The Inventive Journey
Podcast for Entrepreneurs
PersevereFailing is another story but definitely on your own path to your successes whatever it is. It will be rocky and you will have ups and downs and it's hard as hell. So definitely I think perseverance is the number one thing I could advice anyone. I tell that to myself every time it is hard. It was hard when it was Corona like two months ago. So you just wake up and say oh it's this time of life again. You just have to wake up in the morning and plow through the day.
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The Inventive Journey
Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.
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although feeling is another story but definitely on your own path to your success whatever it is um it will be rocky and you will have ups and downs and it's hard as hell so like definitely i think perseverance is the number one thing i can advise anyone uh and i tell that to myself every time it's hard and it was hard when it was corona like two months ago so you just wake up like oh it's this time of life again i just have to wake up in the morning and plow through the day [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devon miller the serial entrepreneur that's uh built several companies the seven million dollar plus or seven figure plus exits as well as um the ceo and founder of miller i p law um we have got another great person on the podcast today yvonne not ivan and i'll try and do that and uh i don't make it no promises of the audience and i won't make a mistake but i'll try and get them on and uh uh yvonne uh started out as a coder some years ago and and then moved over to do some cloud-based stuff he built up a company came up to about 20 or employ 20 people working for him fired everybody built it up again and has a great story to tell so i welcome you on to the podcast thanks darren uh glad to be here all right so i gave you a brief introduction but maybe if you want to start back in your journey kind of tell us where you started out and then how you got to where you're at today sure sure uh we didn't fire everyone but we fired a lot of people yeah that's that happened um so uh way how we so the company that we started that we're talking about right now is code anywhere code anywhere is basically a code editor in the browser um pretty much like google docs except you write code instead of documents and excel sheets and whatnot um and it started a long long time ago when me and my co-founder both were freelance freelance developers and we both live in croatia on the mediterranean coast um and we since we freelanced we were at the beach a lot and we went to freelance a lot and it was hard to carry a laptop around and we thought of making something that you can code from anywhere um hence the name code anywhere so that's sort of where the idea for our first sort of real quote-unquote business started so now and we'll jump back into it but i also if i remember right you also you've got two different i don't know websites companies however you want to call going you've got shift con or conf dot co and also code anywhere dot com right so you kind of run those in parallel or do or manage both of those at the same time is that right yeah exactly something i would never advise anyone and i'm trying to advise myself to do one thing sort of focus focus focus uh but sort of just can't get rid of the two of them i did a lot of things in my life a lot of companies projects whatever um not as successful as your exists hopefully knock on wood we'll get to those soon um but um have been trying to focus since then so now i spend my time on yes code anywhere the cloud-based editor and second um is a series of technical conferences called shift uh website shift conf.co so it started as a developer conference and then expanded into a fintech conference as well an artificial intelligence conference and now in the world of post corona um we have a series of virtual conferences as well like everyone else i guess you have to sort of survive since there's no in person for the time being um so yeah so it's putting my time between those two things um it's been an uh weird journey on parallel doing both of them the reason so where do we start with this um yeah so no that's a great intro as far as the the two companies you're running so now as i've always may imply so we go about the journey right so you you're that's where you're at today but why don't we take a step or two backward and say okay what did you do leading up to this or how did you get there so what did you do before this and then how did you get to here and then we can talk about that journey just a little bit sure absolutely so um sort of the history of the the first or the older company which is code anywhere i'll jump in go two steps beyond that so even before you started that company what brought you to doing that how far back are we going how far back go back to high school with your date no i'm just kidding so after graduation you graduated from school i you're in a software program so did you graduate is a software engineer or coder self-taught or how did that work uh it was so uh i graduated under information technologies i was actually uh i t systems and networks was sort of my major um got but i didn't like that it was too much um too much dust and dirt and plugging in cables and whatnot so that's why i sort of pivoted towards uh websites and and programming those and being a freelancer for for that part um got hired right out of school actually during school um worked there for a while um under uh the umbrella of this big company and we took care of all their the all their it needs be it you know servers computers websites whatever um worked there for three years four years um ended up convincing my boss to let me spin it out into my own company so we became a services company for that umbrella of companies without jumping because that's an interesting conversation so how did you go to your boss and say hey we've got this profitable thing i really think will grow into the now i don't want to do it under this umbrella i want to spit it off and do it on my own how did that conversation go absolutely so um the boss owned like 20 so companies so whatever he had a lot of companies