Our Co-CEO, Cătălin Briciu has been named one of the people to watch in the 'Forbes 30 under 30' 2023 program. Find the original article here.
Below you can see the full-length interview taken by Forbes, and carefully translated by Patricia Zavacky.
1. Tell me a bit about yourself
I’m 29 years old and I’m from Alba Iulia. In 2013, I moved to Cluj-Napoca and enrolled at FSEGA within Babeș-Bolyiai University (BBU), specializing in Economics and International Business.
After a year, I chose to also study Law at BBU, attending both faculties in parallel.
I successfully graduated from both, while also having a scholarship, and continued with master's degrees in International Business Management and International Business, Trade, and Tax Law.
2. How do you spend your free time?
I have a series of passions that help me balance my mind and body.
Each morning starts with about half an hour of meditation, which prepares me to approach the day with the right mindset.
Sport is part of my daily routine - whether it's the gym, running, basketball, or, more recently, kickboxing.
Also, business trips give me the chance to discover new places - like the USA, China, and even Australia - and I enjoy every experience.
The moments spent with my girlfriend, friends, and family are essential to me; they are a reflection of what I am.
I am extremely curious by nature, so reading is an activity I practice daily. I have the habit of reading two books in parallel - one for personal development and a fictional one, to maintain a balance between reality and imagination.
3. How did you discover your passion for what you do?
Firstly, by discovering myself and what motivates me to create.
My personal "why" is to enhance life experience through technology. This "why" became clearer over time, but the first moment I knew I wanted to follow an entrepreneurial path was in high school, and the turning point was when I started the first business with my Co-Founders, Alexandru Bogdan, and Răzvan Bretoiu.
Also in high school, I wanted to become a lawyer, so I went all the way on this path. Thus, I graduated in Law and even practiced it for a while. Later I chose to suspend myself from this profession to follow the path that truly fascinates me: entrepreneurship in the technology field.
4. Do you have mentors?
I don't have mentors in the traditional sense of the word, but I strongly believe in the value you can take from others' experiences. I constantly learn from other tech leaders, both locally from Cluj and nationally or internationally.
Also, family, business partners, and close friends are constant sources of learning and inspiration for me. Each person in my life contributes, in one way or another, to my personal and professional development.
If I were to highlight someone, it would be my parents, Doina and Mircea. They have offered me a realistic perspective on entrepreneurship since childhood, with all its challenges and satisfactions.
5. Tell me (briefly) about your professional journey
In 2016, I took my first steps in the entrepreneurial world.
The first year was intense and full of lessons, and it felt like many more in terms of accumulated experience. I entered the technology field, launching Linnify's first software product, deliverME. We had the chance to participate in programs such as Innovation Labs and Junior Achievement Romania, which gave me a valuable perspective on innovation and entrepreneurship.
In 2019, I entered the legal field, becoming a trainee lawyer. This stage of my professional journey brought me to Lăpușan & Associates, where I had attorney Mihai Lăpușan as a master. From him, I learned the nuances and complexities of the law, as well as the importance of integrity and ethics in legal practice.
My experience as a lawyer brought me a unique perspective and a deep understanding of the business environment. However, I decided to focus on my entrepreneurial skills, combining legal knowledge with an innovative spirit.
In 2020, I introduced a new concept of healthy food to the Cluj-Napoca market, Nutriento, based on healthy bowls. It was an opportunity to collaborate with my lifelong friend, Virgil Ciobotă, and to learn about the challenges of a business in a different field.
In the last two years, my attention has been focused on building a strong differentiator for Linnify regarding transforming authentic ideas into scalable and successful products. An essential element of this differentiator is the innovative product market validation process that we developed called the "Essential Validation Playbook".
6. How did the project you are involved in start - if there are several, mention them all.
In 2016, I co-founded Linnify with Alexandru Bogdan and Răzvan Bretoiu, my high school colleagues and very good friends. The same year, we launched our first startup in Cluj-Napoca, deliverME - an on-demand shopping delivery online platform, the first of its kind in the region. This project marked the moment when Darius Bogdan, Sebastian Godja, and Răzvan Todea joined our company.
