How to recognize the relevant and irrelevant

written by Ivan Relja, founder of WanlocPhoto by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

5 years ago

It was 5 years ago when I competed in the Ideaknockout competition with my digital chalkboard. The 1st prize was a trip and an exhibition at CES, that I didn’t win.

Let find out how this started and how I came up with the digital chalkboard.

I failed to make a functional digital pen that was supposed to digitize everything that was written with it. The pen worked, but not the way it was supposed to work, so I started developing a digital chalkboard just 10 days before the competition. Yes, in just 10 days I made a more or less functional prototype. It was a big success for me. I used my knowledge and experience gained over the last 20 years, as well as an old touch screen monitor lying in the basement waiting for its new life.

After the competition, I continued to develop my digital chalkboard. I asked for help via social media, people jumped in and helped with advice. They really helped me and I appreciate that. I am still in contact with some of them. We even tried to start a business together, but we couldn’t click. Better said, they didn’t go along with me, so I didn’t want to jump into a partnership that was doomed in advance. Interestingly, the people who helped me a lot were by no means suitable for me as business partners.

Let me get back to the digital chalkboard.

I tried to find partners. It didn’t work. I didn’t give up.

I continued on development and at the same time together with my wife and kids, ​​started with final preparations for moving from Croatia to Germany. That was the beginning of 2016.

I put an interesting ad on the internet that we are selling a house due to moving and the impossibility of doing what I do there. At the same time, my family and I were going through an awkward situation caused by other events. I may write about that some other time.


Wrong time, wrong place

Yes, that’s right. If you’re doing something you love but in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and surrounded by people who have different values, you’re sinking to the bottom.

The ad attracted a lot of attention, so TV networks N1 and HRT made an interesting TV report on it. The internet has been buzzing about me for weeks. There was everything. Some accused me of being a dissatisfied person who has everything and wants more, while others supported me. Few were restrained. In a small community, such as my hometown, the news spread quickly, so there were accusations and support. Completely irrelevant, but dangerous.

Let’s go back to the development of a digital chalkboard.

I made a few more upgraded digital chalkboards, but it didn’t go the way I wanted it to go.

After over half a year of forced break, I continued to develop and came up with a digital transparent board. I got invitations for a local competition in Solin, a small town in Croatia, and several other presentations. This competition was the starting point for two successful companies as Include and Parklio. One founder of Orqa was also there presenting his project.

The transparent board was really great because almost everyone told me they hadn’t seen anything so good. The board had one big flaw that I finally managed to solve. However, not everything went according to plan. The solution I came up with, someone else has already patented. Just a few months before. Shit happens. I contacted them, tried to find a common future, but it didn’t work. They didn’t see me as a partner.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Give up

Of course not. I don’t give up so easily. I adapted to the new situation.

My wife and I were learning German and doing occasional jobs as we prepared to move. We prepared the children for the new environment.

The whole of 2017 was turbulent, full of both ups and downs. We were unable to sell the house.

In January 2018 I went to Germany on a job invitation as an electronics technician, my family stayed in Croatia. I didn’t get a job, I lived with a relative who really helped me, and without his help, everything would have been 10x harder for me. I was learning German, looking for a job, but it didn’t go well. When you are in Germany, then it is normal to know German. I did not know. Admittedly, I still don’t speak the way I should.

I really wanted to work on positions where I have a lot of experience, but it doesn’t go that easily. As I have worked only in my company, there are no recommendations that would be very welcome. My poor knowledge of the German language was also a problem. Furthermore, I am already in my late 40s. Last but not least, I don’t have a university degree. In Germany, it is extremely important to have a university degree because people don’t believe you are able to work without it.

But I did temporarily incidental jobs that weren’t that hard and were relatively well paid.

We can’t live without money, can we? I know this very well, just as I know that too much money is not good.

Finally, I got to a job that seemed really good to me. Because of this job, I moved to another city, began preparations to relocate my family from which I had been cut off since the beginning of the year.

It is not comfortable to live in a flat that’s not mine, without a permanent job, without income, and a family is 1000 km away.

I managed to find a flat, a school for the kids, we were finally together. We were ready for a new start.

But then I got fired! The company for which I moved to another city and I brought the family, after only 5 months, fired me.

Honestly, it didn’t surprise me. I knew they will fire me because I didn’t fit into my superior’s plans. Even my wife predicted my fire when I told her what kind of person my boss is.

Company colleagues advised me not to talk too much, let me endure half a year as long as the probationary period lasts, so I will be able to breathe easier later. And a few friends told me that. However, I can’t shut up. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m not. Who knows? I just didn’t want to close my eyes to the problems and keep quiet.

I talked to colleagues from other departments within the company, and step by step came to a partial solution to the problem. A complete solution to the problem required the cooperation of all departments. They were ready for that move, but my superior was not. You need to know, I was looking for solutions on the go while doing a job for which I was paid. I did all the work on time and didn’t run away from my obligations. But, my boss prepared everything to fire me, and the support of those who could have influenced my benefit was lacking. I lost my job. It was only one day before my previously agreed knee surgery that they knew about in the company. They disabled me for a few months. But I don’t give up so easily.

