Episode 052: Eva Stegic Interviews Ivan Stegic
Change is good, and in this our 52nd episode, Ivan is on the other side of the table and is interviewed by Eva Stegic for extra credit in her social studies class. Ivan tells his story. Subscribe to the podcast. Here's what we're discussing in this episode:
- Ivan’s formative years growing up in South Africa, including experience with apartheid and Nelson Mandela
- How Legos and Meccano got Ivan interested in computers and coding
- The glory that is 80s music
- How an essay about the future got Ivan to the United States
- How Ivan started TEN7 by accident
- Ivan’s biggest life challenge and achievement
EVA STEGIC: Hi guys! You’re listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, not the game but two weeks, and sometimes more often to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I’m your host Eva Stegic, and this is my takeover of the Podcast. As part of a school project, I had to interview three family members. And what you’re about to listen to is my interview with Ivan Stegic my dad who usually hosts. This podcast. We talk about his own history, how he got to do what he’s doing and more. Enjoy.
IVAN STEGIC: Ok. So, you have a bunch of questions?
EVA: I have 14 questions for you.
IVAN: Geez. How long is this interview going to last?
EVA: Like I said an hour.
EVA: Where and when were you born? That’s my first question.
IVAN: Where and when was I born? I was born at 5:00 p.m. in the afternoon by C-section. My mom was in labor for very many hours. I was two or three weeks late. So, I was almost overcooked, and I was born at Queen Victoria Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was a state-run hospital, a giant. It was the most advanced hospital in South Africa, and I believe that I was in the ICU, the intensive care unit, after I was born.
EVA: Where did all this happen?
IVAN: In Johannesburg.
EVA: Did you live in Johannesburg for your entire life?
IVAN: No, not my entire life.
EVA: No, I mean your childhood
IVAN: My childhood. Yes, I grew up in South Africa.
IVAN: Interesting. Yes.
EVA: Question number 2. Where did you grow up?
EVA: What is your education?
IVAN: So, I went to an all-boys prep school called KEPS, and that was from Grade 1 through Standard 5. So, the equivalent of that in America would be first grade through seventh grade, that's called Primary School in South Africa. And KEPS stands for King Edward VII Preparatory School. And, in high school, I went to a school called Greenside, GHS, Greenside High School, and I was there from Standard 6 through Standard 10. We also called Standard 10 matric, and that would be the equivalent of 8th grade through 12th grade. After I graduated from high school, I went to the University of the Witwatersrand. It means “The ridge of white waters” in Afrikaans. In the University I studied Psychology and Physics, got a double major bachelor's degree in Psychology and Physics, and then I went on and did my Honors degree in Physics. And then I started my Master's degree and my PhD in Physics, but I ended up not finishing that degree. Instead I ended up immigrating to the United States.
EVA: Cool. So, did you ever go to Grad school?
IVAN: I was in Grad school at WITS, that's what my Masters and PhD was, but I didn’t finish my degree. I went undergrad. It was all at WITS.
EVA: What influences you the most?
IVAN: I think growing up, my parents influenced me the most. But, when I got to high school, I started to really enjoy my math and my science in high school, and I used to love the fact that math and science gave me real data and real information. And so, the thing that influences me the most right now, is critical thinking and using data to come up with good decisions and good ways of living life. I don't like to live life and be influenced by things that are fake, or things that are not real.
EVA: So, you like facts?
IVAN: I like facts, and I like data.
EVA: We're reading about this one philosopher, and he liked math because every day when you wake up 2+2 will always equal 4.
IVAN: That's a nice comforting thing to know, that those are facts that you can rely on, that they don't change. And it doesn't matter where you are in the Universe, it'll always be 2+2 equals 4. Here, or on Mars, or in Harry Styles Land, wherever that is, or in Alpha Centauri or some other galaxy.
EVA: Cool. Okay. Like when did you realize that you enjoyed math and science?
IVAN: Very early on in high school. I would say I was probably in Standard Seven, so ninth grade. That’s how old you are, I guess.
