“A year and a half ago, while we still hadn’t heard of Mrvoš, there were practically no start-ups in Split. There were companies, but I did not know of a single start-up, of someone doing something like that and succeeding in it. And just one positive story has encouraged people to get involved and realize that it can be done! That’s why I think it’s necessary to report on other similar entrepreneurial stories from Croatia, regardless if they are successful or not; sometimes the unsuccessful ones can be more useful than the successful ones. It’s good to read about other people’s experiences; they’ve all faced difficulties, others didn’t think they would succeed, but they did – those kinds of stories lift you up when things get tough“. This is what Josip Lažeta, a 23-year-old student and an entrepreneur who’s developing his own start-up, told us in a very laid-back conversation. This only goes to show that reporting on these types of stories is truly beneficial to the start-up community! Today we’ll be sharing Josip’s and his colleague’s experience, all of whom are on the right track for success.
Josip was, as he puts it, a typical passive student: “I even repeated my first year at FESB. I simply had no motivation to study. I got into university not because I loved computing, but because of my love of computers, video games and the internet. When I switched to the University Department of Professional Studies, where there were fewer people, I started asking myself where I saw myself in the future and what I would like to do after I graduate. That was a turning point for me. I slowly started actively participating at my faculty: taking advantage of professor’s office hours, talking to them as well as educating myself in my free time. But I still wasn’t using all the advantages my faculty offers. While it is true that the it lacks practical workshops and the professors cannot fully dedicate themselves to every single student, they are doing everything in their power to help students out. If you visit them during consultation hours (which only 1% of students do) they will explain everything you want and need to know! If you don’t dedicate yourself to something, you will never excel at it. Everything else is just an excuse!”
Around that time he developed an interest for microcontrollers and practical work, but it was only at the persuasion of his friends that he decided to have a practice-based final thesis. He choose a device for mixing cocktails, while his friend Jakša Vidović opted for a self-sustainable information station. After they achieved that, they realized that they should try and “push forward” one of those ideas. They decided to further develop Jakša’s idea because in it they saw more potential for further adaptation, expansion and upgrading. Two of their friends, Toni Tošić and Krešimir Raguž, joined them in their endeavour.
Jakša told us how they began working and developing their idea in January 2015: “We’ve known each other our whole lives. The three of us enrolled together in the 1st year of Computing at FESB while Jakša studied Electronics. However, different classes and schedules slowly led to our separation. Toni and Krešimir earned their diplomas and went on Erasmus their last year of university while Jakša and I “wandered off” a bit and ended up studying Computing at the University Department of Professional Studies. In any case, it’s hard to convince someone to work for you as a volunteer, but a combination of friendship, common sense, a desire for new experiences and a chance to improve your CV were all contributing factors… We’ve encouraged them to join us and went to work; we’ve all made sacrifices, invested all of our free time, and in mine and Jakša’s case, our money in this project… We’ve worked around the clock without a guarantee that our hard work would pay off. They say all entrepreneurs are arrogant and convinced in their success, but we were not like that. There were four of us, and when you combine four engineering salaries, you really don’t have to have a diploma in economics to see that was not sustainable in the long run“.
In order to take their project to the next level, they founded Chain technology. However, they were not informed about self-employment incentives so they lost a significant amount of cash inflow. They changed the content of their software daily, which they called “Lucky4You”, and applied for the Business Camp in Solin which they consider to be one of their best moves.
“We’ve heard nothing but positive things about the Camp from everyone, but at the time Mrvoš was not so well known and we had no idea how much the Camp was actually worth it. We didn’t know if we belonged there, but we applied last minute. In fact, I’m pretty convinced that had we not applied there we would have fallen apart as a team – nobody studied economics, we did not have the knowledge to create a business plan or knew how to approach counties or city councils etc. We had merely recognized a potential for development, but did not know how to use it. We won first place, something which encouraged us greatly. It was a prominent recognition which keeps us going to this day.”
