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While OpenCoffee Split still remains predominantly an event in Croatian, we had such a great and insightful time at its last edition held on Friday at Tap B Micro Brewery that we wanted to share a bit of that atmosphere with our international audience, as well! 😀
The guest speaker for the evening was Damir Sabol, the founder and CEO of Photomath.
For those of you who might be unfamiliar with Photomath, this is the most important thing you should know: they multiply the understanding and subtract the horror from mathematics for students around the world!
As a company, Photomath has grown into a truly global story since its founding in 2014. This continuously growing EdTech company currently employs over 160 people and has offices in Zagreb and in San Mateo, California. They are the ones who created and are maintaining and improving the most popular math app in the world!
The Photomath app is currently available in more than 30 languages and in over 195 countries around the world. It solves and explains more than 2 billion math problems every month.
In total, it has been downloaded 320 million times so far!
The opportunity to hear what Damir had to share about Photomath’s journey and his own entrepreneurial experiences drew a very varied crowd to last Friday’s OpenCoffee. From young students to some startup enthusiasts and industry professionals – all were left inspired in their own way! 🙂
And while his interesting insights are what made us all attend, what made us stay after the lecture was the great networking. Of course, the barbecue helped, too! 😉
Throughout his lecture, Damir led us from his beginnings at the university back in the day, for which he says he was an average student but learned a valuable lesson: “Internet is going to be a big thing!”
This led to his first entrepreneurial success: Iskon. After selling Iskon to Hrvatski Telekom, he focused on developing Microblink, a company that develops B2B software solutions based on computer vision technology. Microblink brought another important lesson for Damir:
“You can sell only what users need!”
Microblink is nowadays a part of a US company and employs more than 200 people, but it was also the springboard to jumpstart Photomath.
The original idea of Photomath came from needing to solve a personal frustration: meaning – helping your kid with a math problem. 😀
Damir felt reviewing and correcting his son’s math homework was a tedious task, so he thought that the mobile text reading technology used in Microblink products could be adapted and applied to solving math problems, as well.
Here is another lesson Damir learned: “If, as a startup company, you’re solving a real problem, chances are you’ll succeed in the end!”
At the end of 2014, after working on Photomath for some time, they applied to the well-known and prestigious tech conference TechCrunch Disrupt Europe with an early version of the app and ended up winning third place.
That success brought them some worldwide recognition, as well as a first “so-called” regret: “We thought that the application would have 100,000 downloads by the end of its lifetime.
But on the third day after the conference, we already had more than one and a half million downloads!
We joke and laugh about it now, but at that point, our biggest problem was that we decided not to charge for the download, so it was really difficult to watch those numbers growing and our bank account statements remaining the same.”
However, it is not uncommon that after flying high, comes a large fall. Damir admits that, during those first few months after the downloads stopped, it was difficult – but the Photomath team persevered. This was the point where Damir reflected a bit on startup life.
He talked about the (un)glamorous startup life in the US and all the visits he made to potential investors. This part of his job he considers as an emotionally very demanding task, which can sometimes have interesting benefits – primarily good food!
Damir also reflected on the differences between the US and European ways: “European investors give money to startups only when they have already achieved some kind of success. The US investors, however, are very different.
They are not conservative, but take much more risks and invest money when they see something in you and want you to use their investment to experience success.”
Another difference is the Europeans’ love for paperwork: “It doesn’t make sense to the US investors that I deal with financial statements and similar paperwork when I can instead focus my time and energy on the development of the product and the people who work at Photomath.”
Damir also reflected on the unrealistic media portrayals of startups and startup life in general: “There’s always lots of talk about success while any failures are silently swept under the rug.
As a startup founder that can make you feel lonely and it can be very difficult because there will be struggles and no one can prepare you for them. On the other hand, you shouldn’t be afraid of failure, especially when you’re still young and don’t really have anything to lose.
That being said, I don’t think it’s a good idea to mortgage your house or take out a loan!”
And as far as Photomath goes, they are hungry for future growth and only the sky is their limit: “Our success so far was made possible by superior technology in combination with superior user experience.
However, we want to do even better!
Now we bring in people who help us make our product a real business. We still have a lot of work to do because our own ambitions are getting bigger and bigger!”
In the end, while answering a question from the audience, Damir shared one piece of advice we could always keep hearing as it is easy to forget: “Take care of yourself! Do sports, socialize with people, and don’t focus only on work.
Success means being satisfied overall, so take care of yourself!”
We hope this short overview managed to bring you at least a bit of that inspirational energy we got to feel at the 135th OpenCoffee Split meetup!
Photos by: Bruno Dubravec