I’m Marin Smiljanić, the co-founder and CEO of Omnisearch, a startup building the next generation of B2B search engines with a focus on search audio and video. Omnisearch is particularly strong in the education vertical, where our search product reaches over 400,000 students and helps them navigate online course materials. I’ve been programming since my high school days and during my college years got my first taste of the industry through internships at Facebook and SingleStore. I worked for three years as a software engineer at Amazon, where I helped scale S3 (the largest cloud storage system in the world) and then on Alexa. Prior to Omnisearch, I founded my first startup which was an AI-powered news recommendation product.
Tell us about your childhood and where you grew up?
I was born in Zagreb, Croatia, an amazing city in the heart of Europe. My dad had a software company that was a pioneer in Internet banking and my mom was in the music business and was an executive at the Croatian national television. I completed my education there, all the way through college. I got interested in math and computer science at a pretty early age, and thanks to my good grades I successfully enrolled in the most selective math and CS high school in the country. There I connected with a lot of exceptional people and it really helped take my skills to the next level. I got into programming and math competitions, and the fundamentals I learned from that stayed with me throughout my professional career.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
Starting a startup has always been a dream, especially since my dad was a co-founder of his own software company. So after around three years at Amazon, I decided it was time to give it a shot. I left in 2019 to start my first startup, which was a machine learning-powered news app, similar to Toutiao in China. Despite being a really cool product, it never really caught on in the market, so I decided to pivot. I joined forces with an old friend, Matej Ferenčević, who was previously a crucial early engineer at a venture-backed startup and founded Omnisearch. The main motivation was my frustration with searching for information inside training videos on Amazon. We decided to solve the problem for good and sell the solution to companies.
What is one business lesson you would tell a startup founder?
For founders in ecosystems not overflowing with venture capital, it’s super important to have some kind of a safety net to give you peace of mind and not require you to go back to your job if the startup doesn’t work out in a couple of months. For tech people, I generally recommend signing up for a freelance platform like Toptal. Or find something similar if your specialty isn’t tech. You can use that if money is close to running out and buy yourself more runway. In startups, it’s pretty important to just stay in the game long enough for a lucky break.