crying because I am here. She knows if she cries a lot I will take her out. What if I go and hide behind that building for five minutes? If she doesn’t stop crying, just wave to me and I will come back.”

The ski instructor nodded in agreement. I kissed my daughter on the cheek, said goodbye, and pretended I was going away. I hid behind the ski storage shack and found a hole to peek through. She was still sobbing. But after a minute she was sobbing less. And after another minute even less. She accepted the inevitable. The ski instructor sorted them out and all the kids went to the ski lift.

She is all good, I thought. The ski instructor will call me if she panics again. I took my skis and went off to an adult ski lift. While she was in school, I was cruising the ski slopes and thinking.


Certainty reduces anxiety. Take my summer vacation on the island of Pag. A friend of mine and I had been spending nights drinking at clubs. Quite fun but we hadn’t met anybody. The last night of our stay, we were determined to split up and cruise around for a flirting opportunity. I noticed a girl I liked, standing in a corner. While I was thinking of what to say, another guy approached her. But I was determined. I waited, and after a few sips of beer, I noticed the guy had left her, disappointed. So I just walked over to her and asked why such a nice girl was standing alone. I was not afraid because I knew I was going to approach her. We started talking.


On the ski slopes, I was getting nervous. It was close to noon and I was wondering if everything had gone well with the ski class. I approached the bottom of the ski lift but nobody was there. I checked my phone. There were no calls or messages. Then I saw a small parade of kids in oversized helmets coming down the hill. My daughter was one of them. She was skiing like a pro.

“Daddy, daddy,” she said with a smile, “It was great. We went on the lift, and we skied down and again and I was not afraid. Can we go again? Please!”

I thanked the ski instructor and went with her on a few more button-lift rides. After five trips, she got quite sad because my ski pass had expired and we needed to go. I couldn’t believe the change in attitude.

But in my heart I understood. The girl I approached that night on the island of Pag was her mother. If I had never had the courage to approach her, my daughter would never have been born. When you are shy, you need to fight your fear monster every day.

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You would be a bad millionaire

Image by aisletwentytwo via Flickr CC

There is a popular myth that most of us secretly believe, regardless of what we say out loud. “If I had enough money to be financially independent for life, I would be much happier.” Let’s call it the millionaire myth, although “million” can be much more or less depending on where you live. I will present the counter-arguments, but I won’t blame you if you don’t believe them. For a long time, I didn’t either.

For much of my life, I thought the major obstacles to happiness in adult life were a lack of money and free time. Free time is, of course, influenced by money. Once you have enough in the bank, you can quit your job, delegate all the work, hire a chef and a butler and spend abundant free time in pleasurable activities. It makes perfect sense. Money gives you access to resources and free time can be spent enjoying them. If you were a millionaire, life would be much nicer, wouldn’t it?

No, it wouldn’t.

In my experience, financial security can make you a bit happier, but an abundance of free time and a change of lifestyle is probably going to make you less happy. As Tim Ferriss puts it:

An excess of idle time is poisonous.

Ironically, the book that claims idle time is poisonous is called The 4-Hour Workweek. More ironically, nobody reads that book for advice on meaningful hobbies (though there are some great tips inside). Everybody reads it because they want to get rich.

The stereotypical millionaire travels around the world, having cocktail parties, driving fast cars, having myriad romances and living a generally great social life. The fewer millionaires you know, the stronger the stereotype is. But I bet you know people who are financially secure for life and who have abundant free time. They are called pensioners. But somehow, pensioners are not sexy. If you retire with good health and fat savings, you can do all the things you want, can’t you? Somehow, we know too many retirees who are not living a spectacular life.

Maybe the problem is old age? If you didn’t have to work but you are young, wouldn’t that make a great lifestyle?

