When Termovent, a family-owned Serbian company, announced in May 2021, after nearly three decades of developing and manufacturing climate chambers and “clean rooms”, it had become a member of the Swiss group Arbonia, the news of this acquisition quickly spread as a successful example of a company that grew from a small craft shop to a global market player, with an epilogue that will secure further growth for the Termovent brand.
Since 2020, Termovent has also been a member of the STP Belgrade community and has even launched its Termovent Academy here. Miloš Perović, the company’s long-running COO and currently a partner at New Startegy, maintains close ties with the world of innovation and has a keen interest in the startup scene, having already invested in several startups as a business angel.
The experience he and his team had with the sale of Termovent, including preparation, negotiation and the period after the sale, is unique and invaluable for all those who run their own business and try their hand at entrepreneurship. He has agreed to share it with us for all founders and also gives an insight into how he now chooses startups in which he wants to invest.
Who is Miloš Perović?
Miloš joined his family’s business while still at university. After graduating from the University School of Mechanical Engineering in 2008, he spent the first several years working as an engineer, before moving on to manage demanding projects in Belgium and the Netherlands. Together with his brother, he inherited the company from his father and continued actively managing, organizing and developing Termovent. As Chief Operating Officer, he was responsible for reorganization and positioning in the international market, with his entrepreneurial efforts playing a major role in the company’s positioning as an industry leader, culminating in the acquisition by Swiss-based Arbonia Group.
– Termovent was more than just a company. It was my family’s dream to turn into reality. I witnessed each stage in the company’s growth – from the initial product drawings through building customer relations to the eventual global expansion. I believe the key to success was our quick adaptability to changes and our drive to constantly innovate, which helped us create products that became recognised even beyond Serbia’s borders. We created a designated team tasked with innovation, founded Termovent Academy and continually invested in process and product improvements.
The decision to sell your company was undoubtedly not a quick and easy one. What were the greatest dilemmas ad challenges in that process?
– The first challenge we faced was the decision to sell the company. When you put years of effort, time and resources into something, you naturally become attached to it. We asked ourselves many questions: is the time right to sell? Will the acquisition be in the best interest of the company, the employees and our clients? What if we do not sell, will Arbonia Group enter the Serbian market anyway?
The second aspect concerned the technical minutiae of the sale process. How do we estimate correctly how much the company is worth? How do we negotiate the terms of the sale? How do we ensure that all legal and financial aspects are correct and fair to both parties? Faced with these technical challenges, we had to hire external experts, such as financial advisors and lawyers, to help us navigate the lengthy process.
The strategic challenges were perhaps the most complex ones. How do we preserve the culture of Termovent, which we carefully built over the years? How do we ensure our team remains appreciated, taken care of and motivated under the new leadership? These dilemmas did not lend themselves to easy answers. Through detailed talks with Arbonia Group, we managed to identify joint objectives and values, ensuring the smoothest possible transition for all involved.
What did you feel after the sale went through? Was it relief, nostalgia or something else?
– I felt like I was closing a large chapter of my life. It was a mixture of relief, nostalgia and, of course, pride. Knowing Termovent was in good hands and would continue growing and advancing helped me feel good.
The sale process is time-consuming and often stressful, fraught with numerous negotiations, paperwork and uncertainties. Once it is all over, there is this moment of relief, when you realise you have successfully passed that milestone.
It was only normal to feel nostalgic. Looking back on all those years of effort, success, and even failures – all those moments become precious. Memories of the company’s initial steps, our first employees, first customers – those are all beautiful aspects of a life that now seems somehow over.
I am proud of everything we achieved, of the team with which I worked and the culture we built. I am proud of everything we did together, but what gives me the greatest pride is that we succeeded in building Termovent from a small machine shop into a serious company and a leader in its industry.
Finally, every change brings with it a feeling of uncertainty. Even when you know the decision is right, there is a slight uncertainty about the future. But, as time went by, I realised the key was to look forward, seize new opportunities as they arise and continue the journey, changed though it may have.
What were your subsequent plans, what was the next step in your professional life? As someone who had managed a company, you found yourself at a turning point.
– I have to admit I did not have a detailed plan for the next step mapped out. Initially, I wanted to have some rest and take a break, so I could weigh all the options available to me. I knew I did not want to stop and withdraw from the business world; I wanted to continue developing and growing as a professional.
My friendship with Miša Lukić opened up new horizons for me. His company, New Startegy, was a perfect opportunity for me to move into innovative business strategies and thus continue developing professionally. On the other hand, by assuming the role of partner and chief operating officer, I was able to combine my years of experience with new concepts and strategies of modern business.
Also, given the resources and knowledge I had acquired over the years, I decided to focus on mentoring and supporting young entrepreneurs and innovators. I saw it as an opportunity to pass on my knowledge and experience to the next generation, and also as a chance for me to be part of the new projects which would shape the future. By investing in startups and becoming a serial entrepreneur, I gained access to the thrilling world of innovation and new business dynamics.
