Niko Slavnić is a man of many professional hats. His biography reads almost like a combination of different people: an entrepreneur, an investor, a marketing expert, an executive, an advisor, an educator, a bestselling author, and a few more. There is one common denominator, however, to all of his work — scaling the growth.
A pioneer of Slovenian venture and angel investing with three decades of experience in a wide variety of roles across the entire marketing and business spectrum, he has been directly involved in the founding and development of dozens of international professional organizations. He has recently joined HTEC as a Chief Marketing Officer but, true to his resume, his focus within the company goes beyond what the title may imply.
An education in business
Asked to reflect on his professional journey, he sees the roots of his versatility in his very first steps into the entrepreneurial realm.
“It is often what you do early in your career that gives you a stamp which you then develop in the future. I started a company with my mother in my early college years. This was way back in 1989 — the first time that it was possible to start a privately owned business in former Yugoslavia. I remember being so excited about the business that I created more than 100 logos for the company even before we started! Since my mother didn’t speak English very well, I was traveling with her around Europe and helping her with the business meetings and negotiations. That provided me with valuable early insights and experience in the business world.”
This experience kicked-off a decades-long education in many different aspects of running a business. Many of the lessons that make up that education were hard-earned, and they often came at a high price.
“I had the opportunity to study parallel to my work, which helped me realize that knowledge is just as important as experience. Both of them are essential parts of an education. I like to say that I’ve had enough failures to make my Harvard scholarship seem like peanuts. But I’ve also had quite a few successes, and they both informed my lifetime of experience in growth partnerships.”
The road to HTEC
By the time he first crossed paths with the present-day HTEC leadership, he was already an established European expert when it came to startup building and investment.
“I met the future founders of HTEC in 2007, helping them with their initiative to establish the Serbian Business Angels Network. I was helping with legislation and developing the startup investment scene in Serbia, as I’ve done in other countries in the region. At the time, HTEC was only beginning to take shape and we were more focused on the general ecosystem and investments in startups — evaluation, due diligence, defining the elements of the growth of startups. Fast forward a decade or so from then, we have HTEC on a very different level to how it was in the early days.”
Niko had stayed in touch with HTEC’s founders and was impressed with the company’s growth over the years. However, he admits that his involvement with the company was far removed from his recent plans and aspirations.
“In the past few years before joining HTEC, I’ve had a standard of one project per year. I would develop or invest in one project or brand for that period of time, that was my pace. When I was first approached by HTEC leadership, the main topic we discussed was merely helping out with marketing. Once I was presented with their vision of the company’s future growth, the challenge was too enticing to pass up. With HTEC, I am very excited about the opportunity to work together to build a unicorn at an exceptional speed.”
Whether discussing all the different roles he has held throughout his career or his current role in HTEC, one word that continues to come up in the conversation with Niko is growth.
“In all of my work, I have always been primarily interested and excited by growth in all of its dimensions. I believe that my expertise is much broader than marketing. We have a plan to grow the company ten times in the next five years, and I am here to help build everything that is necessary to achieve that goal. When we first started discussing these plans, there were 300 people at HTEC. Now there’s already 600, but if we wish to jump to 6,000 in three to five years, there are many things we need to establish in between.“
“The work ahead of us consists of building five pillars: establishing HTEC on the global level from a brand perspective, gaining a foothold in different markets, building a strong internal structure that can withstand and support such accelerated growth, developing our products and our services, and, finally, finding the people who believe in what we are doing and bringing them onboard.”
While Niko believes that all pillars are equally important and that the construction will not stand if even one of them is missing, it is the subject of people that gets him truly excited.
“People are making or breaking a story. It is the people who are as passionate about our vision as our founders are who will ultimately bring out the story. That goes for people we bring into the organization as well as people outside of it. We need strong pillars all around — in the management team, the teams that can support the management, and the whole ecosystem of support outside of the organization, whether it’s investors, agencies, or other partners. Finally, we need a Midas touch for our customers to create a close community together. The relationships we build with them should be growing our business way beyond our present moment. In all my years in the business, I’ve seen how important it is to not just sell things, but build strong partnerships and friendships through working with companies with a similar mentality and drive that we have.”
Niko is fully aware that such lofty ambitions will have to be supported by a substantial effort of hundreds and eventually thousands of dedicated professionals, but he believes that it all starts with the mindset.
“The whole plan that we are implementing now is starting from the position that we are a unicorn — not that we will eventually become one, but that we already believe we are one. That mindset is present in everything that we do: we act like one, we work like one, we think like one, and we deliver like one. We need to have all the needed professional, emotional, and other investment into the fact that we are a unicorn here and now, and that the only thing separating us from that point is the time element. With that perspective, the question isn’t whether we will achieve this, but what do we do after. We know how to get to that point, so we have to start creating this big picture for not just three to five years, but what will happen five years after that. It is important that our motivation doesn’t end with the reaching of this current goal.”