Like, for example, all unemployed young people. The youth unemployment rate in my home country is a staggering 43.6% [1]. But being unemployed in Europe has its benefits. Unemployed people I know live in the city and have enough money for a bicycle, laptop, and daily ration of coffee and beer. Morning espresso is one euro and newspapers are free in a cafe. Bars with cheap beer stay open till 3am. Unemployed European youth sometimes have a better social life, read more and are better informed about current events than their employed counterparts. But nobody envies them (I certainly don’t)—because we know their background stories.

Affluent pensioners and unemployed youth share the same problem:

Having more free time than you can adequately consume.

A few years ago, I woke up an unemployed friend of mine with a phone call. Nothing unusual, except it was 2pm.

“This is normal,” he said. “Sometimes I have breakfast at 3pm.”

“Why?!” I asked.

“I didn’t get home from my night out until 5am, and then I watched YouTube till 8am in the morning.”

“Sounds like some quality time!” I joked.

He laughed. “Yes, I should get myself better organised. YouTube is a waste of time. Before I go out tonight, I will start torrenting a few movies so I have something to watch when I get home.”

People with 9-to-5 jobs and kids would kill for few hours of a free time; yet he was spending his life drinking beer and watching videos. I thought he was crazy. Until it happened to me.

After getting divorced three years ago, I decided to have some time for myself. My small software company was functioning nicely and I delegated all of the work to four employees. The first few days were great. I would wake up in the morning and know I didn’t have to do anything. I felt this was the beginning of a “new life”. But I soon realised I was waking up to an empty flat and everybody else was at work. Going for a morning coffee, alone. Making lunch, alone. When evening came, I would want to do something or go somewhere, but almost everybody I knew was busy with their family and preparing for the next working day. It wasn’t like college life. Soon my “new life” turned into a depression.

What would you do in the same situation? What are your hobbies?

Watching movies and listening to music? I suggest you do the following experiment. Try spending an entire Saturday doing nothing but watching movies, and an entire Sunday just listening to music, nothing else. I bet you will be glad when your work starts on Monday.

Going out or doing team sports? You are dependent on other people’s free time.

Mixing-and-matching doesn’t solve the problem. I tried combining reading, making lunch, watching lectures, surfing the web and jogging in the same day. But by the end of the day I felt like I had wasted a whole day.

This is the essence of the problem:

Most of our “hobbies” are not scalable.

We can do them once a week or one hour a day, not eight hours a day. They are time fillers, designed for the working masses. Passively consume TV after a hard day at work. Consume radio while you drive. Did you notice most movies fit into two hours [2] and most songs into three minutes [3]? Longer than that is often annoying.

“Scalable” hobbies are something you can do for the whole day, day after day, that still makes you feel productive and fulfilled at the end of the day. Unlike time fillers, they are not passive. They require effort, mastery, and hard work. They are a challenge, a goal to achieve. They are your passion—things like writing a book, building your own car, sailing an ocean, painting a picture, creating a popular podcast, training for an Ironman.

Don’t have a hobby like that? Sorry to bring this to you, but you would be a lousy millionaire. As many lottery winners know, money doesn’t bring lifestyle.

One of the problems is that society doesn’t encourage or support anything other than the standard 9-to-5 existence. Events rarely happen on Sunday evening, as that is when we have to prepare for work on Monday. You go out on Friday or Saturday; that is the norm. If you are over thirty and live with roommates, people think you haven’t grown up. If you work on a small project of your own, good luck finding a coworking place or art collective in your average small town.

Filling life with meaningful stuff is quite a task. Take a look at a list of things I did in the last three years. Joined ToastMasters club; won a city competition for the best speaker. Started weekly CouchSurfing meetings in Zagreb with Nina. Started writing this blog. Started Lean Startup Croatia meetup group with Miro; gave a few lectures. Went to few local TEDxMaksimir events. Got kicked out and earned a lifetime ban to TEDxMaksimir events. Spent two winters in San Francisco. Lived in a few coliving projects. Did a study trip to Denmark and visited four cohousing communities. Created a startup for testing programming skills with Mario. Rented a house and started a coliving project in Zagreb. Coliving project failed and I moved out of the house. Travelled to Thailand and Japan. Moved to Oxford. Did some singularity philosophy that got featured on Vice news. Got an idea for a new startup.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? So great that people will call you a bragging bastard and say you are insufferable. But I need to be honest with you. Life is not bad, but I feel I had a better time in college. Because then I was in a community where everybody had ideas for going out, traveling, student organisations we needed to join, things to do after university. Students have time and a desire to explore. Now people are busy with their lives, I need to push everything myself. Community makes you more happy than money and free time. That is what happens to lottery winners—excessive money separates them from friends and coworkers. Some millionaires with too much time just go completely berserk.

