“To be able to innovate, you need to accept short term losses”

Love is blind, and love for new developments in the area of technology is even more so. Danny Mekić – IT consultant, founder and owner of strategic consultancy firm NewTeam, internet expert, writer and much more – knows that better than anyone. An so, he tells SME entrepreneurs: “Don’t fall in love too quickly.”

That energy, that inexhaustible enthusiasm when talking about the intersection of technology and society. It’s very distinctive of Danny Mekić and it makes it easier to imagine how he’s been waltzing through the business world like nobody’s business.

Mekić is one of a kind, although of course he doesn’t see it that way himself. At the age of fifteen he made the bold decision to start his own company, and two years later he left high school behind without a diploma. Now, at the age of 26, Mekić advises countless companies about putting new technologies to use.

Were you that daring?

“What I think is fascinating is that I only ever meet entrepreneurs who started at a young age. They’re a bit older by now, but what they’re doing can often be traced back to their childhood. I was going through an important phase around the time I was twelve, I was forced to think about what I was doing.”

What was it that forced you?

“From my situation at home, I felt a very strong need to be an entrepreneur. But I didn’t really know what to do, I’m not from a family of entrepreneurs. My father is from Bosnia-Herzegovina, he met my Dutch mother on a holiday in Croatia. During the third Balkan War, the landlines were cut there, but my father was a radio communications enthusiast. He was able to contact Bosnia from our apartment in Amsterdam. He helped people to make contact with their relatives. I saw what technology could do. I started taking an interest in technology, and took up volunteer work at Het Net, working on an early precursor to Hyves and Facebook, a community. I learned very much in a short time about how big that technology was. I got to discover how the internet works from a safe environment and I took up freelancing.”

So you were just driven by curiosity?

“Yes. That’s how I’ve ended up seeing entrepreneurship. It does take boldness, otherwise you’ll get stuck at some point. But the most important thing is that it’s interesting to you, that you want to make a living with it.”

SME entrepreneurs are often afraid to invest large amounts of money in new technology. But can you even get by without an urge for innovation any more?

“Maybe that fear is a leftover from the ’80s or ’90s of the last century. Back then, you’d really be doing something your competitors weren’t doing yet, something that takes large investments and that a lot depends on, without proper support. Some things have changed since then. The time frame during which you can be successful as an entrepreneur has become more limited. You need to offer more added value at lower costs, while everyone feels stressed about the economic crisis. Choosing an SME company is a less obvious choice than a trip to the supermarket, choosing for a powerful brand. SMEs need to do more than average to prove themselves, you have to be visible to your customers, to your suppliers. You need to be willing to change the market, to challenge the ways we work.”

What’s the greatest hurdle one needs to overcome?

“The outward process, such as building a website where customers can log in. People will be calculating the cost per customer and whether that money can be earned back. That’s when you need to be bold, to think of how you could serve more customers and ultimately maybe even increase your margins while lowering your prices.”

And those things are done half-heartedly?

“Or not at all. I talked to an accountant a while ago. I asked why he wasn’t on LinkedIn. He said: ‘I’ve done without LinkedIn for 21 years now.’ That attitude doesn’t belong in the future. I sometimes show people videos of children and babies. You’ll easily find hundreds of videos of them using modern devices better than we do. That’s going to have consequences. Everything will need to also be possible to do via the internet. We’re becoming busier, we get more choices to make, we expect more, everything happens faster. So you need to ask yourself whether your position as a company still fits into that busy world. Sometimes you need to accept short term losses, for example temporarily losing ten percent of your revenue.”

Do you ever see things going all wrong? 

“Ha, maybe in that case it’s not IT but the management that’s the problem. Not every system is suitable for every business, but they use it anyway because the competitor does too. And once you’ve bought it, you can’t go back any more. But it’s all about the question: what do I want to improve? And: do I or my employees benefit from this? You can also often calculate ahead of time what it will be like, or ask the supplier questions. You shouldn’t fall in love too quickly.”

Are there currently things going on in large businesses that will make their way to SMEs?