Ultimately, even if my next step might have been unpredictable, I feel it was the right one. Through a combination of mentoring, investment and continuous learning, I discovered a new passion and purpose in my professional life.
What drove you to become more interested in startups and invest in them?
– Several reasons converged to shape my decision to become a business angel and invest in startups. First of all, I believe startups have a fresh energy and an innovative nature, which are key for future development of the industry and society as a whole. Young entrepreneurs, with their vision and their drive to make a change, are often the bearers of new ideas which can dramatically change the way we do business and live.
On the other hand, I was fortunate enough to gain a wealth of experience and knowledge throughout my career I could now share with others. Investing in startups gives me an opportunity to offer young entrepreneurs my mentorship, in addition to financial support. I am aware money is often not the only challenge faced by founders. Guidance, help with navigating complex business situations and connecting to the right people are often equally as important.
Also, working with startups helps me keep abreast of the latest trends and innovation. It is a win-win situation: while they gain access to my experience and resources, I learn from them and am able to keep up with the modern business challenges.
Finally, there is a personal aspect involved. It fills me with great pleasure to see small companies grow and develop, knowing that I am part of that successful journey. Investing in startups is not just a business decision, but also an opportunity to have a positive impact in the business world and support young talents on their road towards success.
How do you choose startups you will invest in, what are the key points that influence your decision to invest?
– There are a number of factors that influence my decision. Of course, not all investments are the same, but these are some of the key criteria that help me make an informed decision:
- Innovativeness of the idea: The first thing I consider is the innovativeness and uniqueness of the idea. I look for startups that offer something new and different, something with the potential to change the market, or even the whole industry.
- Team quality: It is often said that investors invest in teams, not just in ideas. This is because the execution of any idea requires a team that is capable, committed and passionate about its project. I analyse skills, experience and chemistry between team members.
- Market potential: No matter how innovative an idea may be, it is important that there is a real demand for the product or service in the market. I examine potential buyers, market size and how a startup intends to win its share.
- Startup’s culture and values: As an investor, I want to make sure I invest in companies whose values match mine. Business culture may be key for a company’s long-term success, and it is therefore important for a startup to have a solid foundation in terms of its principles and values.
- Long-term vision: Where does the startup see itself in 5 or 10 years? What is their scaling plan? questions like these help me understand their vision and ambition.
- Financial indicators: While this may seem obvious, it is important to analyse a startup’s financial shape, as well as its estimated income and expenses in the coming years.
Finally, while all these factors play a major role, I frequently also rely on my intuition. After years of experience, I have learned it is important to listen to my inner voice when making such important decisions. Investing in startups is not just a business move; it is also my personal decision to support something I genuinely believe in.
What will it take to motivate more successful people in Serbia to invest in startups?
– Awareness of the importance and advantages of such investment is key. Investing in startups is more than just an opportunity for a potential financial gain. It provides an opportunity to directly influence innovation, technological progress and the country’s economic development.
In addition, by developing the infrastructure that fosters startup growth, such as incubators and coworking spaces, we create an environment that is conducive to cooperation and sharing of ideas. When stories of startup success are highlighted and known to the general public, they may provide inspiration and motivation for potential investors.
The state also plays an important role by providing incentives, such as tax relief or special funds that support innovation. Also, investment in startups should be seen as an opportunity to contribute to society and the country’s future.
A shift in the perception of entrepreneurship and an increased awareness of the importance of startups may foster the development of a culture that values innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit. Serbia, with its rich history of creativity, has all the necessary resources to become a global leader in the startup ecosystem, but it will take synergy among all stakeholders to achieve this.
Which advice could you offer to founders who work diligently to ensure their companies find their way to the global market?
While each entrepreneurial journey is unique, there are several “universal” guidelines I could offer to founders who strive to ensure their companies make it in the global market:
- Building a strong foundation: Before looking across the border, make sure your company has a solid foundation at home soil. If your business in your primary market is not stable, an expansion could bring you more harm than good.
- Thorough understanding of the market: Before venturing into global expansion, it is important to thoroughly understand local cultures, needs and market trends. This involves more than simply transplanting your product or service; it requires constant adjustment to ensure the products or services meet the specific demands of each market.
- Investing in quality relationships: Whether it is partnerships, associates or customers, the ties you forge as you expand globally could make or break your chances of success. Finding the right local partners can help you avoid costly wrong moves.
- Constant innovation: Global operations bring new challenges every day. It is essential to be ready to quickly adapt to them and to constantly innovate. Taking in feedback and being ready to change is paramount.
- Maintaining the company culture: As you expand, your company culture may be diluted or lost. Make efforts to ensure your values are clear and shared with every new team member, regardless of the location.
- Patience: Penetrating the global market is a marathon, rather than a sprint race. Obstacles will be inevitable, but with patience, persistence and determination you will be able to overcome them.
And, finally, rely on your passion and vision. They have brought you this far and, with the right strategies and resources, they could be your key guide to global success.