Hi Mark, please tell us about your “backstory”. How did you arrive at your current role?

Mark Kalin

I began my career in the U.S., where I lived, studied, and worked for about four years. After four amazing years, I returned to Slovenia to focus on expanding and sharing the newly obtained knowledge and lesson learned. I joined a very innovative company called BTC, one of the leading commercial property management and development companies in South-Eastern Europe. Under the brand name BTC City, it manages one of the most extensive shopping, business, and leisure centers in Europe, located in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. My position was the Head of Innovation and New Technology, where I worked in positioning BTC company as one of the most innovative companies in this region. Together we implemented new technologies like virtual reality, blockchain, robotics, artificial intelligence and positioned ourselves as the hub of innovation. We also transformed BTC City into Smart City, and one of the largest Living Labs, testing playground for smart IoT solutions, where we implemented all these disruptive technologies. We also became the first Bitcoin City in the world in 2018, accepting cryptocurrency as payment in more than 300 locations. Today, BTC City is an innovative, smart city with its Living Lab, ABC HUB, ABC Accelerator. In just two years, it became a world-known accelerator for start-ups and talented individuals.

I am also incredibly involved in the Slovenian start-up ecosystem. After four years, I accepted a position at Geneplanet, a leading European provider of innovative healthcare and lifestyle solutions based on preventive genetic testing, as Head of Business Development. We were named the top 1000 fastest growing companies in Europe by Financial Times in 2019. Then in 2020, I found an opportunity to work for a Swedish VC located in Sweden, United Arab Emirates, and Slovenia. We invest in early-stage software-based start-ups. We connect Europe with Asia, bringing digitally advanced start-ups to other regions and markets. I am also a mentor, entrepreneur, an expert in establishing innovation ecosystems and transformations of cultures, and a founder of the first social platform, Beyond Leadership, the first platform that brings together business people and academia. I have a very rich education, having completed four master’s degrees. I defended my master’s thesis at the Faculty of Economics, the University of Ljubljana, in the field of virtual teams in 2015.

Can you describe your role at 1337Works, an innovative Swedish Venture Builder? What does your typical day at work look like?  
Mark Kalin

I am the Director of 1337Works for the Balkan region, where the main office is in Ljubljana, Slovenia. My role is to scout for potential idea-based start-ups and create new partnerships with them and help them expand and grow. In addition, I work with our ventures in Sweden on their strategy, P&Ls, business development, and other things.

I am a man of routine, which means my days are highly organized and planned. I tend to start my days extremely early, around 5:30 am, preparing for the bigger meetings and planning out my priorities. Usually, I will go through all our investments, ventures we already invested in, and see how they are doing. Often, we, as a team, work with them regarding their business model, marketing strategy, product-market fit, and other things. Then my priority shifts to all the teams and seeing what is the main focus for this week with them. Usually, I will finish the day meeting potential partners. I also like to start every day with a short 30-minute team meeting, where we all align, what is the plan for the day. Each week I will have operations meeting in the morning, and every Friday, we have a strategy meeting, where we plan a couple of weeks and see what the priorities are.

What was your key driving force to become an entrepreneur?
Mark Kalin

Entrepreneurship gives you the ability to bring an idea to life and make it into something great, a reality. You can transform a post-it and build it into a powerhouse. There are, of course, many challenges, but at the same time, also opportunities. I am an extremely passionate person, and it makes me incredibly happy when I can bring people from different expertise and unite them around a common goal, vision. 

I always wanted to create something of my own, where you get to set the rules, business processes, culture and bring the right people who share your ideas, values, and passion. For me, entrepreneurship is a way of life.

You have spent most of your career establishing innovative ecosystems and transformations of cultures and organizations. What have been some of the most daunting challenges that you ever faced? 
Mark Kalin

Every challenge is unique, and every challenge is an opportunity for improvement. Innovation by itself does not have to be huge, but it needs to be constant. Making minor improvements along the way is much better than making no improvements and then deciding to go all in and change everything.

I would say that the main challenge is how to transform the culture of the company and change the mindset in a way that they will understand that growth requires establishing a culture of innovation, expanding and bringing new talent, creating a new business model, and constantly surrounding yourself with the most relevant stakeholders. Every company needs to be curious and intuitive about what is happening to their business model and their industries. Therefore, the biggest challenge is always where to start and how to start, and once a plan is set in stone, we can make extraordinary things happen. That is why the process of conveying the message and transforming the people and their mindset is the most challenging thing. People don’t like changes.

According to you, what are some of the core marketing technologies that every marketing team should always have in its tech stack?
Mark Kalin

First, I believe we need to understand the difference between marketing technologies and advertising technologies. They are pretty different but connected. MarTech is a range of software and tools that assist in achieving marketing goals and uses technology that helps create, communicate, and deliver offerings. In contrast, adtech is used to influence buyer behavior by promoting offerings. Customer relationship management (CRM) would be a typical example of marketing technology.

