Ognjen, you are the co-founder of an international startup company that operates successfully in Serbia, Italy, and Turkey. Since this project is closely related to the recreation sector, was your athletic career the main inspiration for the idea of FitPass?
Not really, to be honest. My first step in opening FitPass was meeting with my colleague at the time, when we both came up with several ideas, and after some time chose only one that we thought was going to work. My background in athletics, martial arts, and other sports helped, but wasn’t the main cause for opening a business connected to athletics. You should never follow emotions when it comes to business, just pure logic.
Not many people know you started your first small private business when you were only 21. What happened to that?
I wouldn’t call it a private business, it was more a way to cope with the situation in Serbia at that time, and finding a way to earn money, to get through the month. I had just come back from Miami, USA and met some interesting people there with whom I connected and started an online shop, where I was buying jewelry, cheap stuff, from China and selling it on the Western Europe market. It was very interesting travelling to the Hungarian or Croatian border to pick up packages and deliver the ones that needed to be sent to buyers.
At one of the recent Business Seminars you attended as a guest lecturer you shared the belief that success doesn’t come easily and that before the huge success of your FitPass project you survived four business failures. Nevertheless, that never stopped you from keeping on trying. Tell us more about that…
People who do something with their lives, don’t often do it on the first attempt, which is something you learn on the way. Yes, I started several small businesses that failed, from online businesses, to fast food joints, night clubs, etc. Every failed business is a chance to learn something new, and you should always be ready to fail. You can’t always win, but fear should never control your decisions. Success is around the corner, and I am still starting things that I expect to fail as much as I expect them to succeed.
A lot of psychologists claim that the main thing that makes the difference between successful and unsuccessful people is attitude, as well as the persistence they have in building their businesses. What has made you go on over the years, and how have you motivated yourself after your failures?
The question is incorrectly defined. I’ve never thought in terms of motivating myself. I am a supporter of the belief that everyone should have a goal which is pursued and that this objective should be almost unrealistic (the goal you mentioned at the beginning). I also think that the objective itself cannot be sufficient motivation in the sense that it lasts for years, while you are experiencing various difficulties. Motivation for me is the emotional state where I’m able to accomplish a task. I know people who are motivated by music, and some who are motivated by money. I think that is the wrong approach. You cannot be motivated all the time.
I believe in discipline. Here is where sports have played a major role in my life. Sports taught me self-control, how to lose, as well as how to continue when you’d rather quit. Emotions, fatigue, external factors that may influence me and everything else that can put me off track, are resolved by discipline. Start with small things, forget the excuses, so popular among young people today (they blame their parents, education, country, clerks at the counter …), establish a routine and set yourself deadlines. I have set myself goals for the short term and one goal for the long term, almost unreal, as I mentioned a moment ago. Short-term goals allow me to track my progress, and the progress of my businesses at all times, and a long-term goal is there to bring me back to reality and remind me to answer the question: “Why am I going through all of this?”
In your opinion, what makes the difference between good and bad entrepreneurs?
I would not call anyone an unsuccessful entrepreneur. For me, anyone who has dared to start something, who has invested time, money and everything else that comes with the job, is successful. Some succeed, most don’t, but not everything is up to the guy who started it. The idea is important, but there are so many things you can’t influence. Consider the athlete who invested a lifetime of training and 100% of himself to be in the Olympic Games, and failed to qualify, but barely. Is he really a failure? I don’t think so. For me, a successful entrepreneur is someone who continues when no one else would, who works harder than anyone else around him, who is more efficient and dedicated, who takes chances, and who helps others on their way to the top.
A lot of young people have great ideas, but not enough money to start a business. What do you think is the most practical solution to this problem? How did you obtain the financing for your first serious investments?
To be honest, besides FitPass – which we opened with the help of investors – none of the businesses that I have started cost a lot of money. This is the first mistake people make, they think that every business requires an incredible investment, but this is not true. Take this as an example: you want to open a fast food restaurant and the cost of such a place is 6000 euros, which is a big figure for most people from my region. One solution is taking out a loan, or a credit, but on the other hand what prevents you from teaming up with 2-3 people to share the cost? You get partners, reduce risk, and get new ideas and perspectives on the business; and if the business fails, fewer financial problems for you. My advice is to choose wisely with whom you work, choose people not on the basis of emotion, but by thinking through how they can help you in the business you want to run.
You do not have to be limited to the activities which you already know you do well. If you have a good idea, find someone to help with the implementation, and get started.
On the other hand, there are millions of business ideas that require almost no financial investment. The Internet is full of stories about the ideas of people who have done it, and if the idea worked in one place, why would it not succeed in the place you live in? You do not have to reinvent the wheel, just adjust the idea to your surroundings.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
To be honest, I can’t even guess. A lot of things are starting, some are ending, new opportunities and challenges are on the way. I hope I will fulfill all the plans I have and enjoy the journey.