Meet The Team - A League Of Founders | Black Nova Group

Posted 2019-07-12 by Harry Laos
Two astronauts standing on the moon looking up at the stars.

Like all businesses, a startup is only as good as the people on its team. The sum of its individual employees and more importantly, the synergy generated between them - of ideas, creativity, expertise, skills, culture and energy.

As a venture builder we believe in the power of people to lead, influence and drive a startup to success. We also believe we must deeply understand the various needs of startups and be able to speak from first hand experience. To be able to say “we’ve walked in your shoes, we’ve felt your pain, we’ve created dreams like yours... some succeeded, some failed, but ultimately we’re still here today, like you are, having risen again”.

Today we introduce you to our team of passionate leaders, domain experts and skilled technicians. All of our team members play an actively engaged role in startups, both their own startups and the ones we partner with.

At Black Nova Group we help build startups brick by brick, line of code by line of code, team by team and client by client.

Meet our team of venture builders.

Executive Team
Matthew Browne | Managing Partner
David Theodorou | Chief Executive Officer
Kevin Calitz | Chief Operations Officer

Management Team
Adam Bosnjakovic | Head of Software Engineering
Alex Lennon | Head of Talent
Harrison Laos | Chief Marketing Officer

Matthew Browne - Managing Partner

Matt is the Managing Partner and Co-founder of Black Nova Group.

For this article we interviewed the team and asked them to describe each other using a recognisable movie character. Matt was described by his team as the Lord of The Rings character Gandalf. It’s not due to his beard, but rather his wizard like ability to make the impossible possible, clap his hands and from all directions the wheels start turning.

A founder of several startups himself, Matt’s journey started in corporate life working the way up from mailroom trolley pusher at Kerry Packers ACP Magazines through to Award winning strategist at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia before making the transition into becoming a startup founder.

He has navigated the hurdles of co-founding two software companies from the ground up, scaling them up onto the world stage while successfully closing several rounds of investment for his startups and many others in Australia and Silicon Valley.

His first major startup, Donesafe, makes it easy for businesses to stay on top of their health and safety obligations. Donesafe now has over 1 million users and offices in multiple countries.

Another one of his startups is Whispli, a whistleblowing platform that provides a secure and anonymous way for employees to speak up for the purpose of identifying issues before they become serious problems. Whispli has uncovered some of the largest whistleblowing cases world wide. Famously quoted, the COO of Enron said “if we had Whispli, this disaster would never have happened”. Recently Whispli became 1 of the first 7 Australian companies accepted into Y combinator, the Silicon Valley accelerator boasting the likes of Airbnb, Dropbox and reddit.

As managing partner, Matt’s role on paper is to run the investment practice. However, as an entrepreneur in residence, he prefers to take a hands on approach on all day to day activities the business engages in. A self described matchmaker and creator of opportunity. Matt brings together startups and investors, aligning needs and creating opportunities that allow both parties to grow as a result. He sees his greatest skill as the ability to pick a diamond in the rough, assemble the right capabilities and line up the pathway to success.

Whether he’s raising capital, discovering new startups or mapping out an exit strategy, Matt seems to make things happen effortlessly.

Matt brings a sense of vision, direction and growth to the team combined with deep working knowledge of startups. He speaks from experience having been through many of the trials and tribulations as a founder himself.

We asked Matt, what are you looking for in a startup?

“Well, it’s really about the people behind the dream. I tend to look for founders with deep subject matter expertise combined with the hunger, drive and determination to make their vision a reality. They really need to know the space they operate in. They also really need to know themselves and to be very clear on the reasons why they have chosen to be on this journey”.

Outside of work you can find Matt spending time with his family in Sydney and, he adds with a smirk, at work advising our startups.

David Theodorou - Partner | Chief Executive Officer

Dave is the Partner for Product and Technology as well as the Co-founder of Black Nova Group. He has been described as the Iron Man of his team, although when we interviewed him he said he prefers to think of himself more like the 1980’s character MacGyver, who is able to work with limited resources (and a stellar team he adds) to build that metaphorical aeroplane that flies away into the sunset.

A self described ‘product guy’ and ‘chaotic creator’, always coming up with new ideas, fixing things and breaking things simply to re-engineer them into something better and new.

