I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the co-founders and Executive Director of Sirma Group, Inc. It was great to not only learn more about the company’s history, current situation, and future but also to learn about a unique perspective in business and in life.
1) What was your vision when you started this company?
Sirma was founded (Sirma AI) on a vision to bring great value to businesses and people through utilizing knowledge processing technology and artificial intelligence. Our goal was to make business more meaningful for people and for people to lead more fulfilling lives which included creating a better work/life balance for them, allowing them to have 2-3 professions in a lifetime and/or engaging in creative activity while in their current profession. Our first client that we completed this for was the Canadian government.
Sirma started with its first business line, Sirma Cognitive Technologies which is now experiencing a comeback. It is interesting to see how many people start realizing the value of this 25 years later. This is why our 25th-year motto is ‘going back to our roots by helping companies become more intelligent while using much more advanced technologies.My current assignment is to continue to expand Sirma Group to the US through our three business divisions which are EngView Systems, Sirma Enterprise Systems, and Sirma Cultural Heritage.
2) With technology growing at the pace that it does, how do you see this (enterprise content management) software industry changing over the next decade?
I believe what will happen is that these systems will continue to move away from content and start moving towards the integration of data and documents. Intelligent documents will become interactive with multidimensional views that do not only include data, but also the meaning of the relationships regarding the data.
Information will be supplied by computer agents that will be able to make predictions and suggestions of enterprises that are grown together by groups of people working together as time progresses. Generations of information will begin to merge together which will allow humans to make better decisions. No matter how robust the technology gets, humans will continue to be the ones to make decisions, just more informed ones based on the information at hand.
Content management systems will begin to focus more on aiding decision making rather than just focusing on content. They will merge the concepts of content and business objects rather than keeping them separate as they are now. Business information systems that model entities will first model on a semantic level, then integrate information, text, and data together to process them through a network of human and computer agents.
3) What do you enjoy most about your current position?
Within Sirma, I specialize in creating new business entities for the organization. That requires jumping into the water, figuring it out, and making mistakes – sometimes very costly ones. With the help of my colleagues, I conceptualize products and their markets, create value curves and product positioning. We utilize all resources we have and remain flexible throughout the process rather than following a predetermined strategy the entire time.
That being said, what I enjoy most about this role is creating new things and operating as an internal entrepreneur within Sirma to create new business products and ideas.
4) What aspects of your routine do you believe contribute to your success?
Well, I don’t consider myself ‘successful’ in this venture quite yet. However, to answer your question, my routine consists of two elements – collaboration and administration. A lot of my time is spent collaborating with my colleagues to discuss conceptual topics. Once we have a clear picture of the concept, then we bring it to reality and deliver. The other routine that I do on a daily basis would be administration. Personally, it’s not the most exciting aspect for me, but it is necessary for our business.
5) What are the top 3 books you would recommend to someone aspiring to lead an organization?
1) Entrepreneurial Marketing: An Effectual Approach by Edwin Jacob Nijssen
2) Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
3) Any work done by Henry Mintzberg
6) What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking to start their own business?
Get partners who have business, sales, and marketing experience rather than just focusing on intentions of your product/service’s features, design, etc. Conceptual success is good, but you need business success as well and the best thing to do to achieve this is to get a well-balanced team that includes sales and marketing executives.
7) There are some known entrepreneurs that don’t value higher education based on their statements, what is your perspective on this?
When you look at certain success stories such as some in Silicon Valley, they might be based on luck and strange social behavior. Generally speaking, education is great and highly recommended. However, it’s important to make sure you get educated in a more technical or narrower subject so you can become an expert in a particular field before venturing into business.
As far as business school is considered, I recommend taking executive management courses after you have gained a lot of experience as business strategy is learned on the job. After exposure to real world experience, it’s a great idea to take an executive course once a year to reflect, understand what you’ve been doing, get encouragement and see others that are doing the same thing. Executive management courses allow you to learn as much from your classmates as you do from your professors.
8) As one of the founders of a publicly traded organization, what are the biggest challenges that come with your position?
Sirma is evolving rapidly. It is transitioning from a medium sized organization to a large one over the next few years. One of the most challenging aspects of this is changing together with the organization as sometimes it is not advisable or possible. I enjoy creating new business units rather than growing the entire organization which is why I probably will not stay in a management role as the organization continues to grow. It will require a different type of management.
In this environment, it’s better for people who grow small businesses to leave so they don’t hinder the organization from growing into a large organization. Sometimes, you have to be brave enough and smart enough to leave an organization to grow rather than to stay creating limitations for yourself and the organization.
9) Looking back on the past 25 years, what is one thing you would do differently?
This is a difficult question to answer because the life of an organization depends on the environment and the concrete local conditions. One in the same thing would not have made the same impact in different environments.
However, if I were to pick one, it would be that we should have been more focused on revenue and marketing rather than technical contributions and advancements. With Artificial Intelligence and technology backgrounds, we were too fascinated with doing the next interesting thing rather than selling more. We should have brought in more executives that were well versed when it came to sales and marketing.
Yavor Djonev continues to utilize his entrepreneurial spirit and technical background to make significant contributions to the growth of Sirma Group. Two things that really stood out during this conversation were how he chooses to maintain flexibility while growing a business and also his humility understanding what his role is and what it isn’t. It is safe to say with him and the other executives leading the way for Sirma Group, the future is bright and the next 25 years will be an exciting journey.
Thanks for reading,
Shamit Patel, Sirma Enterprise Systems