EVA: Who were your teachers? Do you remember any of them?
IVAN: I do. Oh, yeah, I remember them all. I remember Mrs. Fisher, her name was Nancy Fisher, she was my science teacher, so she taught me physics and chemistry. She was always very challenging, very smart but very encouraging. She was wonderful. She was the greatest science teacher I ever had, I think. I had Miss Whyte. I don’t remember her first name, because when we were at school, we would only ever use their last names. Nancy Whyte.
EVA: So, you had two Nancy’s?
IVAN: Oh no, it wasn't. No it wasn't, it was Nancy Fisher. It was Whyte with a “y”. She became the head mistress of the school after I left, and she was my English teacher. She was really pedantic and specific and really challenged my knowledge of grammar. And then I had a really good math teacher as well. I can't remember her name.
EVA: Remember Miss Stone? When did you have her?
IVAN: Miss Stone. Yes, I remember. So, you must remember, I must’ve talked about Miss Stone. Miss Stone was my teacher in third grade, and that was at the all-boys school I went to, and she didn't like when you talked out of turn, or when you talked to your buddy next to you, especially when it was time to be quiet. And I had a problem, they used to call me a chatterbox, and I used to talk when I wasn't supposed to. And I remember one time, Miss Stone was walking around the class, and I didn’t think she was right behind me, but she was right behind me, and I said something to my friend Giuseppe who was sitting next to me. He was Italian. I said something to him, and she whacked me on the back. A little third grader, she whacked little Ivan. “What are you doing?” I guess I wasn’t supposed to be talking to this guy, Giuseppe.
EVA: Were you friends with Giuseppe?
IVAN: Giuseppe was my best friend in elementary school. I remember how you spelled his name, because he used to say it all the time, G-i-u-s-e-p-p-e.
EVA: That’s cool. Okay, what were your hobbies when you were young?
IVAN: Oh, what were my hobbies.
EVA: Did science and math influence you?
IVAN: They did. First, kind of the things I used to do was make models. I used to make wooden model houses out of balsa wood, and I used to make plastic model airplanes, war airplanes, those Spitfires, those were English warplanes, WWII planes. And then I had a lot of Lego, and then I had these electrical boards that you could put together and I had mechanical boards – Meccano, Lego, and then I got my first computer in 1985 when I was nine, was in third grade. I still have the computer.
IVAN: You would plug it into a TV, and then you have to program it yourself, and so I would spend hours on the computer making it do stuff, not playing games, because there were no games, you had to write code to make it do stuff.
EVA: Is that how you got interested in code?
IVAN: That’s how I got interested in computers and in code.
EVA: So, it kind of all started from there.
IVAN: Yes, it did.
EVA: Do you remember your first memory of getting it?
IVAN: Yeah, I remember getting it for Christmas and opening it up and it had an orange and brown cover manual, that I read from beginning to end. It had all the info on how to code inside it and how to set it up. And I plugged that into the TV, and it was a good experience.
EVA: Was it one of those box TV’s?
IVAN: It was one of those eighties box TV’s, yeah. It was pretty big too. It was like twenty-three inches maybe, something like that.
EVA: That’s pretty big for a box TV.
IVAN: For the 1980s that’s pretty big, yeah.
EVA: Okay. What was it like living in apartheid. You lived through that, right?
IVAN: I did, I lived through apartheid.
EVA: Tell me more about that.
IVAN: Do you know what apartheid is?
EVA: Sort of.