Linnify was built on three values - authenticity, unity, and vision. Linnify's vision is to be the place that turns authentic ideas into products that dare to change the way experience life.
Starting in 2018, we began to focus more on software development, and the results of this change in direction were evident, with a 100x increase in turnover in the period 2017-2019.
As CEO, a role I share with Alexandru, I focus on company expansion, defining the vision, setting strategic directions, and consolidating our position in the national and international markets.
Recently, we recorded a turnover of almost 2 million euros, double compared to the previous year, and our team has grown to about 50 Linnifians, each bringing unique value through what they do.
Currently, we are in full expansion in the Austin, Texas market, collaborating with our local partner, Austin Venture Association. In the workshops we organize in Austin, we emphasize the 'Essential Validation Playbook', an internally developed tool that highlights our unique approach to transforming authentic ideas into scalable and successful products. This playbook has become an essential part of how we present ourselves and collaborate with local startups and investors.
In the spring of 2020, just when the pandemic started, we launched an innovative healthy food concept based on healthy bowls in the Cluj-Napoca market, under the name of Nutriento. It was an opportunity to start this business with my oldest friend, Virgil Ciobota. The experience taught me a lot about the challenges of running a business in a different field than I was used to.
Nutriento's mission is to give your body exactly what it needs. My current role in the project is as a board member and strategic advisor. I actively involve myself in strategic decision-making.
The current CEO, Gabriel Todea, leads and coordinates the company's activity, ensuring the vision continuously develops and adapts to market needs. The company attracted investments of approximately 200k euros. In the last year, we recorded a turnover of 250k euros and managed to reduce losses compared to previous years.
Projections for 2023 indicate a positive direction, considering a possible net positive result. Our strategy for the next year focuses on scaling the business model, both in the national and international markets.
A DAY IN THE FUTURE
The podcast 'A Day in the Future' debuted at the end of 2021, out of curiosity to explore and better understand the future that awaits us. Through this project, I had the opportunity to talk to prominent personalities from various fields, who shared their visions about the challenges of the present and how technology can influence the future.
As a host, I aim to bring innovative visions to the audience and present how today's leaders and visionaries anticipate tomorrow's developments. The first season placed special emphasis on Romanian-origin guests, with one exception: one of my favorite authors, Elio D'Anna.
Soon, we will launch the last three episodes of this season, and for next year, we plan a series of episodes with international guests.
MANIFESTO FOR ACCELERATED INNOVATION
I am one of the initiators of the 'Manifesto for Accelerated Innovation', the most recent project in which I am actively involved. This initiative was launched together with other actors from the Cluj innovation ecosystem.
In the first half of 2023, I had the role of driver and lead of this project. My main mission was to create a unified vision of the direction our ecosystem wants to go.
This "Manifesto" is a call to action addressed to all of us: ‘spectators or creators? Innovation starts with each of us!’. The purpose of the project is to provide innovators with market experimentation spaces. Basically, we want to facilitate market testing of innovations by startups, especially those operating in Cluj.
I am pleased that the project took shape in such a short time and is growing month by month, strengthening the ties between members of the local ecosystem.
If you are interested in joining this movement or contributing to its development, I invite you to get in touch with us.
7. What assets does Romania have in terms of opportunities in your field of activity? What are we lacking and what are we good at?
Romania has a significant advantage in the technological field due to the talent we have. We have exceptional professionals, with a remarkable ability to be creative and find innovative solutions to the challenges they face. This creativity and adaptability differentiate us in the global market and give us a competitive position.
However, what we lack is a more pragmatic approach oriented towards the real applicability of the solutions we develop. We need to focus more on building products that bring concrete value to the market and have the potential to bring significant changes to the world. Focusing on real impact and creating sustainable value would allow us to consolidate our position and expand our influence globally.
