[Women’s Month 2022] Interview with Alida Mezić of Blue Bike Zagreb

Alida Mezic of Blue Bike Zagreb in Croatia
Alida Mezić, owner of Blue Bike Zagreb

Alida Mezić is the owner of Blue Bike Zagreb – the first tour company of its kind in the extremely bike-able capitol of Croatia.

Alida and her husband Bruno fell into the bike tour business quite naturally. They went on one, liked it, and thought it would be a valuable addition to Zagreb. Twelve years later, they are still going strong with a portfolio of 10 unique tours and are quite content with the business they built.

With all that has swirled around the world the past couple of years and challenges that tourism has faced, Alida leans on the simplicity of a bike ride to settle the mind and lead her through to the light on the other side of the tunnel.

As part of our Women’s Month campaign, 94 female-owned businesses in Croatia were nominated for recognition by YOU – our audience. Our independent panel of Croatian professionals selected 5 extraordinary businesses to be interviewed and featured on expatincroatia.com. Blue Bike Zagreb was one of the 5 selected – deservedly so.

I spoke with Alida on March 4, 2022, during which we talked about…

Read the full interview below…

Interview with Alida Mezić of Blue Bike Zagreb

Marija: Alida, when and why did you open your business?

Alida: It wasn’t at all unexpected. In fact, it was quite simple.

On a trip my husband and I took, we joined a bike tour. It was a total discovery for us, an experience completely different than anything we had tried before. We were just like “Wait, you can’t do this in Zagreb, can you?”

[At the time] no, you could not do it in Zagreb. When we returned home, we started working on the idea, went through various trainings, traveled to other cities in Europe to see whether it already existed there, how it was done, and we simply designed our first tours. That’s how it started. We had no idea it would grow this big and last this long but, fortunately, it did.

People on Blue Bike Tour in Zagreb, Croatia

Marija: What did your business look like when you started? What does it look like now? How has it grown?

Alida: First, our offer grew. In fact, it was modified to the end customer. Our first tour Ancient Zagreb – which is now called Highlights – was entirely different than now.

We spend a lot of time in the field, where we have the simplest possible way of feedback – what needs to be done, what is not good, what can be done the way we do it. Using all the info, we modified them to meet the expectations of those who, in fact, expect nothing.

Our main goal is that when people have a nice time and are satisfied, that they have learned something, that they are not tired, and have not been bored.

Marija: You are going into your 13th year of business! Holy cow!  When you first started Blue Bike, did you think you’d still be going strong this far down the line, or have you taken it more day by day?

Alida: Well, day by day, I must say. Now especially, because after the collapse in 2020, I personally decided to never make big plans again – to concentrate on the moment and act the best I can in the moment because, you never know… You do not know what tomorrow is going to bring. That’s how it actually went from the beginning.

Marija: Do you ever have moments when nothing makes sense, and you feel like giving up?  If so, what do you do?  How do you get inspired and stay positive when times are bad?  Which is the way you get the inspiration, how do you stay positive in hard times and do you have your own method for problem-solving?

Alida: I don’t have such moments at all, in fact I think that’s great. I was thinking, really “Do I? No.” My contacts are mostly with people who are on vacation, that’s the first thing. These are foreigners who are in a very good mood, very positive, very open-minded, very – now it is maybe silly to say – they are intellectuals, but yes, they are.

When we started doing these bike tours, very often people told us like “Oh, only backpackers go on such tours”. Noooo, we don’t really get backpackers at all, we have people which are staying at the Esplanade, for example, they often go on bike tours.

Just working with people is a way to be positive. And when a problem arises, it is resolved simply. When you sit on a bike, everything settles down quickly, a little wind is all you need…

Marija: You and your husband Bruno are on your bikes every day. Were you avid cyclists before starting Blue Bike? How and when did you get into it? When did you realize this was something you wanted to do?