On other hand, some people are great millionaires. Like Henry.

Henry created his fortune in IT, making millions. His company became the most valued company in its sector. He personally managed one hit product after another. But after many years, Henry got bored and tired of it. He decided to appoint his university friend as director of the company so he could pursue other passions—which were a bit unusual for a millionaire.

Henry liked reading nonfiction books about topics that interested him. Even when he was running a company, he would take reading holidays so he could catch up on his reading list. But reading books is a bit lonely, so he set up a blog where he comments on the books he reads, and writes about his own ideas. He has also written a book. He and his wife decided to have a second child. But he still had too much time, so he decided to do some charity work. Of course, when you are a millionaire, you set up your own charity. He could pick and choose which projects his charity would work on. He also liked playing bridge with one of his rich friends. They concluded they had too much goddamn money, and decided to give it to Henry’s charity.

Henry is actually William Henry “Bill” Gates III, the richest man in the world. Here are his book reviews, and his charity. His bridge-playing friend is Warren Buffett. Think about it: the richest man in the universe is not spending his time on a yacht in the Caribbean, surrounded by beautiful women. He is sitting alone on his couch and reading a $15 book on malaria. For a crazy night out he goes to play bridge.

Which kind of millionaire would you be? A calm guy like Bill Gates, who steadily pushes his passions, or somebody like John McAfee, who is so bored that he ends up shoving MDVP up his arse? Most people think they would be like Bill, even if they had never followed their passion.

If you live in a developed country and want to have a lifestyle similar to Bill’s, don’t wait for your first million in the bank. You can order the same book he is reading on Amazon in five minutes. You can set up your personal blog on WordPress by tomorrow. And I bet you can find some low-paid job in a charity you sympathise with by this time next week. Think about it, money and glitter aside, this time next week you could have a lifestyle not very different from that of the richest man in the world. What is stopping you?

If you are lucky enough to live in the a developed country, your happiness is not connected to the money. It’s the lifestyle, stupid.


UPDATE: Check discussion on Hacker News.

Zagreb Cohousing FAIL

Winter view from Zagreb Cohousing

UPDATE: Added a video about Zagreb coliving project.

“Can’t believe we are moving out,” echoed in my head. I was sitting on the doorsteps of a large, modern house. The view was spectacular, but I had got used to it. Only the back room, gym and sauna didn’t have a view ‒ but I didn’t really mind. Maybe other people did? Not enough people had joined and we needed to leave.

It all started in 2010, when a Wikipedia article caught my eye. It was about the bizarre and hugely popular Danish trend of cohousing communities. This is the gist: typically, between 10 and 40 families join forces to purchase an empty plot of land. They build private houses that are a bit smaller than usual, but they also build a large common house, with a communal dining room, playroom, laundry, workshop, movie room, guest rooms etc. Common dinner is a killer feature. Instead of shopping, cooking and washing dishes every day, residents do it only few times a month. On other days, they eat in the common house (or take the food home), because somebody else is scheduled in the kitchen. Your kid is bored? Go to the shared playroom or playground. Need to run somewhere for an hour? Ask a neighbour to look after your kid. Need company to watch a football match? There is a large screen and a bar in the common house. Trying to save money? Cohousings get volume discounts and free delivery because they are buying in bulk. The group dinners mean that you actually get to know your neighbours. All of that sounds perfect to families ‒ for a reason. The cohousing movement started with a 1964 article titled “Children Should Have One Hundred Parents”.

