Vasil Terziev and Svetozar Georgiev, founders of the software company telerik and AUBG graduates, gave AUBG Daily an exclusive interview before their lecture at the StartUP Entrepreneurship conference on Saturday, March 24.
Their lecture topic was “The Path, from Skaptopara to Success!” It aimed to give practical advice to young entrepreneurs as well as to break some misconceptions on the idea of entrepreneurship.
Here is the full interview with them talking about the opportunities AUBG gives to its students and the values one should follow in business.
Can you give us some background, AUBG graduation year, and how did it all start?
Vasil (smiles): This is a long topic. We plan on dedicating it a whole hour on the conference. I am year 2001, we had to graduate 2000 but I stayed a little longer.
Svetozar: I am year 2000, technically I had to graduate 1999, but also decided to stay more.
Vasil: I chose two majors, BUS and ECO, but for ECO I had two courses left and never managed to complete the major, since it was not so interesting to me. I wanted to take those courses that interested me rather than just taking a second major just like that.
Svetozar: I also chose BUS, I didn’t wander around 1-2 years until I decided what I want to study. I even studied Business Administration before I came to AUBG. Since I stayed a little longer I also did a JMC major, which, by the way, goes very well with business and it was definitely useful.
What does Entrepreneurship mean to you? Why did you decide to come to such a conference?
Vasil: Apart from it being a good opportunity to come to the Alma Mater, we are also friends with some of the organizers who asked us to come and we decided this would be a good opportunity to talk about the history of our company, what we learned, the mistakes that we made, and to help other people in their first steps, to prevent them from making the same mistakes.
Svetozar: Entrepreneurship as a topic is quite interesting, there is definitely no formula, every entrepreneur has his/her individual path, depending on the times, the activities, the atmosphere. Despite that, there are some common rules and interesting things happening over and over and this is what we want to share today; some purely technical advice which could be helpful.
Vasil: The other thing we want to communicate to people here is the fact that, as a whole, according to us, many people want to be entrepreneurs because they heard it is interesting, because it looks nice in their CVs, on their business cards. In our view, this is the wrong motivation. If you don’t have the wish to solve a problem or to build something, when it is not grounded inside you, rather, you want to be an entrepreneur because of the spotlights, it will not work. This is not the right direction.
Why did you, personally, want to become entrepreneurs?
Vasil: We didn’t want to become entrepreneurs, it happened quite accidentally. What hindered us before that was the lack of opportunity for development in our old job. We wanted to develop ourselves. Whether you work for someone else, or you are an entrepreneur, the fact that we are born to create is still there. When you are not given this opportunity to develop, when your work, more or less, is not encouraged, then you should take some measures. The measures we took were to try and change the status quo of our old job, to explain why it has to change, but things did not work out and we ended up being entrepreneurs by accident.
So for you Entrepreneurship is a creative activity?
Vasil: Yes, it is a creative process, a desire to create something better, a product, service.
Svetozar: I wouldn’t say there was a concrete influence, rather the university as a whole, the people, the colleagues, the professors maybe gave us something and changed us which helped us to walk our path successfully. Of course, Vasil and I value greatly and remember certain professors, but on the whole, I think it is not fair to distinguish some at the expense of others, because it was the combination of everything that led to this result. All colleagues, some of whom we see here today, have given us motivation and have made us fighters, well-rounded men maybe. From here, to a large degree you are quite ready to begin. From here a great journey follows, it is very probable that we may not succeed. This is why it is important to a degree to have a dose of luck. So when you see something happening, to bite it really hard and to start chasing it. It can be done with persistence.
Vasil: Persistence, discipline… One of the most important things I learned in AUBG was discipline. Twelve o’clock means 12 o’clock, not 12:05. The fact that there are certain standards which have to be followed, the fact that sloppy job is being punished, the fact that you have to do your best, to be honest with yourself, with the others, not to fib – these are all things formed by parents, professors and other people around you. They play a huge role later on on the decisions that you have to make.
What are your concerns about Entrepreneurship, things that bother you, hindrances you encounter?
