As part of the CEED business program, I’ve been encouraged to apply for the 5-weeks long exchange program between the city of Chicago and European countries.
I’ve spent effectively 5h22m applying to the program (yes, I track my time and apply Eisenhower to determine which tasks I should be doing more and which I should eliminate or delegate) + paid for the professional proof-reading of the motivational letter. I firmly believe I stand good chances of being selected as one of 4 entrepreneurs from Slovenia who will travel to Chicago in autumn 2018 for 5 weeks. But then again, if I’m not selected, at least what I can do is that I share my motivational letter (the major part of the application) with dear readers of my blog. This way, I won’t have that bad feeling of wasting up my time in case I’m not selected.
So here it is 🙂
Please briefly summarize your educational, professional or volunteer history that best relates to the objectives of this program.
I’m Primoz Cigler, co-founder and CEO at ProteusThemes (est. 2012). ProteusThemes is not my first attempt at building a profitable online business, but it was the obvious winner in terms of the fast initial growth. We’ve started as one of the providers on the online marketplace ThemeForest. Two years ago, as a consequence of events on the marketplace, we’ve decided to steer away, develop our own shop and our own sales channels.
Today, the company is doing well, we’re running a profitable business. We’ve never received or asked for any outside investments and we’ve grown organically from the very beginning by selling our software – WordPress themes. For 2018, we’ve identified and decided that our main focus will be an eCommerce space. In March, our new flagship product WoonderShop was released and we have a roadmap around it that stretches all the way to November, when we have new projects lined up for 2019 & 2020.
In January 2014, I’ve voluntarily started the WordPress user group in Ljubljana, which I still run. The group is now over 600 people strong and ~100 people attended our biggest meetups, which is remarkable for a city with a population of about 300.000. I also help moderate the WordPress Slovenia FB group.
I’ve been invited to and given over 20 voluntary talks in Slovenia and abroad at various events and conferences, e.g. WebCamp Ljubljana or Asyncjs meetup in Brighton, UK. Topics I’ve covered in my talks: entrepreneurship, remote work, web development etc. I’ve been featured in numerous online publications in the last few years and I write a professional blog on https://primoz.blog/.
Please describe your short- and long-term professional goals (in order of priority). In what ways do you anticipate that your participation in the U.S. Department of State’s Professional Fellows Program will help you achieve these goals?
- To learn ins & outs of agencies, freelance website makers and eCommerce consultants in the U.S. eCommerce space. About 40% of our customers are from the U.S. – I want to learn all about their work, which tools they use, how they are organized, who are the decision makers, how big these companies are, what are their biggest struggles and how can we help them to be more successful at their work. Thorough understanding of this will massively impact our future product development.
- To learn ins & outs of business and website owners in the U.S. eCommerce space. We’re selling products that are placed between two groups – the website makers (described above) and the website owners. The interactions between these two groups and the way they do business with each other is where our products live, so we want to deeply understand both sides. As much as I want to learn about who our buyers are (previous point), I also want to learn all about how our products fulfill their mission, I want to help them get more business, deliver more successful projects and ultimately learn how our products fit the website owner down the road. Basically, I want to learn what makes our products wonderful to use for both sides and how they should be improved.
- To keep myself organized, be a better leader, and grow personally. Finding and doing the most impactful things for the company has been a struggle in the first few years. I want to become better at delegating tasks I’ve been doing until now. Since joining CEED program in January, I’ve made a huge progress towards this, but there is still room for improvements.
- To create and nurture a strong company culture. People are all modern companies like ours have. Keeping the best tech talent is hard. I want to experience and learn about a strong company culture, what it took to build it, how to maintain it, where and how to seek for new people that will fit in.
- To create a globally recognizable brand. ProteusThemes has been doing business globally from the beginning, but we still aren’t close to the top players in our field. I’d like to talk to people who’ve successfully launched and built globally recognizable brands, ask them how they did it, what they do to keep their position etc.