8. Which are your main recommendations for young people who want to get an investor's attention and funding
For young entrepreneurs who want to attract investors' attention and get funding, my recommendations are:
Establishing a strong 'why'
First of all, it is essential to have a strong reason for venturing into the entrepreneurial world. The answer to why am I doing this?"will be your energy source in the difficult moments you will go through.
In-depth knowledge of the market
It is essential to understand the market you are operating in or want to enter as detailed as possible. This will allow you to creatively identify opportunities and anticipate challenges.
Building a unique value proposition
Make sure you have a clear and distinct unique value proposition that solves a real problem for your customers.
Continuous validation of your ideas
Constantly test and validate your assumptions in the market. This validation process, as we use at Linnify, will help you adjust your product or service based on real customer feedback.
Building a trustworthy team
In the initial stages of a startup, the team is essential. A well-balanced and complementary team can be the determining factor in the success or failure of your business.
Focusing on scalability and viability
Based on my interactions with various investors, a constant criterion was evident: they are looking for ideas with expansion potential and a solid business model. It is essential to be able to highlight these two qualities when discussing with potential financiers.
In any case, there are two elements that Bill Gross, the founder of IdeaLab, the world's most successful venture studio, noted about successful startups: good timing and a great team.
If your vision of what you are building is fueled by a strong 'why', the right investors will appear in your path. Ensure clear, transparent communication and act with integrity in everything you do. This is the best way to attract the right people to you.
9. What are the ingredients startups need to expand?
The essential ingredients for expanding startups are:
Validation in an initial market
It is important to identify and understand the needs of a clear customer segment before thinking about expansion. This ensures that your product or service has real demand and can be adapted to other markets.
Adapted market entry strategy
Each market has its peculiarities, from cultural differences to specific regulations. A well-thought-out strategy, adapted to each region or country you want to expand to, is essential to successfully navigate these differences.
The right team
Expansion requires people with experience and expertise in the field, as well as the right connections in the target market. Having team members or partners who know the specific challenges and opportunities of the area from the inside can accelerate the expansion process and increase the chances of success.
Expanding a startup is not just a matter of having a good product but also having the strategy, knowledge, and team to navigate the often-unknown terrain of a new market.
10. What are the most attractive areas for entrepreneurial initiatives?
In the current context, the fields that attract attention in the entrepreneurial world are varied and reflect rapid changes in society and technology.
As technology, generative AI promises to revolutionize the way we live, work, and communicate. The ability to generate content, solutions, or even new ideas through AI opens up a world of possibilities and innovations.
Personally, I find areas such as health, education, personal well-being, and energy, especially when they integrate a sustainability dimension, more attractive. These sectors have the potential to profoundly influence our quality of life and, due to their global impact, innovations in these areas can significantly change the world.
Regarding short-term earning opportunities, domains like e-commerce, content creation, and advertising are booming. To excel in these spheres, certain skills are needed: creativity and the ability to differentiate yourself in an oversaturated market.
Whether we are oriented towards emerging domains with the potential to change paradigms or towards more traditional sectors that are continuously transforming, the key elements for success remain adaptability, innovation, and a deep understanding of the needs of the market, which are constantly evolving.
11. How do you see the local entrepreneurial landscape in the medium and long term?
In the local entrepreneurial context, in the medium term, I observe a significant increase in the desire to innovate and develop businesses that bring added value to the market. It is encouraging to see more and more young people eager and able to bring positive changes. Also, developments in the public sphere make me optimistic about the possibility that public institutions will support the development of these initiatives.
In the long term, I am convinced that Romania has the potential to become an important point on the global innovation map. To reach this potential, it is important to have a unified vision and accelerate progress through an open mindset. This involves a more open approach to risk, accepting failure as part of the learning process, as well as the courage and determination to create unique value in the world.
In conclusion, I would like to offer advice to readers: to truly know what you want to achieve, you must know yourself. Everything starts with you and your inner motivation. And remember - motivation and clarity come through action. Regardless of your dreams or aspirations, start with a step, no matter how small, and build on it.
Read the Romanian version on forbes.ro
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