Insights / HTEC Culture / Srdjan Colak, Head of Product, on Strategic Approach to Product Innovation


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Srdjan Colak, Head of Product, on Strategic Approach to Product Innovation

Consumed by the constant need to understand causal mechanisms which make people choose and buy certain products, Srdjan Colak, Head of Product at HTEC Group, has dedicated his career to building products that would help companies like HTEC Group reach the stars on their digital sky. Meet Srdjan, who joined HTEC Group on its mission to become a globally recognized leader in product innovation and engineering delivery.

With a tremendous experience in product development, Srdjan was drawn by the burning enthusiasm of HTEC leadership to build innovative products that would move boundaries and help people across industries. We caught up with him to hear more about his professional development, expertise, and decision to join HTEC Group. 

Educational Background 

Srdjan has always been enthusiastic and curious enough to get out of his comfort zone and truly get to the core of the problem in question. Throughout his studies, he realized that studying economics would open a whole world of possibilities to dive deeper into how the world functions. 

I decided to study economics and finance under the assumption that it would provide a platform and give me the foundational knowledge to understand how one starts and builds a company. The hypothesis I had was that focusing on specialty studies would narrow the field of view and rob me of the vital perspective needed to understand how the world works. I was always inquisitive, often creating more trouble than good, but it was just how I was built, I guess. Closing in on my final years at Economics Faculty at Novi Sad University, I realized that technology was something I was naturally drawn to since I was a kid but could not really articulate what career might come out of that till that point.”

The Road to Self-Discovery 

Being an ambitious risk-taker, Srdjan decided to dive into international waters, allowing him to gain new perspectives and determine the road he wants to take in his career. 

I’ve explored options to spend some time abroad and got a scholarship to continue studying Computer Science and Entrepreneurship at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. I’d say that was a pivotal moment — having met my first partner in crime with whom I started a bit later my own first software outsourcing company and few others that would heavily influence my thinking and future. While living in Poland, I’ve had the pleasure of participating for the first time in a massive project, UEFA Euro 2012, where I worked as a Volunteer Manager, and that truly opened my eyes to what it means to organize such a massive project.”

Initially, his entry into tech was by doing web development and coding for a while. This allowed him to learn the basics of web development and later Android as well along the way. 

“I was consumed and obsessed with understanding causal mechanisms of what makes people choose and buy certain products over others. I’ve read and listened and watched just about everything you can about entrepreneurship, innovation and product design development, technology in general, behavioral economics, psychology – It was pretty hectic – I was often reading up to a few books a week. It was absolutely mesmerizing and helped me to connect the dots slowly.”

And, he also learned many invaluable lessons that made a huge impact on his future career. 

I’ve always found that the right decision for the long term makes no sense for the short term, and it was clear to my family and friends I was living that way. I’ve gone off the beaten path, and since then, I have always been quite a risk-taker. Sure it will pay off in the long run. Early on, I realized or better said, formed an opinion that the t-shaped skill set and the intersection of business, technology, and design is where the biggest value is created.”

Professional Journey 

With, as he explains, “this innate lack of risk aversion,” his actual first job was funny enough as a founder and CEO of a small outsourcing company. Then he moved from Novi Sad to Nis, where the company was HQ’ed. After spending a bit less than two years in Nis through a partnership, he moved the company back to Novi Sad, and for the next couple of years, he managed and worked on probably more than 100 products — some successes, some massive failures.

I’ve experienced a fair share of personal failure. Being an inexperienced manager and lacking any leadership skills, I’ve learned some lessons the hard way — the most important being is to be very precious with your time, choose partners wisely, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Another crucial lesson I’ve learned is that it’s easier to hold on to your principles 100% of the time than 98% of the time — and to quote one of my favorite authors, Clay Christensen: – “Life is just one unending stream of extenuating circumstances. Had I crossed the line that one time, I would have done it over and over and over in the years that followed.

His outsourcing company was acqui-hired by Medopad, later rebranded as Huma, and London was his next destination. In the most critical time when Medopad was maybe 20 people strong and struggling with figuring out what the product should be, he joined first as an Interim CTO and head of product at the same time, later focusing only on product. 

Having seen first hand what it took to raise at the time 50$ million in funding in two rounds of financing, securing projects and deals with the likes of Novartis, AstraZeneca, Johns Hopkins, NHS, Bayer, Tencent, becoming Apple’s mobility partner and more gave me the necessary experience required to understand what it takes to build on a world’s stage.”

