How WhoAPI got into 500 startups. From Croatia.

This is a story about how I pitched one of the most prominent VCs in Silicon Valley, and therefore perhaps in the world, and how that got us into one of the top 3 accelerators in the World. In my opinion, the top three are Y Combinator, TechStars, and 500 Startups. There could be a big post and a debate about the criteria of these two statements, but I barely have time for this post, so I will leave this for any readers in the comment section.

Spoiler alert, I won the pitching conference

In the photo from left to right, you can see Mate Rimac (Rimac Automobili, 3rd place). Marko Kovac and Marko Linke (Salepod, rebranded Repsly, 2nd place) and lastly, Edi Budimilic and Goran Duskic (WhoAPI 1st place)

How did GOAP end up in Croatia anyway? Well, Matija from Farmeron, who were in one of 500 Startups earlier batches, was rooting for them to come to Croatia. But, Poland was also a contender. So 500 Startups decided to have a tweet off between the two countries. We were all tweeting how Croatia has cool startups and how Nikola Tesla was born here. And then at some point, Croatian president Josipovic jumped on his Facebook page and invited Dave McClure to come here.

How epic is that? I’ve told this story a dozen times to startups around the world, and every single time people said our president is soooo cool. Do you hear that Croatians? People from outside Croatia think our president is cool.

The morning of the conference

It’s been 6 months since I started taking cold showers. I’ve read about it in two books, and was inspired to take action. Since I thought there was absolutely no way for me to take cold showers, I asked myself how bad do I really want it. So I gave it a shot. On a side note, don’t do what the smartest or wealthiest person tells you to do, do what works for you best!

However, on the morning of the Geeks on a Plane (GOAP), I decided I’d go for a hot shower. I said to myself I am going to be a winner today. I felt goosebumps just by visualizing my victory. I kissed my girlfriend, who was ill and couldn’t go, and I was on my way. I was pumping myself up, listening to the Social Network soundtrack because I knew this had worked in the past. Man, I was never wired that much. I had never felt so ready in my entire life.

4 weeks earlier

I was talking with my Croatian investor Mihovil Barancic about this Dave McClure character. I mean, who does he think he is with his “sh*t/fu*k” language, publicly saying how other VCs are crap. I am not working with this guy even if he wants to invest. I watched some presentations, read a few articles, and made my conclusion. That’s the last time I judged a person on that.

After the pitch

Goran Duskic and Dave McClure

Goran Duskic (white shirt) and Dave McClure (black shirt)

After all the pitches, Matija Kopic from Farmeron came running and told me that Dave McClure is interested in WhoAPI and that he wants to sit down. Holly cow! I got goosebumps just by writing this again! After having lunch with Dave I changed my opinion about him a 100%, 180 degrees. I met a guy who is humble, extremely smart, and insanely connected!

About 30 minutes later my world was turned upside down. Every 5 minutes I got more news, and I was running back and forward between Edi my partner, and Mihovil my investor. I found out we actually won! We had to decide on the spot if we want to take Dave’s investment and go to 500 startups. Terms were emailed, and that was that. It felt like flying a jet at Mach 5. I couldn’t believe what was happening, and I had one of those out-of-body experiences like it was happening to someone else.

Dave McClure wants you...

Dave McClure wants you… Illustration by:

“And the winner of the GOAP eastern Europe Zagreb is WhoAPI!” said Ivan Brezak Brkan. He also said something about me being one of the biggest hustlers he knows, but everything else was sort of blurry. Some of my friends jumped out of surprise and joy, some screamed while Edi and me were getting up to walk to the podium for another out-of-body experience. Everyone was clapping and cheering. I don’t think I was ever more proud in my entire life. Silly things came to my mind, so I also felt relieved towards some startups in the crowd because I was mentoring them a month ago. I felt so relieved because they saw I wasn’t giving them crap advice about pitching and startups. I showed them that it’s not science fiction and that you could actually get funding in Croatia from an American investor. Something that was a far-fetched dream a year ago, after a string of events, became a reality.

I can’t emphasize enough what a major role CRANE and Farmeron had in this! People like Sasa Cvetojevic, Mihovil Barancic, Ivo Spigel and Matija Kopic are in many ways the driving force of the entire startup scene in Croatia. I am sure I forgot someone, especially those dedicated workers who believe in the vision that startups can flourish in Croatia!

For what was to follow, Dave McClure took the mic. He said how great the entire conference was, how pitches and startups were awesome. Also, he announced that they, 500 startups, have decided to invest in WhoAPI. Again the crowd erupted.

You work so hard, for so long, for that few minutes that somehow repay every single second. There are no words that can explain what was going through my mind.

Dave McClure with the president of Croatia

Dave McClure with the president of Croatia

A week after that, I think we had around 2-3 interviews per day, and every notable media in Croatia covered our story. At one point, I started to turn them down because they took too much time. Since the president invited Dave McClure, they visited him at “his white house”. At some point, my investor was explaining to the president how WhoAPI is pronounced, and after that Dave talked with the president. Pinch me, pinch me, pinch me.

As soon as we landed in San Francisco, it was all over. No one was calling us, no one here thought we were spectacular. You are in Silicon Valley baby! It was back to the trenches. You gotta love the trenches.

I don’t think that we got all this based on one pitch, but I think it played an important role. So if anyone wants me to explain the pitch, please let me know.


Founder and CEO of WhoAPI Inc. Goran Duskic is an internet entrepreneur since 2006. He co-founded and sold several online ventures, including a web hosting company.