Financial educator and founder of Sqwire, LLC, Danijel Velicki, is fiercely committed to equipping and empowering every single person he encounters with the information and resources to confidently thrive across all facets of life.
Arriving in the United States in 1995 with just $40 in his pocket and an unwavering commitment to building a life that awarded him the freedom to dream big while also providing the best for his family, Velicki is living proof that the “American Dream” is well within reach for those who remain steadfastly committed to implementing the fundamental resolves and professional habits that mark seasoned leaders from all walks of life. The rapid growth of his professional ventures continue to reflect his proficiency and passion for his craft, awarding him the ability to pivot and evolve as an agile, innovative leader in business and beyond.
After over 17 years in the financial and insurance services arena, Velicki grew frustrated with the lack of trustworthy financial education available to everyday Americans. He committed his resources and expertise towards developing a financial education platform that delivers online lessons and personalized support to help individuals and their families develop healthy spending habits and informed financial decisions that fuel their long-term sustainability and success.
Grounded in life skills, one-on-one guidance, and a thorough understanding of the complex issues that individuals, companies, military personnel, and families are facing across today’s financial climate, Sqwire is staged to completely eradicate financial illiteracy nationwide.
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Table of Contents
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Danijel Velicki: I’ve spent over 20 years serving clients across different industries – entrepreneurs, medical professionals, lawyers, military service members – and kept running into the same roadblock time and time again. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, struggled with the daily choices that trickled into their long-term stability and financial health. They were at the top of their game, but no one had ever taken the time to teach them or even given them the opportunity to access the information, resources, and education that would have helped them build a firm, financially secure foundation from the start. Here they were operating in some of the most advanced fields on the planet, and no one ever thought to include financial education as a cornerstone to their success. They were taught how to perform a heart transplant, but never taught to balance a checkbook.
This to me is a breakdown in our society that’s both unnecessary and dangerous. A completely solvable problem that collectively keeps being ignored. And if it’s prevalent at the “top,” we have to know that our vision of inclusion and equal opportunity is virtually impossible. We cannot keep crossing our fingers and hoping for a different result. Information, opportunity, and education must be available to everyone.
That’s how Sqwire was born. If I didn’t participate in the solution, I remained a part of the problem.
Was there somebody in your life that inspired you to take that specific journey with your business?
Danijel Velicki: Several years ago, I suddenly and unexpectedly lost a dear friend. By all counts of public opinion and perception, he was massively successful, yet at the time of his death, he had no real plan in place to financially protect his family in the event of an emergency. I felt like I had let him down. I decided I couldn’t wait any longer to make change happen. I would no longer let people I know and love live life at a disadvantage because they didn’t know what they didn’t know.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Danijel Velicki: The most common mistake an entrepreneur can make is not seeking and applying wise counsel. Whether because they think they know it all or they are ashamed to admit that they don’t, many entrepreneurs avoid asking for help or present themselves as unteachable when constructive criticism comes their way.
No one knows it all. In business and in life, we should always be in a constant cycle of simultaneously being mentored and mentoring others. There is always someone coming behind us, who is looking for a leg up and we should be willing to reach back and provide that support. There is always someone farther along than us, who can provide critical insights and lessons we’ve yet to personally encounter. We should always be open to receiving that information and considering where to apply it to our own experience. Always be teaching. Always be learning. Practice radical self-awareness and commit to an open mind in conversation with others who you trust to point out areas of concern or risk, which I see as opportunities for personal growth. Stay thirsty for those moments. They are life-saving.
Stubbornness does not an entrepreneur make. I’ve seen many entrepreneurs come to blows with seasoned investors and mentors instead of humbly stepping back to graciously leverage available resources to make them better at what they do. Yes, as business builders, we must be confident and aggressively ambitious, thoroughly committed to doing whatever it takes, but that does not translate to ego or pride. In fact, I submit that ego and pride can, will be, and often is the acid that eats away at what could have otherwise been a wildly successful new venture.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Danijel Velicki: Resilience is one of my favorite words. Defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties,” the better question may be: What does resilience look like in our current world?
The pandemic was and continues to feel like an insatiable beast. Worse, for a long time, it felt invisible. Untouchable. From a business perspective, it seemed like a ninja that snuck in wholly undetected and burnt everything to the ground overnight. There was nobody to fight. It just happened. For the first time, I struggled to outwork the problem, which to me, is one of the core facets of every entrepreneur.
The first piece of the puzzle for me was accepting reality and acknowledging that circumstances outside of my control were dictating how I could move forward. As an entrepreneur, we rely on reports and data to substantiate our next big move. What do you do when the data is skewed beyond all reasonable control by a mountain of unforeseen and unmoveable variables?
You have to fail forward with next-level confidence in your concept that sees beyond what you are looking at today. Resiliency meant accepting today and holding out hope for tomorrow. No matter what. My team dug in, leveraged every resource within our grasp, and relied on unshakeable faith that something was going to give. Somewhere. Someday. We gave ourselves grace in our ultimate goal to thrive as a company and allowed ourselves to admit that surviving was more relevant at that moment. We entertained ideas that had once been counted crazy and evolved.
Resiliency is all about your capacity to assess, adjust and adapt. I look around our world today and I see entrepreneurs who have undergone complete transformations to stay afloat. We are doing business in ways we never imagined possible. That’s incredibly exciting to me. That being said, I also mourn with the many ventures that didn’t make it, by no fault of their own. It’s not lost on me, or I think any true entrepreneur really, what was and is at stake, and how it feels to lose everything. I’ve been there. And I truly believe that many of the businesses that closed their doors were incredibly resilient, every step of the way, and fought until the bitter end. They deserve to know we see and honor them. I’m not sure there is much joy in business right now, as we see our friends struggle and fall, but there is a whole lot of gratitude.
