Awwwards Agency of the Year (1), Site of the Day (7), Honorable Mention (15), European Design Award (4), Deloitte Technology Fast 50 (1), CSS Design Awards Site of the Day (8) Creative Fronted (2). The team behind the website of the Croatian unicorn Infobip, the COVID-19 app for Croatia, and the disruptor who just published their employee salaries and in turn flushed traditionally discrete salary policies down the toilet. On top of that, they produce high-quality educational content for the industry and clients, that could be the envy of any media outlet. If you are their client, you couldn’t be in better hands.
I think I just killed every standard of writing an introduction, but I think I got the hook ticked off the list. Read on!
The company comes from a very successful family.
The team shares values with their sister companies Degordian and Mediatoolkit. Like all successful families whose children excel, these guys are so similar but unique in their achievements.
Similarly to the other two teams we interviewed, the secret ingredient is the investment in employees’ personal development. Very often, companies barely manage to send an employee to a conference. These guys make sure they hold weekly educational sessions and have a transparent personal development path for each employee.
Tomislav Grubišić, the team’s CEO, generously shared his time with us to answer our questions. We wish him and his whole team all the best and keep adding successes to their already long list!
What’s the story behind Bornfight, and at which stage of your growth journey did you clarify your brand mission, and was it always clear to you?
Suppose I were to go way, way back and start from the actual beginning. In that case, I’d have to say it all began in 2009 when we launched iStudio, a digital marketing agency that later rebranded into Degordian.
I knew I wanted to build a company that wouldn’t just talk about putting people first but would do it.
As the company grew and we started getting a more diverse set of clients, our focuses changed, and we put a much bigger emphasis on building digital products, software, mobile apps and websites.
We launched Mediatoolkit, our digital product which quickly spun off into a standalone company. We divided Degordian into two divisions, focusing on marketing and the other on digital production. This second one is now Bornfight.
I’ve got to say that the core of the Bornfight’s vision was always clear to me, but its shape and actual wording was something we changed and iterated throughout the years.
That’s because up until we officially established Bornfight as a brand in 2018, we always mixed marketing services with digital production, so it still felt like we were making compromises to combine those two aspects.
Once we launched Bornfight, we had all ingredients to articulate our company’s vision: ‘Spearhead the development of a world in which every activity is simplified through an advanced digital solution’.
‘Create value for our clients and their customers by designing and developing advanced technological solutions which enable them to achieve continuous and repeatable success’ become our mission.
You encourage education, which feeds your growth. How many employees does Bornfight have today, and how much time do you guys spend on personal development and learning?
We learn and teach each other all kinds of skills and processes every day. We invest a fair amount of our time into internal and external education sessions, as we believe this is the best way for all of us to advance as a group.
In addition to weekly educational sessions, every team member also has regular 1:1 meetings with their team lead. We have structured meetings about professional development every three months. During those meetings, we define our team members’ current positions and levels, set development goals, specify what’s expected from each person, and how the company itself can help them achieve their goals and reach new seniority levels faster.
We have 72 employees, but the number is continuously growing as we’re still hiring. That’s a part of the ever-growing mindset that we’re nurturing at Bornfight — in the IT industry, if you’re not growing, you won’t be just stagnating. You’ll start falling behind because everything else around you is moving forward so quickly that you have no choice but to adapt.
Being on the hunt for great content, I was amazed by the quality of blogs and resources you publish. In a world where nobody needs yet another blog, how do you achieve such a high quality?
People want to read blogs and learn something new, but they need high-quality content that provides value for those 5 to 10 invested minutes.
We ask ourselves ‘can we write something new, or extremely in-depth, or put a new spin on a familiar topic, or share our own experience?’ That’s what people like to read because they can relate, or it provides them with a fresh perspective.
We are passionate about technology, learning, and sharing knowledge in the field of digital. When we learn something new, we’re excited to share it with others and get their opinion and feedback.
We continuously experiment with the most advanced technology to find a solution for every business challenge. It’s important to share our failures and accomplishments to help others grow and personally develop.
You don’t shy away from testing, so you recently implemented dual-track agile methodology into some of your processes. How often do you test methodologies, and what’s required to get a good internal adoption of the new process?
Things are always changing at Bornfight because we continuously strive for something better and more advanced. The market is also changing fast, so we try to progress and test new methods that we didn’t have the opportunity to try on our previous projects.
We usually test processes within one project team, and it takes at least a few months until all of this is tested. A majority of the responsibilities rely on the project owner to push that process to completion and analyze the benefits of the new process and target pain points that need to be upgraded.
If you could point out five common reasons why a digital product fails, what would they be?
Usually, it depends on the stakeholders and their vision of the product. If their idea is not validated correctly, there can be multiple reasons why the product fails. Here are some of the most common ones:
They don’t have a clear goal and value proposition — they don’t know what they want, or even worse, they want everything. Instead of focusing on one thing and developing that one functionality to be as good as possible, they go too far with the target and the number of functionalities. The result is an average product, and users don’t see its value. Sometimes the competition does it better.
