Start Ups and Bosnia and Herzegovina
In this episode of our podcast, I find out from Predrag Borojević, about how a small Start Up from Gradiška in the very north of Bosnia and Herzegovina has become sustainable.
David: In all the things that happen in the western Balkans, there’s very little even today that you can fly a flag about which says it’s a success, it’s something that’s has been initiated from within the community. There’s very, very little of that to be honest, Gradiska’s right at the north of Bosnia and Herzegovina, right in the north of the Republika Srpska, and there’s an initiative that has been growing months on months, as far as I know.
I have to start with the first simple question. What is Funky Guerrilla?
Predrag: Well, for us, Funky Guerrilla is an exit. An exit from the saturated reality that we live in. Saturated with negative news, with saying that things are impossible, that it cannot get any better, so we wanted to get out of that reality and enter a new one, and for us, as I said, it’s an escape. It’s a way to use our efforts, to use our skills and knowledge, try and be independent, try and spread the voice, and if successful, then put a flag in and say, “Look, it’s doable, but need to work hard on it.”
David: How difficult has it been to make it doable?
Predrag: Quite difficult, quite difficult. When starting a brand in a very small market where foreign brands are still considered as status symbols, it is very hard to push an idea that’s relatively new, because we’re working in a way on a social innovation here, and in the local community. It’s, in a way, sometimes hard to communicate the message to people, for people to understand, because they’re very reluctant towards initiatives like that. On the other hand, it is difficult to master the technology, the processes, gather a good team that can push all of it. There’s challenges, as in everything, but if we work hard, if we learn from our mistakes, and then put our heads up whenever we face a problem, then we can do it.
David: Being as successful as you’ve got so far has required a dedicated team. Where did you find these young people to work with you?
Predrag: Pretty much it starts from a group of friends. It’s impossible to do anything alone, so it’s always a closer group of friends who put in their skills, their time, their knowledge. Then, as the idea grows, people start to learn about it, they offer their help, we hire other people, so building a team is a constant process. It’s constant process, and we need new people to upgrade, we need new experiences, new ideas, new visions, and that’s how we do it. People come from all around Bosnia, from Gradiska, Banja Luka, Serajevo. People want to work something new, something local, and try make it successful.
David: It was quite some time ago, I have to admit, when I was talking to Dijana Tepsoc here in Banja Luka, and she said, “There’s this great initiative called Funky Guerrilla,” and I really was trying to pay attention but there was a lot else going on on that day. When I went back and got online, the first thing I found about you was on crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, and I thought, “Wow, you know, here we are in northern Bosnia Herzegovina crowdfunding.” It knocked me for six.
Two part question. Where did you get the idea from for crowdfunding, and how has it been for you? I mean, this is hardly an economically developed society that would be able to jump to and contribute.
Predrag: Well, we got the idea randomly, just sitting and talking and saying, “Okay, what could we do to promote? To maybe have a larger impact?” So we said, “Well, maybe crowdfunding is a good idea.” It’s a tool to promote our vision and mission, but also to sent our clothing outside of Bosnia and also within Bosnia. We decided to do it, we started preparing, analysing the whole process of crowdfunding, because there weren’t many initiatives in Bosnia focusing on that channel, so we were pioneering and learning by doing, and eventually we got 10% of our ultimate goal, which is okay, and now we have learned maybe some mistakes, and now we have a newer basis to do a better crowdfunding campaign if we decide to do it. It has been very interesting initiative. It’s been a learning process from us, but also I think we managed to get good attention.
David: Your marketing, or I like to call it your storytelling, your digital storytelling, and awareness is quite unique as well. Instagram, for example, the last, I don’t know, was it 21 days you’ve been going around Bosnia Herzegovina posting photographs and all sorts of content from all sorts of unusual places. Even on the old disused Sarajevo bobsleigh track. Who came up with that idea?
Predrag: The team within Funky Guerrilla decided, “Okay, let’s send a message through a video, and let’s call it an experiment, because we’ll travel around Bosnia for three or four days, present the beautiful nature, the beautiful scenery that we have, and we want to send a message for freedom in a way. Two young people, travelling around, enjoying their country and sending that positive message, a positive experiment to the auditorium. We got some amazing footage from amazing places all around, and we will publish the video next week and we are hoping that we will get good feedback on it.
David: You were talking earlier on as well about a brand that you can export outside Bosnia and Herzegovina. I may have this incorrect, you’re gonna correct me whatever way, but you’ve had the help from a local designer I believe at one stage. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Predrag: We worked with three or four local designers and all of them were students, because we want to get young people to be engaged, to provide them opportunity to work on something on hand, not just from theory, ’cause that’s mostly how they learn, and we cooperated so far with four designers from Gradiška and Banja Luka, all students, and we got some very good clothing lines. Some were maybe not as profitable, but for us they were all equally important because it’s the way they expressed. We were able to go from idea to design to production to placement, so we had a whole circle, whole production circle rounded within our local community, and for us, it’s something important, because with that we are saying, “Okay, we can do it. We can do it, we can master the process, we alone can create a premium product and now we just need to send it out.”