Alida: I wouldn’t say I’m an avid cyclist at all. I just find everything is just the simplest on a bike – what takes too long for on foot, it does not with my bike, what’s too complicated for me with my car – where to park, will I get stuck in traffic – it’s not complicated with my bike, so… I wouldn’t call it avid cycling, it’s simply the most practical way to get around the city.

Bruno has a little more inclination for mountain rides, which I, of course, don’t. And that’s it. That first bike tour we took was in 2008. It took us a year and a half to fix everything. And… that was it.

Marija: You are right. Zagreb is a good city to be explored by bike. Over the years, Zagreb has introduced more bike lanes making it easier and safer to get around.  What could Zagreb do better for bike riders?

Alida: Look, there is always plenty of room for improvements, as much as you like. I think it would be very wise to do what cities around Europe are doing now, to make a bit more space for a pedestrian zone, to fight for bikes and for pedestrians, possibly to introduce electric buses for the transport of people who live in the center.

I think that cars should not be in the city center at all. It’s too small a city, there are too many cars, people are just annoyed, everyone gets nervous, it’s not good. I would actually only leave two main roads we call Zeleni val.

People on Blue Bike Tour in Zagreb, Croatia

Marija: Since you work with your husband, I imagine the lines between your private and business life blur a little bit. Do you have strict rules for separating private life from business or do you bring your work home with you?  Do you have a method for turning off after work and keeping it out of your private marriage time?

Alida: No. In our case, that is absolutely not possible. We also include our children in our business, when necessary (laughs), when there are errands, we need them to run… That line between the private and business life is purely physical.

Marija: I now have an interesting question, maybe a bit tricky. What do you use more often in your work: logic and intellect or intuition and faith?

Alida: I would say logic and… Common sense and intuition are a winning combination, I would say.

Marija: Excellent!

Alida: Of course, intuition always comes in handy, common sense even more so. That’s the combination.

Marija: That’s the secret?

Alida: Yes.

Marija: What is the biggest thing you had to sacrifice in your life for your business?

Alida: No, I don’t think so. I’ve always been my own boss, so I’m used to all the benefits but also to all the flaws of that relationship. So, to me it was not a huge difference to make some big changes in my daily life organization.

I can’t even say that I have less free time because that free time is not every day from 5 to 10pm. Sometimes it is, and sometimes I have free time in the morning from 9am to 4pm. I have learned to organize my life in this way, and it is completely normal for me. I do not feel I gave up anything because of that.

Marija: Have you come across any obstacles or experienced discrimination as a women entrepreneur in Croatia? If so, what happened and how did you handle it?

Alida: Honestly, only at the beginning, I have – at the start of the Bike Tour – but these weren’t situations I was in because I was a woman. It was just something new on our market, so there was some misunderstanding at the beginning – what it’s going to be done and how it’s going to be done…

Even the tourist institutions were a little confused and I think they were just like “Bicycles?”. But that would have happened even if I had been a man. It cleared up very quickly. Fortunately I don’t think I experienced any awkward situations, problematic issues – it all goes very smoothly.

Well, now, maybe the reason behind that is that my main communication goes in the direction of people who are on their leave, who are in a good mood, who are moving around.

And when it comes to B2B and dealing with companies… not to sound like I am idealizing anything, but I think people that take a bike tour as part of their vacation are people who are very smart, somehow more open, warmer, more relaxed. I think that helps a lot.

Marija: So, some things have come together, in a positive way?

Alida: Absolutely.

Marija: That’s good to hear. Sounds very challenging and dynamic.

Alida: It is definitely dynamic. Although we have all the tours defined, I always say and all our tour guides stress it out if people have their own questions, their desires, interests. Everything is possible and very often we turn and go somewhere other than we initially planned or what it says on the website. Why not, if they want to…

I just recently had a couple, he’s Russian and she’s Ukrainian. And they were really, really, really cute and they wanted us to turn to Medika and we turned to Medika and it was really nice and later we stayed in touch. Now I really struggle whether to call them, to ask them… what can I ask them, really? It’s sad. I thought I would manage to avoid that topic, but there you go…

Marija: I understand. You don’t have to hold back, I think it’s impossible, it’s really impossible… I kind of think it’s always better to ask people how they are doing. It’s nice of you to think of them.

