Interview with Boban Tanovic, CEO and owner of EtonDigital Limited



What is it that you actually do?

I am internet veteran with close to 20 years of experience. I was introduced to the internet and web in the early nineties while working as a Research Associate at The University of Liverpool. When I started my own business in 2005  it was natural that it will be focused on the web.

We started with simple web presentations and quickly moved  to more complex  websites and social networks. We started building social networks soon after Facebook and LinkedIn emerged, and that eventually became our market niche. Besides that, for the last four years we are developing Knowledge Networks and a Collaboration Platform for TallyFox,  one of our key partners from Switzerland.  We also build iPhone and Android mobile applications.

We have a very narrow focus, we are experts in Open Source development in Symfony PHP, Drupal and in mobile applications development.

What was the key factor that made you decide on starting your own business?

I had a very strange career. I finished mechanical engineering here in Novi Sad, but I didn’t work as an engineer. I worked as a high school teacher for two years. After that I went abroad and did my masters degree in polymer science and engineering, and then I ended up as a research associate at the University of Liverpool where I got involved with the internet and early website development, the field I never actually studied.

But what was the deciding factor?

A strange set of circumstances…
I felt I had that in me, in every company I worked in I always had ideas how a company I was working in should go forward and what needed to be done next. However, it was often hard to break through. In big companies there are structures which make it hard to advance, some people in higher positions are not focused or engaged enough and I didn’t see how I could develop in that surrounding. I had a stable job which provided guaranteed salary with not much effort but I was not happy with that. In western countries, changing jobs is a completely normal, so finally in 2005 I accepted the severance pay, and in those three months I got paid, I started Eton Digital. When you are starting your business and for startups in general networking is very important. It is important to have people who know you as a person and as a professional. So as soon as I said that I’m starting on my own, I was lucky to get work from the people in my immediate network.

Did you have a clear idea about how EtonDigital should look like?

It changed a lot. My initial idea was to help companies make their website accessible to disabled people but we quickly outgrew that niche. One sure way of expanding your business is through good references. Even if the project is small and not well paid, if you do a good job it is very likely that you will gain more work from the same client or that they will recommend you to their network. I started thinking about how competition is really strong in the small websites market, so as the time passed by we landed a couple of bigger projects, developed our internal processes and eventually learned how to do big jobs, we gained experience and credibility and that was the key to our long term success and it boosted our ability to cooperate with big clients. We are now proud to work with Nissan, RICOH, British NHS and many other big brands.

Was there an event similar to Startup Weekend when you thought about starting your business?

There was a platform called Ecademy, a global network that organised real life networking events locally, and it connected people who either run small businesses or people who were thinking of starting up. I attended quite a few of those events and made some very good connections. It is very important for people to exchange information and make a personal connections in order to raise the chances of doing a successful cooperation. I also went to a couple of startup conferences, where I experienced a lot of young people that were very energetic and had the will and ambition to move things.

What was the hardest step for you when you started your business?

Finding money is always the most difficult step. It’s hard to maintain the cash flow when you don’t have any guarantees for income. When you run your own business there are no steady salaries coming in every month. First we have to find clients, do the work and only then we qualify to get paid, but getting  paid is not always easy. Finding enough work is also a challenge, we burn money on a steady rate while the work is not coming in at the same rate.

Who takes care of human resources in your company?

We have a team that does administrative tasks, but we don’t have a classic HR approach, but through communication and during time we see who fits into what positions, who has the best skills to work on a certain task. We all do it together, and we are always there for the people that show initiative.

Are you thinking about making your own product line?

Yes, we are actively thinking about that. Developing your own product is not simple, especially if you want to make money out of it. From a programmer’s point of view, when you finish your program you are done. But this is not yet a product or business. it’s exactly the point where it all begins. Question is whether we have the skills, financial muscle and marketing capacity to succeed. For that you would need a couple of people  full time and with 100% focus.

If you could start over, would you do some things differently?

Well, there were some wrong steps, but in the meantime we managed to balance them. How to find partners? How to work with them? Earlier, I tried to make EtonDigital be more of an English company, I worked with a couple of English partners, but it didn’t work out. Since then we developed our own management in Serbia and now we have a complete team and all the structures here, and for us that is the best solution in my opinion. But nonetheless, we are still thinking about establishing a big office in London and perhaps in some other cities as well.

What would you suggest to people who are thinking about startups?

If you want someone to invest something in your business or idea, it’s very important to already invest something on your own, your energy, your time and perhaps money as well. When your effort is obvious, the investor will be more likely to give you financial support. So, it’s not just about your idea, it’s also about putting in a lot of effort to make that idea work. People don’t invest in projects or ideas, they invest in people. When someone proves that he or she is worth investing in,  investors are ready to offer the money.

As one of the judges, what will you be focusing on during the presentations?

I think it is very important for an idea to be well developed. People need to come prepared. Idea that is still just in the head is not a developed idea. You need to put everything on paper and present it well. People are usually very convincing when they present ideas that they truly believe in. If that comes across well, the focus of consideration is the idea itself, and the realization feasibility.


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