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From 0% to 99% – Volunteering experience in Split Tech City

Ivan Matasović

Ivan Matasović


That year was a challenging year, full of important decisions, sudden changes facing the fears in the sea of uncertainty. A little before the start of last year I decided to make my last stand, otherwise, I would change the town and try a totally different approach. And for the point of perspective, I picked a random Twitter account that posts the percentage of the current year, driving me forward and reminding me of my goals represented in the following headings…

Break your boundaries, make a leap of faith and throw yourself into the unknown.

It all started when I felt a mental ceiling on my job as the main waiter, asked my manager if there was any way to improve my skills, learn new stuff, and go to the workshops. For perspective, I have over 15 years of experience in hospitality – in all roles. We had a really good education, field trips, and mentoring but we started to stale. He said that there isn’t any, he couldn’t offer me anything above. It was the “Deal with it” moment and it was painful. That was the awakening…

I felt there is more for me and started to learn about management on my own in my free time. Time passed and while learning more I felt I am losing my time on the job. I would use my pauses to read and try to find more and more information about management. And one day I was on a short pause. Sitting in the back of the building, full of sweat and smoking vape, counting my 30 seconds of so-called smoking pause, calculating what are my next steps to resolve customer problems. I really liked those challenges, which made me so happy resolving them. I don’t know, it’s that small thing when they smile afterward and you feel so much relief and endorphins really fill your body. Then you go back to the bar and make a small win dance with a large grin on your face when colleges don’t look. Ah, awesome times. Anyway, scrolling through my Instagram feed I saw Split Tech City’s story about summer school for programmers they were organizing, thinking; Man, I would be so lucky if I had that in my time. And the same I wrote to them…

Curious, I started to read about volunteering benefits online and suddenly knew what to do. I applied to Split Tech City as a volunteer. From that moment everything changed. It opened a whole new world to me. Giving me multiple paths to choose from. But first, I needed to learn about social impact and how important it is for moving forward.

Trust and be patient with social capital.

After meeting with Romana and talking about how I can give value to the association, I went to the first meetup. Oh boy, it was awkward, after the presentation, I literally ran away. What was a normal thing as I didn’t have experience with large crowds but also a mistake from my view today. A lot of good things are cooked at those kinds of meetups. You will see…

The next thing was big for me, we organized a Motivation Conference for youth. I have responsibilities for coordinating the volunteers and there I learned about social capital and its real value. That struck me hard. One more “lightbulb” moment. Let me explain.

If you want people to trust you, the best place to start is by trusting them. That isn’t always easy to do, especially if you’ve paid the price for it in the past. But it’s the best place to start. Then you need to combine it with repeat interactions, or the possibility thereof. Romana did it with me and I felt that I need to invest in that social capital so hard. It is the only way. We need to trust the people around us to live happy, productive lives. And be even more patient in the process, because earning trust takes time, but to lose it takes seconds. Mistrust costs us time and money, sure. But it also costs us a little bit of our humanity. Romana was the trigger to cast a light on this part that will follow my whole life.

But that was just the beginning. One more brilliant mind that I met that day – Marko Prljić, made an impact on me with just one short sentence:

Don’t wait for anyone, create opportunities for yourself

This was the quote that I saw while I was preparing the agenda for the conference – and it really caught my eye. It was the moment when I realized that this is one of the most important principles for growth. It is the same thing with luck.

People think if they are closed in 4 walls that they will be eventually lucky to strike an opportunity. NO – to get lucky you need to create opportunity, and opportunity is created only with your work, action, reaction, and persistence. In this process, you will fail 99% of the time, but the experience in that 99% is priceless. To add to it, 1% is simple luck, it’s a created opportunity by your persistence and a sweet reward for all that failure. Ready to seize it. That is the moment when you create luck for yourself, where you are in command and you are the one who makes opportunities for yourself.

During the motivational conference, Marko was preparing for his speech and I approached him and commented how grateful I am for this quote because that was the very reason I gathered my courage to participate in the organization of the conference. I will always remember his reaction and the proud look in his eyes after he hugged me and told me to never stop chasing. This was an unusual moment but it was one of a kind and left a positive mark on my life. After some months this was the crucial thing that connected us to have a brilliant morning coffee where he rewrote my bad habits entirely and opened opportunities in a lot of new projects to work. That leads us to the next thing that I fused to my long-term memory…

Just start doing it, willing to fail and embrace the failure experience.

