Sergiu is the co-founder of Travod, a leading on-demand translation service platform helping more than 6000 brands worldwide translating, transcribing and creating content in more than 100 languages. Travod was named the most democratic workplace in 2013 by WorldBlu and the most promising startup in 2015 at Websummit. Travod employs 60 people on-staff and has a network of more than 25,000 professional translators. Sergiu is taking his Diploma in Strategy and Innovation from University of Oxford – Said Business School.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I studied business and was always fascinated about entrepreneurship. I did my internship at Ogilvy & Mather, which is a great company, amazing colleagues and environment, however I did not feel myself. I wanted to be financially independent and do something on my own, experience challenges, diversity and growth of a startup. I think I wanted to grow personally – this was the main reason of becoming an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurship is about solving problems. The bigger the problem, the bigger the reward. Entrepreneurship is about doing whatever it takes to make it happen. It is about never giving up. Being obsessed about an idea of the future you want to bring to the world.
I have a theory – if there is someone ready to pay, than there is someone else who will pay, and more ready to do that. And if the economics work (your customer acquisition cost is 5x less than the lifetime value of the customer), this is the place to be. So we did not have any tech, any product, before having our first paying customer. I would never invest time and money in developing the product before I had 2-5 people paying first, begging for the product. It is a sign that you have a good idea, a real problem to solve, thus you can start developing it. You know about the MVP (Minimum Viable Product); forget about that, and create a Minimum Sellable Product.
So what would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
To be an entrepreneur you need 3 things: focus, focus and focus. Startups operate under conditions of extreme uncertainty, so the role of an entrepreneur is to decrease risk at each stage of the startup. Because you have limited resource, time, skills, people, and money, the only resource you can manage is your ability to focus. It is like being the captain of a boat; he always focuses on the vision. The founder is the gatekeeper of the vision, so the crew can get there. The focus of the entrepreneur creates the magic at the end of the day.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
I like to grow, to be more and to give more. For me being an entrepreneur is an incredible way to expand my potential, take on new challenges, accept people and deal with diverse personalities, solve customer problems, and to serve humanity in the best possible way, at my highest potential.
There are a lot of great entrepreneurs and startups, so it is hard to name just one. The first that comes to my mind is Jack Ma, Alibaba Group. He is a perfect example of an entrepreneur with limited resources but with a big passion and will to solve a problem. You know, everybody wants, but not everybody pushes hard. He is a great example of that relentless hard work and perseverance to the vision. Startups are built on “No”, not on “Yes”. He has a saying: “Today is hard, tomorrow is harder, but the day after tomorrow is beautiful.” It is a great inspiration for a startup founder.
I would like to find out how he came with his idea, what was the genesis of it and how he started to develop it. What were the first steps?
I guess it was our first paying customer. It is an amazing feeling when you get paid by the first customer. The fact that you can serve the customer, work all night and deliver value, and then get paid is an amazing feeling, worth living.
Oh… there are lot of them. From hiring the wrong people, investing in the wrong operational initiatives to poor strategic decision making. I learnt that you should never compromise on hiring; always hire the best people, greater than you. Never accept the “ok” employees, as that can damage your culture and future performance. I also learnt that you are the one to set the mood of your company. You, as an entrepreneur, set the tone. Do not wait for happiness or passion to show up, as most probably pessimism and challenge will be there. So as an entrepreneur you need to wire yourself to success. You create the future, you conduct the orchestra.
How have you funded your ideas? Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
Our customer is our investor. What I mean is that our company grows because our customers love our product; they are paying and coming back. I guess grants and competitions will be useful, but in our case as we scaled the business, there was no need. Our customers were our judges and fund givers, paying their invoices monthly.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
I think there are lot of advantages to start in Oxford, the main ones I believe are affordable rent to start with, access to knowledge and mentors. We then opened our office in London, as we wanted to be closer to our customers. But I guess if you are at the early stages, Oxford is a great place. Once you scale you can move to the city, Silicon Valley or elsewhere if needed.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
The thoughtful leader Jim Rohn said – “Successful people have libraries. The rest have big screen TVs.” I would first use the knowledge resources, online, offline, read everything. I would also go to networking events, hang around cafeteria, with the goal to meet interesting people, and possibly a future co-founder. I think in Oxford there is an opportunity to connect with diverse people, which as part of a team can solve great problems. If I had an idea I would participate in the Oxford VIEW program. I would also consider using a co-working space and going to any event, public talk, mentor session related to my startup theme.
I think people we spent our time with, create us. So spend your time wisely.