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Nataša Bajić

Our interview begins, on this unusually warm September morning, with the bold clacking sound of a pair of black stilettos. We are about to meet Milica Dobrenov and Nataša Bajić, the co-founders of Four Dots, a multinational inbound marketing company, who walk into their office premises at 8 o’clock on the dot.

At the very first glance, they seem like an unlikely pair: one of them the epitome of sporty elegance, the other opting for a dress code straight from the pages of Vogue. Nevertheless, both have the same determined look in their eyes and a great big smile on their face, motivated to tackle a new workday. Without a moment to spare, we dive straight into the question and answer portion of our program.

You both look very fresh and awake, could you tell us your secret? Do you have an established pre-work morning routine?

Nataša: I have a one-year-old boy at home, who runs like a Swiss watch – he is up every morning at 6 a.m. sharp! He takes after me in that sense, as I, too, am an early riser. We never skip breakfast in our home, and since my husband somehow manages to get up even before I do, I have a meal waiting on the table. The three of us always get the chance to eat together in the morning and go through our schedules. The babysitting timetable, work, playtime – everything needs to run smoothly. I am happy to say that we function like a well-oiled machine.

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Milica Dobrenov

Milica: As I always say to my son, the early bird catches the worm. My family also gets up pretty early, one of the reasons being that I love helping my son get ready for kindergarten. My husband and I have a rule, we never let him leave the house before he finishes his breakfast. Even though I love preparing one for him, for me,  that first cup of coffee is what gets me going. I sip it slowly, while picking out my clothes, ironing and helping my son pack. I always drive him to kindergarten since it is on my way to work. There’s an amazing little bakery next door, which sells the most amazing bagels, so I make it a point to stop by. That way I arrive at the office a little before 8 and have my breakfast in the office while I go through my to-do list.

Was it challenging so far being a successful woman in the digital marketing industry?

Nataša: It’s interesting that you ask that. We haven’t really paid much attention to it, but when you come to think of it, it seems that a lot of new and emerging IT-related industries are in fact founded by men. Digital marketing is no different. Most influencers in our line of work are men, but we hope to see this change in the future.

Milica: …and we hope to be a big part of that change! Digital marketing is all about creativity and finding solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems – I don’t see why women wouldn’t be involved in the process. It’s no longer a man’s world out there, just look around – the CEOs of some of the most successful startups are women. And I think that I speak for both of us when I say that we love our job, and strive towards finding a good team of people who will be equally driven to contribute to our company’s stellar success.

Nataša: What we’re trying to say is that there aren’t any industry-specific challenges. It is something people encounter across all fields of business. We did have quite a few obstacles to overcome, but luckily, that’s all in the past. Our company has experienced a significant growth, so significant that we kept employing new teams of people at such short intervals that we were unable to predict the size of the office space we needed. As a result, we had to move a couple of times, which wasn’t an ideal situation, but the key is to stay calm and take it one day at a time. Every problem has a solution, you just have to be crafty enough to get there.

Was it difficult building such a successful startup in a country where digital marketing has not yet taken off?

Milica: Yes and no. On the plus side, it has enabled us to literally start our business from scratch. Also, there is one more fact many often forget to take into consideration – hard-working people!

Nataša: Definitely, I couldn’t be more proud of our team. But when it comes to attracting our first clients, we were focused on the the international market, as at the time, doing local SEO would have been quite risky and maybe we wouldn’t have had such a great success. For this reason, we decided to open offices around the world that would help us attract more international clients.

Milica: We are also doing our best to educate local companies on the importance of inbound marketing, hoping that in the future we can help more local businesses grow and achieve international success. That’s what we love about SEO – we’re able to help aspiring entrepreneurs from a wide range of industries. Serbia is still a developing country and is fairly unfamiliar with the concept of startups, but as we have already mentioned, we are hoping to see a change for the better.

We understand that your company is multinational – how do you cope with clients from different cultural backgrounds?

Milica: In business, the client comes first. That was our motto from the beginning and like in any other line of business, working with people has its challenges, but I would say that in our niche it’s definitely a bit more difficult to handle the variety of demands.

Nataša: I agree! We devise individual strategies for every new client, taking into consideration a number of things: the industry they operate in, the audience they are targeting, their country of origin and all of their specific requests.

Milica: Research is key. In order to achieve global success, it is important to acquire… Well, global knowledge. Familiarize yourself with different cultures, their customs, paying special attention to different markets and customer profiles. For example, a campaign that is hugely successful in the U.S. would not necessarily achieve the same level of success in Australia, or anywhere in Europe.