I started volunteering in various tasks, searching for new challenges. That really opened the whole new world, filling my free time and making me concentrate on meaningful things, sharing knowledge, growth, and helping others to see their path. I learned to give value and had pushed in the front to experience new things. And most importantly I feel that I am part of something extraordinarily large and positive – making me proud of what I am doing.

During the meetup we had in summer cinema Bačvice I was volunteering to assist Toni in the organization and I saw Marko again. He was sitting one row in front of me during the presentation and he suddenly told his friend that he needed to go. I was researching what he is doing and was really curious how he handles so many things in parallel. And my curiosity kicked in. I stopped him in the middle of his departure and just fired away that I want to learn what he does and ask him for a couple of advice. At that moment I thought this was the stupidest thing to do. Jumping on a man that I don’t know with weird questions. But he replied with a smile; “Let’s have a coffee at 8 am and talk through it.”, – gave me his number and waved away. I was surprised by how easy that was.

Next thing we were in the coffee bar talking about his projects and morning routine. As he was deeply in the blockchain projects this was like a rabbit hole, full of wonders and information. I was overwhelmed but the thing that rewrote my bad habits was one of the best pieces of advice I got.

He said: “Imagine yourself in 5 years, what will you do now?”. I said, ok, I need to make a plan and see how to accomplish that. He said, “No, start acting like that right away – at this moment, not planning to be that person, but to become one – now. And just start doing it, without questioning yourself can you do it, how you will do it and when you will do it.”

And I really did, I started to work on some side projects which he introduced to me and failed hard, but without those experiences, I would not be the person I am now. Having the first row in the fire is a privilege because only then you will be forced to move forward and experience your natural instinct to move, adapt, fight and learn – passionately. Oh yes, there will be downsides and failures, but take them as a bit of advice to yourself and learn from them, improve yourself. Level up! That was the moment when I learned anxiety is just an alarm for not doing anything. And in order to do things you need to…

Be comfortable to be uncomfortable.

At that time I was editing STC short captioned videos for social marketing. Searching value from all recorded meetups and lectures, making short caption videos that have a strong message behind them. In that process, I needed to see one clip even 4 times, and all those clips were a large value that found its place in my memory, literally changing my mindset every video I created. I was inspired by people who were speaking on those videos and had a strong urge to contact them and ask them questions – I wanted more. I was hungry for knowledge. It was like a gravitational force, leaning me to it. And there I found the power of LinkedIn.

I abused all the LinkedIn possibilities, making me connected and giving me feedback for my methods. I confronted all my fears, pushing my limits. Asking my friends, lecturers from meetups, even entrepreneurs that I thought would never respond to me. So much value, so much feedback, advice, empowerment, and support they gave me… It was mind blown. I was surprised how much they wanted to help me, not just because I was in STC, it was just a different mindset in IT and the community of STC where sharing knowledge is one of the best tools to improve. Because when you talk things through with other people, you see your mistakes and upgrade them with each conversation. Mentors are often inspired with their padawans, that is a well-known fact. The conversation is the fuel of improvement for both sides. And people love genuine, curious, persistent people who want to grow, especially if you are acting humble and grateful for their efforts.

This was the trigger to contact a lot of people, going to the meetups occasionally, unbrace me from my own mental prison. And there was Armando Matijević. Oh man, what a person. The most passionate and energetic individual I have ever met. After approaching him on LinkedIn, he became a really strong link to my success. He fueled me in the whole job searching process that time, giving me guidelines and advice, but most important to show me what really my strongest points are. And taught me about my potential and to move forward and level up. Every now and then you need a little push like that. You will know for certain that you have it, but you will need that micro push-up from others – just a one-line will be enough. Josip was that person too but will get on it after.

Without the STC community, that would be impossible for me. And I used that, I started to pitch up myself, my ideas, and my work which led us to the ability to speak up.

Pitch the heck out of it, to your mom, girlfriend, friends, random stranger, and even your teddy bear

Armando has one of the most energetic lectures at the motivational conference and he was like that from the beginning. I knew him years ago, he was always talking about his ideas, and that was the crucial recipe for his success. With every situation, he would pitch his ideas hard, with passion, and with showing others that he really strongly believes in it, transferring the vision to them – which is one of the most nurtured leadership methods. Clear vision and passion about the thing you do – transferred to others. But it needed to be pitched hard and a lot, to everybody, your mom, your brother, your friend, co-worker, Konzum cashier, and even your teddy bear. Once again, passionate conversation is the fuel even if you talk with your toys. Which builds character and attitude.

