Start-up Advice: Dejan Ćušić, Comtrade

13 Jul 2016

Dejan Ćušić, solutions and service business director for Comtrade in the UK and Ireland. Image via Luke Maxwell

Dejan Ćušić is the solutions and service business director for Comtrade in the UK and Ireland.

Dejan Ćušić has been working with Comtrade for 15 years, and took up his current role in January last year. Prior to that, roles he held included business development manager, program manager and delivery manager.

Led by Ćušić, cutting-edge software engineering firm Comtrade recently worked on a huge project with Ryanair to develop the new MyRyanair platform. In total, Comtrade invested 36,000 developer hours – the equivalent of 18 business years – into the project.

In your opinion, which areas of technology hold the greatest scope for opportunities?

Future Human

There are multiple areas in the digital world that are going to have a very positive impact on each other and accelerate each other. Particularly, the internet of things (IoT), connected devices, artificial intelligence and mobility are reinforcing each other and, together, they’re bringing society to a new level.

Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

Entrepreneurship is a mindset, and I believe entrepreneurs are born, but you need more than that innate ability; you have to have the ability to learn and improve yourself. An entrepreneur must learn how to become a balanced risk-taker: controlling the natural entrepreneurial drive by welcoming opposite views and perspectives.

What are the qualities of a good founder?

One great quality that founders need to have is the ability to balance three things: short, medium and long-term priorities. You can’t focus too much on the day-to-day activities, instead you should be looking at the medium and long-term strategies and plan your vision accordingly.

You also need to be able to assemble a good team. Great teams offer you the greatest managerial leverage.

What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day?

A successful entrepreneur needs to keep focused on where he or she is going every single day. You can go about achieving your goals in different ways, but you will only achieve them if they are constantly in sight. I know entrepreneurs who list two or three objectives every day and they don’t stop until they have crossed them off the list. They’re constantly setting themselves targets and doing everything possible to achieve them every day.

‘Great teams offer you the greatest managerial leverage’

What resources and tools are an absolute must for your arsenal?

It’s an absolute must to surround yourself with a great team, but you also need to be constantly informing yourself and working to make yourself better. I read a lot of books about management, technology, psychology and personal development – probably around 40 books a year. I recently read High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove, which was excellent. It’s fascinating how a book about management that was written more than 30 years ago (in 1983) is still very relevant.

How do you assemble a good team?

Teams have to be diverse; consisting of people with varied perspectives and a range of skillsets. It can be difficult to achieve, but it’s vital for success. You must know how to talk to people and how to test and develop them. Sometimes you’ll just get a good feeling about someone, but you’ll also learn if they’re a good fit by working with them. You know you have a valuable team member when they can take healthy, constructive criticism and challenges.

At Comtrade, we pay a lot of attention to the development of our employees. We have a lot of policies in place to support personal development. Because of that, people tend to stay with us for a long time; employee turnover is two times better than the industry average.

Typically, we develop new employees in four stages; gradually giving them more and more independence with each stage. In the final stage, the individual should be ready to make their own decisions. Even if we don’t agree with a decision, we let them run with it and hope that they learn from the process.

‘You know you have a valuable team member when they can take healthy, constructive criticism and challenges’

What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?

Ambition and having the capability to make things happen in short timelines is critical. The latter is particularly important in the technology sector. Technology makes barriers easier and quicker to scale, but that makes it easier for your competitors, too. It’s the people who set the pace that will be successful.

What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?

Something I see time and again is experienced business people underestimating the amount of money it takes to fund a start-up. If an entrepreneur hasn’t factored in the capital required to set up and run their business, funding problems will distract them from other areas and they will lose focus. I always tell people to plan the amount of money they need and then multiply the figure by three!

You also have to be funded for a reasonable amount of time. I know of one company that ran out of money within six months, despite having 20 solid sales leads in the pipeline. They were valuable leads but they didn’t factor in that leads take a long time to materialise for a start-up. They couldn’t get them over the line in such a short space of time and their business failed as a result.

‘I always tell people to plan the amount of money they need and then multiply the figure by three’

Who is your business hero and why?

I really admire Elon Musk. Everything he’s done is on a whole different level. He is visionary. The money he makes or loses is irrelevant; he wants to change the world for the better and money is just a vehicle to achieve it. Sustainable transport systems like Tesla and Hyperloop – they’re exciting projects that will make our lives better.

What’s the No 1 piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?

Get enough funding for your start-up project and then execute it quickly. I mentor a few start-ups and it’s something Comtrade is increasingly engaging in. We can help speed up the time-to-market process, which helps start-ups achieve their goals quickly and beat the competition.