Features

How I got here… Daniel Posavac, CEO of Bonsey Jaden

Growing up in the former Yugoslavia and then watching the birth of the internet while living in Australia shaped Daniel Posavac’s worldview and provided him with the skillset to go on and build a pan-Asian brand agency – as CEO at Bonsey Jaden

Education

I was born in a country that no longer exists, or at least that is what my birth certificate says – Yugoslavia. My life started in Zagreb, now the capital of Croatia, and as the oldest of three children I was always the groundbreaker.

My early days were spent playing outside where I developed a passion for sports – football, basketball and tennis. Indoors I enjoyed playing with Lego and listening in to conversations my parents and their friends were having. Inquisitive by nature, my mum proudly says that I never ran out of questions to ask as a kid.

As a child of the 1980s, my access to technology was limited to television and a telephone, and my parents encouraged minimal TV time – with strict controls over what we watched. I believe this had a very positive impact on my imagination, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and concentration because I always had to find innovative ways to entertain myself.

Pre-internet, simple tech consisted of a phone and a TV

My family moved a lot throughout my life (my dad was a minister), and it started from a young age. By the time I was nine, we had lived in six apartments/houses across four cities in Croatia. This definitely shaped my comfort with movement, travel and a semi-nomadic lifestyle. I’ve since lived in five different countries, seven different cities at 24 homes.

I vividly remember the onset of the Balkan war in the early 1990s. We were living in Zagreb and as an eight year old I went from being able to freely walk to school and being fine to roam around the city, to constantly listening out for sirens – which indicated danger and the need to hide underground in our basement.

We were definitely one of the lucky families, as Zagreb was a city minimally impacted by the war. We migrated to Australia when I was nine thanks a job opportunity dad received in Sydney. Most of our family and friends were not so lucky, and I will never forget the impact that experience had on me. I certainly have never taken life, safety and opportunity for granted.

My knowledge of Australia as a nine year old consisted of kangaroos, koalas and the magical fruits my mum used to tell me about – otherwise known as avocados and mangoes. I arrived in Sydney without being able to speak a word of English, both excited and terrified by this new adventure. I remember struggling to find out how to ask permission to go to the toilet on my first day of school, and being bemused by ‘story and nap time’ – which happened that afternoon.

I quickly learned that our education system in Yugoslavia was years ahead of Australia, which meant a few easy years for me when it came to maths and general studies. My life saw another significant milestone from that day, because the first friend I made in Australia was Joel Cangy. To this day, he is one of my best friends and a partner in Bonsey Jaden.

Sydney life in the 1990s

Our lifestyle in Australia was worlds apart from the old country, and I became much more exposed to technology. I got my first gaming console at the age of 10 (a Sega Master System since you’re asking). My brother is two and a half years younger than me so we have always been close; playing together whenever we weren’t with our friends, and always challenging each other in everything from sports to video games.

This fed my competitive nature, and also meant my brother quickly became better than me at both sports and video games (ending my hope of a potential career in either). My sister is seven years younger than me, which meant she was the equally cute and annoying princess who always followed us around growing up.

But she also taught us how to look after each other and we became very close as we matured. Because I grew up surrounded by siblings and family, I developed a comfort for people as well as busy and loud settings (unknown preparation for my current lifestyle).

I got my first computer around the age of 11, and it was an absolute beast. I fell in love with computers and this was amplified when I met Igor Vidic, another one of my best friends and a current partner in Bonsey Jaden. Can you see a pattern forming? We were mostly exploring gaming and basic hacking, but spent a huge amount of time on our computers (often networked), while developing as one with the technology.

The beastly Pentium II, i386 30mhz processor with a 100mb HD and 32mb of RAM

This continued into high school where I met Nic Robertson, my Bonsey Jaden co-founder and best friend. We bonded over our love for sports (in particular cricket at that time), and computers. We started spending less time on gaming and played around with networking, operating systems, coding and teenage hacking.

Our high school was very progressive and had a Mac lab (with the original iMacs), which we hated at the time because the mouse had a single click and the OS didn’t allow us to hack. How times have changed. I am now widely known as a true Apple fanboy.

As a teenager of the 1990s I clearly remember life pre and post-internet. One day we went from books and magazines to dial up modems, ICQ, iRC and Geocities. I was completely captivated by this new world, and spent an inordinate amount of time online. Nic, Igor and I began designing and developing websites for fun, and unknowingly educated ourselves on all things internet.

It’s funny because I never wanted to be in the technology field (then called IT). I saw it as merely a hobby while I pursued my two life passions – football and music. It boggles my mind to think that I designed my first website over 21 years ago (Dan’s Cricket Page is no longer online unfortunately).

That first website design

My Start

Much to my parents’ disappointment I decided skip university upon finishing high-school. And after working a number of odd jobs (supermarket checkout guy, pizza delivery boy, retail manager and more), I used my knowledge of technology and the internet to land an ‘IT’ job at a small sales and marketing company.

This was the unintentional kick-starter of the career path I am still on to this day. At the time it was supposed to be a temporary day job, while I focused on my passion for music at night (waiting for the band to make it). Nic, Joel and I formed Jaden initially as a music company more than 12 years ago, while we played in bands, produced music and ran music and entertainment events. All the while I was working in a quickly growing marketing business by day; learning the ropes of business development, operations, client management and digital strategy.

It just so happens that as an aspiring (read: failed) musician I had front row seats to the digital-social revolution, which happened between 2006 and 2009. Being an Internet addict had its advantages – one of which was that I became an early adopter of MySpace and taught myself how to build pages, communities and fans.