It all seemed a bit too utopian for me. Croatia is a long way away from Scandinavian social experiments, and the whole idea went stealth for two years. Until I went to San Francisco in 2012.

Cohousing in the States is often about ideology, not convenience. Many of the projects there are ecological, religious or hippie-like communes. Not my cup of tea. However, Americans are also fond of cohousing’s smaller brother, coliving. Instead of building houses, a group of people just rent one and share the rooms. They are more than merely flatmates, because they organise and share activities. Whatever interest you can imagine, there is a house for that. Startup house, social entrepreneurs house, yoga house. Most of them recruit members publicly; others rely on wild rumours as the only advertising channel. For example, an invitation-only startup house in San Francisco accepts only entrepreneurs who have already sold their first company. Which is quite boring compared to a pick-up artists house or a clitoral stimulation house. The latter is not a joke. I met a guy who lived in an orgasmic meditation house (read about OM houses and 1080 Folsom Street). Imagine that, every morning female residents line up for a clit massage. Guys do the stroking for twenty minutes, everybody says thank you, and then they go off to work. California.

I didn’t have the pleasure of living in an OM house, but I spent two winters in the Slovenian Startup House and Embassy SF. I was sceptical at first, thinking I was too old to be in roommate arrangements. But although there were no naked women laying around, I really enjoyed the experience. The cleaning lady would come once a week; we had common meals and shared food. Embassy SF even had a sauna, coworking space, 3D printers, bowling alley, automated food delivery and shared cars. I was sharing an enormous residence with interesting people for the price of a small Airbnb room. Impressed by my San Francisco experience, I decided to create a similar thing in Croatia ‒ a simple house for young working people, nothing niche.

An opportunity soon arose. My new startup needed an office space. I decided to upgrade my flat. Rent for each was around €400 per month, so the total was €800. For just a bit more I could get an entire house. Within a month I had found the perfect place: 250 sqm, completely new, with 5 bedrooms, a view, gym, sauna and a backyard ‒ all for a mere €1200 per month. Outside rush hour, it was an 18-minute drive to the city centre. To test an idea before putting down a deposit, I created an “MVP”. I posted an ad and copied agency pictures, as though I already had a house. I named it “Zagreb Cohousing” and declared it was for “young professionals (24-44) with a steady income”. Six people applied. Perfect! I started negotiating with a landlord. She stared blankly while I explained cohousing and told her that I wanted to sub-let the rooms. Two meetings later and after doubling my deposit, she agreed. After signing the contract I felt enormously happy. Every room was screaming with unrealised potential. Not for long, I thought.

It started superbly. I found my first roommate in one day. Jure, who had responded to the “fake” ad, was enthusiastic and moved into the large room two days before I did. He had a job in nearby Slovenia but was drawn to Zagreb’s bigger city vibe. Every weekend, his girlfriend and friends would come over for a barbecue. We joked that his ensuite bathroom was so large that people could live in it ‒ because they often did. If he put a mattress on the heated floor, two extra people could sleep over. They would often make extra food and leave it with a cute post-it note.

The lobby became the work space for my startup. A cleaning lady would come weekly. “Cleaning” doesn’t do her justice, because she also did the ironing, changed the bed sheets and cooked one or two meals for us ‒ all for €25 a week. We felt like the Rockefellers.

We started organising parties and potluck dinners. A girl whom I had been seeing previously called me up and said, “I hear you have a sauna. When can I try it out?” Life was great.

But there was a problem. The house was half empty. I put more effort into marketing and created a website and a Facebook page. I was featured in the local newspaper. The more people contacted me, the more obvious it became that my initial MVP test was wrong. I hadn’t investigated the target market. For a start I was surprised that most of the applicants were heavily into an alternative lifestyle. That wouldn’t have been a problem, but our house didn’t have anything to offer them. Do you have an organic garden? Are you vegetarians? How far is the house by bicycle? I organise monthly energy healing classes ‒ does that count as a steady income? They were disappointed to hear the landlord didn’t want a garden planted, that we ate meat, and that the house was a one-hour bike ride from the city centre. Their biggest disappointment was the price of €160 per month for a modest room.

