10 Questions with Luka Kladaric

Luka has been doing computer stuff professionally for over half his life. Despises frontend, likes doing talks. Loves putting out trash fires for money.

Luka runs Sekura Collective, a chaos management agency. Formerly engineering lead at meetup.com, infrastructure lead at noom.com, CTO/cofounder at hitlistapp.com and developer at deviantart.com. Splits time between Zagreb and New York. Dreams in matrix code.

T: What are you currently working on?

L:  Attending four conferences in the next 3 weeks, speaking at three of them, preparing two different talks for that. After that I'm off to New York for my regular December visit.

T: What are you passionate about outside of work?

L:  Tech in general. Conferences, especially giving talks. Music. Gotta have music, always. And not terribly good movies (I'm told).

T: Anything else you'd like readers to know?

L:  Despite popular opinion, I love critique and to be proven wrong.

T: What drove you to freelancing?

L:  Oh sheesh, that was a long time ago. I guess it was just a natural progression of my hobbies that turned into occasional gigs. First it was computer repair in primary school, then building/managing websites for people in high school. By the time I got old enough to even have a job, I was already spoiled with getting to decide which projects I take on and which I walk away from. When I started getting "real jobs", I'd always be doing work on the side, *and* spending any remaining time on pet projects, honing my skill.

T: What was your biggest obstacle when you were starting out?

L:  I'd say my absolute biggest obstacle was I was completely incapable of producing visually appealing work, and people didn't understand "web applications" in the early 2000s. Things got a lot easier when I teamed up with Davor Tomic who would become my business partner for close to 10 years and one of my closest friends. He brought the visual appeal to my car wreck UIs and that spun off years of finding work for each other.

T: What is for you the main advantage of Freelancing?

L:  The flexibility is unmatched. I know people who work 3 days a week, people who work 6 months a year and people who are planning to retire at 35. The freedom to be very picky about which work you pick up is also incredibly addictive.

T: How about main disadvantage?

L:  There's obviously a lot more meta-work compared to a regular job. You have to find clients, keep track of your hours, send invoices, make sure those are paid, deal with accounting and taxes... There's no getting around it, it's what defines freelancing and the fact that you deal with all of this rather than a dedicated person at the company that hires you is what makes the difference in your bank account.

There's also the real risk of running into financial trouble over failed projects, clients not paying on time, having a huge gap between gigs... All of this just takes practice to get right, there's no secret formula.

T: What is your approach to finding clients?

L:  Word of mouth, always. Sometimes mine, preferably other people's. Go to conferences. Speak at conferences. Do cool things, talk about them with people. Accept that magazine or newspaper interview. TV show about tech? I'd love to come on. A panel about cloud computing at a conference in a different city? Sure, I'll drive down.

Tell people what you're passionate about, and they will remember you when they hear someone is looking. You'll get referrals from the weirdest places, just from having told someone about a thing you're excited about. One of my career-defining gigs came about from a long late burger dinner on the other side of the planet, just sharing a meal with a buddy and talking about the dream of the next gig. Four months later he calls me and says "There's someone I'd like you to meet" and that's how a kid from Croatia becomes a cofounder of a New York based startup.

T: What is your advice on calculating rates and determining worth?

L:  Pilots have a saying: "Aviate, navigate, communicate". Translated it means: focus on what keeps you alive this very second, then on what helps you get out of the situation you're in and only then on letting other people know what you're doing so they can help you. If you plow into the side of a mountain, it won't matter that you've told people exactly what you're gonna do. By the same logic -- it doesn't matter how good you are at calculating your rates, and determining your worth, if there's nobody to charge. I would always focus initially on getting *PAYING* work of any sort, to pad your resume or portfolio, over obsessing how much to charge.

Figure out what you need to keep the lights on and the fridge stocked and go with that. If you're undercharging, you will quickly get swarmed by work requests to the point you'll have to decline them because you won't have time. That is when you raise your rates. Don't double them overnight, tho. Every time someone asks, say a slightly bigger number. Do this for as long as you have more work than you'd like to be doing. Don't get discouraged if someone says you're too expensive for them. Once you hit some level of skill and start to zero in on your actual market value, you will start getting requests from people who weren't planning on spending that much money on your services. That's fine. Over time you'll also develop skills to convince potential clients to pay more than they were expecting, but even if some of them walk stay the course.

If you start to run out of work, maybe you're truly asking too much. But to be able to read these signals you will first need to produce a stream of requests, and you don't do that by figuring out the perfect price -- you do that by finding work and delivering it, and finding some more work and then delivering that. And then telling people about it before finding some more work and delivering that :)

T: As a freelancer, do you feel you sometimes need to compromise to keep the client? Did you ever find yourself in that type of situation?

L:  There are always good reasons to compromise on your terms (price, workload, deadlines, etc) but it's important to recognize what you're compromising and have a clear idea why you're compromising. Hard rules are silly, but guidelines are useful. Weigh the risks, consider the potential benefits, give yourself checkpoints to reevaluate. See if you can get the other side to also compromise, that way you've both got skin in the game.

T: What’s your no.1 tool you rely on as a freelancer?

L:  My phone. It lets me maintain an almost round the clock presence on the projects I'm engaged on and react quickly to any emerging situation.

T: Based on your experience - if you could go back, what would you do differently?

L:  Absolutely nothing. I love my career currently, and every single experience I've had has led me to where I am right now, even if it sucked hard in the moment. I could talk about the mistakes I did for hours, but I wouldn't actually want to do them differently because those experiences are the very thing that gives me value.

T: What would be your message to someone thinking about pursuing freelance career?

L:  Do it! Good luck! Email me if you're stuck.

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Tom Kozacinski
Tom Kozacinski
I'm a London based product designer, creative entrepreneur, freelancer and advocate of remote work with over 12 years in the industry. I also have 12 years of experience as a stand-up comedian and I love to share my experience.
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