November 07, 2023

10 years of friendship and work

Interviewer: Arnel Šarić, Community Manager
A decade ago, Maja Mameledžija (Chief Delivery Officer), Samir Eljazović (Chief Operating Officer), Zaharije Pašalić (Chief Technology Officer), and Edin Deljkić (Chief Executive Officer) were simply a bunch of friends: Maja, Samir, Hari, and Edo.

Their ideas and friendship proved to be the foundation for Klika. While their roles changed, their friendship persisted and grew stronger. In an interview for ++Mag, they discuss their beginnings, challenges, and success on Klika's decade-long journey. 
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In September, we celebrated ten years of Klika. What were your thoughts at the moment of celebration? 
Edin: The party was very emotional for all of us, especially for me. Ten years really isn't a short time. Time flies by quickly, one gets engrossed in daily activities, and there's rarely a chance to look back. Seeing everyone together, not just our employees, was genuinely emotional.

Maja: It's somewhat surreal when something you've built day by day turns ten. I am proud that we are here and still together, looking forward to what's ahead.

Zaharije: Emotions culminated on two occasions; the first time when I was arriving at Skenderija and saw neon signs saying "Klika" and "10 Years." I felt immensely proud of all of us. The second, much more emotional segment was Edin's speech. Partly because of his speech but mainly when I witnessed how overcome by emotions he got.

Samir: At one moment, it seemed as if we were sitting yesterday in the apartment in Grbavica, watching "Doš'o dedo iz Njemačke," eating Vlatka's homemade ajvar, and drinking Lavazza espresso while discussing what to work on at TeachPoint. The next moment, it all felt like an eternity. 
How did you meet, and what led to the decision to start Klika? 
Edin: From the very beginning, there were four of us. We held high positions in a former company for about eight or nine years. At that time, the company was going through a crisis, and we were dissatisfied, thinking we could do some things better. You have to understand the context; ten years ago, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there were only a handful of IT companies. Klika was one of the first companies that emerged from that circle of the "traditional IT world" in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Zaharije: We had established relationships on a professional and personal level. We founded a non-governmental organization, "Sredi svoj grad," which we used to implement our first project. It was a good test of our abilities to bring a project to a conclusion independently.

Maja: We realized there was a specific mutual dynamic that needed to be tested beyond the former business environment. Initially, there were five of us, two female and three male members, but destiny wanted four of us to remain as the company's founders.

Samir: Zaharije, to whom I refer as Hari, and I are childhood friends. We met in Cazin during wartime. We finished primary and high school together and came to study in Sarajevo. Hari enrolled in the Faculty of Science and Mathematics, and I was in the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, even though he was a better programmer than me. I even barely convinced him to start working with me in AtlantBH. He didn't want to! Edo and Maja met in college. I think we realized that our frequencies were "compatible." Also, the pairing, Hari and I, Edo and Maja, gave us a confident assurance that at least half of the team was on your side! (laughing) 
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Many think Klika was named after a slang term for a group connected by common interests. However, it's a mathematical term from graph theory. Who named the company, and do you remember any other names that were considered? 
Samir: Hari suggested the name Klika; after all, he was the only student from the Faculty of Science and Mathematics. Besides the math meaning, we liked that the name closely resembles the onomatopoeia for keyboard clicking sound and that the four of us were indeed a clique but without a negative term connotation. Positive shared interests were an idea we immediately agreed upon.

Zaharije: The name "Klika" solely comes from graph theory and can be interpreted as a large community that includes different groups of people, all striving for the same goals. Naming the company was one of the more challenging issues we resolved.

Maja: Honestly, I don't remember any other name; perhaps the name Klika made such an impression that it erased the memory of all other potential names. The ambiguity of this name is what attracted us. We wanted to have that technical/mathematical aspect and then the definition of a closely-knit group of collaborators and friends. 
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When you started Klika, did you devise a business plan, or were you primarily emotion-driven? 
Zaharije: We followed our hearts more than a detailed plan. We wanted to build something significant, something that would impact our community.

Edin: We didn't start with a plan, but we knew what we didn't want and wanted to achieve. We needed to be more experienced back then to have any strategic plans. We learned most things on the fly by working. We worked day and night to take those first steps, secure the first projects, set up the first teams, and start a sustainable business.

Samir: The risk was significant. We left jobs and director positions in one of the best IT companies. The market was underdeveloped, opposite from today's market. The only things we were sure of were our knowledge and readiness to sacrifice until the idea succeeded. Our families and closest friends are faithful witnesses of the time and energy invested in making Klika what it is today.

Maja: There was an immense desire to create something that was ours, set up to our standards, and to change established practices in the industry and society. I believe we succeeded in that.

In every company, there comes a moment when you realize the idea has succeeded. It doesn't have to be financial, but it's the moral foundation for further work. What was that moment for Klika?

Samir: The decision to set up our hub. Before that, we were renting office space at Hub387. We created the most beautiful and modern-looking office space then and encouraged other IT companies to invest in their working environment.

