LESSONS LEARNED & SHARED BY FOUNDERS OF SlavConf.- ATANAS NEYCHEV & LILIA IVANOVA



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PURPOSE

  1. Why did you decide to become entrepreneurs rather than employees?

The concept of SlavConf. is innovative in Europe, because we wanted to create an event to explore the connection between humanities, education and business. We want to empower the desire of creating and we have created a community for career and creative development in the area of humanities and arts since 2017. Things are done by standards, specified by us. This is the reason why we decided to become entrepreneurs.

2. What is the main reason that keeps you going when the entrepreneurial journey gets really tough and rough?

SlavConf. is a series of events, which has a cause and aims to have an impact on society. We believe our work is important and we help young people pursue future opportunities. This is the reason we started the project and it keeps us going every day. 

3. What is the purpose behind your business? What kind of problems in your industry does it solve?

One of the main problems was the lack of a business forum which could support students of humanities and arts to find job opportunities, internships, etc. and to meet successful people from the fields of their interests who can give them useful advice. We work on problems like activism and volunteering, educational reforms and innovations, the importance of cultural heritage, and to encourage the recognition of Bulgarian and Slavic identity.

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4. What is the real added value in your business/ industry that is felt by the raving fans of your brand?


We consider the real added value to be the development of culture and innovation, and the exploration of content creating.

5. What is the future of your industry in terms of upcoming trends and technology?

The technological development in humanities is growing rapidly and there are more and more projects, which aim to support the community. The humanities are one step behind in regard of technological progress and we are working on this problem and we’d like to increase the awareness. This is why we invite speakers from tech companies related to humanities and arts.

6. What is the one lesson you would share with a fellow entrepreneur when it comes to accomplishing your goals in the most effective and efficient way?


We believe that the most important asset on the road to success is the purpose behind the work. It is always good to know how your work is important, why are you doing it and how do you contribute to society. Once you have a clear answer to those questions, the road ahead is also clarified. 

TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES THAT REALLY LEVEL UP YOUR GAME

7. How did you evolve from a solo entrepreneur into a company owner with a team? How did you hire your first employee (funny, quirky story) ?

People who help organize our events are mostly volunteers. And they are driven to us mostly because they want to contribute to our cause, as they feel it is an important one. Sometimes they are also interested in learning about the organization process of such events. 

8. Which are the best marketing channels to reach your target market? What are the most effective strategies to share the story of your business and why?

For us the best approach to share the story of our events is through the branded visuals of Slavic embroidery, created by us. The symbol of SlavConf. is the World Tree (Arbor Mundi) from the Slavic mythology. It is always present on our materials and campaigns.  

9. What are your plans for the development of your business and its growth in 2019 and upcoming years?

As the number of our events keeps increasing, we hope to become more global in the future years and to involve more people in our cause on international level. 


LESSONS LEARNED & SHARED BY Alexander Sumin - Co-Founder at Claim Compass!

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LESSONS SHARED

PURPOSE

  1. Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur rather than an employee?

I don’t really think that the dichotomy between the two is as defined as some people believe it is. Prior to ClaimCompass I worked in the private and public sectors but that did not prevent me from trying a couple of things of my own on the side. Leaving everything else behind and embarking full-time on the journey of building a company was really the outcome of a lot of things: my co-founders, the timing, funding and the initial traction we had generated with the business, while being an employee elsewhere. So I can’t say that the company is the output of the switch, it’s rather the other way around.


2. What is the main reason that keeps you going when the entrepreneurial journey gets really tough and rough?

I think it’s making peace with the idea that we can’t control everything, but we can try to give it our best and see what happens. At the end of the day it’s just work, I mean, it’s hard work, but it’s still only work. And there’s so much more to life than that.

3. What is the purpose behind your business? What kind of problems in your industry does it solve?

We help travelers get paid when airlines screw up their flights using data and tech.

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4. What is the real added value in your business/ industry that is felt by the raving fans of your brand?

Well, when your flight gets cancelled or delayed, there’s not much assistance that you get from the airline. We’ve streamlined the process of claiming up to 600 EUR compensation and manage the entire process, effectively making it, or trying to, make it simpler and hassle-free.

Raving fans - I like that.