- To establish U.S.-based office with marketing, sales and support departments. Considering almost half of our customers are based in the U.S., we’re planning to open a U.S. marketing, sales and customer support department in late 2019 or early 2020. I’d like to get connections in Chicago, which will help me when establishing said department in the future.
- To make ProteusThemes founder-independent. At the age of 30 (~2 years from now) I want to take a sabbatical year to do the things I want to do while young and healthy. In order for this to happen, I need a reliable team around me which shares the same vision and a team that can take over all the things I’ve been doing so far.
Every time I attend business events, read books or talk to fellow entrepreneurs, I get new ideas, which I then try to implement at my work as soon as possible. That’s why I believe I will make a profound personal growth attending the WorldChicago program. It will be a booster to achieve my goals easier and faster.
The Professional Fellows program looks for leaders and those who have the ability to inspire. Please highlight leadership qualities you’ve demonstrated in your professional and personal life.
There are people who have leadership positions and the ones who lead. I want to be the best of both worlds – a leader who can inspire surrounding people to share and believe in the same vision. Some people I’m most inspired by are Jason Fried, Simon Sinek, Ricardo Semler. I believe in empowering people, giving them the best environment where they can live up to their full potential and an atmosphere where the best ideas offspring from everyone. I trust people and give them authority to make their own decisions in our best interest. ProteusThemes is a relatively small team and we never plan to grow too big in number of employees. We have profit sharing among employees in place, as one of the proofs of these beliefs.
In the first week of 2018, the entire ProteusThemes team went to a brainstorming retreat to a remote location and we came back with a single goal: in 2018 we want to launch a solution, that will become a de-facto decision WooCommerce theme for eCommerce professionals and consultants. By the end of year 2018, we want to secure a no.1 or no.2 position in this segment. One of the crucial decisions was to focus on a very specific (and narrow) vertical and long-term commitment in order to reach this goal.
If selected for the program what would be your ideal fellowship placement? Please include at least three fellowship placements that you think would be a good fit.
- eCommerce web/marketing agency. I’d like to learn all about their work, go with them to the meetings with clients, talk about their struggles and best practices they’ve developed.
- Digital product global SaaS startup with a strong company culture. Having part of the team working remotely would be a huge plus. It’s even better, if they have offices elsewhere in the world. I think Basecamp from Chicago would be an ideal company.
- eCommerce business with an outsourced development team. I’d have been given an opportunity to learn what it means to own a successful eCommerce website and business that relies on selling products online. It can be a rather small business with only few employees, but it’s important that they are in business for at least a year.
What are the topics you would be most eager to learn about at a U.S. organization, government agency, nonprofit organization, or startup company? What would be your goals for a four-week fellowship?
I’m most interested in new ways of leadership in the high tech companies. Leaving the standard hierarchical structures behind and experimenting with new ways of leading the company.
I want to learn about the eCommerce market, knowing both sides of our customers in details.
Improve my storytelling and marketing skills. Coming from Slovenia, we have a long German-like engineering reputation, but I lack more sales-, marketing-, and storytelling-oriented environment.
Speaking from experience, whenever I go to the U.S. it feels like I’m traveling to the future, which will soon arrive to Slovenia, so there are many new ideas and opportunities that I can only see when in the right environment.
One of the Professional Fellows Program requirements is to organize a program for your fellowship host on their reciprocal visit to your home country in Spring 2019. What type of collaborative project would you want to work on with your U.S. host organization that would be highlighted during their visit?
I’m a member of the three biggest entrepreneurial and business networks in Slovenia: CEED, Technology park of Ljubljana, and YES. All networks have events about bringing people with experience from abroad and organizing talks and events with them. I will help organize such meetings and establish partnerships with the local business community as well as organize the WordPress meetup with U.S. host as a speaker.
The project that I’d like to work on together with my U.S. host and highlight during their visit is the new software, that we will begin to work on in the second half of 2018 and continue in 2019 – a collaboration tool for better communication and content deliverables (copy, images) between website makers and their customers – website owners. To my knowledge, this is the biggest pain point for both parties at the moment and this is where we want to make a dent in the universe in the future.
You should follow me on twitter, here.