IVAN: Apartheid is an Afrikaans word, and it's literally two words, “apart” and “heid”, and in Afrikaans – apart is the same as the English word apart – it means to be separated and “heid” is the state of being apart. And so, “apartheid” was Afrikaans word that meant “the state of being a part, everybody should be a part.” And, what it meant was, whites were more important than “coloureds” and that's what the government called people who weren't white. “Blacks, coloureds and Indians,” that's what they used to say. And the government used to say that whites were superior to every other race there was, and of course, we know that that's not true, we're all equal, we're all human. But what it meant was that the government made laws that kept white people apart from black people and from black people, coloured people, and from Indian people, as they said, and the law treated those people differently. And, so, when I grew up it was right in the middle of that, and I really didn't know what was going on. All I knew was that, I would go to school, when I'd go to school there would always be all boys, and not only were there all boys, they were all white boys. And, we didn't have really any TV in the early ‘80s. There was one channel, it was the state-run TV channel that the government had, and it was only on from like 5:00 in the afternoon to 10:00 in the evening. We really didn’t get too much, it was controlled by the government. The newspapers were mostly South African newspapers, so they told you what they wanted you to believe. So, I think I really didn’t know that I was living under a completely racist state. I didn't notice things were weird, like, I remember I had a nanny, almost every single white family had a nanny, the nanny was always a black lady, was always a black person, and I would go to the park with my nanny, and that was the only place where black South Africans were allowed to go where there were white South Africans as well. So, my nanny would take me in, and I would play with other white boys and my nanny would talk to other nannies who were also black, and all the white boys and girls would play together. And then there were bathrooms, I remember very distinctly that there were bathrooms, public restrooms, there were always four.
IVAN: Four bathrooms. White men and white women, and non-white men and non-white women. There were always four.
EVA: That’s sad.
IVAN: Very sad, yeah. And the stencils, I remember the pictures, what they would do is they would do brick buildings and they would stencil the logos for, you know what a logo of a man and what a logo of a woman looks like you know, usually there’s legs for a man and the woman has a dress on, I remember they would be painted white and painted white, and then the other two they were painted black and painted black.
IVAN: Yep. I’m sure you could find some pictures online of that.
EVA: So, that was like one of your memories that you remember?
IVAN: Mm hmm.
EVA: How interesting! What was your favorite music as a child? Did you listen to music?
IVAN: Oh, I was so into music. Yeah. We didn't get a whole lot of music. My dad would buy music and it was always vinyl. So, we had a lot of vinyl at home. And so, I got used to listening to the same sounds all the time. My favorite album was Xanadu by Olivia Newton John.
EVA: Oh, I know that!
IVAN: I used to listen to that all the time, and then a song that Mom absolutely hates is, a song called “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty, and (laughing) I used to listen to that all the time. And then there was Wham.
EVA: I love Wham!
IVAN: We had that vinyl. And then there was Culture Club.
EVA: I love the Culture Club. Karma Chameleon?
IVAN: Yes. And then we had Aha. There was one other one, and that was the vinyl we had, and then we also listened to the radio a lot. So, all of the sounds from the ‘80s, and what I used to love listening to was the American Top 40. It was the top 40 songs, and it was a program that was produced in the United States and it aired on BBC World Service that we got in South Africa, and that was on Sundays. And it was with Casey Kasem. And it was four hours of music, counting down the hits from Number 40 to number 1. I used to love listening to that.
EVA: I like KDWB’s top 10.
IVAN: Yeah. That was awesome.
EVA: Interesting. Ok. What do you remember about when Nelson Mandela became President? Were you there for that?
IVAN: I was. Nelson Mandela became President in 1994.
EVA: I looked that up and I did all the math.
IVAN: Yeah? How old was I in ’94?
IVAN: I was 18 and I was not able to vote in the election, because I turned 18 in October of that year, and the election in South Africa was in April. And so, I was 17 when it was the election. So, he became President in ’94, and he was President for five years, that was his first term. He was released in 1990, so he was in jail for 27 years, and he was released when I was in eighth grade. And I remember it quite distinctly, it was the beginning of the year in 1990, and then for those four years there were lots of negotiations and lots of planning and lots of work to figure out how South Africa was gonna go from being a completely oppressive racist state, to being an integrated society, where every person could vote. There was a democratic process and a democratically elected president. And so for those four years that was my whole high school career. There were a lot of things that happened that we weren't sure what could’ve been, there could’ve been a lot of violence, there could’ve been a shortage of food, there could’ve been many different things.
