Sasa Sarunic – serial startuper
There’s something about serial entrepreneurs… Take cliff diving for example. You are standing on top of a cliff, let’s say 10m high. It doesn’t matter if your plan is to jump on a head, or legs. You are scared as hell! Some of your friends, and “friends” are teasing you, saying you don’t have the guts to jump. You know that the chances of something bad happening are minimal, but there’s this loud voice inside your head yelling you could break your back, neck, embarrass yourself.
And than finally, finally you beat the coward in yourself. You take the jump! Just do it, as the commercial said so. The rush goes through your body, as you hit the water you are relived. You are victorious as your friends are chearing, not tesing you. Entrepreneurs, you know what I am talking about.
Than a funny thing occurs. Along comes winter, and the next summer. You are up on that big rock again. Guess what, your legs are shaking of fear. Once again you have to beat the devil, the diablo. What in the world led you to that silly rock again? What in the world were you thinking?! Why, why, why do you persist? Maybe because you choose to. Maybe because you are foolish enough to think you can change the world. Maybe because you want to help people. Or maybe you just have that drive within you, and you are like a rocket prepared to do what it takes to reach Mars.
This is why I interview entrepreneurs. In our country, entrepreneurs like Saša don’t get (wrongfully) much media attention, because all the bad entrepreneurs get it. This leads the public oppinion in the wrong dirrection, so the public turns into a crowd that laughs at you, points fingers for no apparent reason, and throws accusations, because they are used of entrepreneur wrong doing. I choose to believe differently, I see entrepreneurs as saviours of the society. Paying way more taxes that drives country budget, and drive the ecnonomy by spending more, hiring people that were unemployed, and inventing new services (or bringing old ones to mass market) so they solve problems. Basically entrepreneurs are problem solvers, they are the solution!
I am sure there are some people in your country as well that call themselves entrepreneurs, when they are not. Know thy true entrepreneur, the force is strong within him.
Why Saša Šarunić? Oh well, no particular reason… He founded a succesfull mobile and software development company (5minutes) and got an $1.7 million for a third (ShoutEm) (The Next Web, 50 cent use it and even Eric Ries with Lean Startup to name a few), that’s innovation and high tech wrapped into one. You could say cliff diving is second nature to him, if you know what I mean. They were the first Croatian startup to get VC funding, went to Seedcamp, and the whole shebang.
Goran: Saša, how do you measure your success with your projects/startups/companies? You co-founded Pticica and Trosjed (which was sold to Net.hr), then 5 minutes, and then ShoutEm, in your eyes how do you measure success in them?
Saša: I measure success in work by two parameters – fun that you have by doing a work, and money as a compensation for your effort. I started all four projects with Viktor Marohnic who proved to be a great partner, full of energy and good ideas. Working with him was already guarantee enough that we were looking at fun times 🙂
While both of us were pretty enthusiastic about Pticica and Trosjed and had a great time working on them, those projects were complete failure in terms of revenue. The whole concept was based on our false presumption that advertisers will stand in a queue to advertise on such great social networks we had built. 🙂 Nevertheless, we learned a lot on our failures and entered the web and multimedia business which was completely unknown area for us before.
Experience gathered on Pticica and Trosjed allowed us to establish Five minutes which is currently going really, really great in terms of interesting projects and amazing coworkers. The money is not bad either. 🙂
ShoutEm is definitely the most fun project we’ve being working so far. It’s for us what’s going for Olympics to a sportsmen – fighting with the best ones. While not profitable yet, ShoutEm has, at our opinion, the potential to outgrow Five minutes significantly.
Goran: Can you tell my readers where did you learn to code so well? How would you compare yourself with some of the best coders in the world that work at Google, Facebook, Twitter? Would you say coding is your passion, and why did you choose this particular programming language?
Saša: I’m programming since I was 12. I’m 37 now so you can do the math 🙂 It must be a passion since no one was forcing me to do it.