um and he wanted one it team to sort of take care of everything he also had a lawyer team and whatever you know all the other things that he couldn't outsource um and it was just like two people uh and while his companies grew i wanted to grow as well and then i ended up convincing them to hire another person then another person team sort of grew but i personally could not grow anything more because you're at the top of the chain so to speak inside this umbrella um and i remember funny thing we went to malta long story but we went to malta and i met him there and we're having a meeting and i convinced myself that i couldn't grow anymore and if i couldn't grow i would leave and i was just telling him listen i'm gonna leave because i cannot grow anymore under this umbrella it's great i love you i love the company everything's fine but something personal for me um and he's like i'm like okay the only way i can stay sort of is if we spin this out as our own company and he said like it took him like all of 10 seconds he's like fine but 51 49 for me i'm like no it can't be like that i have the majority of the company and then he said fine we shook our hands and literally that was pretty much it um it seemed sort of quick and easy but it took like the four years i think it was growing and building that connection with him reliability of us as the it team that he knew that we could take care of everything and i guess sort of was the one of the most confident moments of my life was like take it or leave it it doesn't matter so it's okay so one maybe this follow-up question on that so when you when you guys kind of said okay take it or leave it i need to spin this out or i've got to go do my own thing i've kind of hit my you know what people always the cliche word the glass ceiling type of a thing right so you do that did they did he take an ownership stake in the because that would be hard you know if i'm looking out the employer side say hey we've invested this time resource growing it doing and even if you have a lot of companies it's still an investment of time and money and effort so as you spun that out as you said take it or leave it did he just say here you go here's the keys of the kingdom did he say hey i'll keep an equity sharing it or how did that work and if it's too personal by all means no it's fine absolutely he wanted a 51 stake in that company right away and i was like that can't work we ended up getting to more reasonable it was like 25 at the end so he had a 25 stake in that new company that was growing um which i thought was more than fair because uh it was a rolling start right you start your own company with like 20 clients on day zero so you're making money or getting revenue i did not make money the first couple of years but it it had revenue from day zero so i think that was more than fair um later on sold the company uh bought him out and whatever so it went pretty well for a first exit not super large but fair enough to get yourself sort of off the ground um financially coming from you know uh fairly humble beginnings okay so you do that you spin it out grow it get it or sell it off make some or a good exit so then what was next so uh the last so uh that lasted uh a couple years uh the entire company was four years maybe a little longer than four years um in parallel in the the last sort of year and a half of that um i was i met my co-founder of codeanywhere uh who was the head of it for a bank that was a client of my company initially or of that which was owned by that owner right so that's where i met him and we just started discussing these ideas um and then when we started building that sas product so code anywhere is a software as a service product um we didn't go all in on it it was sort of like a part-time hobbyish thing that we did um and when we saw that that there's actual need and growth uh potential growth for that um we decided that we needed to raise money to grow you know attack the rules of the world or whatever um and this is where the story sort of starts unfolding um we had no idea how to raise money we had no idea how to do anything um when someone says yeah you don't mean you wait you mean you don't just have a good idea people just don't come knock down your door to give you buddy they do not obviously um i think it's easier now i haven't raised money in a long time a couple years so i'm not sure but it seems easier but back then especially in you know uh southern eastern europe it's really hard um and the only way we thought we could do it was meet investors at conferences so then i mean we were financially okay enough that we could you know invest our time money travel buy plane tickets and whatever um so we were lucky with that one and we flew to like 20 conferences um conferences for people that don't know technology conferences uh often have a sort of pitch competition in them very very often so you have like 10 startups so the best at something 20 startups 50 stars whatever alongside you know standard speakers parties dinners networking whatever and we'd always get in the finals we get on stage and pitch but we never win anything we never raised any money there it was a total failure i remember one conference that was pretty much one of the last ones it was in vienna austria um and me and my co-founder and a friend drove there from our city which is like eight hours of driving uh on the way back we fight it for like eight hours straight it's like he was telling me i'm an idiot i don't know what i'm doing this doesn't make any sense that was your fault we're not happy buddy yeah exactly it was like it was like on the verge of a divorce it was two people right you get in with that's a side note but you get in with somebody in on business it's almost as much of a marriage if not more you oftentimes will spend more time with that part business partner than you do with the spouse and so it is very much like a divorce or a marriage it is i'm pretty sure you know as well but like i'm married i've been married for three years almost but uh my partner encode anywhere that's that's a harder uh relationship to manage than the actual marriage i feel it's easier to get out of a marriage than that of a partnership for a company i feel i'm not sure but you gotta wait till you have kids so i've married for