EVA: Wasn’t there a shortage of water?
IVAN: There was a shortage of water in Cape Town, and so, I never thought that would happen, but it’s happened, and there were other problems there too. I was just remembering what it was like. Yea, we didn't really know what was going to happen when Nelson Mandela was released, but we were very happy to no longer have apartheid and no longer have sanctions. And so, we started getting things like Pepsi in the ‘90s, and you know, big companies that weren't allowed to do business in South Africa, started coming back. And my high school was a girls and boys school, and we also wore uniforms, only white kids, because it was technically still apartheid. And then when Nelson Mandela was released, it kind of started to change, and we became a model C school -- that's what they called it -- that meant that these were predominantly white schools that were now starting to accept black South Africans as students. So about halfway through high school, we started seeing black South Africans join my school, and very slowly it became integrated, and I look at pictures right now of my school online, because they have a website of course, and there are very few white people there. So, it's more representative of what South Africa is like.
EVA: That's nice. Would you have voted for Nelson Mandela? If you had the chance to vote, would you have not voted?
IVAN: If I had had the opportunity to vote I would’ve voted. Yes. I don't know who I would have voted for. That's a really good question.
EVA: Who was the other runner?
IVAN: Some white guy. I think it was F.W. de Klerk. He was the guy that was the President when Nelson Mandela was released. He was a good guy. I think he got a Nobel Peace Prize, together with Mandela, if I'm not mistaken. I probably would’ve voted for the white guy.
EVA: Do you remember any protests or celebrations because of this?
IVAN: Yes, I do remember protests.
EVA: Were you involved in any?
IVAN: I was not involved in any of them, because I was too young when those protests were happening. Those protests happened in the late seventies and early eighties. I do remember watching the protests on TV in the late eighties, and then in the early nineties. I remember there being a lot of violence. There were things called necklacing. Have you ever heard of that?
IVAN: People who would protest would get really angry, and there were always two factions fighting, like the Zulus against the Xhosas. There were always two factions fighting for some reason, I don't know why, but when they'd get really angry, they'd select someone in the crowd, and they would get tires, car tires, without the wheels inside them, and they would force those people to stand and they would hold them and then they would put those rubber tires around them -- four or five of them. And do you know what rubber tires are? They're very, very flammable. So then they would light the tires.
EVA: Oh my God.
IVAN: Uh huh. And that was called necklacing, because the tires were around their bodies and they couldn't move, so it was like a necklace around their throat. It was horrible. It was absolutely horrible.
EVA: So were people doing this to the people who liked Mandela, or to people who didn’t like Mandela?
IVAN: It didn't have anything to do with Mandela. They were protesting and then they were angry about something or other. I almost feel like the government was stoking those fears and that anger. But I remember seeing that on TV, that was during high school, and then when I got to college, the University that I went to, because it was the largest and the most progressive university in South Africa, it had a ton of protests. And so, I would remember going to class, and sometimes my classes would get cancelled, because there was a protest going on, on campus. And so, then we'd go to the physics building, for example, and look outside the windows and you'd see a mob of people walking past and protesting and chanting and dancing and holding signs. And sometimes in the student concourse, like the main building where all the students would gather, sometimes in the concourse there would be a sit in and there'd be students protesting something, and they'd be sitting everywhere all over the floor, and you couldn't get from one side of the building to the other. Yeah. So there were protests. I lived through that.
EVA: Interesting. Cool to hear about. How did you decide to come to America, and why did you choose Minnesota over all the places?
IVAN: That’s a good question. Well the story goes, in my third year of university, I was in the student concourse I just mentioned, I had gone to either use a lab or get a sandwich, I don’t remember what it was, but when I was walking back to the physics building, where I needed to go to get a class, I saw an ad on one of the notice boards for a competition. It was a competition run by Honeywell.
EVA: Oh, that's where you started working.
