Moving Out of Darkness: Goran Krndija Sees Light With Gozova
It was a dark warehouse in Germany where Goran Krndija, his mother and siblings lived. They had lost everything.
War had driven them from their home, Bosnia. Separated from their father, without the present-day technology we enjoy, they were disconnected from one of their parents: no Skype, no Zoom, no smartphones.
They were a single mom and her kids, refugees living in depression and uncertainty. Dark times for anyone, certainly a young child.
It was in the midst of this darkness that Goran and his family found comfort in American television shows. Imagination must have been another escape, as Goran’s sister, likely inspired by the images on TV, once asked: what if one day we started a company in the US? What would we call it?
“Gozova” was the name she came up with. “Go” comes from Goran’s name, and the rest of it comes from his twin brother’s and sister’s names. Goran’s sister also said that they should ‘remember the dark times they’re doing through’, no matter where they go in life.
A better tomorrow was coming for Goran and family – they were not in the warehouse forever. Thanks to an opportunity to emigrate out of Germany for a new beginning, they were relocated to Fort Worth. Here Goran would found Gozova – a moving company christened with the remembrance of those dark times. With it, he was answering a need he had discovered while in college, but he was also realizing that dream once held in darkness: founding a U.S. company.
Coming to the US
Leaving behind his home and the dark days while in Germany, Goran came to the US at around age 12 or 13. He discovered a welcoming and supportive atmosphere.
This post is part of a series for AccelerateDFW's Storytelling initiative. For more insights on entrepreneurs in DFW and beyond, visit the Storytelling page.
He attended college at UT Arlington and around ages 18 and 19 was able to meet with CEOs for one-on-one discussions. They wanted to teach him, to help him out.
“You have to understand where I come from, we just didn't have the opportunity that you see here,” said Goran. “And I think it takes somebody coming from where I come from, to see like how blessed and lucky we are, and what resources are available to us here. So, I always had that entrepreneurship mindset. I always remembered trying to do something or reading about great entrepreneurs and what they're doing. So it was installed into me … as soon as I came to the States.”
Goran began exploring different technology sectors. He tried launching a small company with a partner, then started something on his own, but neither went anywhere. Determined and inspired to realize the American dream, Goran kept looking for a need to answer.
While at UT Arlington, the inspiration finally came. It was move-out day, and he saw a couple friends carrying a couch from a second-floor apartment.
“And I was like, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing?’ And they walked me through challenge of, you know, finding movers for smaller items. They had a couch, maybe a dresser, a table, and a mattress, like total of five items.
“And they walked me through pain points, you know, moving company charging $500 ... Craigslist is kind of sketchy because they're like, I don't know who's going to show up … we're not of age to own a U-Haul plus we don't feel comfortable driving a truck.
“So … I felt like here's a problem worth solving or something, you know, and then they actually had a guy that we knew with a pickup truck down in the parking lot. So I was like, there's an asset that somebody you know is utilizing to make some money and you have somebody who’s needing this demand.”
From this simple observation, Goran had discovered a need in society and the beginnings of a better solution. Gozova was born.
Goran Gets Moving
Goran began acting on his idea, reaching out to professors at TCU, UTA, SMU, UTD, and anywhere else he could.
“I talked to everybody,” he said. He was looking for coders who could help him found and run the company, and through this process met his co-founder and current CTO.
“And he was kind of the first guy … that we brought on and kind of started this, and I told him I want you in charge of the engineering,” Goran said.
After finding a partner and getting his idea started, Goran now began testing it. Very much hands-on, he’s completed over 1200 moves for the company.
“I was like, I really want to learn what the pain points are. I wanted to understand the customer's perspective. I want to see what works and what doesn't work.”
Goran took action to learn by doing. And at the time he still had a full-time job, so this was a side-hustle – a passion project. True to the spirit of it, he invested $5,000 of his own money to start it.
Next he learned several lessons out in the field. In addition to gaining more experience moving, he also spoke with customers. They asked him if he would ever offer features like packing, storage, donation collection, or junk removal. Goran’s personal metric was that if something was asked for more than five times he should make it part of the service.
Goran also went to pool parties, posted flyers, and generally advertised his services around colleges during the summer. He’d go to apartment complexes and offer to throw a party, and he’d use it as an opportunity to get feedback and data. He kept spreading the word like this and selling his services, and through one instance found a boon.
Goran received a call from a parent of a TCU student he had helped move. She asked if she could use the service, and then proceeded to do so for around 10 times. Then more and more downloads came to the app.
“We would do like a download or two a day, right, like nothing major,” said Goran. “And then all of a sudden we saw like 150 downloads in one day. We're like, ‘Okay, what just happened?’”
Turns out this parent was part of a group called Tanglewood moms, a social media community of Fort Worth-based parents. This proved to be quite the networking opportunity.
“They actually reached out to us, did a story on us,” Goran said. “And ever since then we just kind of blew up, like we never spent a dime on marketing. I mean we do now, but I'm saying, prior to that, it was all just word of mouth. And this is a really high-end community or high-end group on social media. And that's kind of how we got to grow.”