He spent the next three years at Toptal working as a product manager, building luxury hospitality, insurance, healthcare, and entertainment products. He worked as a screening team member helping build the product vertical, attracting the best product people worldwide. He had interviewed 200+ product managers throughout those years. 

It was immensely important as I got to work with and meet some of the best product people from companies like Spotify, Airbnb, SpaceX, Microsoft, to name a few.”

Joining the HTEC’s Vision and Mission 

Srdjan met his future partners through his work at Toptal and decided to join them in an undeniably short but sweet journey in leading Konstrukt as a CEO, head of product development, and partner. They wanted to build a product design studio on par with the world’s best. They managed to work with some impressive brands and organizations from the get-go (Fortis Swiss, Nike, PepsiCo, Blanco, European Basketball Academy, etc.). HTEC recognized their work and acquired them in late 2020.

I was drawn to Aleksandar and Dusan’s personal values and how bold the company’s vision is. Seeing world-class executives recognizing their shortcomings and areas of improvement was an eye-opener and fundamentally different from anything I’ve encountered before. No ego, just genuine desire to build innovative products, create a great company, and help people.”

He is now working as Head of Product and leading HTEC’s Product Innovation Office, which is our innovation and product design backbone, and hoping soon to be almost 100 people strong. 

With the help of senior product managers and product designers inside the office, this team is undoubtedly building the strongest and the most impressive product unit in the region.”

It’s my responsibility to ensure that the proper product environment, methodologies, knowledge base, and best practices are implemented, applied, and propagated throughout the organization at all levels. Figuring out compelling value propositions, finding the right units of analysis, articulating viable business models, sensible go-to-market strategies, helping create amazing user experiences, and so on — all of these are on my plate daily while helping our clients to think in outcomes rather than outputs. We truly want to become the first billion-dollar business from the region that is, in essence, a product innovation center of excellence.”

Accelerating the HTEC’s Future and Growth Strategy 

When asked to share what opportunities HTEC Group has given him from the start, he explained:  

The ease of moving horizontally and vertically inside the company is second to none. It’s like a giant innovation playground where you create your journey and get to influence and work with what is typically considered 1% of the world’s best minds in some of the most valuable companies. You’ll sleep comfortably at night knowing that everyone inside the company has your back and works towards the same mission.

We are on an unprecedented growth vector, and that is quite challenging and rewarding at the same time. HTEC’s mission is to become a globally recognized leader in product innovation and engineering delivery. We pride ourselves on our delivery capabilities. With the newly formed business units, we are going to offer our clients and partners an unmatched set of new services that cover their innovation and product development needs end to end. No one has really done that thus far. Might as well be us!”

Why HTEC Group?

We asked Srdjan what’s the thing he loves most about working in the HTEC Group. 

It may seem like common sense — to appreciate amazing talent — but in my experience, that is not the case in most companies. Entrepreneurial, insightful, proactive self-starters are inside every office here.

“Our people, our human capital, is by far the most important asset of our business. The diversity of experience and backgrounds is second to none in the market. The chances of learning something new daily from practically everyone here is 100%.”

He explains that the urge and strong motivation to get to the core of the most complex problems and create products and solutions for businesses across industries is a mission in itself. This is where HTEC Group plays a major role. 

I’d say a willingness to dig deep into the most complex problems and create products in some of the most demanding and challenging industries and markets, where the path to innovation is anything but easy. The main difference between HTEC and our competitors is that we actually own product development on a strategic level and have a say throughout the entire product life-cycle. It’s a clear testament to the level of trust our clients have in us.”

Srdjan points out that there is a whole range of exciting and innovative solutions he has been working on and is currently working on in HTEC Group and that it is very hard for him to distinguish only one. 

It’s hard to pick one. We are helping a US client solve the middle-carrier puzzle in logistics, offering Prime-like delivery speed to any retailer in the US. Building Amazon for the Balkans is definitely another challenge worth tackling that I thoroughly enjoy. There are other Fortune 500 companies for whom we are building some truly innovative products and services.

Finally, he has a few words to share with anyone interested in applying to work at the HTEC Group: 

Adapt to constant change and consider that every process is an evolutionary step. If you like challenging yourself with hard and complex systems, as well as the most impactful technologies, it’s definitely the place to be.

Curious to find out who’s next in our HTEC Features series? Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, read about our experts: Katarina Urosevic, Niko Slavnic, Dragomir Krstic, Mladen Karadzic, Ivana Stojanovic, David Schoch, Miroslav Virijevic.