Petr Marek is the co-founder of Wikilane Inc., an American SaaS company based out of Las Vegas, NV, established in 2011, whose lead product is a popular online billing and invoicing app known commercially as Invoice Home. Since the app’s release in 2015, Invoice Home has steadily amassed over 5 million customers from all corners of the globe who seek a straightforward approach to invoicing and aim to grow their business. The company presently employs 15 employees and consistently ranks as one of the top 5 invoicing apps in the Google Play Store.
Before launching Wikilane Inc in 2011, Petr’s first business venture was INSIA, a network of brokerage businesses established in 1992. INSIA’s revenue grew from $0 to $40 million, and its written premium reached $250 million as of 2013. In 2012, INSIA’s minority stake was sold to the world’s largest broker, the US-based Marsh & McLennan Inc; it was also voted “One of the Most Innovative European Business Projects” by the European Business Awards. A year later, the majority stake was sold, and eventually, in 2019, the remaining 20% stake of INSIA was sold to Marsh & McLennan Inc.
Additionally, Petr attended the Czech Technical University in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and earned a Master of Science in Physics, Optics, Mechanics, and Appliance Technology and completed his thesis titled “Microchip Radiation Resistance Checking Device”. Petr has many interests and hobbies, including flying non-commercial airplanes, listening to books, performing SEO/market research, and spending time with his wife and children.
Where did the idea for Wikilane come from?
My business partner Jiri Hradil and I began Wikilane Inc as a concept in 2011. At the time, it was more of a hobby than anything else. However, by 2013 we were finally able to fully commit our efforts to the operation and success of Wikilane. We mainly wanted to focus on online software development as we both had over ten years of experience in the field. At the same time, we wanted to provide a service for small businesses and entrepreneurs because we believe that small businesses are vital for a stable society and a country’s economy, mainly for these two reasons:
Generally, modern technology has significantly increased the effectiveness of small businesses compared to larger corporations.
When disruptive technology begins to be introduced or the market shifts significantly, small businesses will adopt or find a new area of operation more easily than large corporations, who are more likely to perish in such circumstances.
As a great majority of businesses in the world need invoicing, we finally made the decision to develop the world’s best online invoicing and billing system to help businesses 1) save time and energy with a fast and straightforward service and; 2) to grow by promoting their business through our expertly designed invoice templates. On this latter point, we noticed that most invoices available were rather dull in the form and, essentially, a missed opportunity for a business to promote their brand. In short, we found our differentiator and niche in the market, and we simply could not waste this marketing opportunity.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Where to begin?!? Mornings start with me driving my kids to preschool and school every day. While not exactly without stress, I do actively participate in improving my children’s English by listening to songs and having them translate them into English. Apart from these eventful mornings, a typical day can be quite fluid and can run the gamut of everything under the sun. From daily SEO & PPC (Google Ads, Microsoft Ads, Apple Ads, Facebook, etc), social media maintenance, customer satisfaction, HR, legal, finance/accounting, to negotiating contracts and testing new app deployments or strategies – the list seemingly goes on and on. While I oversee many of these myself, we have a team of marketers who are responsible for certain tasks under this large umbrella of company tasks/duties. All the employees are free to select their tasks based on their inclination and preferences, tasks do not need to be related (so one person can do PPC and design at the same time), plus we even encourage employees to switch their tasks over time. The performance metrics are simple – the area/task in question has to improve reasonably over time. We’ve come to find this method ensures a highly motivated environment, where people are happy to work and are able to achieve significant improvement of personal skills and development in a relatively short amount of time. Given this relaxed company structure, we do not have directors or managers per se – Jiri and I both personally serve as such for our respective teams – and we sit alongside our employees, in the same office, literally at the same table, every day which is quite a contrast to the structure of large corporations. This unique company structure enables us to be extremely effective – for instance, some of our competitors claim to have over 200 employees. We serve a similar customer base with only 15 employees.
How do you bring ideas to life?