Maja: For me, after two years of existence, it was the moment when the company became more than the four of us, when the team members started to perceive Klika as their own, helping us build a unique culture with unique values. A large number of those people are still with us today, and that makes me very happy.

Edin: We spent more time together back then; it was a smaller team, and we worked together on projects day in and day out. At that moment, I felt that everything started moving the right way, that everything clicked the right way. If you have knowledge, a good team, and you put in the effort, you can truly succeed. This isn't just related to the tech industry. It works in all kinds of businesses.

Zaharije: The most significant milestone for any company? Stability. When you realize that you're a stable company. Not just financially but when the broader community recognizes you as a relevant company. 
Regardless of your business roles, what is your work dynamic like? Has it changed over the years? Can you be classified as "warm" and "cold" personalities? 
Edin: The four of us are very different. Most companies have two founders; we have four. We wondered: how will four people agree without arguing? However, we naturally divide the tasks we perform. I always looked at things from a visionary perspective, where we want and can be. Samir and Maja are rooted in the present moment, ensuring my visions and ideas aren't too artificial but develop naturally. Hari is our tech guy, the technical basis of our company, with whose help we managed to overcome our most significant technical challenges. In the context of our cooperation and the concern that we won't agree on things, this proved an advantage. When two people are partners, tensions in the partnership often happen because things are seen as black and white. In 10 years, the four of us haven't created "factions"; we always discussed all the challenges together. Everyone had different proposals and collectively chose what was strategically best for the company.

Zaharije: Our dynamic and roles were in line with our affinities and knowledge, as well as the vision and needs of the company.

Samir: In decision-making, we follow one rule: all decisions are made by consensus. If there's no consensus, there's no decision. The person proposing the decision is tasked with convincing the others that the decision is correct.

Maja: I wouldn't say we fill warmer and colder stereotypes. We have topics we feel closer to or less close to our hearts, and accordingly, our passion and emotions change. 
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The endearing moment in Edin's speech at Klika's birthday was when he mentioned you founded the company as a team of four with only one college degree, and you celebrated the tenth birthday the same way. On the other hand, Klika continuously collaborates with Bosnian-Herzegovinian faculties to launch or improve formal IT departments. How important is formal education?  
Edin: Formal education is essential. In the world we live in, effort and work are the primary and major factors for success. We grew up in an environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina where it's said that if you get a diploma, everything will be fine. I could have also graduated if I had sat down and made an effort, but I told myself: "The diploma isn't essential if you're willing to invest time and money and spend sleepless nights working. You can achieve results and create a successful story." As a company, we will continue to work with educational institutions; it's essential for us, and we believe that education is the foundation of a country, societal development, and our industry.

Zaharije: Colleges remain a crucial link in professional development, not only as an institution of knowledge but also through various other aspects. Of course, a BH college education can and should be better.

Samir: You're nothing without a diploma! (laughs) College is good preparation for life and a professional career. The knowledge a person acquires is only sometimes applicable to their actual job, especially in this industry that changes rapidly. However, the process through which a person gains formal education is much more valuable.

Maja: There's an old saying: "Do as I say, not as I do!" Formal education is vital and almost irreplaceable. We are fully committed to improving the education system in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 
Upon arriving at Klika, I was pleasantly surprised by the open-door policy and how it's practiced in reality. How would you rate it? What are its specificities? 
Edin: The open-door policy has been the foundation of our culture from the start. When the team was smaller, there wasn't a formal structure. I'm genuinely happy when someone knocks on our door to talk about their ideas, not just related to the current tasks but also to the company. I want more people to feel free to knock on anyone's door anytime to talk about anything.

Zaharije: While the company was smaller, the policy per se didn't exist; it was something that was simply there. People always came and could openly talk about their problems. Of course, as the company grew, we had to create a "policy." And honestly, I would also like it to be used more often.

Samir: Klika went through various phases. Each phase had its good and bad sides. One of the good sides is how we founders are always available. Initially, it was straightforward and natural because the team was smaller. Now, with over 200 employees, it's nearly impossible for all employees to have the same relationship we had when there were 10 of us. That doesn't necessarily mean that what we have now is wrong.

The ideal relationship between the company and the employees must be based on a rule of thirds. The first third in an employee's life must consist of family and the closest circle of people. The second third are the individuals themselves and the things/activities that personally fulfill them, unrelated to the first third, such as hobbies. The last third is the job. If people define their thirds in a way that provides pleasure, they can be satisfied in the long run.

Maja: The flow of ideas and exchanging viewpoints, especially opposing ones, mustn't be halted by hierarchical lines. We maintain quality by always thinking, "What if we were on the other side, how important would it be for us to have open doors?" It gives us the perspective that makes us stay committed to that idea. 
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Which of the five Klika values do you most identify with as individuals? 
Edin: Freedom and Tomorrow are most important to me, primarily because of my personal life and identity. This identity is aligned with the idea of genuinely being who you are with friends, partners, and family. That enables you to be the best version of yourself. Through our CSR activities, I always emphasize Freedom. On the other hand, Tomorrow - as my task is to lead, it's only natural to always look into the future, where we want to be, and what kind of company we need to be.