People on Blue Bike Tour in Zagreb, Croatia

Marija: What is your biggest business fear and how do you fight against it?

Alida: I hope that I had overcome my biggest business fear in 2020 (laughs), honestly. I wasn’t afraid of it because it never occurred to me that something like that could happen, but here it is.

Since we are located in the center of the city, we also lost that space… in fact, our space was not damaged, but we could not reach it because there were damages in the square. In a way, the fact that there was a pandemic, so no one came here anyway, sort of made the situation easier for us. I didn’t have to explain to people “Well you know, there was an earthquake so we can’t even get through to the bikes.”

In 2020, we were on the verge of whether we will survive or not, but here we are, we survived, and I think that’s it. Yes, it can’t get any worse than that.

Marija: Do you have employees in addition to yourself and Bruno?

Alida: Only Bruno and I are employed in our company. When necessary, we hire people part-time through a student service. When we have big tours or tours in other languages, we usually have more people.

Marija: How do you encourage and motivate your guides  to grow, and which values do you find the most important in your working culture?

Alida: All the people who work with us have contacted us directly, on their own initiative. That is sort of the first filter that people go through. We have been approached by enough of them, so that we never had to post a job opening or search for people.

It’s something I really value because I like people who are proactive, young people who just come in and say “Oh, I really like that idea of yours and I think I would be a great fit for your company. That’s a huge advantage. It doesn’t really get any better than that.

And you can see very quickly… those people are already… they are already very honest, open, dedicated, hardworking – in fact if they weren’t, they wouldn’t have come forward, right?

These are things that I value, and I try to be the same with them. I make sure there is never any bad blood, that everyone must enjoy the process, both us and the end user, because if not, we can hardly produce a good product.

Marija: What do you think Croatia can do better to be more supportive of the entrepreneurial spirit?

Alida: To make everything simpler. I think we still have a huge space for e-networking, because what we have now is not very good, I have to admit.

I hope people won’t hate me because of saying this, but I just recently had a situation with papers – you carry paper by paper around, you have to take it out here, download it, fill it in, print it out and scan it, so you then can take it somewhere. It takes an awful lot of time, patience – it makes you lose the will for anything. You can hardly be very creative and productive after you spend 6 hours carrying a piece of paper from place to place. While we have a system “e-građani” that’s supposed to work.

Marija: We know that Croatia has a very heavy bureaucracy, especially when it comes to operating a business. What is the number one thing you would change that would make running your business easier or more profitable?

Alida: I do not know what I would change. I can’t say that I would abolish it, but the way [things are now], I would say is quite demotivating. I think that the main problem in Croatia is that when you need to contact someone, an institution, we already know from the beginning [that we will hear] “Oh, now there is going to be a complication”. And in fact, it should be that I have a refuge of my own there and that I know that when I get there that someone will do their best to solve my problem. You know how far that is from the real situation. 

Marija: Of course. On the other side, is there anything about Croatian bureaucracy that you feel has helped your business or been advantageous – given what you do?

Alida: The only time when the institutions came forward to do us a favor was when the pandemic started, but it was also so minor and negligible in fact. Yes, it saved our lives, but still, the bare life. Now, to do something… I don’t really expect anything from our bureaucracy, except to have as little contact with them as possible. (laughter)

Marija: Minimal expectations?

Alida: Yeh, I’ll do everything by myself, just don’t harass me too much. That’s it.

People on Blue Bike Tour in Zagreb, Croatia

Marija: What is next for Blue Bike? Is there a big goal or milestone on the horizon?

Alida: There is, but I really don’t want to talk about it at all because of the moment we are in now. I just had a meeting today with an agency that is a leader in city bike tours globally and in fact they chose us to be their partner in Zagreb. And I guess that will be it. Unless it won’t.

