‘Entrepreneurship is a process you can learn’

(01-04-2021) ‘Entrepreneurship sometimes seems to frighten people more than it should.’ Vedran Jelaca of Smartivize shares his insights about success and failure as an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurship is in Vedran's blood. Already in high school he started a CD business. A lucrative activity in pre-Spotify and -Deezer times. But for Vedran above all a hobby with which he gained his first business insights and which marked the beginning of his serial entrepreneurship. A few companies later, he is CEO of the market research company Smartivize. And that all started after a PhD and a postdoc at Ghent University, where he transformed his research into a Ghent University spin-off.

About ambition and trust

‘I feel that often people find entrepreneurship more scary than it is. In the end it is about ambition and trust. Ambition to build something valuable from scratch, and trust that things will work out even when it seems that the odds are against you. If you have already founded several companies, you will notice that a similar process takes place each time. Once you've had the experience, it gets easier. Because you know what to expect, you know what is coming your way,’ says Vedran.
‘Starting and persevering in your first business is actually the hardest part of entrepreneurship. The first years are often very uncertain. You can succeed, but you can also fail. That's why you have to be ambitious and bold to believe in your product and trust that everything will work out in the end. Once you go through that process, you can begin to believe even when faced with uncertainty,’ Vedran testifies.
The best tip for learning as soon as possible? ‘Talk to other entrepreneurs. Don't just share your successes, but also your failures. It is easier when you can speak to people who understand you, who have gone through the same process. This is how you get the fastest results,’ Vedran recommends.

‘Starting and persevering in your first business is actually the hardest part of entrepreneurship.’ Vedran Jelaca, founder of Smartivize 

Tipping point

‘Before, during and after my engineering studies, I have always worked in startups or started small businesses. After my PhD, I co-founded EyeSee, a market research company specialized in eye tracking and facial coding research. This startup grew rapidly, but I had the feeling that the technology development itself was finished. I wanted to develop something new. That's why I set up a VLAIO innovation mandate in 2015 to design the technology behind Smartivize, Shopper Vision. Two years later my mandate was completed, the technology was ready and I found my first customers in the United Kingdom and Australia. Today the Shopper Vision technology is used by more than 50 customers worldwide, mainly in the FMCG sector.’

Big Brother in the supermarket

Setting up a company in market research data as an engineer. Not evident, but Vedran proves that it is possible. He uses the Shopper Vision technology to analyze shopping behavior in physical stores. While shopping, customers wear camera glasses with which Vedran and his team map in detail every movement of the customer. They follow where they walk, what they see, which products they pick up or leave behind… With their AI software, they can use that data to identify clear patterns in the shopping behavior of customers. These detailed consumer data helps brands and retailers to create an optimal store design and thus increase their marketing returns.
Don't customers behave differently precisely because they know they are wearing glasses that closely monitor their behavior? ‘Once you're in a store, your brain switches to some sort of autopilot mode. This makes sense, when you know that a typical supermarket has on average of more than 30,000 products and an abundance of advertisements. In order to “survive” this experience, our brain filters a lot of things. It's surprising how many things people don't see or recall seeing in a store. We do a lot of things unconsciously in such an over-stimulated environment,’ says Vedran.
‘That is why surveys, for example, are less suitable for understanding customer behavior, as people often forget a lot of things as soon as they step out of the store. Or because they are more inclined to give their own interpretations and politically correct answers. Observation is very important to really understand what people are doing in a store,’ adds Vedran.

Not B2B or B2C, but P2P

‘Having a good idea and developing the necessary technology to make that idea a reality are often just the first steps. Contrary to popular belief, companies typically do not fail on the technology side, but mainly on the commercial side. Ensuring that customers understand your product, answer the questions and needs from the market, correctly set your pricing and cost structure, tap the right distribution channels to reach your customers, ... These are the biggest challenges when starting a company.’
‘Ultimately, you have to find the right person. I prefer not to speak of a B2B or a B2C market, but of a P2P context - Person to Person. Whatever sector you work in, you need to find a person who understands your solution, who is willing and able to implement it in their business processes, has the right mindset, has the necessary budget, ...’
‘Thanks to the people in my team who know more about market research, dealing with data ... in itself, we were able to fine-tune this technology and deliver a product that meets the needs of our customers. It is precisely this multidisciplinary approach within our team that allowed us to create the right product-market fit,’ concludes Vedran.

Entrepreneurship is looking ahead

Also Smartivize Vision still has many challenges today. ‘Of course we want to grow, not only geographically, but also within sectors. Today, mainly retailers and FMCG brands use our technology, but we also want to expand this to smaller players and to other markets, such as DIY, electronics stores, the fashion sector ...’
‘We are now also democratizing research in virtual reality stores. We built a SaaS platform, Shopnosis.io, where doing research in VR stores is as simple as launching online questionnaires. Retailers and brands of all sizes can quickly and affordably test their marketing creatives before spending big money on implementations in physical stores.’
‘As a CEO, you also learn to deal better with the growth within your company over the years. When you're young, you like to have as much control over everything as possible. As you get older, you better understand that your role is mainly to let others excel, to coach them to give the best of themselves ... The focus is often too much on powerful CEOs, but the capital of a company lies precisely in the strength of your team.’

Do you also want to set up your own company based on your research? Start your journey here with the Venture Track.