Profiles, StartupSmart

Tech Virgin: Why this founder left the family business to follow in the footsteps of his entrepreneurial idols

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Devika

Devika founder Ken Kencevski. Source: Supplied.

Up until three years ago, Devika founder Ken Kencevski was rising in the ranks of his family automotive business. Now, he’s struck out on his own, and in a completely different direction, creating artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality and Internet-of-Things solutions for corporates and other startups alike.

Having joined the family business, Speedmaster, which builds high-performance car parts, fresh out of university, Kencevski focused on implementing modern technology into operations.

Soon, he was chief operating officer for the business, which had offices in California and Shanghai as well as in its hometown of Sydney.

However, a trip to Silicon Valley and San Francisco changed Kencevski’s outlook and set him on the path to startupland.

He saw where new technologies were heading, he tells StartupSmart, including with electric vehicles.

Although Speedmaster is a combustion engine company, Kencevski is “a bit of a greenie”, he confesses.

“I was really worried about our future with the family business,” he says.

But, what also hooked him was the culture of Silicon Valley. While he expected it to be all flashing lights and loud noises, what he found was “ordinary people trying to do amazing things”, he says.

“What I was really taken aback by was the willingness to immerse themselves in big problems, with technology,” Kencevski says.

“I couldn’t just sit back and watch it, I wanted to be a part of it,” he adds.

“That definitely was the catalyst for that shift in my life.”

About a year after the trip, Kencevski left the family business to launch Devika, setting out to understand how new and progressive technologies could help everyday businesses.

“I had been on that journey on the other side … I can see just how difficult it can be to build tech,” he explains.

Devika is intended not only to implement new technologies but to understand what the problems are and find the best solution to address them.

“I wasn’t just looking at it from a tech lens,” Kencevski says,

“It’s always been about the customer journey.”

Right place at the right time

Now, Devika has more than 100 clients in Australia and overseas, and is developing technology for startups and corporations alike, as well as developing its own standalone tech products.

A few early wins securing big-ticket clients meant the business had a “pretty good” first year, Kencevski says.

And while he doesn’t reveal exact figures, he says since then revenues have been doubling year-on-year.

“Word of mouth has been really important for our growth,” he explains.

While the initial strategy was to start out locally, expand throughout New South Wales, and then go national and international, it turned out that some of the earliest clients were based in the US.

Communicating with LinkedIn contacts, answering questions and updating them regularly “was actually quite successful in the beginning”, Kencevski says.

However, the startup has also scored big-four bank Westpac as a client, after a friend and advisor set Kencevski up with a meeting.

“I didn’t even know the decision-makers of Westpac were going to be there,” the founder says.

“I would have been a lot more nervous if I’d known.”

While he was always confident, Kencevski says he didn’t necessarily expect to see such success quite so quickly.

“You kinda think so, but then, you’re always setting the bar too high for yourself,” he says.

“Right place at the right time I guess.”

The next Atlassian?

Now, having built some of its own products and IP, Devika is looking towards “really ramping that up in the Australian ecosystem”, Kencevski says.

However, the founder is also continuing working with clients and new prospects in the US, while translating some of its products into Mandarin, after seeing high demand in China.

“That VR space is massive in China right now,” he explains.

“We’re kind of just figuring these things out.”

In the past six months, Kencevski has also brought together a board of advisors for the startup.

“For me, putting a board together will be important to keep helping me stay accountable to the business,” he says,

Looking towards the future, Kencevski says he would like to follow in the footsteps of other Aussie tech entrepreneurs.

“We look up to guys like the Atlassian guys, what they’ve done is pretty phenomenal,” he says.

“For us, we see the ability to be a service provider for some pretty large firms.”

However, he also takes inspiration from international heroes — in particular, he’s a “huge fan” or Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson.

In fact, Branson even provided the inspiration for the name ‘Devika’.

“I wanted the name of the company to be really unique so we could build up the meaning ourselves,” Kencevski explains.

“I’ve got a Macedonian background, so Devika means Virgin in Macedonian,” he adds.

“I really like what [Branson] does and what he’s about, and the way he goes about business,” Kencevski says, and so he strives to be “the tech version of that”.

Give it a go

Kencevski’s startup journey has been shaped both by his initial trip to Silicon Valley and by the entrepreneurs he admires, he says.

In the first three months after founding Devika, he spent a lot of time on figuring out “the changeless core of values” of the company.

“We want to be more than just a tech company — our motto is enabling people with technology in mind,” he explains.

“The people are at the centre of what we’re doing, but technology is just the best way we know how to use our skills.”

Kencevski advises other prospective founders that, “if you believe in something enough, you should give it a go”.

While he says founders should go into a new venture with a clear strategy, he also says they should “be ready for that plan to go out of the window”.

Success is about “being adaptive … and always willing to learn”, he says.

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is the editor at StartupSmart. You can contact her at [email protected].

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