5. What is the future of your industry in terms of upcoming trends and technology?

I think that passenger traffic keeps growing year over year and flight disruptions will always be part of the picture. However, we have more data, more access to technology, and more engaged and demanding customers, so I can’t imagine the future of the customer experience in air travel to continue being this poor.

6. What is the one lesson you would share with a fellow entrepreneur when it comes to accomplishing your goals in the most effective and efficient way?


I think that not all goals are worth accomplishing and that there’s no such thing as most effective and efficient way. So the earlier you start working on a goal, the better.


TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES THAT REALLY LEVEL UP YOUR GAME

7. How did you evolve from a solo entrepreneur into a company owner with a team? How did you hire your first employee (funny, quirky story) ?

It’s actually a real challenge. Nothing is as hard as making it work with other people: not the business model, not the market, not the access to funding or resources. It’s people. Our initial team was mostly people that joined because they believed in the idea and wanted to be part of something. Obviously, later on we just switched to a normal hiring process.

8. Which are the best marketing channels to reach your target market? What are the most effective strategies to share the story of your business and why?

If we’re talking about reaching a cold audience and first touchpoints, for us that’s AdWords and Facebook Ads for paid, and niche content for organic reach. It’s basically a good split between people who are aware that they can get compensation - i.e. express intent by searching in Google, and people who have not heard of it before, to which we show ads on Facebook. To me, a good marketing strategy considers the entire customer journey at different interaction points and is about the sum of small things, rather than only awareness and/or acquisition.

9. What are your plans for the development of your business and its growth in 2019 and upcoming years?

Doing what we do now, only ten times better.

LESSONS LEARNED & SHARED BY Alek Raev-Managing Director & Co-Founder at Alekurbex

LESSONS SHARED

PURPOSE

  1. Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur rather than an employee?

 Behind the name AlekUrbex stands the Parkour & Urbex photographer from Sofia-Bulgaria Alek Raev. This page is represented only by me.

2. What is the main reason that keeps you going when the entrepreneurial journey gets really tough and rough?

Parkour is my life. A discipline that goes far beyond inner mental and physical limits.

Difficulties in Parkour are constant.

The Urbex style is a very dangerous thing that's why in most of the countries is illegal.

The purpose of doing is the thrill.  

3. What is the purpose behind your business? What kind of problems in your industry does it solve?

It doesn't matter to me.

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4. What is the real added value in your business/ industry that is felt by the raving fans of your brand?


Creating good memories and content through capturing the moments all over the world. 

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5. What is the future of your industry in terms of upcoming trends and technology?

The trends in Parkour and Urbex to become more and more popular due to evolving cinematographic technologies.

6. What is the one lesson you would share with a fellow entrepreneur when it comes to accomplishing your goals in the most effective and efficient way?

Every hard work leads to achievement.

TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES THAT REALLY LEVEL UP YOUR GAME

7. How did you evolve from a solo entrepreneur into a company owner with a team? How did you hire your first employee (funny, quirky story)


It does not concern me.


8. Which are the best marketing channels to reach your target market? What are the most effective strategies to share the story of your business and why?

 I am primarily following this category in the media that concerns the trends in the development of Parkour and Urbex societies.

9. What are your plans for the development of your business and its growth in 2019 and upcoming years?

In 2019 I'm planning on visiting many places in Europe such as Berlin, Switzerland, Italy, Lisbon and Chernobyl in Ukraine where me and my friends plan on making a documentary movie about Urbex in Pripyat city.

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LESSONS LEARNED & SHARED BY Viktor Stoilov - Founder at Markademics

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LESSONS SHARED

PURPOSE

1.Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur rather than an employee?

First of all because I like taking full responsibility for my life. I’ve never wanted to be dependent on other people and what they think I’m worth for their team. Second, I think that having the example of my brother who was one of the very first online marketers in Bulgaria made it easier.  Third, because I don’t like the concept of the employee in general. Basically it’s creating value for someone else who will make the actual profit. 

2. What is the main reason that keeps you going when the entrepreneurial journey gets really tough and rough?

I can say a bunch of clichés here, however, being truly honest, it’s usually my philosophy and ultimate goals. Just thinking about how many great things I have set as goals and what I can do for my society and my friends and family always keeps me on track.  