Nataša: Exactly, that’s why we always concentrate on accommodating our client’s individual needs. The fact is, we learn as we go and do our best to always be prepared for anything our clients throw our way.  That is one of the secrets of our success we are happy to share.

Is it possible to find balance between your personal and professional life? When do you draw the line and say that you’ve done enough for the day and it is time to focus on your family?

Milica: That’s a tough one. When you are at the head of a startup, it can at times be quite hard to find the ideal work/personal life balance. However, going into this venture, I made the decision that no matter what – family comes first.  

Nataša: I couldn’t agree more. We were really young when our careers began and we knew from the start what it takes to succeed, but at the same time I am not willing to sacrifice being a mother in the process. I knew I could do both and… well, I was right!

Milica: Luckily, we founded our company with two colleagues, Radomir Basta and Goran Bogunović, who have not only proven to be highly supportive of our plans for the future, but have always been fully dedicated to making all of our plans a reality. Hence the name Four Dots. Thanks to the strong relationships we have and a huge amount of understanding on all sides, we were able to take some time off when we had our boys, without having to worry whether our company will continue to thrive. You know, at the end of the day, it feels good to just get out of these heels and under the blanket, to spend an entire evening watching The Lion King for the 42nd time.

Any tips for women who are embarking on a startup journey? What were some of the major obstacles that you had to tackle?

Nataša: Don’t overthink it and don’t doubt yourself – just have faith in your idea and go for it. If  you start all negative and think about all the possible obstacles, there’s never going to be “the right time”.

Milica: Trust us, there’s no right time! It’s only natural to be afraid of how it’s going to affect your family life, because, let’s face it, it is more difficult for women to incorporate a family into their career path than it is for men to do the same.

Nataša: Finances are always one of the most common challenges. But no matter how often we hear it raised as an excuse, people keep forgetting that success doesn’t happen overnight! You wouldn’t believe the size of the apartment we started our company in (both laugh). I believe it was smaller than the office we are in right now!

As 9 o’clock approaches, the offices are filled with the sound of clanking coffee mugs and subtle keyboard tapping – another successful day at Four Dots has begun.

 

Sarah.Green is a tech journalist and blogger covering the latest trends in the world of technology and business. Interested in startups, business innovation and entrepreneurial ideas, Sarah looks for the writing inspiration in the great work of tech industry professionals.


Katherine-FritzThough she only owns one pair of heels, Katie Fritz heads up brand and marketing efforts as the Marketing Manager at  Trippeo Inc., which develops an app for tracking travel and expenses for businesses. Since joining in July of 2014, Katie has worked with the Trippeo team to help identify their audience and build a cohesive brand voice.

Previously, Katie worked as a writer, and spends her free time at the pottery studio or working on her small floral design business. We had the pleasure of speaking with her and learn about the challenges and benefits of being a woman in the world of tech start-ups.

As a Marketing Manager you have helped put Trippeo on the map, helping this application become one of the most sought-after expense management software. What is your secret?

A manager is only as good at the team that they work with. Obviously there are dynamics within a team that makes one more or less successful, but we’re really lucky at Trippeo. I came onto a team with a high degree of emotional intelligence, as well as top-quality skill sets in development, sales, etc. We’re a small team; we have to get along and understand each other if we’re going to work effectively together. Thankfully, we’re all on the same page about what we want to do: build something great that solves problems and works beautifully. The road to getting to that goal has lots of weird offshoots, and my job is reining in those crazy ideas and make sure that they suit, delight, and make sense to the businesses we’re making this app for.

Holding a managerial role must have its challenges. How do you handle them?

Well, working at any start-up demands that you be ready to drop everything and pivot at basically a moment’s notice. Being a good improviser is key. You can’t love anything you’ve planned or made too much because the reality is that it’s going to change or be outdated within a few weeks. If you have a big ego, it’s going to get its ass kicked at a start-up.

Getting your ego destroyed is actually really beneficial to being a manager, because you’re more able to look at the solutions to a problem and not favor your own method. Good written verbal communication helps too, and having a wrought iron sense of humor. Being on friendly terms with your colleagues not only makes it more fun to come into work everyday, it makes pulling long hours on grinding projects a lot more enjoyable. .

I guess in summary, it’s my personal belief that a good sense of humor and the ability to be nimble will take you much further in life than the ability to plan something to the hilt.

The tech industry is still, to some extent, considered to be a man’s world. How fast do you think that this is changing, since we are seeing more and more women CEOs at some of the leading tech start-ups?

