Be careful with your funding. Startups often receive a lot of VC funding, but founders need to remain calculated throughout. You shouldn‘t be receiving any more capital than you need. If you do, it will turn into a liability versus an asset down the line — particularly if you don’t know what to do with that amount of money and have a lot of people breathing down your neck for success metrics.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and even bigger obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ivan Burazin, Chief Developer Experience Officer at Infobip — a global cloud communications platform that enables businesses to build connected customer experiences across all stages of the customer journey at scale, with easy and contextualized interactions over customers’ preferred channels. He is also the cofounder of Codeanywhere, a cloud based coding platform, and Shift Conference.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I am currently the Chief Developer Experience Officer at Infobip — a global cloud communications platform that enables businesses to build connected customer experiences across all stages of the customer journey at scale, with easy and contextualized interactions over customers’ preferred channels. I am the cofounder of Codeanywhere a cloud based coding platform, and also the founder of the Shift Conference — a tech conference franchise with over a decade of experience in creating and producing technology conferences in Software Development, FinTech and Artificial Intelligence — which was recently acquired by Infobip. For the past decade, I have really worked closely with developers.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired you to start your journey? Can you share a story with us?
A few years ago, I was chatting with Justin Kan, the co-founder of Twitch during a fireside at Shift Conference, and he described the importance of perseverance — and that resonated with me. When building a company, there are so many things that can bring you down. I mean, my company Shift (which was eventually acquired by Infobip) almost failed twice! Founders are natural innovators and any opportunity we take to grow our business could also be the opportunity that crumbles our business. But when you believe in your product — the only thing you can do is persevere. So, that’s my overall inspiration. I loved that fireside chat; I took a lot of that conversation to heart.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
As my inspiration, perseverance makes the list. I’m a big believer in try and try again. Decisiveness is another important quality when building a startup. I feel it’s better to make a wrong decision than no decision at all, especially when you’re leading other people. They expect you to know what you’re doing (even if you don’t know what you’re doing) — and it stops them from worrying about what could happen, while making it easier for them to believe in and follow the plan. To that point, empathy is also so important. Working with your team, potential investment partners and vendors, being able to understand what the other person in the conversation is feeling — no matter what you’re doing for or with them — helps make for smoother processes. Personally, this was so important when looking for partners at the Shift conference — just being empathetic to how people turned us down (and extreme perseverance), turned some of the “no’s” into some of the biggest “yes’s” biggest .
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
After Infobip acquired my startup Shift, I became the Chief Developer Experience Officer at Infobip and have been in the process of building out our developer experience and startup ecosystem teams. That word — ecosystem — is what makes Infobip standout. They’re all about connecting people — after all, their core service is about offering voice, SMS and email options so brands can build loyal communities — and it’s exciting for me to translate that experience to developers. I think that’s why Infobip and Shift meshed so well during the acquisition. Shift is also very much about community and working with the developer community locally and globally; with Shift, my goal was to connect people physically, encouraging attendees to meet new people, attend the cocktail hours — really making it about the community and how the community can learn. Now working at Infobip, they’re the best in the world at connecting people digitally and it’s an exciting thing to be a part of.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about the advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
There is certainly a lot of advice I wish I never received or thought about following, but someone once told me, “Why waste recourses to create something new when you can copy ‘the best’?” As it turns out, “the best” — whatever or whoever your competitor may be — doesn’t know any better than you. So, I learned that making your own decisions based on reaching your own goals is the way to go. In fact, it’ll probably turn out that they copy you in the end.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder?
My advice for the lows is to just make it through the day. I remember at one point I was so broke that the electricity company came to shut off my power — it was the worst time period in my life. But I thought to myself, I just have to make it to the end of the day without shutting the doors. Knowing that you’re in a low and that everyone goes through them is important.
Riding the highs? Enjoy them while they last, because they often don’t last long — as an entrepreneur, there’s always another hurdle. But in these moments, a key thing to remember is to not make any big business decisions. When people are in a high, they tend to make decisions that can severely impact their business during the next low. That’s almost always a trap.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
- Make sure you’re starting something that solves your own problem. You don’t necessarily have to have expertise or background on the issue, but you need to know you’re solving an actual issue you can relate to. Creating something you intrinsically need to know how to solve will help drive your passion and success.
- Be careful who you partner with. Startups usually fail because of issues between cofounders. So, if you’re going to have a co-founder, make sure you have a long-lasting relationship and it’s someone you enjoy spending a lot of time with — because that will certainly be the case. I had been with my cofounder for 12 years, and that partnership outlasted multiple of my personal relationships! Also, a cofounder’s departure is super hard, especially if you went into it with equal stakes and can’t buy them out. Naturally, that can kill a company.
- Identify your customer. You have to know you’re meeting a need for a specific kind of customer — you can solve whatever you want, but if there’s no customer base, the business model won’t be successful. It can be the best app in the works, but if no one’s using the product, there’s nothing to pursue long-term.
- Be careful with your funding. Startups often receive a lot of VC funding, but founders need to remain calculated throughout. You shouldn‘t be receiving any more capital than you need. If you do, it will turn into a liability versus an asset down the line — particularly if you don’t know what to do with that amount of money and have a lot of people breathing down your neck for success metrics.
- I said it before, and I’ll say it again — have perseverance! The key to creating a successful startup is trying, failing and trying again. I’m sure every single founder you ask will say the same thing.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Doing the opposite of everything I’ve said above! But, naturally, a lot of this will be trial and error. There is no one-size-fits-all because every company is different. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen goes back to being careful with funding. When the crypto boom came, you saw all of these blockchain CEOs riding around in private jets paid for with publicly-raised funds. Infobip didn’t raise capital for about 10 years and now we’re a Croatian unicorn. There is always something to be said about humility.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!