Character and attitude over glory and money.

I tried to leave a positive trace in all my life zones, making me happier and graceful about what I have, not what I don’t have. In the process I tried everything, creating opportunities for myself, and then made full triage, leaving negative things and giving more energy to positive ones.

Drawing the energy from the STC community while volunteering. Caring for others but always focusing on myself, not competition. Creating a character that I want to see in all people. Realizing that you can have all the money and glory but if you don’t have proper character and attitude, you will not succeed in your goals. Many projects failed in front of my eyes because there was no fundamental value in leaders, there was no real character that would lead progressively and positively. Money can buy you everything, but time will flush out the cheats and it will separate real leaders from fakes. It will separate hard working genuine people from buy-to-win ones. And we are here for the long term, not for a year. Make your legacy worth it. Make efforts to your mindset and…

Be focused, bold and risk it.

Question everything, even your boss. Be free to talk your mind. Pursue your happiness and make that leap of faith. Hustle up and throw yourself into the fire, only then you will reach the growth phase. Be brave and go to that interview, be yourself and confident in what you know. Everything else can be learned with that attitude from the ground. And never is too late. There is nothing like that you don’t have time for. You do have focus, and with that focus, you are in the possession of a real time-machine. With focus, you extend your time and make yourself in front of it.

That exact philosophy made me to the onboarding process to my new role in Typeqast, a new mindset, a couple of side-projects in blockchain technologies, and helped to create the first blockchain association in Split, which lead me to a humanitarian auction for the association of Down syndrome and my first presentation in front of people. All this was jump started by STC, vast new knowledge, strong connections, and a new level in my life. I breached my limits and am really grateful for the people who selflessly supported me in the process. But you need to seek them with one simple rule:

Don’t seek “official mentors”, make everybody be your mentor.

This is why I mentioned people above, they are just a glimpse of my mentors. Don’t be tied up with an official statement, ok now I am your mentor. Pursue them everywhere. Everybody can be your mentor, learn from them. Successful founders, leaders, bus drivers, cashiers, and beggars (you would be surprised) can be your mentor. Empathize with people and learn from them, filter the good, and use it. Even Kardashians have things you can learn from. But be sure to filter, be sure to learn to differentiate the improvements.

A powerful tool for noticing these differences is the fundamental values of humanity. Be human after all, learn those first real values, and only then you will have the real ability to learn from everybody. Be a gentleman after all. It is a kind of superpower, as it is slowly dying in our society. And never forget to talk with those people back, a simple short call to make them know how much they helped you and how much you appreciate them. This will only give them more energy to embrace you and transfer love to you. That is the thing I learned from Josip Bujas, leader, a respected member of STC, balanced, knowledgeable, kind, and my first mentor and valuable friend who strongly supports me even today. I still remember his LinkedIn message when he wanted to connect in order to work on his project. Going through that I learned the power of sharing and networking. Teaching me how to find love in people and fundamental values, because there is always more room to improve. How?

Surround yourself with positive leaders.

And that is the people you want to be surrounded with to improve yourself and passively help others. Positive, loving, energetic, passionate people who will help everyone, who will empower everyone, and share unselfishly. And that comes to Toni, there are no words I can describe his soul. He is the single most important point of connection, a power plant for the community. His energy and kindness, balance, and knowledge of everybody in the IT community is priceless. Without him, I would never meet all of those people and give trust to the community.

To become one you need to…

Start early, be persistent, kind and supportive – always, anywhere and never stop.

A perfect example is OpenCoffee. 130 meetups, constant and persistent from 2008. That is how the rivers are created, with time, little splashes, and the pebble by pebble they became stronger like never before.

They say, be persistent and don’t stop until you are 200% satisfied with what you have done. I will never stop because this is my passion, this is what I meant to be from my birth, this is what is our fundamental purpose, what we learned first when we have been born – to grow. And I found this in Split Tech City and I will keep nurturing it. You should too.

P.S.: Why 0% to 99%

Because nothing is perfect, we can only weigh to perfection in balance. In the vast variables that we can’t control there are networking, iteration, compounding, adaptivity, persistence, focus and momentum. They are the keys. Keeping your energy straight and strengthening your mindset.

And don’t forget to be a real “CMO” of your life:


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