Vasil: I don’t see any big hindrances. Entrepreneurship is not one field – being an entrepreneur in the mining industry is different from being an entrepreneur in the IT industry. Everything is different, so they cannot be compared. What is common between all fields and what bothers me is the thing I mentioned before – that people want to be entrepreneurs for the wrong reasons – not to create something good, not to develop themselves and become better, but simply to get media coverage and to have people who admire them, and not because they want to be creators. And I think this is valid for many people around the world, not just a Bulgarian phenomenon.
Svetozar: Yeah, the same Vasil said – Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. When a person takes up such a task, he/she has to be very serious and determined because it is very hard, especially in the beginning when you are still learning and make a lot of mistakes. And if you don’t pass this initial period and have an idea that is technically good, it can die because you were unable to realize it. So you shouldn’t go in [entrepreneurship] blindly. We all read – Silicone Valley, one after the other … a machine for successful people, but we don’t read about the thousands that have not been successful. People should clearly realize this misconception.
Vasil and Svetozar (laughing)
Vasil: If it were only one or two examples….
Svetozar: The question is to put yourself together relatively quickly and not to make the same mistake for a second or a third time. This would already be a huge mistake. Otherwise, we made mistakes with everything – with people, with processes, with time, with indecisiveness…
Vasil: … with self-confidence, with lack of discipline.
A friend of mine did a case, where telerik was the example of the only middle-size company in Bulgaria with innovative working environment and approach to tasks. How would you comment on that?
Vasil: We still have a long way to go. This is the only comment I can make. The very fact that we managed to achieve this, shows that it is possible and we hope other people will manage to break through, to do it the same way, even to surpass us, to have more and more accomplishments and new ideas, to create an ecosystem of young, able, thinking people and companies who make things happen in a different way.
Svetozar: As a whole the climate is getting better. Not only economically, but also mentally, which I think is even more important. People are not so desperate as before, when everyone wanted to run away from Bulgaria. On the contrary, now we witness the reverse process – many people come back. Now that there is a new, fresh input of young, motivated people and that living in Bulgaria is no longer something exceptional by definition, ideas and good initiatives will soon follow. After all, there are many interesting companies and initiatives already. We [telerik] have reached a size that’s quite big for Bulgaria, quite serious. But this was not the goal, this was the result of what we were trying to achieve. Subsequently, we needed more people and this is how we grew up. It was not a fixed idea to have 500 people or 1000 people.
But definitely, in conversing with young people we see a spark, we see motivation and desire to do something in Bulgaria, which is wonderful. This was not the case when we were graduating. Not to mention 1997 and its hyperinflation when AUBG was only a step towards going abroad. Still, a big number of our colleagues work and are successful in Bulgaria nowadays.
Vasil: From our year a lot of people stayed in Bulgaria and went on being entrepreneurs. This makes us very happy and we hope more people will see the good opportunities for development in Bulgaria, and will quell this sense of hopelessness, the feeling nothing happens around here.
What would you say to AUBG entrepreneurs today?
Svetozar: I would say that the university is fantastic, they should use every second – to study hard, to build relations and friendships because they will be very helpful after that. They have a great start that has to be used, everything else depends on them.
Vasil: And to be human. To be human, to treat each other well, to strive to follow the universal human values – these things help you in business also. Considering the fact that you spend more time with your colleagues than with your family it is only natural that you apply the same values to all the people you communicate with intensively.
Svetozar: This is the first time we visited an initiative like StartUp. It’s very interesting and helpful. Even a single event like this is enough to ignite a flame in a person. The more events like this there are, the more you talk about this wonderful topic, the more it will help the business environment.
Vasil: There should be positive examples. This is one of the things that is lacking. Good, positive things happen, but nobody talks about them. Journalism itself focuses way too much on negative things and not so much on positive. Such forums talking about positive things and good developments give us the opportunity to show people what we are talking about, that there is light, that not everything is hopeless and that things can happen, so people can believe in themselves.
So it is belief in yourself that is the key?
Belief in yourself, in other people, in goodness as a whole.