The 2015 edition of the pan-European startup contest Idea Challenge sees an increase in variety and internationality. The series of events re…
Jugoslav Petkovic Photo credit: Matej Kolakovič http://matejkolakovic.com/ [edited by inventures.eu]
Tell us a little about your background.
I started doing business online at a very young age and started my first company as soon as I was allowed to, at 18. I worked as a developer, coder, designer, project manager, but all the tech was self-taught for the purpose of turning my ideas into reality as cheaply as possible.
In 2006, I took over as CEO of the three companies I co-founded (a domain registration & web hosting provider, a web development agency and an online shop) and led them through restructuring. In the following five years, we went from about 30 employees and 5 million euros in revenue to more than a 100 employees and 20+ million euros in revenue.
In 2011, all companies had new management and the following year, we sold the domain registration & web hosting and the e-commerce business, both as market leaders.
When did you realise you didn’t have to work anymore?
I still haven't concluded I don't have to work, and there's plenty of things for me to do and challenging projects to accomplish :)
Tell us about a time you failed. If you did, what made you get back on your feet?
We had no business experience when we started, so we failed many many times, but luckily never fatally. We had some bad investments in startup companies in Slovenia that we wanted to integrate into our business. These cost us a lot of money but our exponential growth helped absorb the losses. We also hit a rough patch at the beginning of 2009, when the recession affected Slovenia, but our quick and decisive response helped us not only resolve the issues but also gain market share. Being ready and willing to stop on a dime and change course, adapt to the environment and learn are most important to help you get back on your feet when things go sour.
Why and when did you become an investor and how important is the financial return to you?
I have been an active mentor through my entire career. I figured whatever little experience I had, there was surely someone who could benefit from it. After 13 years, these experiences amounted to quite a lot so after stepping out of my companies, I decided to upgrade my activities with some financial investments. I'm learning, so I'm not looking to make a quick profit, but I hate losing, so I want to make sure I'm getting something in return for my time and money.
How important is the technology when you're looking at a new investment opportunity?
I mostly focus on consumer companies, where usually technology is not the key factor. It's more about the access to market, customer insight, and strength of the brand in these cases.
What has changed in the investing scene from your first investment until now?
I started less than two years ago, so it's hard to talk about significant changes, but we've definitely seen improvements in the quality of ideas and their execution, better understanding of business models and how to start companies. But there's still a long way to go in our region.
What do you think about Startup scene in Slovenia, and do you think that startups should move from Slovenia if they want success?
I've seen the ecosystem grow and develop incredibly over the last few years. Right now, I'm most concerned about the overall state of mind in the country, because there's a lot of negativity, pessimism and even despair. So the reason I would advise Slovenian entrepreneurs to go out of the country for a while is to get rid of those feelings and get a more optimistic and can-do outlook. Otherwise I think Slovenia is a great place to start tech companies, because costs are far lower than in most other places and the quality of life is much better. But of course founders have to travel a lot, meet people and spread the word about their company.
Working with other people
What kind of people do you work best with? What are the characteristics that they all have in common?
I love hanging out with intelligent and creative people, so those are the first two traits I'm looking for. They have to be makers and have a good balance between a "just do it" attitude and a desire to plan and control everything.
What do you look for when investing in a company?
I want to see a dedicated team that has demonstrated they can get things done. Then, I prefer industries I know or where I can significantly help, and of course I have to believe that there is, or will be, a product-market fit.
What's common across your investments to date?
They're all incredibly dedicated founders with a very solid product and a big market.
How do you spend your free time?
I try to travel as much as possible.
Working with you means...
... to be willing to work with a perfectionist.
Invitation for startups
What about international companies, do you invest in them?
My investments so far have always had a tie to Slovenia - at least one founder was from Slovenia, although some of the companies and other founders were based in UK, Denmark, US. My latest investment was the first one that had no ties to Slovenia, it's a UK company with Finnish founders.
Tell us about your last investment - what attracted your attention, and what made you close the deal?
I haven't announced the last one yet, but the one before that was Codeable.io, a platform for outsourcing small tasks around Wordpress. What attracted me was the insanely dedicated team, who consistently delivered and over-delivered during the six months between when we met them and when I invested.
What types of businesses are proving most popular at the moment?
I don't like to talk about trends too much, because often times, I seem to be a contrarian investor, but I do think there are gigantic opportunities in health, education and finance.
Besides providing capital, what else do you do with the companies you back?
Capital is usually the least important part. Sometimes the companies don't even use the cash, it's just there to provide some security and peace of mind. I try to help with defining the product, getting the right people on board to execute the plan, help with the “go to market” strategy and also with follow-on fundraising, if necessary.
What would you recommend to the people who want to get you on board?
I'll never invest just money, so they need to know what they expect to benefit from my involvement. They should have more than just an idea, because I like to see proof that they can execute. They should also have a clear vision that goes beyond what the first iteration of the product is, beyond the features.
Don't even think of getting in touch if…
...you're not willing to drop everything and work like crazy to get to your goal.
Interview by Urška Renier.
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