David: My experience has been over the years that I’ve been here, that when people have started initiatives and you ask them a little bit about it, they say, “Well, I’m doing it because. Because I’m doing it.” You’re the first person, honestly, that’s ever said the word, you know, “Is it gonna be profitable?” Profitability, good, bad, without giving too many secrets away?
Predrag: It’s kind of break even all the time. We are now trying to raise it up in order to invest more in the production itself, in spreading the Funky Guerrilla, have it growing, and also it is important for us because Funky Guerrilla, for us, it’s about clothing, it’s about the mission, but for us, it’s also about the association which is behind it, because the owner of Funky Guerrilla is not an individual. It’s a non-profit NGO called Udruzenje Most, which works in the local community with children at risk, with young people, and providing free services to the ones that need it. So for us, it’s, in a way, to say, “Yes, we can do it, yes, we can be profitable, yes, we can maybe make a good company,” but also, we will use that profit eventually to help everybody.
David: Is this a model that you think could be adopted more than it is at the moment to help the development of the country?
Predrag: Definitely. Definitely is, I am 100% sure about it, but it requires much more energy, much more devotion, much more hard work, and a lot of risk. So we shall risk a lot to engage this endeavour, and nobody can guarantee success. Usually every one or two of 10 startups succeed, so it’s a big risk to enter something like that, especially the fashion industry, where the competition is huge, from cheap products which are produced on the mass scales in Asia, to foreign brands which, like I say again, have the status symbol here, and people would rather buy a foreign brand than a local one, which is not the case, for example, maybe in Germany, France or Nordic countries. It is doable. The model I very good I believe, I’m convinced of ti, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it, but it requires much more risk.
David: How’s the competition viewed you? And by the competition, I’m talking about, and I’ll use this term very loosely, the ‘captains of industry’ in the communities, towns and cities around you, how did they react to you now being on their playing field, in their market place?
Predrag: I think they still perceive us as small initiative, so we are not that, they don’t feel that jeopardised by us. Reactions have been okay. We have very good relations with people who are selling difficult types of clothing, so we didn’t have any unpleasant situation, let’s say. It has been a fair competition.
David: But you do operate completely different from the accepted way here in the country.
Predrag: Yeah, totally different, totally different. People sometimes think we’re playing, we are not as serious, it will be bust in two months, it will never, there’s no chance of it succeeding, which is also kind of food for us, because Bosnians have that spite within them, and it starts to work, then you get extra motivated. It’s good. Competition for us is always good because it makes us work harder, it makes [inaudible 00:16:06] better, it makes us improve our product, it makes us improve our strategy and everything, and only with the competition can we grow. For us, competition is very much welcomed, we are ready to tackle in a fair play of course, and I think that most of the other companies are going to do it in that manner as well.
David: You’re displaying and selling your products here today at Play Media Day in the castle in Banja Luka. It’s a digital conference. What impact has digital had for you guys as far as marketing, awareness, and any other activities that you’ve been involved in? Are you seizing that initiative?
Predrag: Yeah, it plays a very important role, because traditional media here, traditional advertising is very expensive. We are a guerrilla after all, so we need to use ways to spread our message with very little funds, sometimes no funds, and digital media has played a big role there, especially social networks and online blogs, online portals, and right now we’re also trying to find influencers who will be willing to work with us, to cooperate, to spread the message, and in a way, we want to create a guerrilla community. People who share the same values and who believe in the things we believe, and then hopefully, it will exponentially grow.
David: I’m gonna give you one last question, ’cause I know I’ve taken you away from a much more important task which is achieving the mission. For any young people that listen to this, whether they hear this on the podcast or on the livestream very shortly, or wherever, you’ve gone through the birth pains, if I can put it that way, of doing something new with using your initiative, being innovative. It’s been hard. For people listening, whether it’s in Banja Luka, Sarajevo, Visegrad or wherever, if you had to give them one tip, what would it be?
Predrag: Believe. Believe and work hard. That’s all I can say, because nobody can guarantee you success. Success is never guaranteed, it depends on a lot of factors, but it is important that there’s that head and heart connexion, that you work for something you believe in, you work hard for it, but still you are sane enough to know which steps are realistic, which are not. For me, believing and working hard to achieve it without success guaranteed and being aware of that is the key to start an initiative, and later on, things will either move in a positive way or in a negative way, but whichever way it goes, you always know that you have tried, you have given it your best, and you have learned a lesson. Regardless if you succeed or fail, there’s always a lesson learned to start over.
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