3. What is the purpose behind your business? What kind of problems in your industry does it solve?

The purpose is actually more of a personal one. I want to show everyone that entrepreneurship is not so scary and that you don’t need 15 years of experience, 2 university degrees and a PHD to be successful, and that even if you come from a country from the CEE, you can still be competitive in the global market. When it comes to my digital marketing agency, we’re trying to implement the marketing principles and models of some of the biggest marketing experts in the world and have that available to smaller businesses or such that have never tried doing digital marketing before. Another thing which I think is crucial is that our focus is generating ROI for our clients. We don’t care about the likes or shares we get on their social profiles - we care about the returns. 


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4. What is the real added value in your business/ industry that is felt by the raving fans of your brand? 

I wouldn’t consider having raving fans, ha-ha. I think the real added value for most of our clients are better conversion rates, optimized funnels and more revenue as a whole. 

5. What is the future of your industry in terms of upcoming trends and technology?

This is not an easy question. One thing I can be sure of is that we’re going to see way more AI input into the market. Simple example: if a small-medium sized agency needed 5-10 people just to run Facebook ads, now, all of this can be made by a single person for 1 hour using softwares based on AI.

I also think that a lot of digital marketing agencies are going to go out of business because the value they bring is too little. The problem is that the so-called marketing gurus sold hundreds of thousands of people worldwide that being a digital marketer is a quick way to become rich. It turned out that it was just another “get rich quick scheme” for most people.

6. What is the one lesson you would share with a fellow entrepreneur when it comes to accomplishing your goals in the most effective and efficient way?

Just fucking do it. That’s the best quote ever for entrepreneurs. It comes from the great quantum leap mentor Dan Pena. Most entrepreneurs are way too intelligent and smart and that’s stopping them from taking action. I’ve faced the same problem and I’m still fighting against it. The bolder I am and the less I think before I act, the more results I actually get.

TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES THAT REALLY LEVEL UP YOUR GAME

7.How did you evolve from a solo entrepreneur into a company owner with a team? How did you hire your first employee (funny, quirky story)?


It’s actually funny because I recently spoke with a great financial consultant who told me that all entrepreneurs in Bulgaria are solopreneurs because their clients always trust the owner and not the management team. In this regard, I think that I’ll stay a solopreneur for a long time. Honestly speaking, I’ve never been truly alone in my efforts. The first think I did when starting my agency was to get a great accountant. The accountant is literally your best friend. He/she is closer to you than any of your friends or relatives because she knows when you’re failing, when you’re messing everything up and you can’t have secrets from him/her. I’m lucky enough to be working with an amazing accountant who has had the patience to be alongside me in everything I’ve faced. 

8. Which are the best marketing channels to reach your target market? What are the most effective strategies to share the story of your business and why?

For my business or in general? For my business, I’d say that LinkedIn has been huge for me in the past few months. I can reach out to people from all over the world while showing who I am and what I do. For my clients, then it very much depends. Every platform has its pluses and minuses and we use them depending on the goals of our clients.

When it comes to the most effective strategies to share the story of any business I can write a whole book on that matter. Yet something very simple but overlooked is to be genuine. Don’t be cocky, don’t try to sound too professional, just be yourself. And then have a marketing team that will know how to distribute all the content to the right people.  

9. What are your plans for the development of your business and its growth in 2019 and upcoming years?

The goals of our agency for this year is to get 80-85% of its revenue from international clients. I’d also like to have a better optimized system in place which can let me automate most processes inside the company. 



LESSONS LEARNED & SHARED BY SLAV SLAVCHEV -Online Marketing Consultant at Google Digital Garage

LESSONS SHARED

PURPOSE

  1. Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur rather than an employee?

The experience from the entrepreneurial journey is my answer. Being an employee is a good option. You have a little bit more financial security, in addition the pressure is times lower. On the other hand, entrepreneurship gives you the abstraction of how the things work, but more importantly it enriches you as a person. Moreover, as an entrepreneur every day you have the chance to solve different problems in the world for your clients which gives you indescribable satisfaction that you create the world a better place. 

