An economist by education, Natasa Djukanovic is the CMO of Domain.ME, the international tech company that operates the internet domain “.ME.” She’s spent her entire career at the intersection of banking, social media, leadership and technology, and is constantly trying to figure out the secret to being in three different places at the same time.
Natasa is also a co-founder of a local NGO Digitalizuj.me which is a not-for-profit organisation that examines the transformative power of technology through various projects and lectures.
Through her effort to help the community she started with her friends a conference Spark.me, which is today one of the biggest tech/business conferences in Southeast Europe.
I last connected with Natasa back in 2011, so it’s long past due that we catch up.
Mike: Natasa, it’s been quite a while since I last interviewed you. What has changed for you and dot ME since 2011?
Natasa: Well, everything changed. And yet, nothing changed. We managed to almost reach the long term goals we established at that time. For us at the time the most important goal was to create a strong and safe brand. We did a brand health research in 2017 and were quite please to see that we are perceived as a strong and reliable brand. The numbers are quite as we expected, we survived the big turbulence of the market called new TLDs, mostly unshaken, and kept the profit. I have, in the meantime, grew old and mature :), although always strategically focused, now a little bit more flexible and adjustable. I started mountaineering and that activity gave me a completely different perspective on business, leadership and changing environment.
Mike: Is there a woman that inspires you as a business leader, either in or outside of the domain industry?
Natasa: She is more a combination of different women with their strength and their fragility, their determination and their emotionality. My inspiration is a combination of Marisa Meyer, Sheryl Sandberg, Merrill Streep, my mom, my aunt and my daughter. And they are all different, with all of their virtues and faults.
Mike: You’ve been asked to speak, and have spoken, at several different events and business around the world. What does that mean to you?
Natasa: I had a big fear of public speaking. My voice would tremble and it would sound like I am crying. It was embarrassing. I was determined to fight that fear, like I am fighting any fear. I am very proud to say I am over that, and people started calling me to give motivational speeches. It feels good now, because the feedback is good and it seems to me that I help people define certain fears in their pursuit for better life.
Natasa: Digitalizuj.me (digitize.me in translation) is an NGO that I founded with a couple of friends back in 2011 with the goal of helping the local Montenegrin community educate for new technologies. Today we employ 3 people, and have a joint project with UNICEF around creativity and entrepreneurship for children. It is recognized in Montenegro as a startup community, an organizer of workshops after which you can find a job, and lately educator in programming. Spark.me is a conference, sponsored and organized by the .ME registry. I am always afraid I am too enthusiastic and subjective about it, but I’ll tell you that 500 people come every year from all over the region, and stay in the conference room for 8 hours straight. The conference happens in a hotel at the beach and there is sun outside, it’s a sandy beach and the sea is light blue. But everybody is listening to the presentations. And the world renown speakers keep coming back. My balance is strictly connected to great team around me. I can rely on them, and they can rely on me.
Mike: Do you feel you have faced any challenges in your career over the years due to the fact that you are a women? How have you overcome them?
Natasa: Montenegro is a very patriarchal community, but women here were always working and had an opportunity to build careers. My aunts were some of the most successful people in my home town, and I am raised with the feeling that women can do everything a man can do, from chopping wood to managing a company, raising kids, and taking care of their man. There is a saying here that a man is a head of the house, but the woman is a neck. And that is true. In many ways it places a special burden on women in Montenegro, but it also opens many doors. My aunts made fun of me and my housework choirs, as I never liked to cook. On the other side when I started working, I started managing projects very early and when I entered a meeting once, the business partner who sat at the table asked me for coffee. He taught I was a coffee lady. I brought him coffee and sat close to him and started asking questions and kept insisting we can’t accept his conditions in a deal we were trying to arrange. He was very confused at first, and then started laughing at his mistake. I overcome these perceptions by accepting them first. Yes I can be a coffee lady. But then if you are decisive and persuasive enough you can turn that in opportunity. I am not saying it’s easy for every women if they are strong enough. For some of them life is much harder.
Mike: What impact have the new gTLDs had on .ME, if any, and what has been your marketing strategy to stay competitive?
Natasa: Of course new gTLDs had an impact on .ME. Mostly in terms of the price on a domain, which means revenue. Their marketing strategies shook up the market. It did give some kind of global awareness on domains, but in the end, I think it all calmed down, and didn’t change much. Our strategy certainly didn’t change much. We were perceived as somebody who changed the industry and we just kept doing different and creative things to stay on top. Both with end customer marketing and the relations with registrars. I think the industry is much more alive and energetic today.
Mike: Do you consider yourself a mentor to any women in the industry?
Natasa: Not in the industry. Not really. I do mentor, however, startups and have some women that I mentor in Montenegro, and help them around marketing and business management. I am very proud of their achievements.