Story by Niall McKenna | Photos by John Ulan
Bojan Konstandinovic always had the will and discipline to create a successful company — he just needed someone in his corner
In 2001, the decade-long civil war that broke up Yugoslavia was coming to an end. Bojan Konstandinovic, then 13, saw stability slowly begin to return to his country. His mother saw something else. Looking around, she realized that even those with graduate degrees were struggling to make ends meet as the country rebuilt. She understood just how long it would be before recovery would turn to normalcy and eventually prosperity.
So she made a choice that would change her family’s future and set her son on a new path.
The family immigrated to Canada. It was difficult but Konstandinovic’s grandparents had come to Edmonton seven years earlier and would help the family adjust to this new life. Even though he was only in Grade 8, Konstandinovic was struck by the opportunity in his new home. “There was an idea of being able to have something and make something out of it. Seize the day with your actions,” he recalls. The young man liked the idea that he could take charge of his own destiny.
It wasn’t until later that Konstandinovic would learn that destinies are rarely forged alone.
At age 14, he took on a job drilling postholes for fences — difficult work for an adult, let alone for a boy barely into his teens. “I literally couldn’t feel my forearms because it hurt so bad,” he says. His grandfather, Giovanni, had found him the job, eager to teach him the importance of hard work. His aching arms taught Konstandinovic something more: he did not want to spend the rest of his life digging holes.
He continued to harness the grit he’d learned from his grandfather, an electrician who often put in 14 to 15 hours a day of work, every day of the week. After high school graduation in 2006, Konstandinovic took a summer job in Houston selling home security systems. The job helped him save money for university but it came with a host of challenges. He was given little training. He had no experience in sales. And he was being asked to sell alarms door-to-door in the United States, which was slipping into its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
But from his very first day on the job, his intense focus and competitive spirit made him stand out. While his co-workers partied at night, he buried himself in training videos and manuals that taught him the finer points of sales. When other salespeople took breaks, he seized the opportunity to knock on a few more doors. And while some co-workers made just $2,000 that summer, Konstandinovic took home the unheard-of sum of US$48,000.
As he continued working, his fame spread among security-system dealers across the continent. At last, in fall 2009, he returned to Edmonton to start business school at the University of Alberta. But he didn’t leave sales behind completely and by 2010, his door-to-door success was so well-known that security firm ADT offered him his own dealership. He accepted. The following year, balancing schoolwork with the responsibilities of running a small business, the 23-year-old started his own home security business: Intelife.
As he built Intelife with the help of friends, he learned business strategy. Alberta School of Business professor Tony Briggs saw almost immediately that Konstandinovic had the makings of an influential and successful business leader. But he needed support. “Every entrepreneur needs help and every entrepreneur needs feedback. And when you have different eyes on your business, you learn,” Briggs says.
He introduced Konstandinovic to eHub, a donor-supported UAlberta program that helps student entrepreneurs form teams, develop business plans and connect with mentors and investors. With eHub’s help, Konstandinovic found investors and, in just three years, Intelife was bringing in annual revenue of more than $1 million. It also helped him grow as a leader.
“It wasn’t just the business that eHub enhanced,” Konstandinovic says. “It enhanced me. This is critical because the investor buys into you and what you can do for them.”
Briggs says his former student has come to embody the ideal qualities of an entrepreneur: resilience, thoughtfulness and the drive to never stop learning. Konstandinovic graduated with a bachelor of commerce degree from UAlberta in 2016 with Intelife valued at around $20 million. The company has partnerships in the works with major companies like Telus and is branching into other uses for its home-based technology, like elder care.
Konstandinovic’s destiny is now firmly in his grasp, thanks to the help he had along the way.