Interview with Emanuel Blagonić, Former Journalist, Web designer, Entrepreneur and WordPress Enthusiast

Emanuel Blagonic InterviewWe met Emanuel for the first time at WordCamp Split, where we had the opportunity to network, connect, share knowledge and learn from each other. He started as a journalist but soon became an entrepreneur and along with his brother Lucijan and Zoran Ugrina, co–founded the first specialized, full service WordPress agency in Croatia. He is an active and valuable member of the WordPress community so we were extremely excited when he kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his experience in journalism, web design and organizing WordCamps and meetups in Croatia. Enjoy and if you have questions for Emanuel, feel free to comment below!

Tell us a few words about your experience as a journalist, web designer and entrepreneur.

While design is my first love, journalism is definitely the second one. I started working as a journalist just before my 18th birthday, and in a couple of  months period, thanks to my mentors—experienced Croatian journalists—I started working as a full-time journalist, covering topics like politics. After another while I have been given the opportunity to work on—and host my own—television program about tourism. That period of my life was crazy as I worked a lot, and when I finally left, I realized that working on a television could be a giant ego boost. A valuable lesson to learn.

In a year or so, I started a company with 2 of my friends. I could get more creative there – working as a graphic and web designer. We worked mostly with local companies and at about the same time I started working with some non-profit organizations as I realized I could make a difference. Also, being an entrepreneur means that you can influence far more (mostly young) people and show them how to do things – the proper way. And I was—and still am—really happy about that opportunity.

How did you discover WordPress and what do you find most interesting about it?

WordPress is everything I believe in. It’s open source, with thousands of people working to make it better every day. Community is amazing. I started working with WordPress somewhere in 2005. By then I tried couple of different CMS solutions, and WordPress was amazing because of its simplicity, the documentation (Codex, anyone?), and its community. As a designer I could finally work on a website from the beginning to the end – thanks to WordPress. That’s something I couldn’t do before.

What did you learn from that intense web design period while working with your brother at your web design agency?

Emanuel Blagonic interview

So, fast forward to 2010, Lucijan and I started working together, founding our own agency called Blagonic Brothers. We worked remotely and on so many parallel projects that we had to push boundaries every single day. Back then, it was normal for me to sit in my car and drive for 3 hours to come to Zagreb (where Lucijan lived), to work together for couple of days. We usually worked for 12-14 hours per day, 8 hours during the day, than for 4-6 hours in the evening. Sometimes, our working day was ending at 4AM which was strange, as we had meetings with new clients the next morning. It really was intense, but we were younger, and it was definitely the best part of our working careers.

The thing I learned is that whatever you do, you have to do it with true passion and you should always strive for more. If you are having role models in your career, these role models have to be better than you – that’s the only way you too can get better with time. Even today, I’m always searching for people that are better than me, and being part of the WordCamp Europe organizing team second year in a row means just that – I am surrounded with some of the brightest people I know, making it a great opportunity for personal growth.

At the end, our working habits changed dramatically. Thanks to that intense period of my life, I realized that I’m more happy to work on community projects and projects with non-government sector. Nowadays, when I’m choosing a project I want to work on, it has to be either extremely challenging or it has to have substantial benefit for local or larger community.

What would you advise someone who plans to create a WordPress site for his business?

What are the main things that should be taken into consideration?

Define your goals well. The biggest problem I see when working with clients, is that some of them don’t define their goals well – they define it pretty low, as if they don’t have a vision of what they are trying to achieve. When I’m holding workshops, I try to give people some takeaways, the most important being “how to define your goals right”.

I recommend people to focus on conversions, how to sell something on their website or how to get information about their prospects. Having a website as a beautiful image is like throwing money into a fireplace. You should have a website that will make you money. Everyone should set high(er) but realistic goals.

Can you give some real world examples that inspire you in your work?

Actually, I find inspiration everywhere. As a designer I’m always watching what happens “outside”. There are some great design examples everywhere – sitting on a shelf of your local supermarket (observe the typography and packaging solutions of products), to museums and exhibitions (watch out for some great brochure examples and amazing interactive installations).

When designing websites I’m always focused on 2 things. The first one is getting the answer to “Why [do we need something]” and the second one trying to figure out how will your users use that website. I’m a practitioner of functional design rather than just adding visual elements that serve no real purpose.

What can you say about the Croatian WordPress community? How did you start to be part of it? What do you want to change by organizing WordCamps and meetups in Croatia?

For us it all started on the very first WordCamp Europe (as a lot of local European communities I suppose). We started in 2013, had 2 WordCamps and numerous meetups (around 30) in 5 different cities so far. Croatian community is strong and is growing, but we should definitely consider the ways of contributing back, as other communities do. What are we trying to achieve by organizing WordCamps and meetups in Croatia? First, make a stronger community; second, make a better living out of WordPress; third – give back more.

What are your best practices when it comes to organizing a WordCamp? What are the do’s and don’ts for that?

Emanuel Blagonic

It’s hard to tell. Being the organizer of the first WordCamp in Croatia was a great honor, but it wasn’t the first event I organized so I might be biased telling it wasn’t that hard to organize it. That said, the most important thing is to have everything written down. Going through WordCamp organizer handbook should be the first step, even before applying. When you get approved as organizer, don’t do everything by yourself – it’s important to have a solid team of co-organizers, as well to ask your WordCamp mentor for a help (by answering any questions you might have. When it comes to the organizing team, I would recommend having separate teams for (1) event (including catering, wifi, a/v equipment and venue), (2) speakers, (3) sponsors, (4) volunteers, and (5) communication. Don’t forget to have fun, because organizing a WordCamp should be a fun and empowering experience after all (for both you and your local community).

You spoke at many events, including WordCamps. What piece of advice would you give someone who wants to be one of the speakers, but pretty shy ?

Emanuel Blagonic interview

We all have our comfort zones. I spoke at many events in Croatia, but it took me 5 years to step out of my comfort zone and start speaking in English. If you want to start speaking, start at your local meetup group. See how it goes, then go to your local WordCamp. Also, if you are going to a WordCamp, meet as many speakers as you can. Ask them questions, get to know them.

I know many WordCamp organizers are having problems finding speakers, so – this could be your opportunity. Speaking is the best way to share your knowledge and your expertise, and by doing this you are helping others too.

You’ve had so many projects…you’ve worked with small and big clients. Which are your favourite projects and why?

I don’t know if I have a favorite projects. With my team or myself, I worked on more than 500 projects and every project is different, nevertheless how small or big the client was. I’m never 100% happy with any project, as I’m always looking for more, for better. But, any project that has outgrown its goals is a favourite of mine.

Thank you for answering our questions Emanuel and we look forward to meeting again very soon. You can find Emanuel on emanuelblagonic.com, Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.

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Claudia Borceanu

Claudia is a Social Media Community Manager at CaptainForm. Her superpowers : insatiable curiosity, calmness in the middle of a raging storm, creativity, ability to think globally, empathy , desire to help others.

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