Croatia native Sly Barisic was living in Bosnia in the 1990s when he got the first taste of American high school life through the movie musical “Grease,” which came to Eastern Europe on a bit of a delay.
Little did he know that the English he learned on the screen would help propel him to experience the real thing, starting a journey of education and entrepreneurship that eventually led him to establish FotoIN Mobile Corp., a mobile-based photo documentation software company, in Atlanta.
As a teenager, Mr. Barisic saw a scholarship backed by billionaire George Soros’s foundation advertised in the newspaper and answered the call. He landed in Farmville, Va., with a host family that provided much more than a place to stay.
“They know we don’t have the same last names, but we’re literally brothers,” he said of introducing people to his “American brother,” James Gates, a former Piedmont Hospital employee who became FotoIN’s chief operating officer this year after advising the company.
The transition from cross-cultural family to business partners happened gradually. After high-school, Mr. Barisic headed back to Sarajevo, using his language skills working for various humanitarian organizations helping rebuild the war-torn former Yugoslavia. He returned to the U.S. for college, living in the Gates home in Virginia while attending Longwood University.
This time, instead of returning to Eastern Europe, he applied for an MBA at the University of Georgia, where he was reunited with Mr. Gates, who was wrapping up degrees in business and public administration. With a laugh, Mr. Barisic said Mr. Gates describes his Croatian brother this way: “He’s like a little kitty cat – you keep feeding him and it keeps coming back.”
At UGA, Mr. Barisic concentrated his electives in real estate and risk management, knowing that eventually he would want to “build things,” including his own company. After the 2008 financial crisis, he moved with his American wife back to Croatia to run a real-estate fund, where he began interacting with property developers and real-estate agents.
“That’s sort of how the idea came about – I thought, ‘Why does the photo and the information have to be taken separately? Why can’t they be put together and delivered in a more meaningful way?’” he told Global Atlanta. He couldn’t believe a FotoIN-type solution hadn’t already cropped up somewhere, especially given how the mobile space was evolving. “We all kept saying, somebody must’ve thought about this.”
FotoIN allows insurance claims adjusters, property managers and construction firms to take photos with their mobile devices, conveniently capturing geolocation and other data and storing them in a searchable database on the company’s own enterprise servers. It was named one of the Technology Association of Georgia’s 40 most innovative companies this year.
Mr. Barisic will soon close the latest round of funding for the company, which has 25 core clients and growing pipeline of photo documentation “early adopters.” The five-person team in Atlanta includes Mr. Gates and Mr. Barisic’s wife, Danielle, who handles graphic design for the company. In Croatia, the software development team is at seven and growing.
“We continue to add customers to gain traction and to build the business infrastructure that’s required so that we can handle more,” Mr. Barisic said, noting the company is already earning revenues with the patent-pending software.
Croatia, which has a stable of entrepreneurial and tech-savvy workers, has been a comfortable place to develop the technology. “People ask, ‘Why didn’t you go to India?’ I’ve never been to India. Why would I do India when I’m from Croatia and when the economic situation is bad there and there are actually some really talented guys there?”
The cross-cultural skills acquired by living in the U.S. have been invaluable in managing a transcontinental team, he said.
“The information goes over the bridge, and I”m the bridge,” he said.
But he has also used processes to keep the cultural miscues at a minimum.
Mr. Barisic encourages young people to pursue all the education they can, especially those chances for practical experience that help them think differently about the world. And hospitality can be educational for the host families involved too, he said, a point people often forget.
“It is giving, but it’s also receiving. It changes that family,” he said. “If you don’t want to send your 12-year-old kid into Europe on his own, bring Europe to him.”
For more information about FotoIN, visit http://www.fotoin.com/.