Business Development 13 minutes read

MAIN Architects – interview

In an entrepreneurial sense and feeling of giving value to what we do and say the BlueGrid team wanted to meet and get to know a small, yet impactive architecture team in Belgrade. We’ve met the founders of MAIN architects Nikola and Marko and asked them to give us some insight into what, where, how… 

One question we can answer now is “why is your first interview post with an architectural company?” and the answer would be - because we cherish the creative and building drives in people, we love the feeling of endorphine flooding our bodies when we create something, when we solve the trending pain for us or our clients.

Ivan: Why architecture?

Nikola:

Because even before I knew what architecture is about, I was already doing it. I wasn’t aware of it while I was spending my days at the construction site with the workers, drawing the entire layout for my home, always moving the furniture around, copying projects and plans found in catalogues, etc. After that, my mom told me − well, that’s what architects do! I enjoy the feeling when I envision something and then have the chance to have it materialized as well as the entire process between the two (from concept to production and completion). It’s hard, but also a fun process that is always being refined. When you finally step into the space you created, now that’s an indescribable feeling.

Marko:

Why or when architecture? When you like creating or building stuff, when you what to discover what you are capable of, when you want to have fun, then you know you want to become an architect. And why? Because BEING AN ARCHITECT IS AWESOME.

Ivan: When did you know you wanted to become an entrepreneur?

Nikola:

At the moment when I didn’t get the chance to follow through on projects implementation that I conceptualized and participated in as a team lead, I saw that there was no more room for professional growth within the company I was working with. I came to a decision to say my thanks for our work together and start working on something of my own. That decision came at a tricky time in my life: my wife and I have lived on a single income (mine) with a 6 month old baby, in a rented apartment... But I just didn’t feel I had it in me to continue on the path I was at that time. I did make that decision, that was at times difficult, at times critiqued by many, but one that turned out to be the right one.

Marko:

The moment I figured out that I simply don’t want to have to ask for permission to do something that I believe in, whether it turned out in the end that it really was right or completely wrong. It’s a special feeling when you have the opportunity to start your own business in a way that you believe is right and that fulfills you. And it’s even more special when you actually achieve something in which you believed in; when you find people that support you in your pursuit and those that are right there with you, building the vision together.

Ivan: What were your beginnings like, how did you start?

Nikola:

I started with online outsourced projects for family homes in the US. In that way, during that transitional period, I was able to provide for my family, and still work on devising a plan for starting my own business.

Marko:
I have started as young and poor, like a poet! (laughs)


Ivan: What was your motivation behind becoming an entrepreneur?

Nikola: For me, clearly envisioned goal is the best motivation. Of course, we are all working for money, but that shouldn’t be the motivation. We worked on high-paying projects that were guided by the wrong vision, and that was psychologically excruciating -- working for a paycheck without loving what you do. Projects that have their motivation set above the material aspect are the projects I enjoy working on the most, when I have a clear goal and I strive and work towards it. That’s when I feel the best, when I’m at my most motivated self. Escaping boredom is one more motivation as well. Once I feel that we don’t have a clear direction, that we’re stuck and/or repeating ourselves, that’s when I start questioning it and changing things.

Marko:

Motivation and inspiration can be found at different places. Although, I did read somewhere that motivation and waiting to get motivated is for lazy people, and it really does sound like you’re waiting for someone to wake you up and make you start with something, rather than starting it by yourself. So let’s use instead the term “inspiration” from now on. I find inspiration everywhere around me, in spending time with my (odd) friends, in unusual and surprising moments. Often, inspiration isn’t conditioned with things that come from the outside, but from the inside, when you don’t need anyone else to do something you believe in.

Ivan: They say that obsession with something is more important than being motivated. Would you agree?

Nikola:

I agree. Of course, if we’re not talking about obsession that goes to the extremes. Passion would be a better term to use here.

Marko:

Like I mentioned, motivation is for the lazy ones. (laughing) Inspiration is positive, obsession can oftentime be destructive. Inspiration is an instinct, and obsession is a habit. What is more important, instinct or a habit? I think that instinct is more important because in architecture, habit isn’t desirable. In architecture, you need to always think from different angles, find ways to do things in an innovative way. It’s important to always strive to find new inspiration, but not to fall into obsession. Although, obsession can sometimes be sexy.

Ivan: How did you start and build your first team? What lead you to pick exactly those people?

Nikola:

Building a team is a lively process of trying, failing and succeeding, and people chose each other − in the same way we choose our team members, they also choose us. Having a unified drive, same goals and the same energy is what motivates the entire team. Prerequisite for a successful team is a match in both professional, but also personal values, everything else can be learned.

Marko:

When you are a student, you build a team with people with whom you studie and hung out. It’s usually a smaller team of 2-3 individuals united under a student project or a competition. That type of a team comes out mainly from friendship, similar to when you choose who you want to spend your summer holidays with. You choose people who you feel comfortable with, who you are having fun with but at the same time, you understand and trust each other and finally, people that have similar professional interests and skills.

Creating a team in the company context is not that different. For someone to be part of our team and for me to want to work with that person, he or she needs to have specific professional skills, nurture similar personal and professional values and finally have the kind of personality that is fun to be around with. Spending time with our work colleagues sometimes exceeds the time spent with our families and friends, it’s very important to feel that these are the people you would also like to spend your summer holidays with. Because, if you can’t meet with someone on an after work beer and feel comfortable, then you shouldn’t really be spending your work hours with that person.

Ivan: How would you define your company culture? Did you have a process to get to it?

