Refugee to Revolutionary: The SaaS Startup Founder Journey of Nik Mijik

Refugee to Revolutionary: The SaaS Startup Founder Journey of Nik Mijik

Nik Mijic, former Program Manager at LinkedIn, is the co-founder and CEO of Matik, a SaaS solution that allows you to generate tailored Google Slides or PowerPoint presentations with data-driven automated content. In this article, Nik shares his journey and the lessons he learned as a first-time startup founder with no sales experience to being able to get his first customers, to finally managing a sales team.

Chasing the American Dream

Nik was born in Syria, Bosnia. War broke out when he was a child, forcing his family to seek refuge in Hungary for nearly a year and a half. After that, they spent around four and a half years in Germany, where they wished to remain, but were unable to get citizenship due to the region's overwhelming influx of migrants.

Nik’s parents applied to Canada, Australia, and the United States, and were approved to the United States. His parents were optimistic about the American Dream. Coming to US as an immigrant or a refugee they'll ask you, “Hey, do you have any friends or relatives that can assist you get on your feet?”

They had some acquaintances or cousins in Chicago, and some family friends who traveled directly from the war to Salt Lake City, Utah. His parents ultimately chose the cheapest choice. Therefore, they ultimately traveled to Utah, attended high school and college there, and then moved to the Bay Area after college. He’s been in the US for approximately 11 years.

The Conception of Matik

His background at LinkedIn and with a customer success software firm sparked the idea of Matik. Many of his clients told him, "Hey, we have these things called business reviews renewal decks, and we use Google Slides as our presentation platform. In these decks, they have placeholders that say, "Hey Nik, go to Salesforce to grab this data point," "Get this graph on Tableau."

He thought it would be great if there was a button you could press and have all the information relevant to a certain account compiled into a neat little presentation with accompanying story. So, he got the chance to develop an internal tool while at LinkedIn, where he had previously worked on expanding internal tools and narratives.

And that's when the realization hit him: there are probably other businesses out there that have a very similar challenge, where their sales and customer success teams are putting together this data-driven collateral, like a QBR, quarterly business review, ROI deck, or business case, and it's having a huge impact.

There is a higher chance of successful business results when you share data with your customers and potential customers. However, it is really tedious and tim-consuming. With Matik, he and his team seek to automate and expedite the process of creating data-driven content in presentation software like PowerPoint or Google Slides.

He also shared how he and his co-founder Zach met.

He met Zach through a common friend. He was an early engineer at Box and was there all the way to post IPO.

He and Zach simply hit it off. When Nik told Zach about the concept, he advised him to conduct preliminary research since it would be their first time working together and he had not yet quit his job. They did this for around five to six months before realizing that their basic principles were compatible.

The way they collaborated just worked. And when Nik was ready, he asked Zach if they could give it a try, open a joint bank account, and begin this venture.

Building the Product

Nik and his team carried out three things. First, they sought to confirm that the problem existed. That it wasn't simply an issue that they felt would be nice to fix, but that it was shared by other individuals and corporations. And they did so by engaging in many discussions with businesses. And this does not imply that every discussion they had was positive, but the majority of the talks they had said, "Hey, Thumbs up, this is an issue we'd love to tackle."

A secondary component, which is more Zach's area of expertise, was the technical components, such as how they would create this, the tech stack they would employ, and the basic criteria they would need to develop a prototype.

Thirdly, since he and Zach had never worked together, they were essentially simply getting to know each other. They wanted to ensure that we were on the same page and that we had the same objectives prior to launching a firm.

Sourcing Funds for Matik

Nik and Zach founded the business in January of 2019, with no funding at the time. For the first five or six months, they worked at Nik's apartment.

His former roommate, who had recently sold a firm to Autodesk, ran into him, and Nik presented the idea. His answer was encouraging, indicating that his firm may benefit from this, and expressing a desire to invest. Nik informed him candidly that they still didn’t have any customers.

They are only wire frames and a prototype is still under development. However, the former roommate insisted on investing, stating that he saw potential in the project. Therefore, they accepted a safe $200,000. This helped in building of the prototype.

Then, they persuaded a few firms that were crazy enough to try the product. They raised $3 million from Menlo Ventures and a few additional seed investors as a result of the extraordinarily favorable response.

Overcoming Skepticism

For Nik, like with many new businesses, the first customers are always the most difficult. He believes the fundamental cause is skepticism that they would survive for six months. Since clients will commit money, deploy their product, and have their staff utilize it, they need assurance that they will continue to do so. And for Nik, getting a seed round of funding helped establish them reputation. Now that they have institutional funding, they are no longer two guys working out of an apartment or WeWork.

With VC support, they can vouch for the credibility of their firm. It was an early obstacle that they had to conquer. The second step was connecting to data sources. Obviously, customer success and sales teams are their core target audience. And for customer success in particular, a significant portion of the data displayed in these presentations is use statistics where you're linking to a CRM or database, which is highly sensitive information. And data security was essential. Therefore, they invested heavily in security up front, acquiring certifications such as SOC two, type one, SOC two, type two, and investing in monitoring systems.

In order to understand how to sell the product, they sought the advice of experts. They had consultants with sales experience, such as SVPs of sales, and a number of quite sizable tech businesses whom he could run for support.

For example, he may rely on them when he runs out of order forms late at night or when he gets an objection. Mentoring and guidance from their mentors and others in his network were important. And the second was iteration and trial and error.

