Milica And Milivoje Čalija: The Magic Of Life-Changing „Angels“

Husband and wife Milica and Milivoje, both marketing and brand management experts, lost their jobs on the same day, after working in the corporate world for many years. When it happened, they were the parents of two kids, expecting the third one. For many people, these circumstances would be devastating, but for this unique couple it was a sign that it was about time to start their own business, one they had been thinking about long before losing their jobs. So – their oven became their office, aprons their business suits, and members of the family their main assistants. They started making homemade oat cookies they called Andjeli (Angels). Beginning modestly with door-to-door deliveries, they developed their business into a serious Serbian brand that produces 30 tons of cookies each year! Milica and Milivoje are sharing their special story with readers of YT Magazine.


Milica and Milivoje, how has your life changed since you started your own business?

For a long period of time, each of us had a sort of idea to abandon corporate life and start something on our own. It is not something you simply do overnight and then reinvent yourself. We were thinking, whether we were capable of avoiding the classic trap where the career is the focal point of someone’s life and life itself is something which appears on one’s horizon, if any. Sounds like a Fight Club plot, but it is true. Still, we managed to keep a focus on our private lives while developing the business in the same time, so our careers now revolve around our lives and us as a family.

On the very same day, you both lost your jobs within the space of one hour. At that moment you were the parents of two kids with a third on the way with not much in the way of savings. How did you manage to stay calm and positive? Did the idea of making homemade cookies come up that very same night?

It didn’t happen within a few hours. We are soulmates on so many levels, and one of our common virtues is that we can’t stand the idea of false authority in a career, which is a frequent phenomenon in corporate life. We acted according to our beliefs, and we knew exactly what the consequences could be. The final development of our business idea took place during the period of time during which we had three kids, so we can say that our Andjeli cookies business is our fourth child.

One of the crucial traps in a corporate career is the lack of capacity to control your expenses. That is why one of the first things we did, was to make a precise analysis of our household income along with company registration and social security cover. We realised we could get rid of a lot of expenses without sacrificing our quality of living. That made us calm and focused.

What made you start your private business instead of simply looking for new jobs in the field you were experienced in, in this case, marketing?

We thought it was the opportunity of a lifetime to use all of our knowledge and experience to develop our own business, from scratch, not using what we know to work for someone else again. For some unknown reason, marketing people tend to go with the flow, and it is rare that personal business initiatives come out of that field. Strange, but true.

Did you have any initial capital, and how did you manage costs in the first stage of your family business?

Yes, we did. It was not huge, and one of first things we decided was that we would not use our initial capital to launch of our business. We decided that our business had to fight for itself. Therefore, we made incremental investments in our business out of current income and treated our potential initial capital as a safety net. It was a tough test, but it was the right decision. We never used our safety net, as it turned out.

Is it true that you started selling your oat cookies at the local market, and what were the first reactions of people? Did their feedback give you the motivation to keep up the good work and make the business grow?

Along with retail distribution to a certain number of shops, we started selling our cookies on the door to door principle using Facebook as our main promotional channel. We did it intensively for three years, and it was a huge experience for us, since we knew our target audience in person, better than anyone else! This approach to doing business was very useful for our further development. The reactions of customers were warm and positive. People tend to tell us that our cookies have some sort of special aura. We were grateful for all those remarks and were really excited about the feedback, because that was our basic idea. To grow through the product.

How much and in which way did you use your marketing knowledge in the process of developing the Andjeli brand?

Andjeli are our tour de force showcase in brand development and brand positioning. We were involved in the whole development down to the tiniest detail. Our idea was to use our experience and knowledge and promote what can be done with courage, creativity, and business sense. We wanted to show what we were capable of. Reactions were terrific.



Who helped you the most in making the cookies in the beginning, and tell us more about what that looked like?

One of the sexiest aspects of the Andjeli cookies development is the fact that we created it and we are the owners of the recipes for the cookies. It is our invention, absolutely from scratch. Four years ago, we started to experiment with energy bars without any idea of creating something out of it. We did it in our own oven. The results were surprisingly good, so we went further. It took almost 50 attempts to get us to where we are now, regarding the original recipe. Even at that point, we were not thinking about it as a potentially serious business. It took us an additional three months to convince ourselves to make basic financial calculations. We simply didn’t believe we would not be forced to cut the recipe for profit reasons. Fortunately, we were totally wrong. That was the crucial point – using the original ingredients we used for making the cookies for us, while making the cookies for our customers .We were at the point where we were able to stand fully in front of something we created, without any compromise. We started our business from our home with the help of four ladies. It was funny, exciting, and tough, of course.

Were there any challenging moments in this unique story and how did you overcome the difficulties?

Our crucial challenging moment was our conversion from making homemade cookies at home to making homemade cookies on an industrial scale. That was our initial intention and we knew that it was a huge mountain to climb. We did it, after two years of development incubation!

Today, Andjeli is a serious brand, four years old. What does production look like, and do you have any experts working for you regarding the taste and ingredients of the cookies?

We are highly effective at producing cookies where all aspects of efficiency are calculated per person/square meter/hour without compromising the quality of the ingredients in our products. Our potential annual production is 30 tons of cookies. We are a grant-free, credit-free, profitable business.

We do have expert consultants, but our idea is to engage them in phases where they can strengthen the potential of our already developed product, they are not developing our products on their own.

Out of an extremely serious life situation, you came out as winners. What do you think was crucial for the success of your family business: your attitude, persistence, being brave, or luck?

We cumulated impressive experience and knowledge through our careers, and we were brave, persistent, and focused enough to prove to ourselves and to our audience that it is possible to create something fair, honest, and exciting from scratch. This project will outlive us, that was the main driving force in the development process. Nothing happens by chance. Luck has nothing to do with it. But luck favors the bold, it is true. 

Photo credits: Stefan Djakovic, Moja Firma

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