I knew Croatia has a high rate of unemployment and that many people don’t have cars, but surely there were three people in the capital city who wanted to pay a little extra for a nicer lifestyle? But how to find them? Since the price was about the same, I placed an ad in classifieds for single-room apartments. The next day, I got a call. “We’ve deleted your ad,” the moderator said, “because it belongs to the rooms-for-rent section.” After I did exactly that, I started laughing. The photo of our house was squeezed between pictures of small rooms with ʼ80s furniture and for half the price. Then I realised that that small money is still enough for some old lady to pay her monthly bills, and I stopped laughing.

There was another problem. A few of the application emails were enthusiastic, especially from girls. They loved the concept and wanted to visit. The next email was less eager and, by the last one, they had changed their mind. I realised later that between the first and the last emails they had had talks with friends and family. Some people asked me straight out if we were a sect or a hippie/free love commune. One real estate agent called our landlord and claimed that we would destroy the house. Nobody had heard of Danish cohousing, but everybody watched Hollywood movies. Somehow, I became a cohousing/coliving evangelist in Croatia. I did a few interviews and even appeared on national TV.

After New Year, Jure decided to move back to Slovenia. He was replaced by two others: Andreja, a very active girl who worked as a medical researcher, and Vlatko, a calm guy who translated French comics for a living. Same as Jure, they were a great fit; on evenings when we stayed in, we would always hang out in the winter garden. My brother moved in for a few months and converted a small room to a tricopter factory. Great, but we still needed two more permanent residents to consider it a success.

As the end of our first year in the house approached, I realised it was probably not going to happen. At the end of August, five people applied, all wanting the €160 room that was already taken. When I told them we had a €180 room available, they all said the extra €20 was more than they could afford. A few people came for a drink but decided they didn’t like the furniture or the location. Residents aside, I didn’t need an office anymore. My cofounder became a dad and started working from home, and our marketing guy decided to work from the Canary Islands. At one point I started looking for houses closer to the city centre, but they were double the price or simply in a bad condition. Running out of options and with two rooms still empty, I decided not to extend the lease.

Price wasn’t the main reason. Sometimes you need to quit in order to move on to new things. Andreja, Vlatko and I found a large three-bedroom flat nearby. It also has a large living room, a balcony and a view. Funnily enough, the price per room is the same. Nice places always cost money. We still have our cleaning lady, but that is it from shared economy. No work space, gym or garden. Large dinners, grocery delivery and car sharing don’t make sense with only three people.

I learned many things in the past year and the key takeaway is that most people are unwilling to pay extra for a shared housing arrangement. A flatmate situation is a typical tragedy of the commons; everybody values only their own property (private room) and sees little value in the public property (shared rooms). More than once people complained the price was too high for a room in the suburbs. Yes, it was ‒ but the price was for a house, not just for a room. In every sense, we felt like the house was ours and we made use of the shared spaces when we wanted. Having nice flatmates at the same time was an advantage. But people would disagree, and not just in Croatia. For example, a new trend in UK is rent-to-rent. Property investors rent houses and convert living and dining rooms into extra bedrooms. That way they rent out a three-bedroom house as five individual rooms and make a nice profit. Beautiful ‒ the total antipode of the cohousing/coliving concept. You sleep in a dining room, and the only way to socialise with flatmates is in the queue for the bathroom.

Still, I feel positive. The experience of living in the house was great; the only part I didn’t like was organising it. I met many, many people from all over the world excited about that kind of lifestyle. As I was leaving for the last time, I paused and looked back at what had been our home for one year. Maybe some other time, some other place.


Would you like to live in a world where coliving and cohousing are normal? You can help, just share this with your friends.