2. What is the main reason that keeps you going when the entrepreneurial journey gets really tough and rough?

There is a sad truth that I think all of us should admit. Even the things which are our passion sometimes are not so interesting. However, the pivotal point is to have discipline. We all should rule ourselves before wanting to rule a business. Discipline is what helps you in the tough moments when the spirit is down and we don’t feel the motivation. When we get up and continue despite the obstacles by virtue of our discipline is what makes us strong personas that are ready for their dreams. A happy fact – after continuing and successfully dealing with the impediment, you experience an injection with a huge dose of motivation, but nothing can be achieved without discipline in long term.

3. What is the purpose behind your business? What kind of problems in your industry does it solve?

My current business is about creating online presence that brings intended business results. There are a lot of companies that can’t figure out their way in digital. My work as a Full-Stack Digital Marketer is to develop the whole customer journey through the different channels with a focus to reach the business goals in an optimal way. The process begins with defining the client’s needs and based on them setting smart goals on which a plan is developed. Having the right plan is essential for success. The next steps are dedicated execution and solid optimization of the work followed by creative testing, monitoring and analyzing the results.


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4. What is the real added value in your business/ industry that is felt by the raving fans of your brand?

The problem in digital is that the majority of the experts are specialized in only few channels and can’t see the opportunities broader without limitations.My approach is totally different and I don’t like the thin specialization because it limits your perspective to see the business potential and possibilities everywhere. For some businesses social channels work, for others the search is the way to go. For instance, some businesses have problems with the UI design that makes a negative impact on the UX and respectively on the conversion rate, but the experts can’t see the problem due to their thin specialization. Another businesses experience obstacles in SEO due to programming mistakes and the examples can be millions. For digital success the marketer should know a lot about psychology, communications, advertising, user experience, programming, design and information architecture as well as copywriting and a lot of other things. That is my USP (unique selling proposition) – Full-Stack Digital Marketing.


5. What is the future of your industry in terms of upcoming trends and technology?

Experience! The users are overwhelmed with new technologies and applications and they even stopped paying so much attention to the new. The reason is the internet war for getting the target attention with aggressive style. Sometimes it works, but the upcoming trend is the overall brand experience that gives value to the user. Many people think that the User Experience Design (UX) should be done by a designer. No. It shouldn’t. The designer should be good in the visual part of the work. The marketer should think about the sales and about the overall needed feelings in every step of the user journeys in order to transfer the user from point one to the point – “thank you for your order”.

6. What is the one lesson you would share with a fellow entrepreneur when it comes to accomplishing your goals in the most effective and efficient way?


I don’t find myself as a person who should give lessons. I am not important and the entrepreneurs should not follow rules. The only rules they should think of are their own rules and goals. They should be developed by everybody alone because everybody has different character, different perspective of view and more importantly, different life values and believes. Mine are – focus, discipline and finally relaxation to feel the satisfaction from my work and life, which motivates me.

TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES THAT REALLY LEVEL UP YOUR GAME

HOW DO YOU SOLVE DAILY, STRATEGIC AND VISION CHALLENGES THAT ARISE IN YOUR ENTREPRENEURIAL JOURNEY?


7. How did you evolve from a solo entrepreneur into a company owner with a team? How did you hire your first employee (funny, quirky story)

“Owning a team” is an expression because of which many businesses are going to have troubles in future. A team cannot be owned nowadays. A century ago when the machines were only in the fabrics, the workers were owned due to lack of options for them to earn money alone. Nowadays everybody has a computer and can work for himself. I prefer to call the people I work with my collaborators. Nobody works for me, we are working together for solving client’s needs.

8. Which are the best marketing channels to reach your target market? What are the most effective strategies to share the story of your business and why?

In the B2B segment the digital work a lot, but the most efficient and effective channel is from mouth to mouth. I am an introvert and the networking is not my favorite thing to do especially during crowded events. However, I have found another way which works even better to reach potential clients. It is simple and works as nothing else does. It is by giving value and share help. If you are good at something do favors without expecting anything. You will be surprised how many people will appreciate it. This is my formula for the mouth to mouth channel – “Give value to help without expecting. Some people will appreciate it.”

9. What are your plans for the development of your business and its growth in 2018 and upcoming years?

My plans for 2019 are to stop taking new clients. It sounds strange, I admit hahaha. Maybe one or two more, but I think if the Full-Stack Marketer is good, his projects will continue and grow. There is no need for new clients in this way. I am not a fan of the mass approach and prefer the boutique style in which you can have more personal value adding. 

