Amongst the G8 companies of Technology Park Ljubljana, the gold medal in the art of sales belongs to Cosylab, a lab of masters in experimental physics. They're creating control systems for atomic accelerators, space telescopes, fusion power plants, and proton cancer treatment. Sounds crazy, right? Not everyone is destined to be part of such a team.
The world doesn't meet you halfway. 50% is too low to be globally competitive, because globally, you’re competing between 90% and 100%. Slovenians love technology and keep developing to the point of exhaustion, but a good technical product presents at most half of a successful company, the other half are the people and sellers. That's why many Slovenian companies only jump on ONE FOOT and don't come to the finish line in the world, much less become the finalists.
On the front line of Cosylab, we find a magician for sales, dr. Mark Pleško. While thousands dream about how a global brand will succeed all on its own, Mark and the team built it with their own hands. First, the brand was just Mark himself. He knew that the strongest person in the company isn't the CEO but the person standing in front of the customer – no matter whether this is a newbie or the boss, what they promise the customer needs to happen.
Mark Pleško, CEO and owner of Cosylab (c) Cosylab
dr. Jernej Pintar
That is why Mark always took his team with him, trained them, weaved ties with the customers and (watch this!) systematically and purposefully built personal brands out of them. Several of such brands started additionally strengthening the headline brand of Cosylab, which is now known across the world. Freedom is important, and Mark allowed his colleagues to make their own mistakes and decisions, designing their own positions. A professional team came to existence, and that is why today, he is in the position of being able to take a break. Most Slovenian entrepreneurs can only dream about something like this.
I spent a long time thinking about how to depict such a person to you. Have you seen Lion King? There's one such character in it – the shaman Rafiki: distinctly wise, ultra-modest and talented for farce, the whole savanna bows to him, but his world is elsewhere. He appears only in key moments when the course of history needs to be changed in a couple of minutes. In three words, he turns everything upside down and gives you a slap in the face, but in a way that makes you grateful for it. For me, it's an honor that such a person, who doesn't have to listen to anyone anymore, sat down on the bench of pupils in TopTech Management and waited for that one solution that's still missing in the tech-sales mechanism of Cosylab.
The tragicomedy of our nation is that we have excellent foundations for superb sales, but we also have the syndrome of Martin Krpan and Peter Klepec, preferring to do everything half for free instead of doing it for 'half the kingdom'. Even for the customer who whines the most and pays the least. A hundred years of folklore teaches us that sales are somewhat dirty and despicable. John, if you don't study, you'll become a salesman! If you meet a salesperson, avoid him from afar and spit over your shoulder three times. If there's two of them, things are looking bad for you, so put on some frog ointment. If there are three, you're as good as dead and you might as well lie down. In the night, when the world is at its scariest, these bastards scatter salt across fields and steal railway tracks from the other track.
Good sales and good price are the main source of development. First, you need to hunt for money, only then is it time for tech perfection. You can't do both at once. Very frequently, the search for 'perfection' hides a fear of making mistakes, a fear of markets and opinions. So what if they find a mistake in you? Who doesn't have one? I have 10 and at least two of them are critical. If you ask my family, they'd add another zero.
How can you learn to live with mistakes? I recently sat on the platform in front of one of the most famous Slovenian high schools. Young minds were entering, some already perfect to imperfection, without faults. But on this side of the door, in the lumpenproletariat, the 'failed' youth practiced skateboard tricks. I sat there for 30 minutes and admired them – these guys fell at least 2x a minute. They smashed on the floor, in front of their friends, girls, teachers and strangers. They made so many mistakes, so quickly and publicly, that this became ordinary to them. I'm ashamed of one fall, they're ashamed of none.
Accept that technological perfection won't make the world fall down at your feet. Afford mistakes and imperfection – and only then will you be able to run at 90%. 15 most successful tech companies in the world together don't have a single perfect product, but all of them are masters in sales. As the proverb says, fools make everything complicated, and geniuses make everything simple.
builder of the tech community in Technology Park Ljubljana
Read the article on Dnevnik.si (in Slovene).