If we don’t survive. I’m not making any long-term plans at all because we don’t know what’s going to happen. So why would I waste time on it? I have enough everyday dilemmas.

Marija: For the end, I have an easy question. You offer more than 10 different bicycle tours of Zagreb. Which is your favorite and why?

Alida: Well, these 10 – most of them have just started, they are fairly new. My favorite is Back to Socialism – a tour that takes the guests to Novi Zagreb because I think that Novi Zagreb is utterly and unfairly neglected in the eyes of the locals as well as tourism institutions and authorities.

I have to say that this is changing a bit now, but when we started going to Novi Zagreb in 2010, people were puzzled “To Novi Zagreb? But why, what’s there?”.

On the other hand, the tourists who would come and go to Novi Zagreb – every single one of them would be totally delighted and that’s why this tour became very dear to me because I think I somehow adverted attention to the part of the city that is totally unjustly neglected, and I opened eyes of my clients for something that none of them expected.

Also, when I am the guide on this tour, personally, it’s dear to me because the tour is flat, there is no uphill. (laughter)

Marija: Fair enough! Do you have favorite locations in Novi Zagreb and have you noticed if tourists prefer certain locations?

Alida: I love it when I ride with people and then I hear from behind when they say “Woooow.” Makes me feel really good. They say wow when we come to the Gradec plateau because a view of the cathedral opens up before them there, but you would expect that.

Everyone always says wow when we come to Bundek, for example. For us, it’s “Ok, Bundek, nothing special, a park, a reflection”, nothing spectacular. But a lot of people react positively to the things we are used to.

I’m a local, born and raised in Zagreb, and a lot of things have always been “Ok, nothing special”. Mark’s church was “Well, what now, colorful roof, not a big deal” – that roof is such a spectacle for people that for me now St. Mark’s Church has become a spectacle.

People love the places that either remind them of somewhere they went, but can’t go there anymore. We had some Russian Jewish guests who were amazed with the grass at Jarun lake because they can’t see the grass in Israel anymore.

Also I had an Indian gentleman who asked me nicely if we can simply stay on Zrinjevac because the tour was in October and everything was in a beautiful orange color, and he never saw orange leaves. He lived in India in a city where there is an eternal spring, and everything is green.

A 55-year-old man stood in the pavilion and watched and filmed and watched and filmed. We exchanged numbers (most often we exchange contacts with our guests) and I sent him pictures from various locations – from Maksimir, from a trip to Daruvar we took, the same orange forests. It was something he has never seen and for him it was special. No Cathedral or St. Mark’s Church could outdo that, that amazement with ordinary yellow leaves on Zrinjevac.

Marija: Sometimes we notice that the things we take for granted, ordinary, everyday things are actually the most important, the most wonderful things.

Alida: Yes. They are, yes. Quite simply, it doesn’t have to be a spectacular building of a thousand floors. Every single one of them is fascinated by something that is important to them, either because it is unavailable, or because it means something to them. There you go.

Marija: That’s nice. You sound very encouraging.

Alida: I think the wisest thing to do is to take a “đir” with me.

Marija: I don’t think you’ll need to invite me twice. (laughs) I’d invite myself first chance I get! I love cycling in Zagreb myself. I lived in Zagreb for a long time during university. I got to know it on my bike. I practically lived on the bike. I will definitely join you once.

I have just one more question. Do you have anything else in mind that you would like to share with us, related to either Blue Bike or yourself, anything that comes to mind.

Alida: To quote Sandra Bullock, “World peace!”

Marija: Wonderful.

Alida: I don’t know what else to tell you. The current situation is so painful for me that… I don’t know, when I start thinking about it, everything else becomes meaningless. We better skip that.

Marija: Thank you for your enthusiasm, for your warmth, for your openness. I wish you a pleasant day, happiness, and peace.

Alida: Thank you, I wish you the same.

How to support Alida and Blue Bike Zagreb

View the full list of Women’s Month 2022 winners here. We will publish a new female entrepreneur interview every week during March. Stay tuned…

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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