IVAN: That's where I started working. It was a competition that Honeywell ran, and Honeywell is an international company, so they had a branch in South Africa, branches all over Europe. And they ran this competition called The Futurist Competition. And the competition was, you write an essay, and you imagine what life would be like in 25 years, and you describe what you thought life would be like in 25 years. And then you have to provide evidence and then other people do that. So my essay ended up winning the South African.
IVAN: Yep. When I say was my best essay in South Africa. And so, what I was awarded was a trip to Germany to compete in the finals, where all of the other national winners competed. So there were 20 of us. This was in 1997 and we all presented our essays to a group of judges and of those 20 they selected 4. I wasn't selected for one of those scholarships, but each of those four people got a full scholarship to any university in the United States for graduate school, and Honeywell would pay for that. I didn't win that, but I met a man called Ron Petersen in Germany, when I went, and he studied the same field of physics that I had studied in school, and we got to talking and we got to know each other, and we exchanged information. When I got back to South Africa, when I started grad school, I found out that another Futurist, another physicist who was a finalist, ended up getting an internship at Honeywell Technology Center here in Plymouth. And he sent me an email and he said “You should send Ron an email. You should come visit us next year.” So I did that. I sent an email to Ron Petersen, and Ron responded in about half an hour and responded back to me and copied his assistant and said, “Let's get an internship arranged for Ivan to come and visit us when he wants to.” And I said, “that's amazing, I want to come right now.” (laughing) I couldn't go right now because you had to take care of things like visas and flights and places to live when you came here. So, they arranged a six-month internship for me at Honeywell Technology Center in Plymouth, Minnesota. And so, that's how I ended up in the United States. I didn't choose Plymouth or Minnesota. Basically, it chose me. Had Ron Petersen and the Technology Center been anywhere else in the United States, you wouldn't be here, but I would end up being in that location. So, in 1999, I spent six months in Plymouth, from January through July. Then I went back to South Africa to continue work on my Master’s and PhD, but I loved America so much, that I tried to do everything I could to come back here. And I was able to arrange another internship at Honeywell in 2000. And so, I came back in 2000 for another three months, or maybe it was four months, and then I went back to South Africa. And then I arranged a final internship in Honeywell for 2001, and I came back here. And then I stayed, because at that point I'd been to America so much, that I'd gotten to know all the people here, and then someone offered me a job at Imation. And so, I ended up getting a visa to work permanently, an H1B visa and I ended up working at Imation. And in 2000, the second time I came back was when I met Suzie, your mamma. (laughing)
EVA: Okay. What is your job?
IVAN: What is my job? Right now?
IVAN: Well, I am the CEO and President of a company called TEN7.
EVA: Really? (laughing)
IVAN: (laughing) Yes. It's a company that creates and cares for Drupal powered websites. We are a company that's been around for almost 12 years, since 2007. And basically, we build websites for companies and non-profits. And after we've built them, we support them, and we keep them up to date and we build new things on those websites. So I basically run the company.
EVA: What are your biggest clients that we might know?
IVAN: Psychology Today is a big client of ours. Cenex, petrol/chemical company, they’re a client of ours, Bloomington Public Schools District is a client of ours, the Macomb County in Michigan is another client of ours. And then the Animal Humane Society is a client of ours, as well. You may have been there before to see animals; pets, dogs, cats. We like working with them, they're a fun client.
EVA: How did you choose to start TEN7?
IVAN: I kind of started TEN7 by mistake. I didn't really do it on purpose. After Honeywell, I worked at Imation. Both of those jobs were me working as a physicist, because I studied that. When I left Imation, I worked at a software company called Nazca, for two years. It was before you and your baby brother were born. And while I was at Nazca, from 2005 to 2007, you guys were born, and you were babies, and I worked a lot. I didn't work from home. I had to go to the office. I didn't see you guys at all, and I worked about 50 or 60 hours a week, and that was a lot.
EVA: That is a lot.