i guess 13 years now and i have four kids ages nine through four so that may change the dynamic a little bit at some point but i get your point yeah there is certainly you want to be careful and i'm not saying you don't have a good partner now but you want to be careful who you choose as a partner on the front end because i would take it everybody as much as a marriage in some ways you know i'd just say more that you're going to spend a lot of time with them if you if the company goes down or you can't work it out you have to split the assets it's a lot like you know splitting in assets in the board so there's a lot of parallel so didn't mean to take you off topic so go ahead well definitely for the people that are listening like i took it very lightly uh when creating partners early on now much more skeptical i mean everyone would say be careful who you partner with and whatever but when you're younger people are like oh he's my friend and i can partner with him and he's cool whatever it's like until you've had fights with them until there's actual money on the table assets on the table people have no idea what's going on so definitely i can't emphasize that isn't enough to sort of like watch out who you partner with when you partner right um but uh anyways back to your story so women driving home eight hours um and so uh what we did after that was sort of cool um we found a website which is called angel's list it still exists but at the back then it was very new angels list is basically like a twitter or facebook where investors and startups sort of have profiles sort of you know i don't know and they have like um hottest startups or trending whatever um on the page and we figured out how to hack it um the thing is you have to create a profile in under 24 hours get a lot of people to sort of like you or follow you or whatever it was and then what we did is we created a profile and we used all these people that we met on conferences all these investors all these people that we were okay with they just didn't want to put money in us and they also liked us in 24 hours and we got on trending the next day um the day after that we got an email from an investor that wanted to invest in us actually wanted to license the software and and after eight months ended up investing six hundred thousand dollars into our company which for us was like a lot of money at that point so that's still a lot of money even today so yeah so and he did that without even meeting us it was all skype everything i met i met him multiple times afterwards but the money came into the bank account bank account i've never seen the person before uh like at all in my life so i've seen you more times than i've seen him to be honest at that point so that is sort of but but i'd almost say that so that was then worth what even though conferences just didn't work out it did help you end up leveraging a lot of that network and those connections that you made later on so while it felt it's a failure at the time it sounds like you it did it did provide additional help or a pathway forward absolutely you did and i'm pretty sure they still do um and i can advise anyone to go for it but there's a lot of trade-offs later on as well so there's a lot of good in the bad with that um so what happened at that sort of time i sold off the the initial company and had you know sort of worked on code anywhere and then we became serious we started growing hiring more people after that um also the next year after that trip to vienna after all those conferences the founder of the vienna conference asked me if i wanted to create a conference in croatia where i'm from and up until that point i've never organized anything bigger than a birthday party and i'm like yeah sure why not you know one of those moments is like you know it's cool it could be that hard i could do that exactly like 12 months later um the conference starts it was an afternoon one at 4 p.m and i'm like putting up flags and i'm like i'm also the emcee and i'm also getting people there it was insane right uh super stressful um but people were happy with it and that actually that first conference enabled us so after doing that first conference and using the connections from the previous ones we were at we actually started building a conference business not knowingly it's like it's a hobby and we'll do it next year and then we'll do it next year next year and nine years later we've been doing it every single year and now doing three events um a year um so these conferences are about 1500 people each so not super huge but still fairly fairly large uh speakers from all over the world mostly silicon valley we fly them to croatia where most people other than going for vacation and seeing game of thrones places don't usually come um but on that isn't it maybe i'm right isn't the robert on shark tank also from croatia originally yeah we're we're involved so i was born in toronto and moved to croatia he was born in croatia and moved to toronto so that's that's that's the only only reason i've i've really heard over know too much about croatia because i love watching shark tank so yeah yeah but i've never met him he's a bit older than me and quite more successful so like those things so far you're getting you'll reach it that you'll make it yeah we'll see we'll see we'll see so that's sort of where the intertwining between the two events uh sort of started uh originally the first event so the first three years of our events lost money and we had no idea what we were why we were doing them um but you fine-tuned things um we sort of focused more on developers which was our user base from code anywhere it started making money and started growing and that's sort of um the event after the first three years of losing more money each year so that revenue went down each year um now revenue went up but like losses went up as well it then started plateauing out and making money uh year after year which is amazing um and we have an amazing team that runs that now um at the same time code anywhere that's going through his other things oh so on a note while i was saying about conferences is that uh one year we got investors from tech stars we always get investors as well to our conferences but one of the investors from techstars which is the second biggest