Why did you learn to code?
I first started coding when I was 12 years old. At first it was about curiosity and the challenge. Having had a rough childhood, it soon became a safe place for me where I could express myself and grow. At 16, I started tutoring others. That became a significant motivation for me as it built my self-confidence and social skills.
I’m a strong believer that coding has a lot to do with creativity. Coding without creativity will produce dull, un-innovative solutions.
What’s the inspiration behind Plant an App?
I’ve always felt that there is a big waste in software development. Software engineers either like, or are forced by the circumstances, to write the same code that has been written millions of times before. It’s not just the actual time writing code. It also includes all the meetings that take place with the stakeholders, as well as the specification writing, testing, documentation and maintenance that results from that. I wanted to help optimize the development processes.
However, there is a second angle that’s just as important. With traditional development, you need great developers to write great software. As with every domain, the number of highly skilled workers is scarce. With average skills, the resulting software tends to be of average quality. This requires even more technical people to maintain. I believe this is the main force that led to the exponential growth of the IT Services sector in the past decades.
This is my personal mission on which Plant an App was founded – to democratize development so that anyone can build great software, rapidly.
This is not your first time founding a company – what do you think is the most important skill founders need to succeed?
After 15 years of entrepreneurship, I would say that the most important skill is optimism. Everything else derives from it – courage, perseverance, resilience, experimentation, admitting failure and looking past it.
Entrepreneurs have to be a bit delusional by nature, thinking they can disrupt how things are done for the problem they’re targeting. No amount of market research or insight can provide a formula for success.
It also takes optimism to persevere and experiment as the business is struggling to gain traction. Being rejected 10 times per day can easily discourage entrepreneurs if it weren’t for that delusional optimism.
I would also dare to say that optimism should be a conscious decision. There are many people that will give 1,000 reasons why things aren’t going to work. They call themselves realistic. However, to the conscious optimistic entrepreneur those are various perspectives constrained by specific experiences that are worth exploring instead of getting into a defensive position.
The truth is that nothing can’t be done until somebody does it first.
Plant an App was originally created in Romania, and brought to San Francisco after a successful pitch. What was the moving process like?
The process was very exciting! All my previous businesses had a U.S. focus, but I never got to actually live for extended periods or incorporate them in the U.S. before. For a native, it might sound dull, but getting up to speed on legal, finance, cultural or living aspects in the U.S. is thrilling. Not knowing these things always made me feel inferior when competing with other businesses in the U.S. market. So, I used this opportunity to ask the dumb questions and get answers.
How do you handle risk and competition?
All my previous businesses have been bootstrapped, so I’ve really trained the muscle of taking calculated risks and planning for their consequences.
The biggest risk that I see is to have a business that stalls. All decisions that I make derive from this main risk. There can be many reasons leading to that – insufficient traction, an insufficiently skilled workforce, unscalable processes, lack of focus, and so on.
My thought process is to constantly evaluate what the top 3 causes why the business can’t grow faster are, and focus on those. The decision to move to San Francisco and take part in the 500 Startups program has been made from this perspective. We acquired our biggest customer, Vail Health, while being in the program. I knew that having in-person meetings with the customer would be extremely beneficial.
Every decision comes with its own risks. What works for me in evaluating those risks is to put them in balance with the cost of doing nothing.
You participated in 500 Startups. What was that experience like? What did you gain or learn?
500 Startups was a great experience. The most important thing I gained is the network that we grew in a very short amount of time. That network is still driving intros to investors, customers and partners.
The biggest thing that I’ve personally learned is that there is no one-size-fits-all formula out there. We wasted so many efforts trying to follow the growth models of other companies. Things really started working when we paused and took a fresh look at who we are, what assets we have, and what unique things we can put on the table. Using these for growth proved to have an infinitely better outcome than when we were pursuing the models of others. Having the support of 500 Startups to execute was a huge help.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
The biggest challenge for us is financing. We have a great team, great product, great community – but we are unable to scale rapidly without capital. Romania is a very small and immature market from this perspective. That was a big part of our decision to move to the U.S. This challenge is still very relevant for us as we’re taking part in the Republic campaign and having many investor discussions.
I would say the other big challenge in the early days was the spinning off from the previous business. We had to draw lines in order to free up resources and move them to Plant an App. What we ultimately did very well was to create a transition path for customers of the previous business which was about developer tools. Now, to them, it feels like a natural upgrade to move to Plant an App. It’s a channel that we are working to convert over the next 2 years.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
The most surprising thing I’ve learned is that I can do sales roles very well. I always considered myself an introvert and better at product development and innovation strategies. However, with no one to lead the sales in the early days, I decided to wear this hat as well. It took a lot of failed sales meetings to get that hang of it. Through that work, I’m responsible for the 400% growth rate that we had this year.
In the meantime, we’ve also got a sales adviser onboard, Kevin Lindquist that used to be the Sales VP at Decisions. We’ve just hired our first sales person in New York and the first Partner Channel Business Developer in the U.K.
The big lesson learned here is that the limitations that we think we have, are mostly in our heads. With significant practice, drive, and curiosity, many skills can be acquired – even in short periods of time.
What’s your team culture like?
We place a lot of emphasis on building a product that we believe in. A lot derives from that – initiative, innovation, team collaboration, building relationships outside of work, pushing ourselves further, etc.
What is your superpower?
Optimizing. It can be both at a high level, such as optimizing the software delivery process with Plant an App, or at a smaller day to day level, such as building email sequences, finding the simplest technical solutions to a complex problem, or offering new positions to our team members.
What’s your kryptonite?
Having repeated meetings on topics in which nothing gets delivered.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
I try many things, but rarely stick with something for too long. I sometimes play drums, ride motorcycles, play computer games or write in my journal. The only hobby that has been constant is coding, a thing that I sometimes still do during the weekends.
Are there any apps or gadgets that you can’t live without?
I love my pen and paper!
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen across the industry?
I think the most important change is IT literacy. Most of the software engineers in this world work on translating for people that don’t know how to talk to computers. Low-code is not new, it has been around for 20 years under different names. It never gained widespread adoption just because of the lack of sufficient IT literacy in the world.
Now, with more and more people seeing basic IT knowledge as a skill that they apply to their domain knowledge, we see things ramping up at an incredible rate.