Getting the First Customers

For Nik, it was somewhat of an easy win. Since he had previously worked on a comparable internal tool at LinkedIn and the sales team and customer success team at LinkedIn frequently utilized that product, they appreciated its worth. In addition, he reached out to individuals in his network.

His first target market was his network. Then he would look at former LinkedIn employees who are now at other firms, and this really connected with the audience because these new companies lack the same internal tools. These individuals displayed interest in their solution and activities.

Nik said that this was how he their first fifteen to twenty customers were similarly relationship-based.

Creating a Sales Team

It was certainly a problem, given that he and Zach lack that background.

Again, he relied on his network of investors and sales consultants to assist them. Although he made an early hire, the employee was not there for long because it was during Covid. And for him, the greatest difficulty was recruiting employees for a business in its early stages, when there is no infrastructure, no product marketing, and no sales enablement.

They didn't have a lot of resources, so they ended up recruiting someone with big-company expertise who was eager to go into startups, and she did a great job of creating the initial sales playbook. In addition, she was responsible for some of the earliest hires on the SDR front, and the two of them collaborated closely to grow the department. Consequently, it was a struggle. In addition, he learned that you must recruit in pairs, particularly on the sales side.

Nik thinks that many entrepreneurs are hesitant because it's expensive, but ultimately, recruiting in pairs helps you to determine if the problem is with the individual you recruited or the method. And having these two is a standard to determine if one individual is performing, another is not, or both are not.

He did the same with account executives and sales development representatives. Initially, everyone came in pairs to ensure that they had someone with whom to compare themselves. And he desired to cultivate a culture of collaboration, which is difficult to achieve alone.

Seeing Significant Improvement

First, the sales team started receiving more inbound leads from marketing. On the other side, there is an increase in outbound.

They also witnessed a significant expansion play. Those who first purchased a specific section of customer success wanted to buy for the full team, since a substantial percentage of the early customers they signed on are gaining significant value from their product.

Despite the fact that their presentations are not as data-heavy as customer success, they provide business cases and ROI calculators. Some of the pitch decks are more dynamic than others. They would love to automate that procedure with Matik. In addition to growth, which has brought them a great deal of success this year, this was a major part of their motion.

Nowhere to Go but Up

As a result of their series A and series B status, many of their clients are B2B technology startups, such as Asana, Glassdoor, Greenhouse, and SalesLoft.

After funding a Series A with Andreessen Horowitz, they have experienced growth this year. They obtained 20 million series. Then, after making a number of these recruits, they asked themselves how they could continue to execute on their long-term vision of where they wanted to go and guarantee that, as a team that continues to expand in size, they are all rowing in the same way.

Aside from that, he is also concerned with talent, since he is a staunch believer that it is the people behind the technology that win, not the technology itself. And if one can establish a strong team and cultivate a great culture, they have one of the main ingredients to success.

As a first-time founder, he believes he may be naive to this, but observing the unsuccessful startups he's worked with, he's observed that culture plays a huge role, and this stems from core values, mission, vision, and everything else, as well as ensuring that their team knows where they want to be not just today, but five to ten years from now.

Lessons Learned

Nik stated that you can't go too high on the highs or too low on the lows. There are times when closing a six-figure sale may make you feel on top of the world. Then there are days when you may have a horrible encounter with a prospect or they may not fully get what you're saying.

You should also avoid being too low in the lows. Since he founded the company, the pandemic, war, and social injustice have begun to clash with business. Having to learn how to deal with that with your team, how to handle it with your team, and how to maneuver a business in an environment like that outside of work has unquestionably been a learning process.

In such situations, they rely on their basic principles and culture. And one of the first things Zach and he did before writing any code was to write out the things that were most important to them—the basic principles they want their firm to live by and the framework they want everyone to adopt. This has been a tremendous help in navigating the previous four years, not only from a business standpoint, but also with regard to everything happening outside the firm.

Founder’s Advice

Nik said don't be afraid to make a mistake. As a first time entrepreneur, first time founder, you tend to overanalyze every decision that you make but eventually you are going to make mistakes. So don't let perfection be the enemy of progress.

Things are not going to perfectly align like you want. And even if it is a mistake, that is still progress because now you've learned something to hopefully not make that mistake again. Don't be afraid to make mistakes and go for the home run. Keep pushing forward.

Conquering Setbacks

One of the greatest obstacles for Nik was when they were just getting started, there were no data to rely on; it was just gut and speculation. They lacked a large set of statistically meaningful facts to assist them in making a decision.

When they were finally able to gather data, they had to adjust their mindset to include quantitative data to support qualitative feedback and qualitative data.

When working at LinkedIn or other organizations, he always had access to this data for decision-making. When launching a new business, there is no data to rely on. He could only rely on research and intuition.

Nik said he just finished a book by Carlo Ancelotti. He is a well-known soccer coach and author of the book Quiet Leadership. He tends to be more reserved, not the sort of coach that shouts at his players. Nik finds it intriguing how one doesn't have to be a charming, vocal person to be a great leader. Additionally, Nik is an avid soccer fan, so it was a pleasure to combine business leadership and soccer.

Conclusion

Nik Mijik’s journey from being a refugee to building a revolutionary product that helps companies make better decisions, only proves that one’s past does not define their future. By taking calculated risks and seeking guidance from experts, he has become one of the youngest game-changers in SaaS industry. Finally, Nik leaves startup founders a friendly advise, “Don't let perfection be the enemy of progress.”

This article is a summary of the SaaS Club with Nik Mijic. See the full Podcast on Youtube below.

Matik Website

SaaS Club Website

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