startup accelerator came to our conference looking for startups and he actually picked us the founders of the conference out of all the startups that were at our conference uh his words being and i'm paraphrasing this is um we had a hundred thousand users on the platform he's like if his cto can create a platform for a hundred thousand users and yvonne can create a conference for a thousand people from around the world to croatia then i want to put my money in these two people for what they're doing right um so we weren't sure we wanted to go and they literally pulled us out from croatia to boston uh we lived in boston for about a year uh went through the techstars accelerator got some additional funding and literally became a company before that we're just like a bunch of cowboys programming um but after that an actual company with you know decision process pipelines and all that so uh it really matured us not just like the financial part that we got from that um but as people and us entrepreneurs and as a company um so that was really a really positive thing about the conference as well um again i'm not sure if i would ever advise someone to do multiple things at the same time but these we did it and it's sort of been intertwined and working for us along the way and it's hard to do multiple things but it it has um so after that techstars has been great this is like the fourth conference if we're talking about timelines so the first one was successful went to techstars uh we were there for a year came back probably right before the next conference um cody was growing great we got the extra publicity extra you know financials whatever extra users and the next two years were grand on all all platform sort of um all projects and then what happened is we just couldn't grow as fast as we were burning money um and literally it's like oh well like everything was going great you're spending money partly from revenue partly from you know investment you're going great you're going great new people hiring getting up to 20 people you know new office new max everything great and then you're like oh um we're gonna run out of money in like two months and we're dead um so that was that was really really hard uh literally i don't remember i think was like it was like the oh moments of firing people was like 24 hours something like that it was like it wasn't like a hard fire um me and my co-founder went for coffee it's like this doesn't make sense we can't do this we have to let them go and they're like we're like yeah we have to and then we had all hands sort of said everyone this is it uh we actually gave everyone three months pay um and said you can like walk out today or you can work for the next three months like completely like whatever you want um and we'll give you three months pay even if you get another job uh every single person got a job in like a month and a half after that so um we think we did fairly well by them and we're still very good friends with all of them as far as i can imagine so as far as i know um i'll tell you to your face right now yeah but i mean we do they they i mean uh some of them have moved out of the country they've flown back even today they said hi message me like we're gonna meet up so um ver i think we did that very graciously or we tried to anyway um and the cool thing is that um after that happened we went through all almost going to zero money and losing money and sort of building up the company slowly um we ended up keeping some of the people and hiring them back the same people that were there originally so that part was really good and really positive for us that we were able we were able to go to that moment where we were at our high go almost back to the beginning uh grind through it and then get the people that you want that were originally there back on your team and working for us even today so um so the people that are with code anywhere now uh are the same people that have been almost all of them are the same people that have been throughout the beginning minus some of them that didn't come back but the ones that there are and just doing here one thing and then we're getting towards the end so i'll ask my last two questions but i'll ask them my other question before that so when you're going through that phase of you're growing it was feeling like you're successful you're hiring you're getting new offices you get new furniture it makes it you know makes it feel like you're successful and then you get to the point of but wait now we don't have any more money we have to figure out how to actually be profitable not just you know live off investors and i think a lot of companies go through that right you're saying hey we got investor dollars life is going to be good forever and eventually those dollars no matter what company you are and some can live off investment dollars for a long period of time eventually everybody has the expectation they're going to make money and you can't live off of investor dollars forever and so how was that transition of okay now we got to figure out how to be fully profitable how to make this work and how to make it a profit not just grow the business uh it was really so it was hard the thing that went that i discussed with my co-founder which at that point was sort of on the way out as well i'm like listen we let's do give me three months um let's do this scrap all features um in the product that eighty percent of people don't use and just fix the features that eighty percent of people do use because we were always we're from a very technical part of the world and people liked technology more than sales so i was like oh we need this feature we need these features like scrap everything just like scrap it it doesn't matter if it gets mad just like leave the core once and make it work um and as for money we'll literally sell everything we sold on like a craigslist sort of website like chairs tables everything was awful it's very for your ego it's it is the worst thing in the world like you pay a chair i don't know 300 bucks and you're selling it for 50 just get it out and get some dollars into your pocket um it kills you it teaches you now a much different person financially and how we working with the company um but we ended up surviving financially we fixed those things