On paper, the gendered landscape of the tech industry is changing really fast: we’re seeing more female CEOs, investors, entrepreneurs, etc etc. And that’s great. I love reading their stories, I’d love to work with them. But I think it would be a mistake to say that women have overcome the gender gap in the tech industry. Too much of the published recognition is based on the novelty of being a woman.

Businesswomen who accomplish incredible funding raises or build huge companies are gaining recognition for their accomplishments in the space, and we call that progress… but that’s just how meritocracy works. I have a lot of hope for women in the space right now, and I’m excited to have my feet on the ground and be in the middle of it. And if our community keeps growing and changing as much as we’ve done in the last ten years, then the future looks really bright.

You are a social activist and someone who is very publicly outspoken when it comes to women rights. Has this affected your work in any way?

I’m sure it’s affected my working environment, but I’m fine with that. I’m a feminist, and I don’t have patience for comments or attitudes that would demean the personhood of another. I think that sets a high standard of communication for my interactions. I like that. I want to encourage people to think and choose their words carefully when we speak. If that scares or bothers people, that’s more a reflection on their being attached to the status quo than my being rigid.

I want to encourage people to think and choose their words carefully when we speak.

I don’t have this issue at the Trippeo office. Sure, my male co-workers occasionally mess up and say something sexist–usually unintentionally. I’ve found the best way to deal with friends and colleagues making such remarks is to point out their casual sexism. So much of such comments are culturally inherited, and we (myself included!) don’t always think before we repeat idioms that are actually really regressive and harmful to women everywhere. In the office specifically, I just make fun of my workmates. It contributes to a healthy conversation, and we all get a kick out of it. It’s fun.

In addition to your two corporate jobs, you are also a freelance writer and florist! How does that fit into your busy schedule?

The work I do with Trippeo is really analytical and computer based: research, chatting with sales people, throwing around pitch ideas. It’s a complex job, but I don’t feel like it uses every part of my brain. Floral design is so immediate: you take the materials and you make something. Then you can break it all down and make it again, or watch it cycle through its life. My more recent work with bridal clients and marketing teams has been really satisfying, because it lets me share my excitement for the craft.

Freelance writing is something I’ve done since university. I actually did my undergrad in Creative Writing. The freedom to accept jobs I am really excited about keeps the work fresh and fun, like solving a puzzle rather than cranking away at a math problem. And scheduling? Well, that’s ever evolving. Some days I wake up at 4AM and hit the flower auction, and others I sleep till 8:30AM and then ride my bike to the Trippeo office. Having a really rigid schedule has never worked for me. I want to get up and then immediately jump into something that excites me.

Finally, what would be your message to all the young women starting up in the world of start-ups?

Be tough, be kind. Stand up for yourself, and earn respect through hard work. Gender is a factor, so don’t let it trip you up. As long as the tech industry treats the achievements of women like they are seeing bears do backflips (that is to say, amazing and previously inconceivable feats), you will have to work twice as hard for half the recognition. Just consider it an opportunity to build your character, and use your frustration to light fires under your own butt.

Be tough, be kind. Stand up for yourself, and earn respect through hard work. Gender is a factor, so don’t let it trip you up.

Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep and have a life some days. Ask for performance reviews and feedback so you can keep growing. Know and check in with what you want: your goals will change, so make sure your approach does too. Most importantly: if you don’t like what you’re doing, change.


Nicole Snow

When Nicole Snow, a former US Air Force veteran and an American entrepreneur, established Darn Good Yarn back in 2008, nobody could predict that she would change face of modern female entrepreneurship scene. While combining her passion for art and the will to help those who are in need, she managed to turn traditional skills into economically viable, sustainable entrepreneurial idea.

We’ve managed to get the hold of Nicole for a brief interview and she has told us a little bit more about her road to success and the way she affected the lives of many women and their families on the other side of the globe.

When was the first time you realized you wanted to join the US Air Force and was it difficult for you to handle all the challenges that were set upon you?

I dreamt of joining the US Air Force since I was in the 7th grade. Actually, my biggest wish was to fly KC10’s, so I started taking flying lessons when I was 13. Needless to say I was thrilled when, years later, I was granted full US Air Force Scholarship at Clarkson University. I was so proud of myself – only about 30% of the US Air Force officers were female and I managed to become one of them.

And yes, it was hard at the beginning, however, not once did I regret my decision to join the US Air Force. At times, the training was exhausting and getting used to the severe schedule was quite difficult, but I was quick to adapt. After such strict regime, every other challenge I encountered in life was much easier to deal with.

