Entrepreneurship: ‘When it gets difficult, you’re doing it right’

Danny Mekić first became an entrepreneur at the age of fifteen and with his third company now, he works as a consultant to various multinationals. The internet expert urges entrepreneurs to continue to develop themselves and to promote themselves. This interview was published in the newsletter of UPC.

Danny Mekić was born and raised in Amsterdam, but if we want to hit a pavement café for an interview, we have another thing coming. The young entrepreneur regularly flies off for assignments abroad and answers his phone from the remote Croatia. “I try to be abroad often, to meet new people and make plans,” he explains. “It’s a bit like a holiday, but I’m actually working as well.”

It’s illustrative of Mekić’s work ethic. He was already setting up his first enterprise when he was fifteen, and had a business dispute right away in the Chamber of Commerce. “An older staff member didn’t want to register me because of my age,” Mekić says, laughing. “But I still left the building as an entrepreneur.” As a high school student, he soon starts making money himself. “I worked as a programmer, and a friend of mine as a designer. There was a great demand for technical guys like that at the time.”

Develop yourself

During his fifth year at high school, Mekić decides to quit school and focus entirely on his company. Although his business runs pretty well, he eventually decides to study jurisprudence. “By that time, I had four staff members and my company was chock full of energy and innovation. But I missed having regularity and long term prospects and I wanted to develop myself in those areas.” If you’re an employee at a company, there’s a course of development planned out for you, but entrepreneurs are responsible for that themselves, he states. “You learn a great deal, like negotiation, networking and maintaining contacts, but in the meantime you shouldn’t forget to invest in yourself by setting yourself goals outside of your actual line of work too. Studying seemed a good step for that.”

Be bold

By now, Mekić is running his third company, NewTeam, with which he and a number of young people advise major companies on how to improve their online presence and their technological awareness. “My youngest employee is 16, but can still contribute value to companies. Besides being experts, all of the consultants are not afraid to talk to anyone, no matter who.” Mekić trains employees for this by taking them to Amsterdam’s busiest shopping street, the Kalverstraat, where they have to talk to random strangers. “That teaches them the boldness to ask difficult questions too.”

Push or pull

The internet strategist believes there are multiple ways to be successful as an entrepreneur. “You should particularly ask yourself whether you are or want to be a push or a pull type of entrepreneur. If you’re very good at selling yourself or your product, it’s less important for people to find you.” Mekić himself mostly gets approached very often: “That’s by necessity, too: I’m not very good at hard sell. So I use what I call the lever method: you have to make sure you’re just a little bit cheaper or better than the competition. Do that and people will approach you. Personally I’d rather be the latter.”

Claim your expertise

Another way to foster customer loyalty is to go out there and show your expertise, Mekić says. He himself does so by writing opinion pieces for newspapers and appearing as a speaker or guest lecturer regularly. “Many entrepreneurs have plenty of knowledge about certain subjects, but hardly promote themselves at all. But they could be getting exposure by claiming a subject and sharing their views. I think that approach works.” This is particularly important for small businesses, he says. “If a grocery store advertises that they’re specialised in fresh vegetables from their own greenhouses, the distinctiveness of a store like that would suddenly take up a lot more brain cells.”

Don’t underestimate security

Mekić himself is a popular public speaker in the area of online security and privacy. As such, he’s taken certain safety precautions in his company, and he recommends that other entrepreneurs do the same. “You wouldn’t want to even imagine everything you’ve worked for just being up for grabs.” Any entrepreneur can take the first precautions themselves, by keeping hardware and software up to date, encrypting sensitive files and regularly changing passwords, he says. “Those are the basics, and even those are underestimated sometimes. Meanwhile, the number of threats is growing. It would be a good idea to get a specialist to assess how well you are really doing where security is concerned.”

Don’t give up

Ultimately, succeeding as an entrepreneur takes perseverance more than anything else, Mekić finishes. “If Walt Disney would start from nothing today and go to the bank with an idea about a theme park full of cartoons, they’d just laugh at him. But it’s not about the idea, but rather about the effort and conviction with which you work on it. A successful entrepreneur keeps going where others quit. If you run into obstacles, you know you’re doing something right.”

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