There is no chance that I can compare or compete with the best coders in the world. Most of ShoutEm and Five minutes employees are better developers than I am. However, I think I have a knowledge and people skills broad enough that I can be a CTO and do it well.
Since the team is growing and management roles take more and more of my time, I must admit that I’m programming less and less, just a few hours a week on some non-critical tasks. I do it to stay in shape and because I love it.
Goran: At what point and why, did you choose to go after a VC money? Whas the process difficult, or should I ask, what was the most difficult part? How did you feel when RSG Capital said they were interested in investing, how did they tell you the good news?
Saša: Viktor and I knew from the beginning that we don’t have enough money to finance ShoutEm development and were aiming for VC money from the day one. The process lasted for the full three years. During that time we were constantly rejected by VC-s as being in too-early stage of development (which is just a VC’s code for “we are not sure if you will succeed or not”). RSG was one of the first VCs we contacted and they passed on a deal as well. However, we were persistent as hell, and this didn’t went unnoticed. After years of pushing it, we finally closed a deal. Since it didn’t came overnight, there was no ecstasy, just a relief that we’ll be able to finish the project for which we knew will be a success.
Goran: How are you coping with the employee growth? Do you use any strategies, attend seminars, read any books, gut feeling? Werner Vogels for example likes to use small times, and he calls it the 2 jumbo pizza rule. If you can’t feed your team with 2 jumbo pizzas, the team is to big. 🙂 Do you have any particular company culture, do you do something different?
Saša: I must say that I’ve read a pile of books on organisation, project management, psychology and software development in general, but non of them survived the touch with reality. Each company is different in its own matter and best practice books are good to get a general feeling on how others do it, but you have to find what works best for your own company by yourself.
When we looked where to grow the team, we always did it where it “hurt” the most. For example, we didn’t employ a secretary only until we couldn’t do the paperwork by ourselves because of lack of sleep.
If I could stress one thing we constantly promote in our company(ies) is pro-activeness. That is a trait that pushes the company forward.
Goran: Hypothetically speaking, if you sold ShoutEm for $100 gazillionbazillion what would you than do?
Saša: I would rest for a year (just sleeping and doing nothing 🙂 and probably start some new venture the year after 🙂
Goran: What does your tipical day look now? Do you code late, or do you get up early?
Saša: When I was younger, I really liked programming in the silence of the night and that was the most productive part of my day. However, now I have a lot of coworkers who depend on me being available in the company, and I can’t afford to wake up at noon anymore 🙂 To my great relief, I discovered that mornings are great for working as well. I would even dare to say now that you can’t be really successful in life if you don’t get up early (except if you are a rock star, maybe).
Goran: My startup WhoAPI deals with domains, so I need to ask you a couple of domaining questions 🙂 What was the first domain name you registered?
Saša: That was time.hr, a domain for my first company – Time d.o.o. This was a company doing software development for radio stations, real estate agencies and lawyers. Although it was a one-man-show, helped me earn some money during my university days.
Goran: Time.hr, that’s a great domain name, what are your plans with that!?
Saša: It is now a company ran by my mother doing marketing for local newspapers in Dalmatia. It is interesting that time.org and time.net domains were for sale at the time but I didn’t want to buy them. I thought that it was too much to give $70 for the domain (the price of a domain in 1995.). Stupid me! 🙂
Goran: Does ShoutEm have any other cool domains like shoutem.com? For example, would you be interested in registering shout.app? Why yes, why not?
Saša: Yes, we bought all variations that we thought people would type in and address box instead of shoutem, like shoutem.net, shoutm.com, shoutm.net and are always looking for a new ones. I consider good (short and simple) domain name crucial for the success of the company and would be interested in buying shout.app as well.
I even have a few of my own, like – sarunic.com, truehackers.com, hackerville.net, etc… waiting for me to finally start a personal blog.
Goran: Would you like to add something, perhaps if you are looking for new employees, or some special announcement, some news, or just say hi to mum and dad?
Thank you for your time!