and a year later was like i think a year or 18 months later whatever it was it was financially our best month ever and the growth has continued since then it's not a super fast growing company it grows about 10 to 15 year-over-year but has solid growth a month over month since then um and even now we're opening up new uh new markets new territories and whatever so yeah you have to be able to sort of endure those you know ups and downs so we almost we probably just hit on but maybe not so i'll jump to my life i think that's interesting so i think that you know and it's one that a lot of times you have to learn and you always everybody always thinks they're the exception to every rule right everybody i've always heard or read this but i'm going to be the exception and i think everybody has to go through and figure out okay what is our core product what is our core focus how are we going to make money what do we need what do we not need and make learning a lot of the lessons i think is something you almost have to learn over time but you do that and so now we'll jump to my last questions and maybe it dovetails and maybe you already hit on it but what was the worst business so my two my last two questions so first one is always what was your wish business decision maybe this was it or maybe there was a different one uh so i think the worst bit i thought about this question a lot is like what's my worst business decision and i've done it multiple times i still haven't learned it completely it's i it's not it is maybe about the product but one thing that's universal across all uh companies we've done is actually about people and that people say a lot and it sees a cliche as well it's like higher fast higher slow and fire very fast and i found that that has always been a problem for me personally it's just the personal connections where people are really really you know they're good people and they try but it doesn't work out for the team and later on you suffer um and that has happened both with code anywhere and the other companies that i've done is that if i'd done that sooner and on time we hadn't touched on that but i'm sure that that up and down would have been a lot smoother and easier to work with okay no i think that that's a good lesson good good mistake to learn to get a lesson to learn from so now i'll jump to my second question so you to then say okay that's the worst mistake if you're getting and sometimes these questions dovetail into each other but if you're talking with somebody that was just getting into startups or wanting to get into startups what would be the one piece of advice you'd give them uh the one i learned this from another very successful founder is that i think perseverance is sort of the the best thing so the best advice to give to someone because making a startup or any company is not a fairy tale you will have mornings i'm sure you know this sorry i'm sure you know this when you wake up and you just want to die you just you you just want to die you don't want to go to work you don't want to see anyone like every like life is hell and it will be hell and i and i see people now going through hell it's like listen man i've gone through i just have to wake up and just push through it and people that push through it uh it's self perpetuating sort of like the people that do push through it end up pushing through it people that don't push through it just don't push through it anymore and they fail and close or or whatever although failing is another story but definitely on your own path to your success whatever it is um it will be rocky and you will have ups and downs and it's hard as hell so like definitely i think perseverance is the number one thing i can advise anyone uh and i tell that to myself every time it's hard and it was hard when it was corona like two months ago so you just wake up like oh it's this time of life again i just have to wake up in the morning and plow through the day no and i think and yeah you're right the fail learning for failures getting back up that's a whole nother story but i think perseverance is a common key whether it's the business you're at and if that fails and you have to persevere get pick yourself back up figure out what you're going to do next or perseverance i think there's highs and lows on every business like whenever you see the movie you see the tv show you read the book and you hear all the highlights and everything you know everybody's an overs nice success 10 years in the making and you never hear about the 10 years in the making it's here about the overnight success and there's a lot of perseverance that goes into that and i think 99.9 of the time it's not just a perfect like it is in the movies just everything works out so i think that's that's a great lesson to learn well if people want to reach out to you they want to invest in you if you're taking investors or they want to work for you they want to use your product or otherwise just going to get connected with you what's the best way to connect with you uh the easiest way to say it verbally is my firstname.lastname.gmail.com that one works otherwise it's my first name at my domain name so codeanywhere.com or shiftconf.co all right well certainly uh invite people if you're looking for a coding platform that you can do anywhere to make sure they do the code anywhere and if you want to go to an awesome conference make sure to check you out as well and reach out to you well thank you for coming on the podcast it's been a pleasure it's been fun to talk about your journey where you've been and where you're at today and wish you the next uh best phase of your journey and for those of you that are wanting to tell your journey on the podcast and want to apply to beyond you can go to inventivejourney.com and make sure to apply and if you're a listener and make sure to subscribe so you can hear this episode and all the upcoming episodes and get that notification and lastly if you're looking for any help with uh patents and trademarks feel free to reach out to us at miller ip law and we're happy to help thanks again yvonne not ivan for coming on it was a pleasure to talk with you and wish you the best of your journey thanks for having me it was fun and was really really fast so happy to be here you English (auto-generated)