February 19, 2024

Behind the Innovation: Meet Milica

Behind the Innovation: Meet Milica

Behind the Innovation: Meet Milica

Every week at OAK’S LAB, we highlight one individual from our team who had an exceptional performance and achieved a standout outcome. We call these people “Legends of the Week,” and we acknowledge their hard work, passion, and dedication that continue to drive our success. Each Wednesday, Jake Dluhy-Smith, our CEO, sits down with the previous week’s Legend and interviews them in a podcast-style session over lunch to share more of their story with our entire team.

In our newest series, “Behind the Innovation,” we take these sessions and turn them into articles in order to introduce these individuals to you. From software engineers and designers to product managers and ops, each story features an intimate chat with an individual who shares a unique glimpse into their life, motivations, and more.

Our first feature highlights Milica. From her multicultural roots in Moscow and Serbia to the adventurous spirit that led her to Prague, Milica’s story includes insights, challenges, and triumphs within her journey to get to where she is today–a product manager at OAK’S LAB. 

Rapid-Fire Questions

Jake: Milica, you were a well-deserved Legend of the Week. You’re doing an exceptional job, and we want everyone to get to know you better and find out a bit more about your story.

Milica: Hi everyone! Let’s do it.

Jake: Before we get started, I have a couple of icebreaker questions. First, if you could invite any historical figure for dinner, who would it be? Dead or alive.

Milica: So many people come to mind, but I would like to talk to Nikola Tesla. He invented so many things, and he had even more brilliant ideas according to his notebooks and his sketches. I would like to see the way that he saw the world.

Jake: Great person to invite for dinner. If you were stranded on an island and you had only one type of food that you could eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Milica: Pizza. I love pizza. I had a challenge where I had to eat pizza seven days in a row. And I was blessed with it. My favorite type is ham and pistachio. I love it. I love any type of pizza except pizza with pineapple.

Jake: Nice. And last icebreaker question. What type of movie genre do you like watching the most?

Milica: I would say dramedy.

Jake: Do you have a favorite movie?

Milica: Maybe not a favorite one, but recently I enjoyed “Into the Wild.” It's quite old if I'm not mistaken. And it's not a dramedy; it's based on a real story. Yeah, I really recommend it.

Bianca, Milica, and Poli hanging out at our Company Offsite trip to Croatia

Milica’s Background

Jake: All right, let's jump in to talk a little bit about your story and where you come from.

Milica: I was born in Moscow. My mom is Russian, and my father is Serbian. I was born in a kind of depressive neighborhood with paneláks (large panel-style buildings), but I spent a significant amount of time in Lešnica, Serbia, a Western Serbian village that was my father’s village.

Jake: So, you're half-Russian, half-Serbian. Do you feel more like one or the other?

Milica: It's tough to say considering that I went to kindergarten and school in Moscow. But I would say 60/40…60% Russian and 40% Serbian because I always felt different in Moscow in school. I could see and feel the difference there. At the same time, whenever I was in Serbia, I felt the same.

Jake: Interesting. So how did you get from Lešnica to Prague? What's the story there?

Milica: It started in my teenage years. I realized that I would like to try to live in different countries, try to live abroad, and see the world. I managed to accomplish it by the time I turned 26. In 2019, I started to live for a few months at a time in different countries. And then I switched to sort of a normal life completely in 2020.

A rooftop view of Prague

Milica: I lived in Serbia, in Belgrade, and in Novi Sad. (It's the second largest city in Serbia, like Brno compared to Prague.) And then I lived in Turkey for a few months. I lived for a few months in Georgia, in Belize, and a few months in Spain. And then eventually my partner and I decided that the best option for us was Prague. So, I moved to Prague at the end of 2021.

Jake: Nice. And is Prague still your favorite place?

Milica: I think so. The more I travel, the more I see the advantages of Prague. The size. And the comfort that Prague gives you is just incredible. At the same time, the more I meet people here, the more I like it.

Experience Before OAK’S LAB

Jake: So how did you get into the tech industry and how did you become a product manager?

Milica: It was a long path, and originally I came from construction. I was studying project management, but in civil engineering, not in tech. I worked the first few years during and after university, and I spent time on construction sites. 

Milica onsite at her old construction job

Milica: So, yeah, this was me typically on a laptop, every day, for 12 hours on a site. It was fun for a few years, but over time I realized that I was into more than civil engineering work. 

I was tired of the operational work. And I wanted to improve something in me on a deeper level. I could see the pain points. I could see the troubles that the industry faced. And it's one of the most conservative industries in my opinion, even now.

