6 things I learned building a global company from my Bucharest flat
When my cofounders and I started our business in a 2 bedroom flat in Bucharest (Romania), there was just the three of us: Andrei, Gabriel and myself. Today, we have a team of 12 very talented people, with offices in Bucharest, Latin America (Chile) and New York.
In 2012, we have over 2.500 companies registered on our Appscend platform and have designed over 250 mobile apps for various large international clients. (Ed.: you might have heard about them replicating the NY Times app in barely 2 hours).
This is what we learned along the way:
We started considering entrepreneurship as a career path since university. At 19, we put our minds in setting up one of the most important business NGOs designed for the student community. At 21, after graduating school Andrei, Gabriel and myself found work as an employee – like we were expected to do, as breadwinners.
Being an employee was satisfying: I was upgrading my economics specs, marketing and management skills, while Gabriel and Andrei were becoming creative code gods. Nevertheless, we lasted less than a year. At 22, we left a safe and secure job to start a business, and we went looking for something that was profitable. In late 2008, we settled on web design, web development and everything else connected to it.
We did well. We started working with large corporate clients, developed a stable and secure network and new projects were becoming something quite constant. Until that became something quite safe and secure in itself – we wanted a new challenge.
Then mobile picked up, and smartphones were everywhere: mobile apps, iTunes, Apple, Steve Jobs. In late 2010, we launched our second company: Appscend. This time in a business vertical we were not that familiar with: mobile.
We were pioneering mobile app development, management and monetization of mobile apps. First in Romania, then in Eastern Europe, by building a platform which would answer to all the mobile and marketing needs of potential business clients from scratch – based on an innovative and proprietary architecture called Ignite Markup.
The first time we presented Appscend in public was during an important pitching event in Bucharest. I was holding the front line and a classic digit-driven powerpoint, while my colleagues were live coding a mobile app to meet the 6 minutes deadline of the pitch.
Since then, the company, the service, our business model, has constantly matured, and so have we. As an entrepreneur, learning is constant and sometimes extremely abrupt. These are some of the most important lessons I learned:
1. In new markets, clients need to understand what you’re selling first
There’s always room for improvement in marketing and sales. Especially when you are entering an entire new market, like we did with mobile apps. In a new market, potential clients first need to understand the business and its necessities and then decide whether what your “selling” is what they require.
2. Being able to sell effectively includes being fluent in English
A personal note to Eastern European entrepreneurs: work on having a native and smooth sales and marketing flow, that includes your fluency in English as well. Especially when your business addresses more mature markets, where the competition is fiercer than in new markets. Mastering English well gives potential clients a sense of trust and mutual understanding.
3. Secure funding best when your business is hot.
Don’t hurry with grabbing money when you have no clue what your business does, where you want to take it and what is your probability of success. Most probably, no business angel or VC will back you up. We started by being entrepreneurs, as well as investors, self-taught managers, nighthawk developers, and relationship focused marketers. In time, we got the right people to endorse and assist our business growth.
Our advice: go grab money when the picture is clear, when you know how much you need to reach the next point of business development and when your business case is so solid that there are so few weak-spots for investors to say no.
4. Plan less, act more!
In a traditional culture such as the one we were raised in, parents will teach their children that schooling is the only way to succeed in life. Indeed, but only up to a point.
No course, elaborate teaching syllabus, MBA or mentor will instill in you a perfect business plan or how to dogde a low budget bullet. Nothing happens just as on paper. Never jump in a fire-burning house without a buffer, yet don’t spend months or years building on that protective layer. Learn by practice!
5. Don’t burn yourself up: you’ll need to last a while
Being an entrepreneur takes 24 / 7. But then again, this is what you were looking for when venturing of on your own. When you run your own business, there is no 9-to-5 program, at least not for you as manager or your co-founder.
However, don’t go to extremes and start buring the candle at both ends. Be balanced with your energy and business schedule: working to the point of exhaustion will burn you out and actually make you even less productive.
6. Create success instead of hunting it
There is no entrepreneur or investor out there who does not say that: focus, focus, focus, work, work, work and then you can launch the next Facebook. The part about the hard work is true, the part about Facebook is a bit foolish.
You should not aspire too much on the success of others by developing a business similar or emergent from theirs. This is, in my perspective, is a wanna-be entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs should be involved in creating success, rather than fervently seeking it. In other words, your vision or path or whatever you want to call it means treading unto untamed lands.
And if you find yourself falling, stumbling, unsure, remember this. Success isn’t about not screwing up. It’s when it happens, you see the pieces that fell put into a larger perspective. That can become the greatest opportunity to realize you can fit those pieces into something greater.
[photo: Bucharest, Flickr]
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