When trying to bring an idea to life it’s important to first have the willingness to make the leap from an idea into implementation and turn that idea into a reality. So, if you have an idea don’t put it off for another day, or else this day could turn into weeks, months, or even years. Once you’ve committed to the idea and embarked on this journey, then it’s important to ask for, listen to, and consider the feedback of others. Then test your idea and don’t be afraid to tinker around with it because, ultimately, an idea is never set in stone, and more often than not it’s essential to be flexible/fluid.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Generally, space exploration. One of the biggest achievements in this age is the work coming out of SpaceX and the efforts to reduce the price of getting to space. This is something that has the potential to change the future quite cataclysmically. Of course, it will take many years or decades but just think of a future with no factories on the Earth. Once the technology is developed it will be cheaper to develop more quality products or raw materials in space. For instance, on Earth, it’s very complicated to grow metal and crystals perfectly because of gravity. However, if you remove gravity, as in space, you have the perfect environment to develop a perfect crystal or perfect metal. For this reason, production in space could maximize the production and quality of certain materials. You have ample raw material available from asteroids and a supply of unlimited “free” energy directly from the sun.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Definitely reading or listening to a good book. Reading or listening to books is an excellent way to stimulate creativity and educate yourself about a number of things whether in your industry or something completely different. The times I do have a chance to read or listen to a book really helps with a lot of things, whether it’s feeling mentally refreshed or relaxing after a long day.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Interesting, I think it’s natural for many people, entrepreneurs, in particular, to always want to achieve more, faster. However, I’ve come to find that success for me has generally been a slow and steady race. Yes, maybe we could have accelerated the release of Invoice Home to have it ready by 2012 instead of 2015 – but then again maybe the timing wasn’t right. Another thing I would tell my younger self would be what my wife and I are trying to instill in our children. We have a rule that whatever activity our children start or try out, they must finish it – this sense of perseverance. We encourage this because the biggest danger to me is to be as many people today who really aren’t into anything and quit trying something new too soon. For me, whenever I failed, I tried again – this kind of mentality is just essential to the entrepreneurial spirit.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Jokingly, everything. However, if I had to pick one truth, I would have to say, in today’s world, almost always, when people want to do some kind of good or a politician wants to do some good, they always forget that whenever you change something it also brings something negative – always. It seems there is a lack of awareness, consideration, or accountability for possible negative outcomes. So, while it’s quite difficult to consider all the potential outcomes – positive or negative – we should reasonably strive to pay closer attention to the other side of the coin and the unknown outcomes of a good intention.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Similar to the earlier question, I really recommend reading or listening to books because it helps you see the greater picture of things and expands your mind. Outside of reading, carving out a little alone and/or free time for an activity you enjoy – be it reading, exercising, meditating, etc…- is very important as this revitalizes your being, your essence.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
To not study the competition too much, and not always following the “trend” or adhere to the mindset of “everyone is doing it”. First, start with a “blank” paper idea and try to figure out how you will do something as it hasn’t been created or invented before. It is important to be different in a sea of the same. Being different in business puts you in a good position to find new markets, innovate, and, ultimately, find better ways of doing things that might endear you to customers and help you stand out from everyone else.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
While it wasn’t a complete failure, the sale of my previous company was a mixed bag of good and bad and taught me a few things. I initially wanted to sell my company to help develop my ex-company and aid it is growing faster. However, in some ways, this was a total failure because my previous company was purchased by a reputable American company – but had the downside of strict oversight by a strong finance department based in London resulting in a terrible experience. Once the sale went through, we were required to be with this company for 2 years, and after the first 2 months, I realized this isn’t the life I wanted. Eighty percent of my time was centered around finance and accounting plus endless meetings and reclassifications of things…simply, it was too corporate for me – not that a corporate mentality is a bad thing, but I just operate in a more relaxed way. In any case, the lesson I learned is you never sell your company as a minority share.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Become a “retro” refurbisher and offer retro refurbishment and repair. As a retro refurbisher, you breathe life into bringing old machines and innovations and repurposing them for new users, which can be quite fun if you are into tinkering with old gadgets and devices. It easily allows people of today to experience these dusty yet classic relics of bygone times, which can be both charming and exciting. As retro refurbishment is a niche market endeavor, you can really stake a claim in some corner of the market if you happen to be good at it.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I spent recently was on some old tapes and fixing my old tape deck. I guess you could say I have a sense of nostalgia for these analog items and their unique personality and attractive sound. It’s also interesting to tinker with past innovations/technologies and appreciate the evolution that’s taken place – from vinyl to cassettes, mp3s, and now this streaming world we all live in. Plus, my kids are thrilled to hear music coming from the tape deck, without the computer or internet connection.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Our company uses an internal productivity/work operating system called MyToDo. We use it to keep track of ongoing and new projects and issues relating to different facets of Wikilane Inc and Invoice Home (i.e. marketing, office operations, legal, customer support, etc…). it’s a shameless plug and one that we hope to eventually release publicly, in the near future.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
As I have already mentioned, I enjoy books, so it’s no surprise that I have quite a few books I can recommend. However, if we can be a bit playful, I would recommend “The Egyptian” by Mike Waltari because it questions if civilization and human mentality have even evolved since the times of ancient Egypt. Interestingly, it seems people haven’t changed that much, and this is quite sobering to realize. If we turn to books entrepreneurs should read, I will stick to my current realm of marketing. In this respect, I always think it’s useful to read the classics of this field and to keep in mind the main goal is for you to synthesize these classic marketing materials and then create your own mental picture of how things like strategies work for your business.
What is your favorite quote?
“The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.” – Henry Kissinger
- Read to broaden your mind and spark creative thinking. While generally good to read books from your field, the most important part is to then synthesize the material and apply it in a way that works for you. If it doesn’t apply, then at least be aware of the material and have an open mind for contexts in which a strategy or tactic may work or be applied.
- Accept that failure is part and parcel of success. With any failure, it’s normal to feel down about it as it can take a hit to one’s ego, but it’s in this moment one should flip this self-defeatist thinking and use it as a motivator to help spur success later.
- Patience is vital; avoid impatience from influencing decisions. The entrepreneurial mindset often demands a hard-charging spirit that values dynamic action and quick thinking. However, this can easily manifest impatient tendencies and wanting to achieve more at an accelerated rate. While this isn’t necessarily bad, the downside of impatience can result in poor decision making and forgetting nothing of value comes easily. Ultimately, most things of value take time to cultivate such as developing a skill, building a relationship, or launching a new business initiative. So, practice patience, take a deep breath and realize it’s okay to slow down and be in the now.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.