Gregor Cuzak

on marketing, business and philosophy

Freedom is not given


Freedom is taken.

I’m sure you’ve met the thought in different places. Let me add onto it via my experience. I remember the exact moment I took freedom into my hands and haven’t let it go since.

My freedom was obtained on a drive from Celje back home to Ljubljana in winter of 2009. It was almost three years into iTivi, my startup, essentialy a DVD rental company in the likes of Netflix, that was signified by a very troubling financial situation. It was seven months before Lehmann Brothers collapsed and whirled the world into a deadly spin. Personally I was just off my peak euphoria that emblazed me in the autumn of 2008.

The trouble was mounting. One of the most pressing issues was renegotiation of a loan with our bank, NLB. They were not willing to extend the loan unless there were serious signs of recovery within the company. We were also in the middle of a strong marketing campaign of our service at largest retail locations in the country and were seeing very promising free trials uptake. However, if the loan would not be extended our company would have to close.

It was not in our spirit to give up, not there and then yet. We believed, I believed. I believed that the free trials we were getting would convert to subscriptions, which would increase our cash flow to the extent where we could repay all our obligations.

The belief was wrong, however I did not know it at that time. All I saw on that shapeless February afternoon was the immediate need to renegotiate with the bank.

And then it struck me.

It was not up to the bank to give me the loan, it was up to me. Well, technically, the situation was still the classic bank to customer situation, however in my mind the tables turned.

Whatever I’d do in the future would not be depending on the situation outside of me, but on how I would shape it to be. I would make it impossible for the bank not to give me the loan.

At that point I proposed to three of our strongest business partners to become involved in the company. The idea was to create an advisory board to get them strongly involved in the daily operations so that they would see how our business is done and how it could be done better if they invested also. My particular focus was aimed at our biggest partner.

I got the bank to hear my plan of involving this partner and this was enough. I got the loan extension. It was based on this idea of how to move ahead, the balance sheet and the collaterals there were in with the bank already.

However later the story collapsed. The free trials didn’t convert to subscriptions. I laid of 3 out of 6 workers at the end of April, marketing was cut off completely and the user base dropped from 3.000 to less than 1.500 in a year. In the meantime the massacre of the video-shops took the count of barely surviving to less than 20, down from more than 150 at the time of our start in 2006.

With this our biggest partner decided to step on us. I crumbled. I needed almost half a year to recover personally. Which I did. With a lot of help from some of the greatest people, not just in my family, but to my delight also among my colleagues, the true friends.

The freedom idea from the Celje to Ljubljana drive didn’t deliver on its promise, not immediately. But it stayed with me. I capitalized on it later on. You really can’t tell me what cannot be done today anymore. I do acknowledge it on my own. Not everything is possible. But only I myself decide what and what not to fight. And when I fight I fight like it’s the last fight in my life.

That’s freedom.

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