Adi Kunalic’s life has been filled with uncertainty. He’s encountered all sorts of circumstances that were simply out of his hands, but dictated the rest of his life. Instead of giving in, Adi’s learned to live by two guiding principals: Let go of the things you can’t control. Work yourself to the bone at the things you can.
Adi was born in Bosnia a few years before civil war broke out. His family, along with many others, fled to surrounding countries to escape the violence that was taking place. They first relocated to Croatia, eventually settling in Berlin, Germany where he lived until he was ten.
In 1997 the German government which had once welcomed refugees now requested their return to their native country. Despite knowing almost nothing of the culture, Adi’s parents packed up their family and headed for the United States, hopeful that the country would offer more opportunity for their two sons.
“My parents sacrificed everything. They left everything and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to come to America and try this thing even though we won’t know the language. We’ll have to struggle.’”
His parents took minimum wage jobs and worked hard to give their sons everything they could manage. It was a struggle, Adi says, but he never felt he missed out. Except for one thing.
Adi had been heavily involved in competitive soccer in Germany. But kids in the U.S. weren’t that into soccer. And the ones who were, had to have money to get to practice, buy cleats, and play on expensive club teams. Adi let go of his frustration and turned soccer into a hobby.
In high school he discovered his soccer skills translated to the football field. By his sophomore year he was kicking for a team that had won a state championship the previous year. Suddenly, Adi was getting noticed nationally. Mail started coming in heaps with scholarship offers to colleges and universities all over the country.
“I go home and tell my dad, and he’s like, ’No that’s not true. In America you have to work really hard. No one’s going to pay for your school.’ He still didn’t believe it for, like, the first six months,” Adi laughs.
He committed to Nebraska. Yet, just as he was starting, a walk-on kicker name Alex Henry was hitting his stride and Adi’s playing opportunity was diminished. After his sophomore year he considered leaving Nebraska, but eventually decided to stay.
“I was like, ‘I’m just going to see this all the way through and see what happens’…I thought, ‘I can’t be worried about things I can’t control. I just have to do what I have to do.’”
It turned out to be a great decision. During Adi’s junior year, a fellow player and friend named Blake Lawrence left the team because of injury. The extra time allowed him to take an internship running social media for a company called Filebound. One night over a couple beers, Blake explained exactly what his job entailed. Adi was fascinated.
“Wait, they pay you to write, like, tweets and blogs?” Adi asked. “We could scale that. We could do that for like thousands of brands.”
The next morning Adi wrote up a business model and sent it on to Blake.
He laughs as he remembers Blake’s response over text: “Wait, you were serious?”
The summer before Adi’s senior year of college he and Blake began work on their fledgling company, called Hurrdat. Blake took an internship in New York and Adi stepped into his position at Filebound. He juggled training, class, work, and football practice during the day. Then he and Blake would conference over Skype to talk business plans, mock ups and website details into the late hours of the night.
By the end of the summer they were ready to present. Their first pitch was to Rex Lamb, CEO of Filebound.
“I had to tell the CEO that we weren’t going to work for him anymore, that he was going to be one of our clients. This was like the most nerve-racking thing ever,” Adi says.
But the two had lived up to their end of Adi’s philosophy. They had done the leg work to create a valuable service. What Rex Lamb thought of it was out of their control.
To their surprise, the CEO looked over the document detailing Hurrdat’s services, circled the most extensive (and expensive) plan, and offered them a vacant office in their space.
Adi worked on Hurrdat through his final year of college. After graduation came the NFL Draft. He eventually signed with Carolina and became the first Bosnian to play in the National Football League. But just two days after he signed, the Panthers picked up another kicker from Seattle and it was probable that Adi was out of a job. Once again, he kept his head down and worked as hard as he could, letting go of factors he could not control.
He was cut after the final preseason game. Adi would play for and tryout with a few more teams, but all attempts ultimately ended with disappointing flights home to Lincoln.
But each time he was reminded of one thing he certainly had going for him. By now, Hurrdat had hired other employees and grown significantly. It became apparent that it was time to make a decision. He needed to choose between the two.
“Even if you call me, I’m not going,” Adi told his agent. “If I’m going to lead our people, they need to know I’m not going to leave when an opportunity comes up.”
Around this time, Adi and Blake decided that a service they were offering should become a company of it’s own. Blake took over the new company, called Opendorse, which links marketers with athletes. Adi would oversee Hurrdat.
Both companies continue to flourish today. In July of 2014 Hurrdat was acquired by B2 Interactive in Omaha. Adi’s now transitioned into a role at Opendorse, working alongside Blake once more. In both places, he says he’s had the opportunity to do what he loves: Develop people.
“Having the mentality to affect people and see them become amazing at what they do – that’s the most exciting and fulfilling thing.”
Adi’s never been one to look back. That’s his entrepreneurial spirit pushing him to keep his gaze on what’s ahead. But in the moments that the reality of how far he’s come sinks in, he thinks back to the decision his parents made many years ago.
“I want to make the most out of everything I have so I can tell my parents, “Hey, thank you for sacrificing what you did for me. Here’s how I can repay you for that. I didn’t just end up doing this. I ended up doing something I love doing.’”