Is our business where it would be today if the pandemic hadn’t happened? Definitely not. Do I firmly believe we are stronger for what we experienced and continue to experience? Definitely yes.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Danijel Velicki: Many of our competitors focus on helping people drive down debt to financially course-correct after significant damage has been done. While this triage work is necessary and important, we’re uniquely committed to deploying financial education and wellness training before financial misfortune has been suffered, aiming to put financial education in the hands of every American as an intrinsic right. Debt payoff methodology sounds practical, in theory, but is often grounded in unrealistic systems that increase the future likelihood of recurrence. We focus on the daily spending habits and ongoing financial disciplines that build a firm foundation for present and future financial sustainability and success.
Additionally, many of our competitors promote themselves as financial educators, but in actuality, are peddling secondary sales offers. Many of these hidden pitches are significantly in conflict with fundamental best practices and financial basics, which put their clients at further risk, breaking their trust and their commitment to helping others succeed.
Other available resources and online financial influencers are often fueled by opinion and personal circumstances over qualified expertise and proven experience. Their recommendations are often skewed to their personal narrative, lacking the proper research and data to support their theories. Other offerings lack the technology and intuitiveness that drive ongoing engagement and positive user experience. “One and done” online courses are often deployed at the wrong time and place for true “stickiness” so lessons learned are not applied. We focus on ongoing support as life changes and evolves, knowing that education without implementation is worthless. We walk with our clients every step of the way and create a two-way dialogue that cultivates accountability and interest, prompting real, significant, sustainable change.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Danijel Velicki: I do not hesitate to admit my shortcomings. I know my strengths, but more importantly, I know my weaknesses. I optimize my strengths and I delegate or outsource my weaknesses. My team does an incredible job filling the gaps in my own knowledge and experience. To be clear, I am not afraid to roll up my sleeves, get my hands dirty, learn new things and do the tough stuff. As a leader, my team needs to see me in the trenches. Entrepreneurship is not for those who prefer to observe from glass towers. Every contribution to our success is worthy and critical, and as the CEO, I need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. I will get the job done.
I am not afraid to take calculated risks. I am willing to leverage what I know, hope and believe against the unknown. Without consistent leaps of faith, my progress as a successful business leader would have been woefully paced. True leadership has to know when to step out to explore uncharted territory.
I seek wise counsel constantly. Whether through personal therapy, professional mentors, and colleagues. or simply reading any and everything I can get my hands on, I am always asking questions and listening to learn. I’m sure you can see the common theme here. I know I don’t know it all, but I do know the answers are out there if I am willing to look and ask. I am willing.
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his own brand?
Danijel Velicki: It is essential that a leader be constantly mindful of their own brand. While this statement holds fast even before the dawn of social media, now more than ever, leaders are held personally responsible as the world expects to see alignment with a company’s stated mission and values evidenced in their daily living.
As a financial educator, it is critical that I reflect the brand that we articulate through the company. I must be a cultivator of hope, who respects people from all walks of life, and who truly believes that financial education can be fun and will make a difference in the lives of others. If any part of me doesn’t believe or live this out wholeheartedly, the company is destined for failure. Not only will the public sniff out the lack of authenticity and distrust our capacity to serve, but I will clearly bring less than my best efforts to something I do not personally, deeply believe in and live out every day.
I’m sure some readers are pushing back on the difference of a company’s brand vs. its mission and values, but I firmly believe they are intricately interwoven, and as the leader, I should look, feel and sound like a natural extension of that which I helped create, inside and out. This is my life’s work. I am ever mindful of how I personally impact this company’s brand and ultimately as a result, its success.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Danijel Velicki: I’m a hybrid leader – part authoritative, part democratic, with a strong dash of pacesetting. I am a visionary at heart and love nothing more than energizing the people around me as we dive in on a common goal. Our “why” is very important to me and I understand the necessity of fiercely protecting what got us started, even while I map what will surely be a dynamic future that constantly evolves and adapts.
I highly value the input and opinions of my team, and I see where we go farther, faster when they feel personally bought into the mission because they’re actively creating it with me. Not only do they have a voice, I trust and rely on them to help me move beyond vision and into action, and so many of their creative ideas have contributed to our success far beyond anything I could have created on my own.
I like to run hard and fast. I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that dash of pacesetting, because not only is it clearly present in my leadership, it’s the secret sauce that makes sure visionaries and democracies actually get things done.
What would you say is the main difference between starting a business at the time you started yours and starting the business in today’s age?
Danijel Velicki: The path to starting a business today is undeniably less steep than it has been in the past. So many barriers to entry have been thoroughly demolished. Technology, social media, and the internet have streamlined the startup process while also providing global access to a potential customer base that would have otherwise been wholly out of reach. It’s a double-edged sword and as a result, many proceed with far less caution than they should. The wealth of available resources can also pose a considerable competitive challenge. The world is oversaturated with information and offers. Handshake deals feel like a thing of the past, and those of us who worked our natural markets over cups of coffee are now forced to instantly digitize our capacity to build trust and any semblance of buyer loyalty.
Many times we see the best companies losing out to big names with deeper pockets, and we now spend our days warring against algorithms and search results. We all know more than a few businesses that should have never gotten off the ground, but what was there to stop them? Speed and access aren’t always favorable qualities, but the world we live in today demands both.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Danijel Velicki: I had this quote tucked in my wallet when I was coming to America as a young 18-year-old immigrant from Croatia.
“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Today, I carry two quotes with me. They’re self-explanatory and have never led me astray.
“I will never, ever be outworked.”
“The true measure of a leader is what it takes to stop him.” – Robert Jeffress
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Danijel Velicki for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Danijel Velicki or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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