Dave brings to the table a blend of creativity, ideation and product skills fused with an obsession to solve real world problems using technology. He believes in empowering teams and steering the creative direction towards innovative solutions that drive revenue for the business and add value to customers. Although, “sometimes, we like to experiment and build things just for fun” he adds.

At heart he’s a manager of people, a leader of teams and a builder of products. He’s a problem solver and sometimes a problem creator he says with a smile. He loves nothing more than being handed a stick of dynamite and having to diffuse it. Hence our team always makes sure Dave has enough dynamite to play with.

You can usually find Dave sitting down with our team of developers and designers, mapping out ways to create the next idea, be it a new mobile app, an enterprise system or simply kicking back and messing with Coldfire, a training simulation he has been working on to help train fire fighters all around the world.

Dave is a startup founder himself, having co-founded Black Nova Group, Experience Digital, Ezi Debt Collection, RepDem and Qore. He’s passionate about helping others succeed and seeing their ideas on the world stage.

Outside of work you can find Dave spending time with his new son Leo and wife Carmel. He also loves getting into the wild, camping and fishing.

Kevin Calitz - Partner | Operations

Kev is the Partner for Operations and Co-founder of Black Nova Group. Described by his team as a cross between Q from James Bond and Pepper Pots from Iron Man.

A self described organiser and scientific by nature, Kev brings a sense of stability, certainty and dependability to everything we do as a venture builder. Whether it’s a deep dive accounting analysis, preparing legal contracts, or monitoring the systems that bring oder to the creative chaos. Kev acts as the foundational rock that allows us to build great things.

We asked Kev, why is accounting important? “Well, I tend to see it like this...”, He began. “Accounting is the lifeblood of every business, just like the bloodstream in the human body, it goes everywhere and affects everything. When a business seems unwell, they can go to the doctor, and rather than testing every organ, he simply does a blood test. I just takes 5 minutes to look at the accounts”.

As a fellow founder Kev wears many hats that see him applying his accounting, legal and organisational skills to the product realm.

We asked Kev what does accounting have to do with product development?

“Let me give you an example. Often clients come to us wanting to add more features to their product, say a new icon, menu or backend system. The way I approach this is by asking the client - is there a business case to add this feature and how does it help bring a return on investment? Because, when you think about it, it's not just money, its resources, human energy, 100’s of hours of our developers time. Is this function going to keep the business alive? Hence, it’s so important to do a cost benefit analysis and ask yourself - does this new feature add a positive net impact on the business and its bottom line?”

You can usually find Kev buried in paperwork (which we know he secretly loves), as well as working with clients and partners, or the team, setting up projects, and monitoring workflow and operations. He sees it as his job to ensure the smooth and profitable day to day running of the business and assists our startups to set up the infrastructure to achieve sustainable growth.

Outside of work you can find Kev playing hockey or golf, staying active and spending time with his family.

Adam Bosnjakovic - Head of Software Engineering

Adam is the Head of Software Engineering at Black Nova Group. Adam has been described by his team as the Avengers character Falcon, due to his ability to see a problem with a birds-eye view while just as easily getting down into the trenches and coding up a solution.

Adam has created dozens of greenfield projects, which involve writing new software from scratch that is custom designed to meet the specific needs of a startup’s product. He has also managed large scale engineering projects that have scaled up to handle millions of interactions per day. In his spare time he’s a regular participant in hackathons and recently won first prize without so much as writing one line of code. Instead of diving in and coding against the clock, he mapped out an innovative software concept that best addressed the problem/solution requirements of the task.

Adam sees himself as a top line problem solver, architect and manager just as much as a software engineer. He takes a critical thinking approach to everything he builds, looking at the problem the client is trying to solve, the customer’s needs, cost minimisation, usage patterns and ability to scale-up into the future.

When it comes to building software, apps or websites he says it’s all about creating the right foundational architecture. Just like the foundations that hold up a building, you need to plan them intelligently from the beginning. If you get the foundations right, you can scale up quickly. If you fail to plan good foundations it usually causes compounding issues and costs to the business over time, in the form of regression (bugs which cause more bugs in a compounding cycle).

“Software is this living breathing organism that has its own needs. We always aim to build a lean piece of software that grows with the needs of the business and it’s customers over time. Starting with the end in mind and minimising the costs of regression and issues later down the track. These compounding costs can be phenomenal. The guys at netflix had to rewrite their entire platform simply because the costs created from technical debt just became too high to manage”.