I would say that there are a couple of mandatory tools that I would recommend everyone to use. First, implement analytics reports, which will help you analyze data and develop the correct information. We know fantastic Google analytics, email analytics like Mailchimp, SendGrid, Sendinblue, and social media analytics, where we can track our engagement, reach, and other vital metrics. Second, we need to focus also on SEO optimization, where we optimize our web page and our content to get better traction and discoverability. When our users search terms related to our product or service, we need to be on the top. For me, A/B testing is also vital. We always need to test our messaging and customer’s interaction with our brand. I would also emphasize CRM. A sound customer relationship system can have a significant impact on our success. It can help us manage our leads and determine where they are in the funnel. 

Finally, today your website is the backbone of your company. It is the first entry point with your potential customer. It represents your digital DNK. Therefore a great website is essential if you want to succeed in today’s fast-paced digital world. It is your first contact with your customers.

What were the changes you made to 1337Works after the initial customer feedback?
Mark Kalin

1337Works is a Swedish VC where we invest in early-stage start-ups. Since we cover three different markets, Sweden, Slovenia, and the United Araba Emirates, we also need to personalize and tailor our offerings. In Sweden, our business proposal is quite different than what we offer in Slovenia or UAE. We have additional business strategies with varying proposals of equity. We always tend to become strategic partners.

Every customer is significant to us, and our customers are, in this case, happy and satisfied start-ups, meaning teams, who are running them. We tend to be more proactive and engaged with every one of them. Our goal is to grow together with them and be their strategic partner.

Expert’s Advice: Your clients seem to rave about your leadership qualities and your capability to strike a balance between making tough decisions and telling it straight. So, according to you, what is the biggest mistake you see leaders make in today’s day and age, and how can they recover from it?
Mark Kalin

To me, leadership is building relationships. It is getting to know the people around you, their abilities, desires, what motivates them, their hidden talents, and much more. I have always focused on one thing. To surround me with people who compliment me in terms of knowledge and different sets of skills, meaning that, if I have a marketing specialist on my team, they are there with a reason, and my role is to listen and consider their expert opinion. 

I believe a lot of leaders tend to focus too much on micromanagement and controlling all the aspects of their business. A leader needs to focus on the bigger picture, on the strategy, and empower the team to make their own decisions, which signals trust, confidence, support, and authentic leadership.

Creating a team, who will follow you as a leader, is a privilege and an honor, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted. Surround yourself with amazing individuals whom you trust and motivate, which will, in the end, make you grow as well and grow the business. A true leader for me is a person who knows how to let go and transfer his knowledge to others, and empowers them to grow beside him. A true leader knows that he or she can only win with the right, efficient, cohesive team. 

Lastly, tell us your thoughts on the evolving use of AI in advertising today and how you feel this will influence the future of marketing and advertising?
Mark Kalin

I am sure we have all heard of these four AI platforms, which keep innovating and expanding our grasp of automation and personalization. We have Watson, IBM’s AI, which can talk at length, tell jokes, answer questions, and write songs. Google’s AI can master video games, as well as read lips. We have seen Tesla’s AI drive autonomous vehicles and MIT’s AI, predicting action in the video before it happens. We all use AI hundreds of times each day, but we might not realize it. Gmail and Google Docs use AI to read what you are typing, then recommend what to type next. Facebook uses AI to detect who is in your photos, then suggests who to tag. Siri on your iPhone uses AI to understand your voice commands and create responses that make sense. Therefore, AI is all around us, and it will be more and more. 

I believe AI will have a massive impact on the future of marketing and advertising. Everything is being automated, and most of the decisions today are based on traction and measuring various KPIs. How many people did our ad reach? Which channel worked the best in our marketing campaign? Those are all important questions; we have to answer with calculations and by measuring our inputs. 

I believe AI will be more and more used for identifying potential customers through pattern matching and clustering. The messages we will receive will be more and more tailored and personalized to each individual. I also firmly believe AI will improve in finding the best times and means to communicate through pattern identification to consumers. AI will tell us, for this campaign, use Facebook advertising and use this particular ad for this target audience and advertise between 6 and 7 pm CET. Furthermore, today AI is already being used to help us determine how much we should spend on various campaigns. AI is keeping a constant watch over our channels and examines how our campaigns are performing. There is also a thing called »situational awareness«, where an AI system will be able to adjust quickly and shift ad spent dollars to other channels, as it seems them to be more appropriate and the ad’s content.

AI will affect advertising and marketing in many ways. AI system will figure out the optimal cost, timing, and means for a specific advertising campaign. Furthermore, it will impact the advertisers and us, the customers, because we will see only the relevant ads. We will see them at the right place, at the right time in the right channel, with the right message and offer. With this happening, not only will advertisers get better results for their ad spend, but customers will get the appropriate ads and be less frustrated with advertising.

Disha Bhattacharya is a seasoned content writer prolific in engaging the customer with her content in any given realm of writing. With 6 years of Freelance Content Writing and 3 years of Marketing Management experience up her sleeve, she believes in transforming businesses with her well-researched, SEO-based, innovative content. A story-teller at heart and a perfectionist by nature, she rolls out informative content with a personal touch that provides an entertaining read to the audience.

Posted in Interviews By Disha Bhattacharya   Date May 31, 2021

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