Another plans for 2019 are starting a partnership for serial entrepreneurship not only in digital. We will see what is going to happen, whether it will be a success or a priceless lesson. For sure it will be interesting and I hope after a year or two to share again in your blog. Thank you for the opportunity ☺

Slav Slavchev – slavslavchev.com

LESSONS LEARNED & SHARED BY KIRIL VEKOV - Founder Of Dry&Go BODY DRYER

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LESSONS SHARED

PURPOSE

  1. Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur rather than an employee?

The freedom!

Since I was kid, I had only one dream – to be free.

So definitely 9 to 5 was not for me…
    When you are in a corporate atmosphere, your boss and the company decide when, what and how to do things. They put you instantly a limit for your growth and potential. As a corporate employee, you depend on the company’s own perspective and vision for the future.

I’ve always been trying to think outside the box. Every time I see a problem which many people complain from, I start thinking “how is it possible to resolve the problem and cure these people?’’
As an entrepreneur I have one simple purpose – “Solving problems” 

2.What is the main reason that keeps you going when the entrepreneurial journey gets really tough and rough?

The entrepreneurial journey is really hard. There is no doubt.

     “If you fear bears, you will not go in the forest.”

So…you have 2 options when you start an entrepreneurial journey:

  1. Complain every time you struggle with something
    or

  2. Prepare your mindset for the worst and toughest scenario. Make a lot of mistakes and learn from them. Improve yourself daily (both mind and body) and find more experienced and successful mentors who will guide you through the journey.

The better preparation you have, the smoother your journey will be.

3. What is the purpose behind your business? What kind of problems in your industry does it solve?

The Body Dryer’s purpose with two words: SAVE WATER. SAVE TIME.We are producing a new breakthrough high-end technology for the hospitality and bathroom industry. The technology is called Body Dryer and it dries your body with warm natural air faster, more hygienic and without an effort. It saves tons of water and cost from everyday towel laundry. It offers a whole new experience after a shower. The Body Dryer is perfect for the elderly and disabled people, who now have a solution to dry their bodies effortlessly. 

The hospitality industry spends annually billions of dollars and tons of water only from towel laundry. 

Our technology offers an environment-friendly solution for all kinds of hotels, resorts, gyms and spa centers. It dries gently the whole body only for 2 minute. The bigger hotels with more than 100 rooms have a huge ecological footprint, because they waste a lot of water and detergent. We aim to help the hospitality industry and environment at the same time.

DIRECTION

What is the real added value in your business/ industry felt by the raving fans of your brand?

4. What is the real added value in your business/ industry that is felt by the raving fans of your brand?

Our unique value proposition is that we offer a very innovative technology that disrupts the old human’s habit to use towels after a shower. We are offering an unique in it’s kind high-end experience that helps the environment at the same time.

5. What is the future of your industry in terms of upcoming trends and technology?

With each year the tourism and hotel industries are growing rapidly. People are loving more and more new technologies and babies are growing with them. They are used to having a better and faster solution for everything. The Millennials are the next generation that will set the global rules and standards, so the trend for smart technologies has yet to come and we it will be part of the future.

6.What is the one lesson you would share with a fellow entrepreneur when it comes to accomplishing your goals in the most effective and efficient way?

Replace daily habits. Change your surroundings. Be patient and persistent. Last but not least - HAVE BIG AMBITIONS AND BRAVE DREAMS.


TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES THAT REALLY LEVEL UP YOUR GAME

HOW DO YOU SOLVE DAILY, STRATEGIC AND VISION CHALLENGES THAT ARISE IN YOUR ENTREPRENEURIAL JOURNEY?


7.How did you evolve from a solo entrepreneur into a company owner with a team? How did you hire your first employee (funny, quirky story)

With a lot of patience and self-awareness. Meditation and visualization are also helping a lot. The first employee was hired via Facebook groups for freelancers. We were searching there for cheaper part time back-end work. We didn’t know how they work, but after the meeting with the freelancer, we saw a similar vision and principles, so we just offered him to join our journey to the top.  

8.Which are the best marketing channels to reach your target market? What are the most effective strategies to share the story of your business and why?

