“I never thought that it wouldn’t work…”

Give 100% and don’t listen to people who tell you it can’t be done – that’s the advice of Nordeus CEO Branko Milutinović

Less than a decade ago, Branko Milutinović and two friends from university were in Copenhagen, enjoying working for what he describes as “the biggest and best company in the world”, Microsoft. Then the Serbian video-games fanatic did something slightly crazy: he packed in the well-paid job in the happiest country in the world and headed back to Belgrade to create his own little piece of Silicon Valley. Today, Nordeus employs 160 people and is one of Europe’s fastest-growing video-gaming companies, while their flagship title, Top Eleven, is one of the planet’s most popular sports games, with more than five million daily players. Just as well, then, that he chose not to take the advice of his family and friends…

It’s got to be all in or don’t try “When we started out, we knew that it couldn’t be done half-arsed. So, for the first two years, we worked 16-hour days. The only day we didn’t go into the office was Christmas Day and even then we worked from home. I’d go to sleep thinking about work and wake up with it on my mind – though one of my codirectors could go to bed with a problem and wake up with a solution, so that was a big help.”

All for one “My partners and I went to the same university, worked together and even shared a bedroom, but did we fall out? Never. Of course, there are moments when you don’t understand each other fully, but we just got along. It’s made difficult business decisions much easier to make and there are no office politics.”

People won’t always understand “At Microsoft, we had a great life and a good salary. So, to trade it all in for a 150-square-foot office in Belgrade seemed like madness. Our friends tried to get us to ‘see sense’ – there was a lot of swearing – but nothing could sway us.”

Create your own opportunities “When I was young, the job that I do now didn’t really exist. I made a game as a project when I was nine and then made another at 13, but I never saw it as a career option. At university, I started thinking about it more and decided that if the opportunity didn’t exist, I would have to create it for myself.”

Trust your instincts “We were in the Microsoft office when CEO Steve Ballmer sent a memo round making fun of the Apple iPhone launch, saying it was a nice move by Steve Jobs, but we could do it better. I saw the iPhone and thought, ‘F***! This is going to be huge!’ Soon after, I saw a Facebook ad about apps and the idea for the football-manager game slowly came to life. I never thought it wouldn’t work.”

You won’t know everything “When you launch a business, you’ll be strong in some areas, but underprepared in others. We were good software engineers, but building the team and hiring the right people was a challenge. Still, we learned from our mistakes and now our people are our greatest asset.”

 Make your employees feel at home “We have no set working hours – staff check in and out whenever they want. Every year, we have a week-long company holiday to Greece, where we eat, drink and play sports and board games together. We have an unlimited budget for this and it’s worth every penny.”

Invest in others “If I’m honest, I could retire tomorrow, but I look at money from another perspective and use it to make a difference. We’ve built new laboratories at schools and by the end of this year, every baby born in Serbia is going to be born in a nursery ward powered by Nordeus.”

This interview was carried out by SIM7’s Simeon de la Torre and first appeared in easyJet Traveller magazine. To read the latest issue (and the entire back catalogue of magazines), visit: http://www.ink-live.com/emagazines/easyjet-inflight