For words of encouragement Goran has for would-be entrepreneurs, give the accompanying podcast a listen!
Goran had gone straight to the market and it worked. He also tested his idea in real-time. Just like his marketing had been word-of-mouth, so too had his testing and feedback been collected direct from the customers.
As Goran explained:
“I will tell clients, ‘Look, I'm working on this, you know, I appreciate you giving me the feedback. Stick with us if you'd like’ … we had so many people rooting for us. Even if the app crashed, it wasn't ready or whatever, they would still call us and say, ‘Hey, I loved your professionalism. I love that I can call you and you're going to show up at my door when you say you are, and you'll go above and beyond.’ So I was able to generate those clients early on, while we're … perfecting the back end.”
This on the ground, learning-as-one-goes mindset ties into Goran’s motto:
“My motto was always fail fast, you know, kind of go out there, go take it to market as fast as you can with whatever you have.”
It was also from this organic approach to customers that Goran encountered his first greatest challenge.
Goran and company launched Gozova on iOS, the iPhone’s operating system. Some of Gozova’s drivers, though, were using Android phones, so when customers put in their request on an iPhone the drivers could not accept them.
“So we literally had to get another engineer, just so we can bring up the Android app up to date,” Goran explained. “So today we have both, but it's little things like that that you just don't think about and that really taught us a lesson.”
In teambuilding, data collecting, marketing, and testing, Goran started by going out into the field firsthand. He found out what people needed, what worked, and what he could do. This process – simple and straightforward – gave Goran early exposure to the complexities that would underlie his business when it grew.
Making It Simple
Though Goran was out in the field from day one, learning by doing, his enterprise was by no means simple.
To complete a move requires many logistics: vehicles, people, safety equipment and other gear. Different objects require different resources: someone who can move a couch may not be able to lift a pool table (even if they think they can!).
It’s very physical, and every resource you have – including the people! – experience wear and tear on a regular basis. Plus, there is potential wear and tear on customers’ priceless, personal items. Add on the smartphone app, and Gozova is as digital as it is physical, with complexities running every which way.
All of these concerns can make moving a mess, yet when you visit Gozova’s webpage it all appears so simple.
“So we took all of those headaches, we literally wrote it down on a list, and we said, ‘Okay, how do we solve this to the best?’ [sic] So what we do is when you go on the app, first of all you tell us what you're needing moved, and then we have an algorithm that, based on those things that they need moved, it matches them to the right fleet, as well as the right skills [or workers – ed.].”
When someone applies to work for Gozova they can fill out what specialized skills they have, be it for moving pianos, pool tables, or other, more difficult objects.
Very simple. Yet it was built on top of the mess of logistical issues that can occur with moves.
Goran learned the logistical details – what needs to be moved, who needs moving, what mover can do what – from firsthand experience. From this, he and his team built a simple, accessible user interface.
The Right People
Goran gave customers a simple user interface, but he also had to give them responsive, capable drivers and movers. As they say, it’s who you know that matters, and that’s as true for people looking for workers as it is for people looking for work.
Goran found the right person in Oscar who owns a construction business and who currently runs Gozova’s logistics side.
Oscar was impressed with what Goran had set up.
As Goran explained, “And he [Oscar] said, ‘Look, I have my own business in the construction field. … It's not innovative. It's the same old process every day. I think what you're doing is super cool.”
Oscar started as Goran’s main driver. He made sure the other drivers arrived at their destinations on time and did many deliveries himself. Customers loved him for that.
“We would get reviews, such as ‘Hey, I want Oscar for today's delivery’ or ‘Is Oscar available?’”
Oscar was a great worker because he was a believer. From the start he had been drawn to Gozova’s innovation.
Goran understood this principle – that workers must also be believers – as he discussed the mission with each of his employees.
“Early on I just told those guys, ‘Look, I'm selling you guys in a vision, I want you guys part of it.’ You know, we talked about percentages here and there. But it was really not about pay, it was more about we're trying to create something different here, and if we can all align and have the same vision and be on the same page we’ll reap the rewards later. And I am happy to say that now these guys are on payroll and that I can pay them because they definitely deserve to be paid.”
Goran was not just fulfilling a need, he was also creating a vision. He was doing what he had dreamed of since the days of darkness in the warehouse, torn from home by war. He had founded a U.S. business and was helping people.
The name Gozova spoke for the remembrances of those times but now stood for something else – a service that helps people with a need, a successful business, an app. Goran had given new meaning to the term coined by his sister, just as he had given new meaning to his life. He was no longer the refugee with no home to go back to – he was the entrepreneur, living the American dream, the founder of Gozova.
Note: The quotations may have been edited for grammatical purposes and to remove chit-chat phrases ("you know", etc.) or repeated words ("and, and", etc.). The audio in the podcast may have also been edited to remove chit-chat phrases, repeated words or long periods of silence.