Etrit Demaj: People Centric in a Product Oriented World
Blog post by ELP student Nishant Patel (Computer Science/Data Science | Class of 2021) Interning at Kode Labs
The first time I got on a call with Etrit was when ELP Fellow Michael Kovalcik introduced me to him in February. This was well before I had actively started recruiting for an internship for the summer, so I thought very little of the interaction that was about to take place. When I got on the call with Etrit, it was a bit different than my calls with other startup founders. We talked a lot about my interests, how I was doing; overall a genuine conversation about my ambitions and career goals. He made a true effort to get to know me and not my resume. Etrit’s brilliance showed in his ability to quickly connect with someone and make them feel like they were catching up with a life-long friend.
We continued our talks and it eventually led to me pursuing a summer internship as a product manager at his company Kode Labs. From the first moment I entered their glass cubicle in WeWork, Etrit and the team made an incredible effort to make me feel at home. I was always amazed by his energy and ability to motivate the team whilst making sure everyone was doing meaningful work that contributed to both the growth of the business and the employee. When I had a one-on-one meeting with him during the first week, he had two main goals for me this summer.
Two Main Goals:
#1 He wanted me to learn something valuable this summer that wasn’t just some extra features in Microsoft Word or learning how to send an email to an important client. He wanted to make sure that by the end of the summer I could talk to someone about what knowledge I gained from my summer internship and not feel as if it had no value to the future of my career.
#2 He told me that by the end of the summer he wanted others in the company to miss me and realize that the company had trouble functioning without me. By this he didn’t only mean the friendships and lifelong connections I would create, but he wanted me to provide such value to the company that when I left there would be a noticeable void in the company’s efficiency and productivity.
From the first few weeks I felt that I was having a genuine impact within the company. I was helping automate task sheets and workflows, suggesting improvements to the platform and finding bugs, and doing customer discovery to learn about competitors and what our clients wanted. Every day I knew that it was going to be doing meaningful work in taking Kode Labs to the next level.
Throughout the daily office chaos that was Kode Labs, there was one constant: the team’s approach to making sure that the client was satisfied and happy. Whether we had to make sure we personally went to visit a building team to help them with the platform or help recruit new talent for our clients, we made sure the client was happy and satisfied by our service.
From my knowledge of tech startups, I knew the largest asset any company had was their product. All the companies I had interfaced with were product-oriented firms who spent all their resources in making sure that what they put out onto the market was the best and they constantly iterated upon it to make sure that they would always be the leaders in the industry. I decided to interview Etrit to ask him about how Kode compared to other tech companies.
The first thing we talked about was his background. Etrit came to the United States in 1999 as a refugee from a small country in eastern Europe called Kosovo. At the time, Etrit’s family was in the middle of a war zone in Kosovo and his parents brought him and his older brother to Rochester Hills in Michigan to start a new life. Having narrowly escaped death, Etrit understood what true risk was at a young age. He realized in elementary school that no matter what happened to him in business, it would never be a life or death situation. From this he began his professional journey.
He received a degree from Oakland University and then went on to work in banking right out of college. Over time, he started buying and flipping houses and became an expert in the real estate space. Slowly he started to pursue his own entrepreneurial endeavors and eventually started Kode Labs. When he created the company he didn’t fully know what it would be doing. He did know however that it would do something that related to building automation and providing an experience to the clients that nobody else would.
When I asked him what he thought was the largest contributor to his success, Etrit said it was his upbringing. In secondary school, Etrit had a very diverse group of friends who he would hang out with daily. Almost every single day he was at one of his friend’s houses learning about different cultures and understanding how to connect with people from varying backgrounds. From this, he developed an ability to understand and relate to anybody regardless of their age, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. He said, “When you understand a person’s background and where they are coming from, then you are able to connect with them and gain their trust to work together.” This has been one of the biggest contributors to his strong network and success, and it continues to show in his daily work.
Being People Oriented
I then asked him about the largest observation I saw of him. Why was his company so client centric in a product-oriented world? He told me one thing, “Be obsessed with your customers.” Because of his experience in the past he knows that customer is king. He strongly believes that you need to make sure that the customer is happy. However, he did tell me that Kode Labs is a product-oriented company.
By the standard definition, a product-oriented company develops a product and then sells that product to its customers. A client-oriented company gets the customer and then develops products to meet their needs. From this he told me that Kode was a product-oriented company since the platform was being developed to then sell to other firms and was not being developed for a specific client. However, he said that Kode also cared about the client and if the client needed a feature added, a customization, or an integration with some other platform, Kode would be happy to do it. This philosophy of having a set product but also being heavily tailored toward the client has almost struck this perfect balance and has really helped him succeed.
I asked him at the very end what is one piece of advice he would give to students in college, and he said to experience as much as possible early on. When students learn about other cultures and have diverse experiences early on, they are able to better understand much more when they enter the business world and can make the optimal decisions since they have more well-rounded knowledge. He believes that no matter what, the entrepreneurs that educate themselves and put in the effort to understand all parts of business are the ones that will be the most successful.
My time with Kode so far has been incredible. I truly could not have asked for a better mentor than Etrit. Everyday he motivates me to achieve my best and makes sure that I am doing the best that I can. He has taught me to better understand my customers and has fostered an immense amount of relationships. I can assure you that Etrit Demaj and Kode Labs are going to be household names in the near future.