Maja: Freedom. Freedom is one of the fundamental pillars of my personal and professional life. If I start feeling crowded, the idea of Klika and what is for me will stop existing.

Zaharije: They're all vital to me professionally and personally. We don't have clients personally, but we have similar relationships.

Samir: When we started, Our Clients was the most important value, without which Klika wouldn't exist. However, without happy and satisfied (Our) People, we wouldn't have accomplished anything. Freedom is the reason we started this journey: to make sure Tomorrow is what we want it to be. When you succeed, you want others to have that success in their Life. 
Stress is an inevitability in business, regardless of the industry. How do you deal with stress?
Edin: Stress partially motivates me, giving me the strength to work more and better. I notice that as I age, my body physically handles stress with more difficulty. That's why my focus is now on balancing private and professional life, exercising, better nutrition, and spending quality time with friends and family.

Samir: Rules of thirds, the first third.

Zaharije: My way of reducing stress is by introducing different forms of stress in other areas, such as kids and hobbies! Fight fire with fire! (laughing)

Maja: Balance is an illusion we need to believe in. We are also stress coping mechanisms for each other. It's always good to know you have another shoulder to lean on and another ear that listens. Our morning coffee-drinking session is an irreplaceable routine that helps us reset daily. 
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Klika has always emphasized commitment to strengthening the Bosnian IT industry independently and through cooperation within the Bit Alliance. What is needed further to advance the IT industry in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
Edin: Personally, as an individual business entity, and jointly through acting in the Bit Alliance, we continuously work to develop our industry, mainly through the education system and collaboration with governmental and non-governmental organizations and institutions. The most obvious fact is that our education system isn't high-quality and doesn't develop as rapidly as the IT market worldwide. We need more engineers graduating from colleges, and there's a concern that, qualitatively, we won't be able to meet the needs of the global market on which we operate if significant strategic changes don't happen in the education system.

Zaharije: We are a small country with limited business capacities. The current industry has peaked in the context of independent and isolated company operations. The next step would be an organized approach to problem-solving through associations such as Bit Alliance, as well as political action.

Samir: The industry is going through an interesting period. The phase of rapid growth in this industry brought both good and bad. Currently, the industry is in a challenging phase, and it will be essential to view things from a slightly different perspective. We once had advantages over other markets based on knowledge and work habits. I fear that over time, we are losing that strength which enabled us to develop the industry in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Maja: Our industry needs systemic stimulation within the country's system to further strengthen and develop. Further development and progress can only be achieved with synergy between the private, educational, and governmental sectors with a strategic approach. 
We often hear that the work habits and job perspectives of Gen Z are different from the opinions of those belonging to Gen X and Millennials. How do you adapt to these changes, and what are the biggest challenges?
Maja: The digital age and modern technologies have significantly influenced the attitudes and habits of the Gen Z generation. Gen Z can only be a positive push for development, and our challenge is not to be an obstacle on that path.

Edin: I am quite rational about it, although I encounter different opinions about who does what and how business-wise. Definitely, every new generation thinks it's better than the previous, and every previous generation thinks the next is spoiled. Younger generations approach work and private life differently and advocate for themselves more than we did. We were more "sit, work, be silent, and the results will come on their own." I find the outspokenness and advocacy of younger generations very positive.

Samir: I must admit it's very challenging for me. I am constantly improving myself. I am surrounded by people who are part of those generations or better understand them, so I try to adapt by cooperating with them.

Zaharije: I'm not a proponent of the idea that specific characteristics should be assigned to generations. Each generation has different priorities that largely depend on which life stage they're at, and we try to adapt to that. 
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What are the most important lessons you have learned as individuals working at Klika and going through different phases of the company?
Maja: The time that must pass for something to happen cannot be replaced by anything else, no matter how much we wish. It's most challenging to have the patience and perseverance to wait for the moment for something to happen.

Edin: It's normal and natural for the company, its culture, and us as individuals to change. We still have the same cultural foundation, but many things have changed. We must be agile to develop in parallel with the company's development. Things aren't the same as ten years ago, but it doesn't mean they are wrong. They're just different.

Samir: Everything will be OK. Just keep Riding The Waves!

Zaharije: After ten years, we overcame many challenges and learned many lessons, but I'd highlight resilience and adaptability as the most significant lessons. As Samir says - Ride The Waves! 
No one knows what the future holds, and we'll continue Riding The Waves, but I have to ask that HR question – where do you see Klika, and where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Samir: I would like to use the joker card and invite friends to answer this question!

Edin: We continue to grow, to develop. Now is the time to prove ourselves as leaders in the international market. I have many personal goals; God knows what will be realized. Let's live long and prosper!

Zaharije: In the short term, we must overcome the current market challenges and return to normal. We're working on certain reorganizations that will be the baseline of our functioning framework in the next few years.

Maja: I'll refer to our Tomorrow value where it says, among other things: "We have goals and plans, but we focus more on today." Because what fun would it be if everything were revealed in advance? Let's enjoy the ride! 
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