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Meet Zoran Grabovac, MBA '15 and the entrepreneur behind PetBot

After contemplating a number of different career paths, Zoran Grabovac (MBA '15) found his entrepreneurial groove in the Rotman School’s Creative Destruction Lab. It was there that he met his future business partner with whom he would go on to invent PetBot – a remote treat dispenser for your pet. The company just shipped their first order last month. We recently spoke with Zoran about his journey, risk-taking and never getting too comfortable.

 Zoran Grabovac, Owner, PetBot

Tell us a bit about your background.

After finishing undergrad with a major in Finance at the height of the global financial crisis, I found it difficult to get steady work until I landed in a provincial government internship program. Once I got settled, I started thinking about the future. I’d always wanted to continue my education into the Masters level, and an MBA was a natural route to follow to broaden my experiences and knowledge in business. That’s when I enrolled at Rotman part-time.

During the program, I switched positions at work roughly every six months to try something new and expand the breadth of my experience. However, I found that something was lacking. I wasn’t working on quite the right projects and I was hard-pressed to find a good fit, so I started looking at other options. Like most MBA students, consulting or banking were the first places I looked. I quickly found those weren’t a good fit for me either, which is when I came across the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL). After the first week of exposure to the program I knew that entrepreneurship was something I wanted to be involved with.

As luck would have it, the CDL was where I met my co-founder and we developed PetBot through the program. The CDL is a unique program offered by Rotman to MBA students as well as seed-stage ventures in the areas of artificial intelligence and science-based technology. Since then, my partner and I have been working on PetBot and made our first shipments in January 2017.

What were the three most important lessons you learned while at Rotman?

Never get comfortable.Comfort means you’re doing something you know, which means you’re not learning.

Take (calculated) risks.Don’t be reckless, but being “safe” will guarantee you miss out on a ton of interesting things you could experience by taking a risk.

Do as much as you can handle, then do a bit more.I got involved in as many things as I could at Rotman (and still do), and while it’s not always easy it has always been rewarding in some way.

What advice specifically would you give to someone interested in running their own business?

Be persistent, but not stubborn.I’ve heard time and time again how many people start companies and then quit when they face their first real challenge. You would be surprised how often things tend to “work themselves out” when you keep going despite not seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. At the same time, if it’s becoming increasingly obvious that this particular idea won’t fly, don’t hold on to it to your own detriment.

Ask for help and learn from people who are smarter than you.You can’t be an expert on everything, but you can learn from experts so that you know enough to get something done. Generally, people are more than willing to give you at least a few minutes of their time to answer some questions and give you advice. The same way people are usually receptive to a coffee chat about job prospects, they’re receptive to giving advice about what they’re good at.

What has been your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur? What prepared you for it?

The biggest challenge has been maintaining drive and motivation through the emotional roller coaster you experience on an almost daily basis. When you’re so personally invested in a business and genuinely want it to succeed, everything good or bad that happens to it is felt 100 times more than usual. I was expecting this to some degree, as I had read and heard about it from others, but it’s very hard to prepare for something that you have never experienced before.

The biggest help for me was (and still is) having the willpower to keep going when times are tough. It’s very easy when times are good, but it’s surprising how quickly your mood can shift with a single supplier delay, unreasonable customer, or bad pitch. Despite this, you have to keep going, and that’s the biggest challenge I think an entrepreneur faces.

What’s an average day like for you as an entrepreneur?

A little bit of everything. There have been days where I have had nothing but meetings with completely unrelated people on unrelated topics, and there have been days spent working on a single thing. As an entrepreneur, you wear many hats. You’re marketing, customer service, product development, operations, logistics, finance, and everything else until you build up a team to help you out. The average day is doing all the small, tedious things that add up to the big, exciting achievements down the road.