As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matej Zalar. Matej has 15 years of relevant professional experience working for companies like Porsche and Nokia. He co-founded technology companies Visionect, Cubesensors and Weber Marine, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree and MBA from Faculty of Economics, University of Ljubljana, and a High-Tech Management diploma from Jyvaskyla University, Finland. Matej is super passionate about new product development and marketing. Especially when it comes to simplicity in experience and design, products developed by the Matej and his team received many awards and recognition from around the world.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
From an early age onwards, I had the privilege to play with computers. My dad was a big electronics and IT aficionado and I guess I picked it up from him. Later on in my life I studied high-tech management in Finland and worked on one project with Nokia. They had a phone concept that you could pull apart and in between there was a rolled up electronic paper display. That was so amazing. After my studies I asked my good friend and my brother if they would like to join and build something similar. Something unique, something daring. That’s how we started designing a display platform that is today about 99% more power-efficient than other display platforms.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
I would say that lack of capital is the most difficult at the beginning. The constant “chicken-egg” challenge. How can you show a product if you don’t have the capital? And capital would like to see a product before committing to investing or buying. The consistent feedback from potential investors was NO. That was very difficult. But, in this process I learned that every no gets you closer to a yes. I learned that you simply must be persistent and eventually you will find your lucky moment.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Perseverance. Most importantly we had to keep going. In most cases success does not happen overnight. It usually takes closer to 10 years. As much as it sounds like a cliché, it’s true. I think you must be very committed and enjoy what you do very much. Or you will quit before you get to your lucky moment. We started developing a very expensive display platform and were very off in our early calculations about time and investment needed to design this platform. Instead of 4–5 months and 50,000 USD, it ended up consuming almost 4 years and a few million USD of capital. I guess we had to be a little bit ignorant also or else we would have never started.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t give up. Business is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Being persistent is everything. I believe that we are all in a way reliant on luck. Some find luck sooner, some later. And with persistency you mathematically increase your statistical probability that you reach your lucky moment.
- Running a business is connected to constant worrying. This can be very exhausting and worrying usually does not solve a thing. It usually makes things worse. The only way through this is with practice. The longer you are in it, the better you can handle it. I believe there are no shortcuts.
- Do stuff that makes you happier. Focus on details that you are good at. Delegate the rest. Don’t try and micromanage everything.
- Be yourself. If you don’t listen to yourself, you will get lost. You started something with you own vision, don’t let others guide you to much. Stay true to it.
- Success will not happen overnight. If it does you are as lucky as the person winning the lottery.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Empower people. Don’t do too many meetings. Hydrate. Exercise. Take a break every now and then.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are many. If I must pick one that would be my mom. She really stood behind our story all the time and helped us to the best of her abilities. She helped us borrow some early capital when we were not able to get it anywhere else.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Personally, I would like to have more personal time to start with. I would love more peace of mind. Mindfulness is on top of my list today. Something more tangible. I love extreme sports and am working to get my skydiving license.
Professionally, in the next 3 years I would like our Joan meeting room management product line to be the most widely used and recognizable platform in our industry.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I hope to inspire people to think big and not be afraid to try.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
Thanks to technology we are having more meetings today than ever before in history. And this will not change. The fact is also that more than half of them are a total waste of time due to lack of preparation, pure execution, no conclusion … Many times, we have a meeting just for the sake of it and they are the one office time wasters. Learning how to run better meetings is one of the things that would make office professionals much more productive, efficient and, ultimately, happier.
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