Vlado Cekikj – CEO Interview
When did you know you wanted to start your own company?
Although no life script tells you when it is the right time to start your business, there always comes a breaking point, where you have to invest in yourself and walk away from what’s no longer serving you. After five years in banking, it was the first time I have learned to understand myself and what motivates me. Taking that terrifying leap of faith was one of the most enlightening career experiences I have had so far.
No matter at what career stage you are, it is crucial to evaluate your personal goals, interpersonal skills, strengths, weaknesses, and passions to keep your career development in line with your personality and interests.
What was your original idea for this company, and are you still doing that (or did you pivot, if so, what is the new focus & why)?
Our idea was influenced by the concept of digital connectivity.
We believed in creating a multi-dimensional company, not only responsible for escalating the brand value of our clients. We wanted something more. Our goal was maximizing and optimizing the full creative potential of our clients and help them grow from the inside out.
We felt that it was our responsibility to challenge the status quo and find solutions that would use modern technology. These perspectives inspired the idea of creating the first fully remote digital marketing agency in North Macedonia.
How long did it take you to finally take the leap, and what was it that pushed you over the fence?
Well, I stayed on the fence for months. Many months. The kind of months that turn into years. But standing there helped me reflect on what my purpose is and what challenges are worth pushing through. So, it wasn’t as much a decision to become an entrepreneur as it was just a realization that it is time for new endeavors.
Who inspired you to pursue your dream, and why do you think they believed in you?
The vision to transform the marketing industry and the ability to innovate reflected in the eyes of then 22-year-old co-founder Milosh Ristoski fulfilled my purpose. That was the point where purpose met creativity, and creativity met change! It was a moment when I realized that it’s hard to create value in a vacuum. Walls don’t talk back. Being able to bounce, filter, enhance, and exchange ideas with another was a big force multiplier. I am proud of that particular moment because it is still present. After all, this is a quality that might be harder to find than you think.
Who is your favorite mentor and why?
My family actually, but it is more than just mom and dad. Growing with a twin sister and older brother was always a positive competitive environment, especially when you have a sister part of every social club and activity and brother as an endless fountain of knowledge and resource just for you. Giving as much as you take and have one another’s backs in all situations was the foundation of who I am today. From an early age, my parents taught me my core values. Listen more than you talk, be kind, and treat everyone, no matter who they are or what they do, with respect. Those words have shaped who I am, my life, my business, and my success.
What was the hardest thing about starting your company, and what did you do to make it through the first stage?
Back to square one, 24 months earlier, I remember my first month: finding myself wanting to work all the time, not because I had to or needed to, but because of the responsibility and worrying that I wasn’t doing enough. It was that moment of uncertainty that I wasn’t used to, but what I have learned is that the same uncertainty is the hardest but also the best part of the game. While you don’t always know what is around the next corner, that same momentum is what opens unexpected doors. Challenges create characters, and characters create the vision!
What has been the hardest lesson to learn?
There is a fundamental lesson I have learned, and it is undeniably true: You cannot please everyone! We all know this, but this phrase takes on a whole new meaning when you have your own business, and it is not a fun lesson to learn. First of all, you can’t possibly please everyone all the time and, secondly, you can’t offer everything that everyone would want all the time either. It’s simply impossible.
What has been the most amazing thing you have experience while running this company?
Growing and scaling. Like many others, I wasn’t born to be an entrepreneur. I never planned on running a business and had no experience in successfully growing one. Being able to collaborate internationally with clients from more than 30 industries, ten countries, and three continents is an endless journey that I certainly didn’t expect. It is a great feeling to be able to step back and say, this is my company.
What is the weirdest thing you have experienced while running this company, and how did you react to it?
I definitely remember this one particular situation where I woke up with 200 e-mails in my inbox. I was so confused and didn’t exactly know what is happening, is there a fire I need to extinguish. As it turned out, our site was under a cyberattack, and they all were SPAM e-mails.
What is the best decision you’ve ever made while running this company?
Attracting and retaining great employees. Success is a team sport. It requires dedication and passion, and one can never get that without cultivating a culture of trust, mutual respect, and empowerment. When it comes to the currency of company culture, our team is the backbone of every milestone.
What is the biggest mistake you made while running this company, and why do you think it happened?
Don’t avoid contracts, and don’t expect people to have the same amount of integrity as yourself. No matter how good relationships may be, they can come to a screeching halt when systems and agreements are not in place.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your company?
Although the coronavirus pandemic has left a heavy mark on almost every industry, operating as a fully remote digital company has demonstrated our resilience in action. Instead of optimizing all the processes, fearing for productivity, and learning how to evolve quickly, we shifted our focus towards our customers’ needs. We immediately started to adapt and adjust their marketing strategies, providing help to the customers in financial distress with a reconstruction of the budget packages, and adapting to the market changes. Leading in a caring, empathetic manner during these difficult times helps us to create last-long connections with our customers.
As we look at what is happening during the current acute disruption caused by COVID-19, we find that building the remote business model was the main thriving factor for our surveillance.
What keeps you passionate about your company?
So many things. One of them is the nature of the diversified, impactful, and constantly evolving future of this industry. Marketing is one of the very few professions where creativity is valued and needed in every step. It is literally a visionary field where you can turn your imagination into reality, and you can do that every day. It is not enough for me to have a company that works well or keeps customers satisfied. I always wanted to be on the edge of the industry and always reach what is on the horizon.
What daily routine have you developed to help you take care of your mind, body, and soul?
The single most impactful part of my daily routine is consistent and effective time management. To both maximize my productive output as an entrepreneur and still manage to live a balanced life. This means that successfully organizing my 86,400 seconds is my daily essential.
What one thing would you like people to take away from this interview?
I often hear that entrepreneurs naturally have a sense of ingenuity and innovation, and that is what shows them the right way. While this may be true for some, I am convinced that not every successful entrepreneur is born ready.
Yes, talent, ability, and contacts can be an advantage, but trust me, talent is irrelevant if we cannot find a way how to apply it. That is why I often say that what moves the needle or what moves us forward is the ability to be persistent in what we do. Walking through a path of trials and errors while embracing the possibility of failure can be immensely helpful during the journey. Remember: navigate the failure as a challenge rather than a personal shortcoming!
Submit your very own interview by pressing on this link!
About the Community
On the podcast, Sean talks with entrepreneurs about the reality of their struggle to succeed, as well as answering questions from the community, and sharing nuggets of wisdom from his own life.
Discover through these amazing episodes the courage to open your mind, heart, and soul to the world so you can be the best entrepreneur possible, respect the people you work with, and improve the world with your company while not hurting others or yourself in the process.
Sean is an entrepreneur, investor, and advisor based in SE Asia for over 12 years. He is passionate about Psychology and helping others improve themselves.