Starting the year with a story coming from my community. Lately we have witnessed a female positivity movement, because even in 2017 it is still a mans world, not only in politics, but also when it comes to entrepreneurship, tech, digital. It is about time we empower women and stop the nonsense of inequality in the workplace.
That’s why I choose my next guest as a positive influencer in this matter. I must admit that coming from a small country that’s going through a political crisis for two years now, and has been affected by the international political, economic, refugee crisis, it is not easy to find positivity to go through the day. Especially for young entrepreneurs, this is not an easy time to run a business. But, there’s always a light in the ‘dark’ tunnel! Let’s learn more about Nina Angelovska, the CEO and founder of Grouper – the leader of e-commerce in Macedonia. And let’s get inspired!
“Since I was a little girl my mother taught me to strive for knowledge and be best at whatever I do. During my studies I was devoted to embracing knowledge and got very passionate about e-commerce. I was also excited about competitions and I considered them a way to prove myself. When I was 21 years old I won the National competition for “the most innovative business plan” and got funding to start my business. Full of energy and ambition I was ready to seize the opportunities and dive in the business world.
Becoming an entrepreneur and running my own business wasn’t something I have dreamt about since I was little, but probably my entrepreneurial genes from both of my parents and my upbringing were a solid ground and starting point.
My mother would very often bring some business magazines and point some interesting success stories. The story of Groupon, caught my attention since it was presented as the fastest growing online company in history.The new business model of group buying seemed like a perfect initiator for e-commerce development in my emerging country. We launched the leading e-commerce site when less than 1% of the population was buying online. When others saw obstacles I saw challenge to change the e-commerce market. The path was not easy but every barrier we overcame made us stronger and wiser.” – Nina recalls.
“The first stepping stone was when we signed our first launching deals with 9 merchants out of 10 meetings done in about 2 days. Usually I get the questions if the egg (merchants) or the chicken (end-users) came first and my answer is both at same time! Because we were getting subscribers and negotiating deals at the same time about 2 months before the launch. The sign that we did a great job with our marketing strategy was when only after few hours of publishing the first deal we had more than 100 coupons sold. I will never forget the adrenaline and joy of the first contracts made and the first coupons sold.
The negotiations with institutions and banks regarding advancing the e-commerce and educating the population were worth it… When I look back at it, that was a bumpy ride for sure and it still is, but we managed to get to this point of more than half million coupons sold.” – Nina concludes.
Some might ask: OK, how is this innovative, how is this a startup, when it already existed somewhere in the world? Let me tell you a ‘little secret’. What makes you a leader isn’t the idea, it’s in the execution. ‘Your’ idea has been most likely already implemented somewhere. In 99% of the cases. So, it’s not a sin to copy or ‘replicate’ somebody’s idea. Especially if you come from emerging markets, the opportunities for ‘replicating ideas’ are limitless. However, it takes courage to modify the idea for your market’s specific needs and characteristics, and becoming a leader in your country, puts you in the champion seat!
My namesake is not alone, but has two other co-founders since the beginning and the team now counts 15 people. How she got the leading role in Grouper and is it really hard to co-found with a romantic partner?
“The leading role happened naturally from ongoing activities. In the beginning we never sat down to discuss who will have what title or so, we were just devoted to make things happen. It was a period of doing lots of activities with the limited resources we had. Both of my partners had other business responsibilities; one was employed and the other was running another business at the time. However we were all devoted to Grouper but since I was the PR person as well, appearing in media often contributed to creating this CEO role in the eyes of the public.
I was and still am the crazy optimist. Having the biggest passion of bringing Grouper to life, got me going. Those couple of months are blurred for me now, from the adrenaline and the constant work, without any time to reflect, but from time to time it’s good to remember and appreciate what you have done.” – Nina explains.
“When it comes to co-founding a business with your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse I can not compare how it is the other way since I don’t know for any other way. Since the beginning we were going in this together. Very often we disagree on certain business matters but criticism and constructive conflict are crucial to testing the value of ideas and in the end we come up with the best solution. On the other hand it is wonderful to be able to share the joy of each reached milestone and success with your closest one. Since the entrepreneurial lifestyle is very demanding, it’s good to have a partner who understands your passion for work and even better who shares it with you.” – says Nina with a smile.
Grouper recently celebrated it’s 6th birthday. Even though there is now competition in the market, Grouper is still the leader. Their partners see them as reliable, their customers love their offers and creative marketing campaigns. Why wait on disrupting your own market? I asked Nina for an advice to anyone that is eager to start a business that is already existing somewhere, but missing in their country.
“Step number one would be to select the right business. Right in terms – right business model for your market, right timing, right strategy and of course most importantly something that you are passionate about. Use all your resources when bootstrapping. One of the key things for emerging and developing countries is to offer the right incentive to your prospects, especially if you are launching new business model that will have to induce changes in cutomers’ behavior and habits. And the analysis and research is of course the initial and easier part.
Then you have to work a lot. To work very hard, to embrace and initiate change, to be creative and to keep pace with changing trends. With hard work, motivated team, good organization, constant learning and support from friends and family anything can be done and it can be fun. Use your network wisely and be resourceful!” – adds Nina
What are you passionate about? Is somewhere out there someone already working on it? Is your eco-system and market in need of that product/service? Try it out, test, pivot, develop… Or just join the startup that is already working on it and be the best team member.
You always have the option to turn your passion into career. Don’t you?