“It’s like buying a Toyota Landcruiser, whether it’s the expensive or the cheaper model, both have the same engine - hene, both do the same core job. Provided you get the engine right (fundamental architecture), your software can change and evolve over time with new add ons.

You can usually find Adam consulting with our startup founders, understand their business needs, their user’s needs, scoping out a lean framework, then managing the software development process with our dev-ops team. He sees it as his purpose to ensure we’re building lean, robust and scalable software that continues to do its job well into the future.

We asked Adam, what’s the biggest problem with software development?

“I always get asked by people ‘can I build this new app?’ Yeah sure, but my next question is why? Anyone can build an app, but not everyone can build a solution to a real world problem. Hence, it’s crucial to define what problem you’re solving and why this app exists. Often, the success of a piece of software depends on how intelligently it can solve the users problem.”

Before Adam starts coding with his team, he reaches for pen and paper, taking time to map out the foundation architecture with all stakeholders involved.

Outside of work you can find Adam taking every opportunity to get away from his computer. Whether its travelling in the Alps with a backpack or hitting the rock climbing walls in Sydney, he likes to stay active and connected with the outdoors.

Alex Lennon - Head of Partnerships | Black Nova Group

Alex is the Head of Talent at Black Nova Group. Alex brings a great deal of experience to the table, working for 7 years sourcing talent among some of London’s most iconic FTSE 500 companies. His expertise includes sourcing roles for PHP, Ruby, Java, Python, and all the other types of Pokemon.

Alex is described by his team as Captain America, since he’s always on the front line, in the field, speaking to candidates, looking for leads, going to meetups and travelling between two offices, home and the city. He also describes himself as a gentlemen, old fashioned, quiet and a “bit of a square to be honest”.

As head of talent, you will find Alex consulting with our startup founders, helping them identify what people, skill sets and synergies they will need on their journey to get the job done. It’s about placing the right people in the right seats, in a transparent way, where both parties feel they had a win.

When we asked Alex what's the biggest problem in talent “well, the amount of time it takes to find the ‘right’ designer, developer or manager is phenomenal, not to mention retaining that talent over time. This is one of the most costly and stressful burdens for most startup founders”.

He went on to say “Every startup under the sun is searching for these superstars, people who are technically ‘gun’ developers, yet also great communicators and can grow with the company into management positions”. He sees it as his job to fight to win great talent for our startups.

Alex believes in a candidate first approach, taking the time to understand his people’s needs, ambitions and skill sets. He sees himself more as a matchmaker, than a recruiter.

“People are emotional creatures, not robots. You have to get into their mindset, be it a candidate or a startup founder, understand their needs, feelings and vision, then go out to the market and be their greatest advocate”.

Harrison Laos - Chief Marketing Officer | Black Nova Group

Harry is the Chief Marketing Officer at Black Nova Group. Harry has been described by his team as the Sherlock Holmes character from the 2009 movie, since he’s always asking ‘why?’.

A self described ‘why guy’, he likes to pursue his curiosities and question the nature of things in business, markets and customers. He likes to uncover the deeper meaning behind events, for the purpose of growing startups with ethical and sustainable marketing.

Harry brings a marketing skill set to the table which specialises in startups. He’s been a startup founder himself as well as having worked in the larger firms like Mastercard and Rokt. He’s worn many hats during his journey, with a career starting in sales which eventually transformed into marketing and management roles (but saying that, he’ll tell you he’s still a true salesman at heart).

Whether he’s consulting with our startups on their growth strategies, writing strategic marketing plans, working with developers to create new landing pages for generating leads, burying himself in data or simply just satisfying his curiosity by speaking with customers on the ground level, you can always find him open to conversations about uncovering truths behind the customer mindset and a business's marketing activities.

A self confessed marketing nerd, he’s loves to get stuck into new marketing challenges and passionate about solving those for our startups.

Outside of work you can find Harry doing what he loves by getting into the outdoors, surfing and travelling.

In summary, as a venture builder, we believe that startups need more than just money to succeed. Hence, we have assembled a team of venture builders, each with a distinct area of expertise and a deep background working with startups, many being startup founders themselves.

We live and breath startups, and everything we do is driven by the belief of speaking from experience. We share our journey with our startups, the good times and the bad, their challenges, setbacks, failures and ultimate successes.

Written by Harry Alexander Laos

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