Jaden group shot in 2012

This led me to Facebook (via Nic) in 2007, at a time when less than 100,000 people in Australia were on the platform. By 2009 most brands were investigating these new platforms (Facebook, YouTube and Twitter), and learning how to leverage them in their marketing mix. Turns out I was uniquely qualified and skilled at just the right time, and dove head first into the digital marketing world.

I quickly found that I really enjoyed this paradigm shift in communication and advertising, and that I was a lot better at it than I was at music. By 2011 I decided to retire my bass and fully dedicate myself to this newfound passion – digital marketing. The challenge of trailblazing the integration of digital into the marketing mix for established global brands was exhilarating, and the lessons I had during this time have shaped the business I am building with my partners today.

After eight years at my first agency (and a lifetime of learnings), I decided it was time to branch out and develop my skills inside a larger and more established agency environment. I joined Igor at IMG (Incremental Marketing Group), a top-tier marketing agency with a small but talented and progressive team.

At IMG, my education continued while working with amazing brands to bring digital into their business-to-business marketing mix. I spent an amazing year at IMG before one of those lifetime opportunities came knocking. Leaving IMG was one of the toughest things I’ve had to do in my life, but when faced with the chance to step into a whole new existence along with Nic, Joel and Igor, there was no way I could turn it down. And so marked the beginnings of our very first agency, Jaden Social (established in 2011).

Painting the first Jaden Social office

It is a music-first digital agency, which we built from the ground up with support from our families, friends and business partners (Jake and George). Our years in the music industry gave us the connections, which led us to work with the major record labels, touring agents, and amazing artists across Australia – while pioneering the agency landscape within the Australian music industry.

It was a whirlwind growth and within 12 months we had built a fantastic client portfolio, a team of 30 plus people and had just moved into a third office in the space of 12 months (thanks to our lack of growth planning). Another one of my best friends Emir Ruzdic joined us at Jaden Social, and we built a development team which brought me back full circle to web design and development – some 14 years after building my very first paid website.

In late 2013, another unexpected door opened when one of our partners invited me to Asia to explore a couple of interesting projects in Singapore. After only four days on the ground, I sensed the enormous opportunity, and was excited about the prospect of living and working abroad. With two hot client leads and a new potential partnership beckoning, I came back to Sydney and asked Nic if he wanted to move to Asia.

Approach

So that is how I got here in Singapore. By January 2014, our partnership with Jonathan Bonsey (founder of Bonsey Design) was official and we launched Bonsey Jaden with two full time staff (myself and Nic), working out of the Bonsey Design office in Singapore. Our grand vision was to build Asia’s leading boutique digital brand agency and work with client partners who understood the need for digital to be an input of their brand strategy – rather than an output.

With Nic and Jonathan in 2014

By the end of 2014, we had 40 full time staff across four offices – Singapore, Australia, Philippines and Indonesia – and were working with some amazing local and regional brands including Kimberly Clark, Bata, Imagine Group, Fitness First, Reckitt Benckiser, Pos Malaysia and more.

We had to quickly learn the ropes of business in Asia; hiring people, setting up businesses and bank accounts, finding suitable office space and managing cross-border clients and teams. Airports and aeroplanes became our offices but the thrill of discovery, growth, challenging work and opportunity was all the fuel we needed.

Today we are over 130 people strong across nine offices in seven countries, and I still find myself learning new things every day. Writing this piece has made me reflect on the journey thus far, and led to the realisation that many of my childhood/teenage experiences inadvertently equipped and educated me for the work I am doing, and lifestyle I’m living, today.

The Bonsey Jaden office in Singapore

Highs and Lows

Let’s start with the lows:

Building a regional agency business in Asia from the ground up has been more challenging than expected and we certainly didn’t come here thinking it would be a walk in the park. Learning the intricacies of each market comes with a lot of painful lessons, first of all financially.

The first time we had to write off a six-figure invoice due to a client not paying was a real low, as was the first time we had to consider legal action to collect money owed to us and realised it was a futile exercise. Losing key team members is always a low, as are the times when senior hires come into the business and fail to integrate or deliver against the investment made in them.

Finally the low of losing a client is an inherent one in our industry, and it always hurts. We have been very fortunate in this regard. However, it has happened in each of our markets and I feel it every time.

Now to the highs:

The reason we are still here is there have been many more highs than lows. Having the opportunity to build seven different teams across the region, and working with our team members to build these businesses in each market, are real highlights.

I have had the opportunity to hire, develop, mentor, work with and learn from so many amazing people – who have defined our business, and that is always the biggest high. I am very proud to say that many of the people who joined our business in years one and two are still with us today, and are now leading teams and entire markets for us.

The work we have had the opportunity to do is also a real highlight. I have been able to experience developing strategy and ideas as well as executing programmes/campaigns across such a wide range of industries (auto, airline, insurance, telco, finance, lifestyle, FMCG, e-commerce, technology, manufacturing, natural resources among others) in less than five years.

That really highlights one of the biggest advantages of our industry. There are few things more rewarding that our work being recognised by our clients, and tangibly delivering business results which create real impact for their businesses.

Finally the people I have met along the way, our partners, clients and advisors who have pushed us to continually evolve, develop and better ourselves. They have provided me with an education money can’t buy, and continue to do so every day.

Do’s & Don’ts

Learn from every mistake and success of the past, but don’t continually look backwards. Believe in yourself and do look at all the possibilities. They are everywhere.

Possibilities are everywhere, says Posavac

Daniel Posavac is chief executive officer at digital brand agency Bonsey Jaden

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