Nikola:

Our company culture is a mixture of Marko’s and my personal values. There is no special procedure or process of choosing our team members, but there is a specific criteria though. Recognizing the same values we nurture, as well as having good energy and attitude, those are the criteria. We are currently working on structuring these values, you could even say that we’re in the process of conceptualizing our manifesto, so I wouldn’t still share it, and it would take a lot of time. (laughs)

Marko:

Since starting this, we had a set of values that we knew we wanted to be guided by and to have them as our company culture. These are both the values our clients get from us, and values that we demonstrate backstage − in our office. On the other hand, company culture is always being developed and advanced because it is a process that takes time and energy. It’s important for every team member, next to having professional qualities and skills, to understand, adopt, respect, and above all, believe and live these values.

By those values we consider moral qualities, value that represents a guide in the way we do things and come to different conclusions, values are the signs by the roadside, they are the inspiration for our actions. What all this means is that those values direct our inner structure and the way we function, as well as our relation with clients and their treatment towards us. Having these values, understanding them and applying them, direct each team member towards bringing professional decisions that are in line with our company culture.

Ivan: What keeps the team together? What is the mutual goal?

Nikola:

Having the same personal and professional values. The goal is optimizing our workflow and creating a self- sustainable system, professional development and accumulating knowledge and experience through our numerous projects, amongst which, more than a few quite precious. The goal is to increase the number of regular and returning clients as well as the number of employees satisfied with their work, better work- life balance, for us and for our clients.

Marko:

It’s normal for a team with a specific hierarchy (although we all try to have it less pronounced) to have different ambitions and goals. What our mutual goal actually is, is to have everyone professionally advance together and to learn from each project and to give our best on each one, so that our clients can get the most value through conception and realization of the project.

In order to achieve this goal, but also to keep that feeling of unity, it’s crucial to apply the above mentioned values. Part of all this are even the occasional team buildings over drinks, when we are all relaxed and have a chance to get to know each other in a different way than when we’re focused on work.

Ivan: Client or the team? Which is the more important, and why?

Nikola:
They are intertwined, and mutually enabling, although I think it’s more difficult to form a team.

Marko:

It’s as if you’ve asked me whether I love my older son or younger daughter more. Even if I really had children and I knew the answer to that questions, I couldn’t share it with you. The most diplomatic answer would be that I love all my children equally. Actually, maybe MAIN is my only child in my life at the moment (Nikola has two more). Maybe the answer is that it’s not the client, nor the team, it’s MAIN. Then comes up the question: What is MAIN? Nikola and me? Or is that some abstract which will outgrow both of us eventually. I always hope it will, and that we will be ready for it, both as professionals, and as humans.

Ivan: How do you envision the long term face of the company?

Nikola:

Long-term, I see MAIN as a large system that still provides the boutique service to clients, giving them both a good feeling and additional value.

Marko:

Short-term and long-term, I see our company face as a representation of the above mentioned values and company culture.

Ivan: Are you wearing the manager’s hat or the worker bee’s hat?

Nikola:
Both. (laughs). Although, I would consider myself more as an organizer.

Marko:

Does this imply that managers don’t really work hard? I know you know it’s not like that. Managers are the ones that work the most, or that’s how it should be. If it’s not like that, then something isn’t right. I would certainly avoid the perception of managers being something exalted, and being a worker bee (sr. radilica) something that is less important, or something that should be valued and respected less. When I say worker bee, that’s something that reminds me of the part of an engine − the crankshaft (sr. radilica) thanks to which everything is actually working, to put it simply. Worker bee isn’t a person that mindlessly

works endless number of hours, because that’s not a measure of someone’s quality and usefulness, and surely not efficiency. Worker bee is someone that initiates and inpowers projects, someone that with a minimum of time achieves a maximum effect, and for that you need excellent management skills. To be a manager, you need to be a worker bee, and vice versa.

Ivan: Out of what is the world made of?

Nikola:

Of chocolate, and windows are made of marmalade. Maybe I’m naive to always start from a positive side, but you do always need to stay in professional framework. My stance is that everyone has credibility and one chance to prove it.

Marko:

So, we’re now moving to the architecture of the universe? I think that’s above my competences. Nikola didn’t expect me to say this ever, for sure! (laughs)

Ivan: What’s your dream project?

Nikola:
Revitaisation of an industrial zone of some city in Spain, for example.

Marko:
The one that will make us millionaires. (laughs)

Ivan: Do you ever think of moving your business focus outside of architecture?

Nikola:

I think and work non-stop on shifting our business focus from providing a service to products, but that mostly stays in the perimeter of architecture.

Marko:

No. I’m obsessed with architecture. Oops! I said just before that obsession is something bad. Now that I think about it, maybe the right word is mesmerized, being fascinated and passionate about it.

Ivan: If you weren’t an architect, what else would you do?

Nikola:

Life coaching and psychotherapy. Travelling the world on my motorbike.

Marko:

Somewhere in between, I developed this fantasy of being a modern dancer and of course a footballer, an astronaut, a pilot, etc.

Ivan: If you had a chance to speak to your younger self, what would you say to him? It doesn’t have to be strictly professional and business-related.

Nikola:

Travel more, don’t make compromises, measure less and cut more. I guess it comes with age. Oh and one more thing: Food that your parents made you eat is actually okay.

Marko:

I would say to him to find Mark Zuckerberg (before he created Facebook) and invest all the money he had, in 50% of what will later become Facebook...Or I would just tell him to invent Facebook before Zuckerberg.