When a smile is a permanent, a bow tie is handed out as a calling card, and a company is launched on April Fools’ Day, something is quite clear – someone, somewhere is having fun. That someone would be Damir Bandalo and his merry team of seven; the somewhere is Zagreb, and the fun, he says, is spent every day working on their latest project – Cinexio.
Cinexio is an app meant to change moviegoers’ experience by offering а much simpler and intuitive way to compare what is on, when and where, and to book tickets with just a few clicks. Officially first rolled out in Bulgaria, the app is gaining popularity and already taking a serious bite of the market.
Depending on how you meet Damir, there are a couple of things that will possibly stick with you. One is his wide smile. The guy looks like he is truly enjoying what he does and his good mood is contagious. Four years after he co-founded a mobile apps company, Virtualni Atelier, he is happy with his career choices, especially because he has found a way to incorporate his love for movies and has put together a great team along the way.
The other thing you are likely to remember Damir by is the small recycled-paper package he hands as a calling card. Opening it, you will find, apart from said card, a bow tie pin of a funky pattern, almost large enough to substitute the real deal – provided you have the suit to go with it. Oh, and there is actually a third thing – his promise to buy you a beer if he sees you wearing it!
While he jokes around during the interview, he makes it all look so easy, but it wasn’t quite like a Hollywood script. Or maybe it could be some day, who knows. After all, a good plot usually requires that the protagonist overcome a healthy dose of trials and tribulations.
This story’s protagonist created many of his trials himself, in a mixture of courage, optimism and, possibly, a doze of insanity. “My wife and I actually quit our jobs on the same day,” Damir recalls. Not only was he not worried about the future, but when she wasn’t quite sure if she wanted to go ahead with the plan, he actually egged her on saying: “I quit, so you are quitting now too, quit, quit, quit.” So, as Ana Bandalo left her career as a judge to open a private law practice, husband and wife talked it over and decided it wouldbe too risky if they went in business together and instead went for the divide and conquer option. And just when it seems there is some reason to these decisions, Damir mentions that the mobile apps company he started with friends Marko Ćurković, and Ivan Kašić was in a field neither had any formal training in. Believing the future lies with mobile applications they all decided to rely on their geeky predisposition and learn what they need along the way. He adds a perfectly logical reason for this career turn: “It is much, much harder to start your own bank.”
Team Cinexio Photo credit: CinexioShowing their dedication and serious outlook on business, Damir, Ivan and Marko started their company on April Fools’ Day in 2010 and turned it into a place where teambuilding is replaced by board games and, lately, an old Play Station. The whiteboard in the office often stays pristine because ideas are born through discourse, side projects grow into successful businesses and internal jokes often become selling points.
At the beginning, the company worked on various bespoke projects for clients, but things really turned when Cinexio was born two years later, under the name Cinematic. As most great discoveries, it was the result of frustration, sprinkled with laziness.
“My wife and I love going to the cinema, but figuring out what was on and where is a complicated and frustrating task here in Croatia,” Damir explains. At first, Cinexio was just something he created in his spare time to streamline his movie choices, but it quickly became popular with friends. Back when Virtualni Atelier was established, “startup” was a word that barely rolled off Croatian tongues, but by the time the concept of Cinexio was brewing, there was a community forming. “We saw that this product had potential of a life on its own, and we started thinking of outside funding. We literally googled ‘startup funding’ and LAUNCHub was the seed fund with the most recent open window,” says Damir.
Like in the movies, it was a whirlwind romance: “We decided to go for it [the LAUNCHub funding] on Saturday, and the application window was closing on Sunday,” he recalls. It was much later that they learned this was the seed fund’s very first round of funding. That didn’t stop both teams from trusting each other, though, and Cinexio became one of LAUNCHub’s flagship products winning a second round of seed funding of 100.000 euros less than a year after completing the fund’s accelerator programme.
As interesting as its story is, Cinexio mostly stands out because of the little things – like the bow-tie logo and business cards, which are now a classy differentiator for the product. These came up in a joke about the app allowing you to go to the cinema in style. Also, there are the actor-themed versions of the: “Again, it started as a joke, mentioned by someone in the team, just an idea that grew, we added to it and now people remember us that way,” Damir says. Their 1.0 version was one with Charlie Chaplin and more recent ones included Charlie Sheen (or the mundane 1.5), who was, naturally, replaced by Ashton Kutcher for the current 1.6, with Audrey Hepburn in the works, expected to appear this month.
When it is all smiles and jokes, it is easy to underestimate someone, but Damir’s company has actually fared quite good to date. Less than a year and a half after the launch of their first version, the team has grown toaccommodate eight people, Cinexio is now well established on the Bulgarian market, registering a record volume of 25.000 ticket reservations through the app in March alone. They surpassed a key milestone in April – 100.000 tickets booked to date, and have launched beta versions in Austria and Germany. The team is currently raising about 500.000-700.000 euros to speed up their expansion and maybe even try to tackle the lucrative UK market.
While this script is still waiting for its final acts, there is a small plot twist – Damir admits that improving the movie-going experience for others has, ironically, worsened his: “It’s more like going to work now. I still love it, but I have less time and I keep on looking around at the posters, the people, the queues, and think of the opportunities for our product.” It is, however, a small price to pay for doing what you love in the rest of the time.