The award for first place was a years worth of free services from the Business Camp in Solin, which, according to Josip, they are taking full advantage of: “When you take a look at the number of obstacles on your way, obstacles no one will warn you about when you’re starting your entrepreneurship, it can set you back and leave you in fear, constantly second-guessing whether to pursue your idea. On the other hand, when you have institutions handling all that and take pleasure in it like Mrs Ivana Ninčević, the head of Business Camp Solin, and her associates, it makes things a lot easier for you. They are there for us daily offering advice, contacts and media support. With their help we’ve written a project for HamagBicro. They’ve got us in touch with the Business Incubator Klis, where we’ve managed to get an office space, so we often visit their office as well. All in all, the best part of the Business Camp is the enthusiasm of its people and we would recommend them to everyone!”
After winning first place at the Camp, they got down to work: “We’ve decided to develop our initial device into a mobile interpretation centre. The biggest problem was that we did not like the design of our product, but after being told it’s only a phase in the developmental process we were encouraged to get down to work. But here we made another big mistake – we waited for help for too long; we’d even made drawings of our own and searched for someone who could help us, but still we couldn’t solve the redesign problem. Until Ivana Ninčević suggested asking professor Kezić to allow us to hold a presentation for Architecture students asking them for help and ideas. Jakša and I held a short presentation and took a friendly approach – we’re your colleagues in need of help and advice, and in return you could get work experience and a recommendation, so it’s a win-win situation! A week went by and no one contacted us and we slowly started losing hope, until two students approached us with the bus stop idea and we fell in love with it instantly.”
The self-sustainable information station which provides its users with a variety of services, from charging mobile devices and access to free Wi-Fi to interacting with a custom-made display has since been upgraded into a mobile interpretation centre. As Josip puts it, the goal remains the same – to give users the necessary information and introduce them to the cultural and historical heritage of their environment. Lucky4You is an excellent solution for rural communities because it gives them an innovative way to present their content, without relying on the urban network and access to electrical energy. A lack of accessible and reliable information as well as Internet access in an unknown or foreign place present one of the biggest problems of modern-day users and Lucky4You has shown to be an innovative solution which improves users’ experience, brings tourist boards’ services to a higher level, increases business for craftsmen and smaller entrepreneurial businesses all while raising awareness about self-sustainable and energetically independent systems.
When asked which phase of the process are they currently in Jakša says: “Even though we still don’t generate income, we’ve come a long way compared to just a few months ago – the redesign is finished, we have a high-quality product with buyers interested in it, a developed concept, and a detailed business plan, we’ve passed all of HamagBicro’s evaluation phases so far, and we’ve entered the National Student Startup Competition, so there are many doors opened to us at this point. The product still doesn’t exist in its physical form, and currently we’re in negotiations for financing the prototype. We’ve made it our priority to get it done till Summer. All in all, we’re making progress and evolving.”
In regards to their relationship with other start-ups and members of the IT community, Josip points out that they were welcomed with opened arms, exchanging advice and opinions with the rest of the community. He is quick to point out that it’s more of a friendly than a competitive atmosphere: “We’re learning with each passing day, growing and connecting. Networking is a significant factor in our line of work; if you don’t know people, you have no one to present your idea to, you have no one to turn to for help. As far as I’ve noticed, the IT community as a whole is a very open and welcoming one, ready to lend a helping hand or offer advice. As far as the relationship within their team, we often joke that we will be making the toughest decisions in a boxing ring. When you’ve known someone your whole life, it’s a great advantage because you know how they think. On the other hand, some situations can turn slightly chaotic due to our stubborn nature. However, we’re all in charge of different aspects of our work so everyone gets the last word in their field respectively. We spend up to 12 hours together at work, but we still function excellent as a team.”
Josip is optimistic regarding the future of the Mobile Interpretation Centre. He is convinced in its success because it represents something unique in the world of technology and has no doubt that other projects will soon follow. According to him the biggest problem of their system is the inability of serial production because the software has to be customised for each client. This is one of the reasons he believes they will be employing in the near future because they are overwhelmed even at this stage of the process.
We asked Josip what message would he like to send out to young people venturing into entrepreneurial waters and starting to develop their own ideas:
„If you have an idea, turn to business incubators for information and advice, but most importantly take your time and realize how much you and your idea are worth! Never make money and time an excuse because there’s always a way! Once you get started, then the real struggle begins, but the most important thing is to get started!“