I’m still in touch with my ex-colleagues. We can rely on each other at any time. What about the boss who fired me? One year later the boss was fired too because she was finally recognized by the owner as a bad, two-faces person.

Let’s get back to the topic.

The digital smartboard can’t move on, but I can. In 2019, I came up with something new, a different approach to the solution. And it was a complete hit. I had a different smartboard in my hands, a smartboard that solved all the previous problems and didn’t encroach on someone else’s patent. I went to fairs in London and Amsterdam, met interesting people, tried to start cooperation with companies that already have similar solutions developed. I am still in contact with these interesting people, mostly over LinkedIn.

I continued to educate myself online, every day. You can’t go forward without learning. Your education is in vain if you do not educate yourself all your life. Technology is running and accelerating every day. The knowledge you have now will very likely mean nothing in a couple of years if you stay at your current level.

Here where I live now, I have met really great people with whom I could talk at any time, either privately or in connection with work. They helped me a lot. Some of them you can find in the Fab Lab. That’s how it is when you’re surrounded by the right people in the right place and when we don’t look at the benefit, but how they help each other.

I also worked for a few months as a service technician in one company because I needed to earn a living and cover expenses.

Let’s move on with the smartboard.

I followed what was happening on the local startup scene and found out about funding in NRW. I applied with my smartboard, got a chance to pitch, and received a financial investment to continue developing and starting my own business.

Thus, one foreigner (me) who came to Germany only a year earlier, with a not so good German language, received financial support. This financial support helped me a lot. It was easier to continue.

The next step was a presentation of the smartboard and knowledge, ideas, and expertise in one German primary school. It is a school my son attended, where I met his teacher who is also the principal. This director is an extremely high-quality person. Now we are preparing the digitalization of the entire school. Yes, from one digital chalkboard to digitizing an entire school in a couple of years, and only because I don’t give up and I know what I want.


Progress

2020 has arrived. My whiteboard is progressing. I already have several versions to be tested in a real environment, preparing everything to start a company, contacting electronics manufacturers around the world, doing calculations, and developing software.

But then Covid-19 overtook me. Everything stopped. Nobody works. I don’t have a company. I can’t get a job. I don’t have an income. I’m trying to start a company, but how. I’m trying to get the money, but it’s not possible.

It wasn’t comfortable. I agreed with the owner of the flat where we are living on how to resolve this really bad situation. We managed to reach an agreement.

Once again, I succeeded, I didn’t give up.

What now? Covid-19 is around, everyone is at home. I left my smartboard aside and started with upgrading myself. I’m learning online Java and Python, making my first Android App, and looking for testers. Let me correct myself about learning Java and Python. I am dealing with development for almost 20 years, but I’ve never been a professional developer. It was always for internal use only.

So, after only 2 months and a lot of hours, I have an app for education. Testers help me a lot. Linkedin helped me to find testers.

Summer has come, schools are closed, I am working on an app for Customer support. In just a few days, I was able to create a Customer support app. It is on the Google Play Store now, in test mode.

Before the summer I applied for a pitch into an FRC investment fund. They invited me, I pitched, I got a call that they wanted to invest, but I gave up.

Photo by Claudia Ramírez on Unsplash

Crazy

I can imagine your face now!

The amount was a problem. They offered an insufficient amount that would only slow me down and make development impossible. I would lose far more than I would gain. Not every money is good money. You need to weigh well what you gain and what you lose.

I didn’t apply only here. I applied to get an investment in a couple more VCs. There is also the possibility to get a loan from NRW.bank if the crowdfunding campaign on Startnext succeeds. This crowdfunding platform is really good for the DACH market, but for the international market crowdfunding platforms as Kickstarter and Indiegogo are a much better fit.

Currently, I don’t have enough money to hire anyone, so I work alone. I am preparing everything for the crowdfunding campaign and other possibilities while working on HW and SW. We’ll see how well I’ll do it. I already have a waiting list. Social media platforms helped me once more to reach people.

If or when the crowdfunding campaign goes well, I will no longer need to do everything by myself. If or when I got an investment, I will be able to hire my first colleagues. Either way, it will be easier.

I almost forgot to mention that I am preparing the patent. Without this what my patent covers, my smartboard would not be what it is. With my patent, I will only slow down the competition a little and nothing more. I will get an advantage. I hope you understand I can’t talk more about patent right now.

The patent relates to a part that helps transform a smartboard into a device that turns any TV into a Touchscreen monitor in just two minutes. I named it Frammu. By combining Frammu and software anyone can have a TV with a Touchscreen. Great for online yoga learning, fitness, learning to play the guitar, for dancing learning from the comfort of your home. It is your big personal device that connects you to the rest of the world.

Photo by Joe Caione on Unsplash

It’s all up to you

Life is not easy for everyone, but if you take matters into your own hands, the chances that you will succeed both privately and in business are great. Just know what you want and learn to distinguish the relevant from the irrelevant. Choose good people around you and a pleasant environment. If not, look elsewhere. It’s not easy, but it’s not that hard either.

If you come across grammatical errors or if you find me expressing strangely, don’t blame me. My native language is not English, and as I also learn German then sometimes everything gets mixed up.


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2 COMMENTS
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