UPDATE: Ivan Bjelajac is now CEO of Devana Technologies.
Ivan Bjelajac is Chief Operating Officer of Devana Technologies. Before joining Devana, he was a freelance web developer in 2006, moving onto various technical support and management roles. At one point, he became CEO of Cybernet Technologies. In this interview, Ivan shares his insights on the WordPress industry, how he does his job, the kind of people that he works with, and Kevin Garnett.
1. What sets ManageWP apart in today’s competitive WordPress niche?
I would say it’s the people. From the start of our journey we wanted to create a great premium product that would allow WordPress users to save time and increase productivity. It was the first product of its kind in the market and it obviously helped us out tremendously that we created a market niche in WordPress management but it’s not the product itself that earns us money. It’s the developers, product people and guys from the customer happiness departments that deliver the value to our customers on a daily basis. Without them we could not keep innovating and going the extra mile for our clients. We would not be where we are today.
2. Could you describe the team that you are working with? How has your team dynamic changed over the years? What do you think can still be improved?
Passionate is probably the right word. A number of people went through the company in the last 6 years, but passion has always been there.
In the beginning we thought we should just hire everyone that seemed to be good or have potential and we were completely flat as an organization. That did not turn out to be the best possible way to do things so now as the team grew we introduced strict hiring rules and gave more power to team leaders.
The good thing is that we managed to grow without sacrificing the focus on our customers and our product. We have some great mentors and seniors in our company and tend to hire great people, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to implementing processes, making our employee onboarding and development processes faster and more efficient.
3. Are there any people who have influenced your work ethic? And how? Are there any WordPress influencers that you look up to? Please tell us more about it.
Probably Kevin Garnett, although I have never met him personally. 😉
They say your own quality is an average of five people you spend the most time with. Most of the people I learned from are not involved with WordPress. Some are not even into technology but have successful businesses in other areas. I had the luck to surround myself with people that were not my role models but who did help me form certain beliefs. They are all of various ages, backgrounds and tend to offer different perspectives on things which can be invaluable.
When it comes to WordPress, there is of course our founder Vladimir Prelovac, whom I’ve known for 16 years and counting, but I also like to hear what Jason Cohen, Andrew Nacin, Adii Pienaar, Syed Balkhi and Mason James have to say about WordPress and business in general. I also tend to learn a lot from WordCamps and having different chances to talk to our customers in general.
4. The work environment at Devana has been described as a ‘productive mess’. Can you tell us more about it?
Well I would have to say that it’s a pleasure and a curse to work with passionate people who believe in creating both great products for our users and in building a better life for their co-workers and their community. It is hard to match their resolve and honestly sometimes I find it hard to keep up. We tend to want to get too much done, step on each others toes, argue a lot but we also help each other, take pride in our work and keep a high standard of quality – so things tend to get unpredictable.
We are still looking for ways to incorporate a healthy amount of processes to go along with our creative chaos and keep that fine line between being efficient and creative.
5. What is a typical day for an Ivan Bjelajac? How do you get things done? Do you stick to a particular schedule or work rituals?
I would love for someone to answer this question for me. 🙂 We are a very dynamic environment so each day looks a lot different. I actively try to reduce the amount of things we work on and add more processes so hopefully I will be able to tell you about my typical day sometimes in the near future.
6. Are you still involved in any development work for ManageWP or any other development projects?
Not that much. I am still involved in our business decisions, some feature and architecture decisions but I mostly focus on working with our partners and vendors. The team is more than capable doing most things without me and there are also many things where I actually think they are much better than me. I do tend to get involved a lot into our R&D. Sometimes our guys are happy about it and sometimes they hate me for it, but that is another story…
7. Aside from WordPress, what are your other interests? What do you like to do when you are not working?
I like to travel. I am trying to visit at least one country each month or two. Good thing is that my job actually helps me achieve that goal. Even if we are super-busy I can at least find a weekend to visit a conference or a WordCamp.
8. Seems like you are fond of basketball. Have you ever played ball with the team at Devana?
Quite a few times though we haven’t done it for a while. We should probably do it again sometimes soon after we launch ManageWP Orion. That is a good idea, thanks for putting it in my head. 🙂
9. It is quite admirable that Devana has been pumping 10% of its profits Zivojin Misic Foundation. Why in particular did you choose this foundation?
All companies are built to make money. What makes them different is what they do with that money. There is a great TED talk by Simon Anholt that explains the concept we believe in.
When it comes to Zivojin Misic, we actually founded the foundation ourselves and so far it has been exclusively founded by our company. We chose to focus on education and promoting entrepreneurship because those are the areas that we think are lacking in systematic solutions and return the biggest ROI when it comes to our environment.
10. What makes you a successful COO? If you have one advice to give to a young entrepreneur, what would it be?
Be genuine. The COO is probably the only position in the company that is harder to describe than the CEO position as all kinds of different people get promoted to it and it is usually complementary to the CEO. So, as there are no 2 CEO’s that are exactly the same there usually are no 2 COO’s that are exactly the same and the position usually does not translate that well from company to company.
I think I owe my success to working with some great people and finding ways to help them do their jobs the best way possible without forgetting it’s about the product and other people in the company and mostly not about yourself.
So being a good COO is mostly about how well you play with others and complement your CEO and other senior executives.
If your main function is to play the role of an enabler for other people and you try to do it without being genuine – it’s probably not going to work out in the long run.