They don’t know users, people, needs, desires, behaviours, and don’t have a product-market fit; they expect too much from users and give too little value back.
Sometimes, products are not scalable and sustainable. They have a bad design, use outdated technologies, or they are just too difficult to upgrade well. Also, if the product arrives at the market too late because it seeks perfection — constantly iterating on something without launching it gives others the chance to launch their versions faster and take over a part of the market.
They are afraid to pivot an idea holding onto it without seeing the bigger picture. This often happens to startups who don’t understand users and needs, desires and behaviours.
They underestimate the time and effort it takes for an investment to pay off — they expect to achieve overnight success, but the truth is that it takes time for a product to start being successful and profitable.
You have defined levels of seniority of each team member. In the world of undefined expectations and vague promises, you decided to provide clarity. Does this approach help with your employee retention, and would you recommend it?
Oh absolutely! Since we defined seniority levels for each of our employees, it became much easier to set goals and move forward on their development path.
This system helped our employees define the exact level of seniority they or their team members are currently at, what’s expected from them at their current positions and what they should do to advance to the next level.
People are more likely to stay with companies where employers value their work, and where they exactly know what’s expected of them, and which steps they need to take to advance.
Publicly disclosing our seniority levels and pay grades not only boosted our employee retention, but it also increased the number of open applications from people who want to work here.
We even got a couple of new clients who were amazed by that level of transparency. So yeah, I think this answers the question of would I recommend it!
What are the advances of working from home vs working from the office for you? What will be your post-pandemic arrangement?
Every employee can choose when to work remotely and when to come to the office, based on their individual preferences and lifestyle. We even have full-time remote positions that work from all over the country, but many of our people usually take a couple of days a month to work from the office and see others in person.
For mids and seniors, working remotely is a non-issue as they work most of the time independently. Still, when it comes to juniors, our advice for them is to be at the office as much as they can because the cooperation, guidance and mentorship are much easier and more streamlined.
We have always been flexible with working hours, and now we are also flexible with locations. This allows us to hire specialists and professionals from a wide variety of different cities. After the pandemic, we’ll probably keep the current flexible setup as it enables our employees to feel comfortable, be more productive and choose how, where and when they want to work.
What are the non-negotiable traits you are after in a great product designer?
Well, there are two significant aspects to this. The first would be the designers’ overall mindset and skillset — critical and analytical thinking, being open to new ideas, suggestions and changes. In addition to that, strong visual skills, problem-solving, and understanding product stakeholders is a must.
The second important aspect would be a strong focus on usability; users want to use digital products to solve their problems. That’s why product designers need to understand and connect clients’ business goals to their target users’ goals.
We are always aiming for the ideal scenario, where both aspects would be satisfied.
How do you feel about digital minimalism, and how do you see the Croatian digital landscape and an average user?
That’s an interesting question. When it comes to digital minimalism, people should question which digital communication tools are necessary.
For example, we do a lot of user research during our projects, and we have seen that people in Croatia are creatures of habit — they use a couple of standard and familiar platforms. They aren’t so keen on jumping onto the next new thing as soon as it arrives. On the other hand, people in the US will try anything and everything.
Now, this is just scratching the surface. Younger users are more excited about checking and trying new platforms, but they rarely use multiple platforms simultaneously; they’re more likely to completely switch from one to another if they feel it’s better.
So, if I have to make it black and white, I’d say people in Croatia really like the idea of digital minimalism and lean heavily towards it.
Croatia is generally portrayed as a small country and a young democracy. How do you explain some of our fantastic business successes, and what would you like to see happening in Croatia in the next five years that could influence businesses and the general public positively?
Although Croatia is relatively small and young, our people have always had a strong entrepreneurial spirit. That spirit has risen exponentially with the global development of digital and access to more and more advanced technologies.
Let’s take a look at young Croatian entrepreneurs and specialists. They are all incredibly ambitious individuals who can accomplish almost anything they set their mind to, and it is refreshing to see their way of thinking.
That’s just the mindset of new generations — they are not afraid to share their ideas, but very often they’re not aware of the amount of knowledge they own.
As a part of the IT industry, our mission is to help them thrive and achieve their goals, and you can see that at Bornfight where more than half of our employees are under 30 — and I believe that’s a strong proof that you can be young and successful in Croatia.
As for the next five years, I’d like to see Croatia become the Silicon Valley of Europe. The knowledge, the ideas, and the mindset are already here; we need to break the hurdles that young entrepreneurs need to jump over when starting a business.
We need to advance the way our government and administration function, with a stronger focus on supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, automation, streamlined processes and more efficiency.
2020 showed us that even more traditional institutions could embrace digital and reinvent the way they operate. So why not make it a standard that would push Croatia forward!