Still, after two years of loyal service, you left the US Air Force. What was the real reason behind this decision?

The US Air Force is actually where I met my spouse, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. But due to the nature of his job, he had to move quite a lot, so I made a decision to stay by his side and follow him. And even though his job was the initial reason for leaving the US Air Force, I too felt like it was the time for me to move on. That career offered me job security, but I was not quite happy, so I felt like I should take a different road in my life. Yes, it was my childhood dream, but after serving two years of active duty I realized it did not fit who I was at that time and who I was starting to become as a woman.

What is it that you appreciate the most from your time spent in the US Air Force?

When I look back in the end, I am grateful to have been a part of such great organisation. It was truly an unforgettable experience. Since I was a resident advisor, I had the opportunity to gain some valuable leadership skills, learn how to organize my time better, and most importantly, I learned to trust my gut. I can say with absolute certainty that the US Air Force has made me a better CEO. If I hadn’t been so confident in myself, I wouldn’t be where I am today, both when it comes to my personal and professional life.

You went from a military class pilot to yarn business pioneer. Can you tell us more about how that happened?

When I started knitting, it was nothing more than a hobby. A way to unwind and relax from work. It was my mother-in-law who taught me some of the basics and then I perfected my technique by watching online videos. As the time passed I noticed that it is impossible to get the hold of a quality yarn, so I decided to dig deeper into the problem. Soon I realized that the companies which sold recycled silk failed to provide quality one, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.

At the time, my husband and I lived in California. That’s where I made friends with a woman from India with whom I was sewing garments from recycled silk. She was the one who introduced me to the members of Indian community in California who manufactured yarn from recycled silk, and if it hadn’t been for them, I would have probably never started Darn Good Yarn.

Initially, I wanted to provide people who do arts and crafts with world-class material. Eventually, this idea took me around the globe, all the way to Nepal and India. When I saw just how talented those women are and how underestimated their work is, I knew I had to do something about it. It was obvious that they possess highly valuable skills and I wanted the entire world to see that and appreciate the work they were doing. I also noticed that there was a lack to basic supply in the poorest regions of these two countries. That’s when I started to provide spinning wheels for those who were willing to work but could not afford one.

People refer to 08 as a triple bottom line business as it helps people, environment and makes profit. However, the ways in which you affected the lives of women in India is outstanding. Would you tell us more about it?

Before I established Darn Good Yarn, even though they were extremely hard-working, many Indian and Nepalese women were unemployed. The ones that had only about 3 months of work a year were considered the lucky ones, what was obviously not enough to support their families, especially with salaries lower than $2 a day.

Today, craftswomen from Nepal and India distribute quality yarn and goods worldwide. They have an all-year round jobs and earn between $13 and $16 a day. We at Darn Good Yarn are all really proud to have helped those women become autonomous and self-reliant. They’ve gained economic independence and are able to provide for their families, get food and proper medical care, as well as educate their children.

I understand that you’ve also traveled a lot over the years. Would you be able to select one trip as your favorite or the one that had the most influence on you?

I’ve visited India and Nepal on numerous occasions, and even though trips were mostly business-related, I had the opportunity to see how Darn Good Yarn changes the lives of working women and their families for the better. But I will never forget the 17-year old girl I met a couple of years ago. She was spinning banana fibers and told me how she was saving to go to medical school. She had to work because of her family’s poor financial state and there was the time she thought she will never get the chance of getting proper education. We spoke about the effect of Darn Good Yarn on a multitude of occasions, but the conversation with this girl is what made it real and what motivates me to keep moving forward.

For the end, is there any advice you would like to give young women who are only at the beginning of their career?

Well, I know this is going to sound cheesy, but I always emphasize that doing what you love and not giving up on your dreams will lead you to success. If I had given up after I was fired and told that I wasn’t a good fit for small businesses, I would’ve never got to where I am now. I was disappointed, but not discouraged.
As I already said, trusting my gut is what got me where I am today. Find your focus and believe in yourself, but remember that your business is not all about you. It’s important to know that your family is on board with you and that you can always count on them. And in the end, believe me when I say it – getting a paycheck and earning a lot of money is not something that should be your primary goal, but the will to do greater good.


A woman who is one of the leaders of the digital revolution in Montenegro, Natasa Djukanovic is an important figure in the global digital community. While being a mom of three, she is also a mentor and inspiration to her colleagues, as well as an active educator of young people and business professionals on startup strategies, digital business and technology.