After that, I joined a startup. I started from scratch, from the proof of concept, when we had pen and paper. We were going after the construction work, giving them tasks, and tracking it. We then built a web platform and then the mobile app in parallel. And I can say that I was definitely learning along the way. Within that time, I was not only responsible for some parts of the mobile app, but I also started to work with B2B products. And the more I got into this field, the more I liked it.

I started to do this in 2018. So, it's been five years already. And I'm not tired of it at all.

Milica in a Product Manager sync at our HQ

Jake: You can really tell that you love what you do. And I think that's inspiring to everyone around you who works with you. You come from the construction industry. What's a learning that you had from there that can be carried over into building software products?

Milica: Well, maybe it's obvious now, but for me, it was really important to understand that I should listen to the users and truly understand them. Listen to their experience, see their experience, and observe their daily work. Because most of the time people don't know what to improve or how to improve something. They know the issue that they have, but not how to improve it.

Observing them, being in tight contact with them, and gathering information on a daily and weekly basis was incredibly helpful for me. That’s the first thing I think of that can apply to any industry. Because some people have 20, 30, or 40 years of expertise in their field, but their mindset is that they used to build it this way 20 years ago. So, they are building it the same way now, and it's going to be the same in 20 years. And to change this mindset, they need to be in acceptance of all the troubles that they have.

To change this mindset was a big challenge, but quite interesting. 

Time at OAK’S LAB

Jake: So let's go to your time at OAK’S LAB. Your first project here was Vette, right?

Milica: Yes.

Jake: Can you tell us what you're most proud of accomplishing on Vette?

Milica: It's not going to be directly related to the product itself, but it's related to the team. I came to the project when it was already with OAK’S LAB for one year. And the previous product manager did an amazing job. I could see his connection with the team, and it was super nice.

For me, it was a challenge to gain everyone’s trust. Because I was a foreigner to them, and I really appreciated that they put their trust in me and helped me to feel comfortable. This is something that I will remember for a long time.

A glimpse at the Vette product in action

Jake: That's awesome. And you know, that's something we never want to lose. The great team atmosphere that we've been able to create. 

After that, you got assigned to a new “concept-to-launch” project, totally at the earliest stages of building out an idea, which was CapHub. Maybe you can share with us who's on your team at CapHub and what are you looking to build.

Milica: Yes, sure. So, let me start with the team. Again, I'm working with an amazing team. Our tech lead, Ugur, is the “trouble killer” on the project. And at the same time, Ugur is like an engine that brings a nice mood and a problem-solving approach.

We also have Peter and Alberto. Peter just joined us last month, and Alberto has been working on the project since the beginning. They are our engineers, and again, I'm impressed by the quality of work that they are providing. 

Then we have Vladan, our design lead. Vladan is spending only 50% of his time with us, but Vladan is making sure that we still have everything that we need on the project, and his approach is that he wants to provide the best quality. I really appreciate it.

And Irina, of course. Irina is our QA engineer. The way that Irina organizes everything, pays attention, notices every tiny thing, and can describe it is super cool. I feel very lucky.

The CapHub logo

Jake: All of them seem to be doing a great job because CapHub seems to be going in the right direction. Can you tell us a little bit about what the objective of CapHub is and where you guys are right now in the project?

Milica: CapHub is a FinTech startup. And, as you mentioned, the stakeholders came to us with just an idea. It didn’t exist yet. So, we are building the MVP.

The industry is a very specific niche in private equity, related to independent sponsors. Independent sponsors are people who look for opportunities to acquire businesses. But, at the same time, they don't have the capital. They are looking for investors who are ready to invest in these deals. Investors, on the other hand, are looking for opportunities where they can invest directly, bypassing the funds.

CapHub’s role is to connect these sponsors and investors, help them execute the deal, and raise the capital.

Jake: Amazing. It's a really exciting, one-of-a-kind platform, so Milica, thank you so much. We appreciate having you in OAK’S LAB. We wish you all the best in your project in the future!

Milica: Thank you!

Milica winning a prize at our Christmas Party in December 2022

Thanks again, Milica for sharing your journey to Prague and OAK’S LAB with us. We are always impressed by your resilience and drive to continuously improve yourself and your project. We appreciate everything you do to lead your team through both the good and the challenging times. We are grateful for all of your effort and the results from it.

Stay tuned for the next installment in our series, where we continue to uncover the stories behind the innovation at OAK’S LAB. Cheers!

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