Djuradj Caranovic, a successful businessman from Serbia, shares a story of his professional experience and ventures he built, invested in, and helped grow. From establishing the very first organic agricultural company, to becoming an internationally recognized innovation advisor – he’s ready to tell you a story of how mistakes can help you build a path to business success.
Interviewer: What was your very first business venture and how successful did it turn out to be? What did you learn from it?
Djuradj Caranovic: My younger self wasn’t really that patient, which is why I wasn’t that good at school when it comes to grades – and it didn’t really matter for me. I had my own interests and ideas which I thought will surely produce successful results. I admit that at that time, spite was a big motivator and I believed that one day I will have my own company rise from one of the ideas.
So the first ‘venture’ happened in high school when I spent days ordering books and T-shirts online. As it was 1998 when eCommerce was still in its infancy (especially in Serbia) I realized that I could profit from becoming a sort of a local industry pioneer. I sold items online, items you couldn’t get in physical stores as they were available in the USA only. I watched my business grow at a staggering rate.
But then, I learned that my first big mistake was greed. I was gradually raising my prices, consequently losing my customers. Until the second year, I went bankrupt. And not just that, but people who purchased my products had an emotional reaction, so I lost them for good. That was the second big mistake.
Interviewer: Tell me about your first official venture “Moja basta”. When did you decide to move from Belgrade to the country, and what triggered that idea?
Djuradj Caranovic: I’m a big gourmet – not sure whether I am more in love with the food or the process of preparing it. At that time, I kept thinking about my father’s stories of how everything tasted better “in his time”. Then one year, when I was in Barcelona, I had the chance to taste the most delicious salad which was grown in a garden behind the restaurant. I even begged for a tomato plant which I later took with me on a plane.
That was the very first plant I used to start my own small greenhouse, which of course made me feel like a real farmer. I started learning about agriculture, collected advice and ideas from local farmers, and tended my greenhouse every weekend. I was so proud when the first tomato grew. When I tried to multiply it, I failed. Still, with every rotten plant, I learned something new – it was a steady progress, but it was a progress.
Aside from asking around for advice, I also turned to Google, and term “organic” kept popping up. After learning about it, I encouraged others to go organic as well. It was a slower but more beneficial process, and unique at that time and place. Now, 7 years later when I look back, I realize that it was a smart decision. We built a network of 108 farmers and an educational center where we used AR and VR technology to visually educate farmers and make them experts in their respective fields.
Interviewer: When did you decide to sell your business and why?
Djuradj Caranovic: The educational center made us famous in the agriculture sector, not just in the region but on an international level as well. Soon, foreign companies wanted to take part in it, and after a while, one of the companies offered to buy us.
I’ll never forget that meeting, when I realized that I’m not negotiating on just my behalf, but on behalf of the 108 families. When I realized that another company will bring a beneficial change, I had to accept the offer for the sake of my team. And it was a good decision – the company tripled and it’s still the leader in its sector.
Interviewer: I heard you mention that you learned from the mistakes you made. Could you single out one or two that you feel were the most beneficial for your career?
Djuradj Caranovic: I could talk for days about my mistakes – I made millions of them and I’m grateful for each one. I had two bankruptcies in my career because of my management issues – I made wrong decisions, I was afraid of firing people, and received no support from the surroundings due to those bad decisions I made. I had my doubts, but also a spark that kept me going. And I learned to trust that spark.
Another problem was that I listened to too many pieces of advice and at times I felt like nothing more but a ping pong ball. It cost me a lot – people-wise and money-wise. This is where I learned the difference between an advice and an opinion, as well as not to care about what others will say.
Interviewer: Any regrets? Anything you would like to change in your life?
Djuradj Caranovic: After every bad situation I wish to have a time machine and go back. Then again, when that bad feeling passes, I feel grateful as I always learn something from it – even if it’s just “don’t do it again”. I can honestly say that I don’t fear future mistakes anymore, as I now realize that there’s only a greater success after each of them.
Interviewer: You teach at a number of conferences worldwide. Which topics you like to talk about the most at those conferences and why?
Djuradj Caranovic: Let me just elaborate on one thing first – I wouldn’t say I teach – the word makes me think of a one-way conversation. Monologue, so to say. I define a good keynote as a two-way conversation and a lot of questions. For me, if there are no questions at the end of my speech, I failed.
I have to be honest – I love that moment on the stage, when I’m surrounded with so many intelligent people who share my interests. And I am most proud when I hear that someone grew thanks to the story I told at a conference. And there’s an opportunity for me as well, to learn from someone else’s experience, as well. I always loved to share, and challenge my ideas, so it is fascinating to me how one and the same idea can be realized in million different ways.
In terms of topics, I like to talk about my experiences – what I learned, studied or done. Currently the most favorite topic for me is consumer behavior, especially in the voice sector.
Interviewer: Do you have any role models?
Djuradj Caranovic: I wouldn’t say there’s one person, it always changes. Sometimes it’s a child who freely expresses their opinion, a grandparent sharing their wisdom, or just a passerby. I learn a little every day from everyone.
Interviewer: What are your plans for the future?
Djuradj Caranovic: Voice technology is my current passion – especially VUX and VUI. I will have one special project for the blind people, so I am very excited about that.
I will be present on Asian market more as well, where I am booked for 5 conferences starting this December in Singapore. Later I’ll travel to Hong Kong, Thailand, North Korea, and UAE.
Also, I hope that soon I will be able to create podcasts on consumer experience topics and share my mistakes not just with people at a particular conference, but wider.
Interviewer: Any advice you would give to someone at the beginning of their career?Caranovic: Use your adversity as an opportunity, and believe in yourself.