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Natasa Djukanovic is CMO at .ME Registry, co-founder of an educational web portal digitalizuj.me and Founder of Spark.me international conference, and below she shares with us key personal branding lessons for female entrepreneurs.

As a CMO you have helped catapult the .me domain among the world’s top 20 domains. What’s your superpower?

I’m Wonder Woman! Just kidding. When Montenegro got assigned the .me domain in 2006, the Government realized that we got lucky and that this is something that can be very successfully exploited. We, as Domain.me opened up as business in 2008, when we signed the agreement of managing the national domain name .ME with the Government of Montenegro.

That is how it all began, our small but dedicated team started to build a brand from scratch. This required extensive analysis of our target market, planning the effective strategies for reaching them and, finally, creating a meaning for our brand. And now 7 years later we are one of the leading domain name brands in the world, and a starting point  for many great ideas and projects. So maybe my superpower is the ability to recognize the right product and the right people to help me build a successful brand.

Tell us about your other amazing endeavor, the Digitalizuj.me project, another successful brand that has become an entire movement?

When we started Domain.me we understood that we need to unite and grow an internet community, which could in return support and grow our brand. So we joined forces with other influential people from Montenegro and we created the Digitalizuj.me NGO, with the intention of growing and supporting the local tech ecosystem through series of lectures and workshops.

Our main idea was to educate young people about startups and management with the focus on the digital world. This later on translated into another great project developed by Domain.me, the Spark.me conference, which has become one of the biggest technology and business conferences in the Balkans.

Attracting the leading names in the industry, Spark.me has inspired sharing and exchange of ideas, as well as helping to build a stronger digital community in this part of Europe.

As someone who helped creating three major brands and became a brand name herself, what advice would you give to your colleagues who are just starting out?

Well, first of all get rid of the old obsolete rules about branding. Just because you have a unique product it does not mean that public will want it. Emotions are key.

As someone who works in marketing, you need to be able to untangle the intricate web of human emotions that guide the buyers and to create a product that they desire, even if they themselves don’t know it yet. The next step is building the brand. Naturally, most of us do not have the access to big corporate funds for brand development, so how can we do it on a budget. We tell a story. A well told, truthful personal story surrounding your brand can be your ultimate weapon. Finally, create your own community of people who will become your brand evangelists and who you can advise in return. Domain.ME has a whole network of bloggers who are acting as brand ambassadors and spreading our story. It’s more personal than any advertisement could ever be.

In one of your previous interviews you mentioned a conference where 80% of participants were men. As someone who comes from a traditional society, what challenges have you faced as a woman on your way to the top?

IT industry has been male dominated for years, but we live in a new world, where I can say things are changing. There is still room for more women in our industry, but I have to say that the obstacles I have faced during my career have not been different in any way just because I am a woman. Any expert in my position would face the same challenges, and the key to overcoming them is patience and persistence, as with everything else in life. This is something that I had to learn the hard way, being a very temperamental person and having trouble when it comes to timely reactions.

I’ve personally had more issues with my traditional upbringing, and the ability to overcome some uncomfortable business situations. For example discussing kiss.me domain with five serious, older, male executives without blushing. These days I am used to dealing with all situations and people, considering that I spend at least one third of my time organizing and attending conferences, networking and promoting my brands.

Being a successful woman on the go, what are some things that you just can’t leave the house without?

Oh actually there are only a few, so I can always carry a small bag. For starters I can’t live without my technology. My IPhone and IPad are a must. If you are wondering why Apple, it’s simple, speed. Most of the time I need to do several things at the same time, from having a web conferences while making lunch to talking to my kids on my way to the airport, and these devices enable me to complete these multiple tasks without having to take a break. And considering that I don’t stop, you will rarely see me without my phone. Another thing that never leaves my bag is a pack of band-aids, ever since my kids were little, I’ve always carried one, and I do still, believe it or not my colleagues are quite grateful for this little detail.

Finally, what keeps you motivated to explore new professional frontiers?

I must admit that I’m happy to be in the digital branding industry, because it’s so dynamic and so full of opportunities for creative individuals. Potential success in realizing a unique idea is definitely something that has kept me motivated throughout the years; achieving something grander such as inspiring or educating other people along the way is a bonus factor.

Thanks to Natasa Djukanovic for the interview!

Sarah Green is a tech journalist and blogger covering the latest trends in the world of technology and business. Interested in startups, business innovation and entrepreneurial ideas, Sarah looks for the writing inspiration in the great work of tech industry professionals.