When BCBusiness reaches Milun Tesovic by phone, he’s walking down a busy street in New York City, on his way to meet a partner at Mesa+, one of several venture funds Tesovic is involved in. The superstar entrepreneur is in such demand that he splits his time between Vancouver and New York, while at the same time maintaining close contacts in San Francisco, as an investor and adviser in Silicon Valley.
But it’s Vancouver that Tesovic, 28, calls home. He’s best known as the founder of MetroLyrics, the song-lyrics website that was acquired by CBS Interactive Music Group in 2011 for what Tesovic describes as “well into eight figures.” At the time, it was the third-largest music site in the world, behind qq.com and Yahoo Music, with more than 45 million hits a month.
However, MetroLyrics is just one of a dozen startups Tesovic has launched since his teens. Although not all were successful, two others—Echolima Hosting Solutions and Arcadebanners .com—were also acquired in smaller deals. Today Tesovic retains an unofficial management role “across a couple of properties” at CBS, but spends the bulk of his time helping other startups. That commitment to the local startup scene includes investments through three venture funds, including Boris Wertz’s Version One Ventures. He has also invested directly in a handful of local startups, including Recon Instruments and Food.ee, and is an adviser to several more.
Like many startups, MetroLyrics began with a problem and a solution: as a teen Tesovic sought song lyrics online and was frustrated with the spotty results of his searches. What distinguished his solution from the hordes of hackers transcribing lyrics in their basements was a simple yet elegant vision: a reliable database would require the participation of the lyrics’ owners. The result, MetroLyrics .com, would give millions of web users around the world accurate and reliable song lyrics, while at the same time providing fair compensation to the owners of the intellectual property.
Talking to those who work closely with Tesovic, it quickly becomes apparent that honesty and integrity remain key to the secret of his success. One of the startups Tesovic is currently advising is Quietly Media Inc., whose mobile app lets users share and comment on personal lists (favourites, lessons learned, for example). Quietly’s founder Dario Meli, also a co-founder of HootSuite Media Inc., has a lot of good things to say about Tesovic. He’s smart, friendly, involved... but ultimately Meli runs out of adjectives: “He’s a really good dude.
“When I was starting my new company, I assembled a pretty bad-ass team of advisers,” Meli continues, “and I wanted Milun to be involved because he has this unique skill set.” But whereas other advisers will contribute when called upon, “Milun really leans in. He is involved. He cares a lot about what we’re doing and he wants to see us be very successful.” That means Tesovic is as likely to pop by Quietly’s studios on a moment’s notice, take the latest beta version for a test spin and offer his advice.
Tesovic is “definitely a contributor” to the local tech community, Meli concludes. “People trust him and he’s a great example of what a lot of technology companies and a lot of entrepreneurs in Vancouver should be aspiring to.”
Tesovic notes with pride that in the dozen or so years since he was getting MetroLyrics off the ground, a healthy startup community has taken root in Vancouver. As he describes it, 10 or 20 years ago, entrepreneurs were measured solely by their ability to ramp up revenue. “Today people are following their passion more and are less focused on money,” he notes. And they are encouraged by a more supportive culture: “Failure is not frowned upon, but is seen as a learning experience.”
Fostering tech startups is just one side of Tesovic’s commitment to local communities. By his own account, his donations to the Food Bank are well into six figures and he is a diamond sponsor at Covenant House. He points to his own experience as a child in explaining his commitment to these charities: coming to Vancouver from Bosnia when he was nine, his family had to rely on the Food Bank and a handful of similar programs. “If someone is hungry, if they can’t get a proper meal, it doesn’t really matter if you have a shelter,” he explains. “It’s a different kind of suffering. It’s a basic need.”
It was Tesovic’s former business partner, Alan Juristovski, who passed away last year, who introduced him to Covenant House, which offers guidance and services to homeless teens. “He made me realize how unfortunate some of these kids are, the backgrounds that they come from and the poor circumstances that led them to be where they are today,” Tesovic explains. “Young women especially, at an age where if they’re really strapped for money and they’re down on their luck, a lot of poor decisions can be made.”
He suggests that giving back to the community adds an essential dimension to entrepreneurship, beyond simply hoping they develop the next killer app. “As you learn more about charities, you get a feeling for which ones connect with you, and you’re going to go out of your way to help them. You’re doing the right thing, and it’s going to ground you.” –David Jordan
Meet Milun Tesovic at our 30 Under 30 event on April 30, 2014. Get your tickets here.
BCBusiness 30 Under 30
Our 30 Under 30 celebrates B.C.'s young guns who excel in their respective industries, give back to their community and planet and who will lead business in this province for years to come. Each year, winners of our 30 Under 30 will be featured in the April issue of BCBusiness and on BCBusiness.ca, with one exceptionally amazing young world-changer gracing that issue's cover.
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