IVAN: I totally stressed myself out and burnt myself out, and I finally decided, and Mom and I decided, that it was a good time [dog barking] for me to quit the job. And, it was in 2007, we'd saved some money, and I just quit the job and decided to stay at home with you guys, with the babies, and with Mom. And as I was doing that, I was volunteering on a project to rebuild a website for the Basilica of St. Mary. And then they finally decided that they wanted a brand new site and I said, “I could build it for you, but you'll have to pay me, because now I don't have a job.” And they said, “okay, how much is it going to cost?” And I told them how much it would cost and they said, “okay.” And so, I had to figure out how they were going to pay me, because they couldn't pay me, they had to pay a company. So, I made a company on April 16, 2007, and they ended up paying the company, and it was just me and I worked in my basement.
EVA: So, you got all the money?
IVAN: I got all of the money. I didn't have to split it between any employees. So then when I started working on that project I thought, “oh, I really like doing this.” I was working with someone called Eddie, and she had other clients that wanted websites and she said, “would you help me build these websites?” Because she didn’t know how to build them, but she knew how to design them. And I said, “okay.” And so, I just kept building these sites, and that's how I started TEN7. And then, after a while I had so much work, I couldn't do it all by myself. So I had to hire someone. So, I hired Michael Start, then we spent time in our basement, and then that wasn't working out, because we couldn't have meetings there.
EVA: Is Michael the one with the dinosaur?
IVAN: No, that’s Rob. That was in the first office we had. So, we moved out of the basement, and we had an office downtown and I hired other people and the company grew.
EVA: That was a TEN7 office?
IVAN: No, that wasn't a TEN7 office, that was Dalton Sherman's office. We had two offices in that suite of offices that we rented. So that's how we started TEN7, kind of by mistake.
EVA: But, look what you have now.
IVAN: Yeah, I know, right.
EVA: What is or was your greatest challenge in life?
IVAN: Whew [laughing]. For the record, for the audio, my wife Suzie, Eva’s Mom, is in the background saying “me.” She's my biggest challenge. It’s not true. I don't know. I think the most challenging part that I've experienced in my life, thus far, was when Mom was sick in 2008 and in 2011. When Mom had cancer that was tough, that was really tough. It was tough because we didn't know what was going to happen with Mom. It was tough because we had two little babies, a little Eva and a little Cooper, and we still had to work, and we still had to do things. But we figured it out, and Mom got better and Mom’s okay. So, I think that was the most challenging part.
EVA: I’d say so too. What is your greatest achievement?
IVAN: What is my greatest achievement? You know, I don't think I can take credit for my greatest achievement. I think it would be our greatest achievement.
EVA: Is it having a family?
IVAN: Yeah, it is. It is. It's raising a son whom I didn't know when he was first born. So my greatest achievement is being a dad to James, and then having Eva and Cooper as children with Mom. I think that's definitely our greatest achievement. But, if it’s what have I done, myself, without anybody else, I think starting and running a successful company is a pretty good achievement.
EVA: I agree with that.
IVAN: Yeah. I kind of like doing my job. Yeah, that's a good achievement.
EVA: I agree. That is a good achievement. Do you have any advice for future generations? It can be about anything. It can be about starting companies.
IVAN: Yeah, I do have advice. The advice is this. Always follow your heart and what you know you want to be doing that makes you happy. Always rely on real data and facts to make good decisions, and have grace and courtesy and kindness in everything you do. It's important to be nice and empathetic towards all of the people around you, because you don't know what everybody's going through, you don't know what their story is. And everybody's going through something, so you should always be nice and kind and be a friend. And as long as you do that, and you use data to make good solid decisions, and you follow your heart, you'll be fine.
EVA: Yay! Thanks, Dad!
IVAN: You’re welcome.
EVA: Thanks for listening to this episode of the TEN7 Podcast. I hope you’ve learned something from it. I’m glad that it’s live, and I hope I’ve earned extra credit for my social studies class. Find the TEN7 Podcast online at ten7.com/podcast. And if you have a second, do send my dad a message. He loves hearing from you. The email address is email@example.com. This is Eva Stegic. Bye guys!