“Mostly the urge to gather information and make it searchable. Companies already have much data about clients, about the ways the products are being used. But that data was often not used or made searchable. And sometimes there was too much information to do anything with it. At Harrods, which is a well-known department store in London, there’s a very large chance that you’ll be tracked using your mobile phone. There used to be people watching the ways you walk around. Now you can see exactly which corner people visit, and how long they stay there. Next, you need to process that mountain of information. At the moment that’s still being done with expensive methods. It’s a matter of time until that becomes attainable for SMEs as well.”

You’re not saying, for example, that every SME should distribute their own app?

“There’s an app war going on.”

And that has to stop?

“Well, I don’t mind, really. But it’s pointless. Once again, the point is: you’re an entrepreneur, you want to connect to a target demographic. What is the purpose of that connection and what approach suits it best? Some quoted Dutch companies have twenty apps. Sometimes I visit a Board of Directors and install all of those on my phone. Ha, that doesn’t work. But the problem with SMEs is that companies are still in the process of discovering the internet and are working with positioning for large screens. That’s all right, but you also have to include mobile possibilities, because that’s the way people use the internet. Apps are much of a hype. It was a new market. But now, the websites and apps are growing towards each other. It would be wise as an SME to make your website suitable for mobile devices, because that’s still a growing market.”

Is cyber crime a serious issue for SMEs?

“Every development brings along new risks. Take the checkout system for example. If people could access it from outside and make changes to your administration, that would be a major problem. Don’t underestimate it. But I don’t have the impression that many entrepreneurs are worried about that.”

What are the best ways to protect your data? Put in all ‘in the cloud’, like everyone does nowadays?

“The word ‘cloud’ has both positive and negative connotations. It sounds very vague, but it’s been around for a time. It’s about storing data in more than one place, so you can still get to it when one of them fails. For very sensitive data, it’s still best to keep it locked away in a vault at a bank. If that’s not an option: it’s becoming common for entrepreneurs to have a separate computer without an internet connection. And if you do save data via the internet, always take note of your supplier. What party are you dealing with? You have to be cautious when it’s free. Entrepreneurs of all people should understand that.”

So if someone wants to use Apple’s iCloud, you’d say: don’t do it?

“That gives you free storage space for documents you create using Apple software. Otherwise, you have to pay for it. This is another example of: find out how it works first. Sometimes you’re not even allowed to save certain things somewhere. That might sound complicated, but it’s important to look into that. Recently, a temporary solution could be to use personal clouds. You’ll have all the advantages of the cloud, but not the drawbacks of being easily to access for other people.”

What does Danny Mekić think is going to change our world?

“It’s what already exists, but is still far too expensive: the thinking computer. It could think of what we haven’t thought of yet or it could do things we don’t ask for. IBM has invested majorly in this, they’ve created Watson. It’s smarter than a human being. The latest update has given him even more human features; you can now even see what it’s feeling. IBM states that doctors will no longer be needed in the future, for example.”

“The monopoly on design and production will be nixed by the advent of the 3D printer. There will be generations of children designing their own electronics. You won’t need a factory any more. For now, it’s about printing plastic. But in the future it could be about food, or about organs of human tissue.”

“Instead of globalisation, we get more and more local networks. You won’t have to buy tools any more, you can see exactly who owns what near you. You can see who around you has food they don’t need. Hotels could lose more and more of their monopoly as private individuals can offer their living space more and more easily. People will share cars. In the future, all sorts of institutions will no longer be needed.”

What would Danny Mekić have become if his life had gone differently?

“A pianist. I’ve mentioned wanting to start playing music in hotel bars after I’m 30.”

What’s Danny Mekić’s favourite piano music?

“There’s one artist who really fascinates me: Ludovico Einaudi. You could call his work minimalist classical music. He writes his own pieces, he performs solo, he’s formed an ensemble, he adapts his pieces for other musicians, sometimes he plays with large orchestras. And in addition, he also talks about his craft. It’s not just his music that appeals to me, but also his personality and his devotion.”

This interview has been published in “Innovative ICT”, an appendix of Sprout.

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