Serbian entrepreneur Ilija Studen co-founded activeCollab back in 2007, and developed activeCollab into the preferred project management software for many businesses worldwide. The company differentiates itself from other project management tools by letting you run the software on your own server and allowing you to extend it in any way you like.
We did an interview with Ilija to discover more about his company, and his beliefs about project management. It’s very clear that Studen is very passionate about project management, and has strong views on how project management will evolve in the future. As an entrepreneur, he sees lots of opportunities for new software developments in the future, and he would of course love his project management software to help you in developing those new tools.
Can you introduce yourself, and tell us a bit more about what you do at activeCollab?
My name is Ilija Studen (@istdn) and I'm a co-founder of A51, the company that develops, sells and supports activeCollab. The main purpose of our product is to make project management and collaboration easier for companies and teams. Instead of having your project data scattered around email, chat and Skype logs, spreadsheets and notes, activeCollab offers a centralized place where all that information is sorted and managed.
We've been around for over 5 years now and our product is used in over 10.000 businesses across the globe.
For what types of customers is your software suited the most?
Project collaboration is a universal problem that's not industry specific, so a lot of different companies use activeCollab to manage their projects (from small marketing agencies, design studios, software developers to teams within Fortune 500 companies).
On top of the project collaboration layer, which is pretty much universal and applicable to most industries, activeCollab provides features like time tracking, invoicing, project request tracking and similar things. This makes it great for all companies who offer professional services, because they can track their projects from the project proposal phase, over project execution to invoicing and payments, all using a single tool.
Are you targeted more towards Europe than the US? Why should US companies also use your software?
While we are not targeting any market in particular, the majority of our customers are from the United States. We have strong a customer base in non-English speaking countries as well, including in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Denmark etc.
activeCollab solves a universal problem, one that teams and organizations from all countries face, so borders are definitely not a problem that we have.
Why should we use your timer application instead of a dedicated online time management app?
For a lot of people, work happens on their desktop, in applications like Outlook, Word, Photoshop and in a code editor, not in the cloud. Because of that we decided to put a time tracking application on the same level where their work happens.
Thanks to that decision, our timer application can work without needing an internet connection, when used in offline mode. It can detect when you are away from the keyboard and pause the timer and it's always available in your tray or menu bar.
How can your software be integrated with other tools and services?
activeCollab can be extended in two ways:
- By writing modules that extend the system from within application itself. Modules written like that have direct access to all application resources and data. This approach is recommended if you wish to extend activeCollab and add new features to it.
- Via activeCollab's XML/JSON over HTTP API. After successful authentication, an external tool can read data that's in activeCollab, as well as manage it (if proper permissions are given by the user). This approach is great for integration with external tools.
Why should businesses choose your project management software, and not a competing solution?
First and foremost because it's a rich, mature project collaboration platform that has a lot of functionalities to offer at affordable price.
The key difference between activeCollab and most of our competitors is that you get the full source code of our software, and that you can host it on your own server. The license is paid only once, so there are no monthly fees.
There are also no limits on the number of users that you can invite, or projects that you can manage. This makes it cost-effective in the long run because you know that your expenses will not skyrocket as your team grows.
These benefits are recognized by customers who prefer to have full control over their software, instead of fully relying on a third party vendor for something as essential as project management platform.
How do you see project management changing in the future, and how will activeCollab adapt to this?
That's such a broad topic, so any answer that I give will be simplistic at best. Still, I'll try to briefly explain some of my views. My personal opinion is that successful project management nowadays is less about management and more about communication and process simplification.
Having a plan is important, but you no longer need 5-year plans and 800 pages specification documentation to begin working on a project. Instead, people are moving toward less theatrical and more pragmatic project management where there's just enough planning to enable a team to work, but not more than that. Many people will probably disagree with me, which is fine, but I still would like to see some research that shows that more management leads to successful projects.
The near future is obvious – the internet connects people involved in projects so they can work any time, from anywhere. Mobile is making it omnipresent.
Which other SaaS and apps do you like to use at activeCollab?
Personally, I don't use a lot of SaaS tools. Most of the tools that I use every day are native applications that use the web for syncing. Because I use two computers and a phone, syncing is really important so I always pick applications that work well with iCloud.
How do you keep your developer community active and involved with your products?
To most customers, activeCollab is a product – they install it and use it as is. When a new version is out, they upgrade and receive new features and enhancements.
Apart from them, there's also a big group of users who see activeCollab as a platform that gives them good starting point for what they actually need. They like the fact that they can extend the system by building or purchasing add-ons. Because of that demand, there are a couple of companies who offer activeCollab related consulting and development services, as well as ready-to-go activeCollab add-ons that can be easily installed.
As long as our number of customers grows, there's a lot of work for third party developers and consultants. We work hard on growing that number as well as maintaining the platform open and easy to hook into.
How is it like to build a start-up in Serbia?
Starting a company is challenging in every country. Things changed a bit since we started A51, but there's still not enough venture capital, so companies need to be pragmatic and make money from the day one. That's why we have more companies offering custom development and maintenance services than packaged software, as developing products requires a lot of time and can be a bit risky.
What we don't lack is people willing to do some great work. They may not develop the next Twitter or Facebook and change the world, but they don't need to – it will be more than enough if our companies introduce the next Sparrow, Day One or TextMate or a fun and addictive logic game.
Today we have more people using computers than ever before, and there are so many opportunities to enrich or simplify our lives with great software that we don't have to worry about our employment for decades to come.