Tech fairs, LinkedIn , One on one meetings.

YouTube videos presenting the product and solution. Recommendations from big and well-known customers.

9. What are your plans for the development of your business and its growth in 2019 and upcoming years?

2019 year will be the most important year for us. We worked hard to create such an innovative technology and it costs us a lot of time to fix all the problems during the journey. 2019 will be the year for scaling and hiring new members to our extraordinary family. 

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LESSONS LEARNED & SHARED BY MARIO TOMIC - OWNER & FOUNDER OF tomic.com and FitnessMastery.com

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LESSONS SHARED

PURPOSE

1. Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur rather than an employee?

One word comes to mind. Freedom.

For me, becoming an entrepreneur was and still is the only path to truly living a life of freedom, happiness, and maximum contribution.

2. What is the main reason that keeps you going when the entrepreneurial journey gets really tough and rough?

In the first year of business, it was very hard. The emotional rollercoaster you can experience while running a coaching company is unbelievable. With a lot of moving parts in the business, you can easily get overwhelmed and paralyzed.I remember not being able to quiet the mind to fall asleep, stress that wouldn’t go down for weeks, being so burnt out that you don’t even know what normal feels like anymore. You have so much to do and so little time, it feels like your head is going to explode. Still, I kept going. We delivered an amazing service from day 1, and I knew if our clients are getting amazing results that we’ll find a way to survive. Talking to fellow entrepreneurs who were in the same boat as me and reading biographies of successful entrepreneurs helped a lot.Then over the years as you experience a lot of these ups and down you learn how to trust the process.You cultivate more self-efficacy and more confidence in your team. You know that if you adapt correctly, put in the work, learn, and improve that you will eventually succeed.

3. What is the purpose behind your business? What kind of problems in your industry does it solve?

We help entrepreneurs and busy professionals get in the best shape of their lives, so they can finally feel proud about their body, have the energy to reach their life goals, and be the leaders the world needs. We do this through intelligent lifestyle design which makes the changes we create for our clients sustainable and long-term.

DIRECTION

4. What is the real added value in your business/ industry felt by the raving fans of your brand?

Our unique advantage is that we provide the absolute best support of the any coaching company out there. Additionally, our coaching is based on the latest cutting-edge scientific research in the fields of exercise, nutrition, and psychology of behavior change.

5. What is the future of your industry in terms of upcoming trends and technology?

I believe the coaching industry will be disrupted and improved with the increased use of Artificial Intelligence. As we’re able to gather more data, we’ll be able to make better decisions faster using the power of AI and adjust our approach to better fit the specific needs of the individual.

6. What is the one lesson you would share with a fellow entrepreneur when it comes to accomplishing your goals in the most effective and efficient way?

Don’t wait for the right time. Get the proper mentoring and coaching right now. Mentoring is the most effective and efficient way to reach your goals. This advice applies to all areas of life. It’s not enough to work hard; you need to know precisely where to direct your time and energy. Instead of grinding for a decade to get your business off the ground, making every mistake in the book, trying to figure out everything by yourself, go out there and get the best mentoring you can find. It is the only shortcut that works.

TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES THAT REALLY LEVEL UP YOUR GAME

7. How did you evolve from a solo entrepreneur into a company owner with a team? How did you hire your first employee (funny, quirky story)

Hiring my first staff member was more of an accident. I didn’t know what I was doing. One day I was talking to a client who I’ve been working with for over six months.At the end of the conversation, I mentioned that I had to interview a freelancer to work on a project. While we were ending the call, the freelancer messaged me that something came up, and I stayed on the call with the client.The client then asked me a few questions about the project, turns out he knew what he was talking about and basically got himself hired.

To this day, I still hire mostly from my client base. I found clients and referrals to be amazing team members.

8. Which are the best marketing channels to reach your target market? What are the most effective strategies to share the story of your business and why?

I’m a big fan of social media channels: YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. In that order.

One of the most effective strategies for me was doing daily high-quality researched YouTube videos for an entire year. I started at the end of 2015 and by the end of 2016 my channel grew from just 3000 subscribers to over 60 000. Doing so many videos in a row without skipping a day was one of the hardest and one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my life.

9.What are your plans for the development of your business and its growth in 2018 and upcoming years?

2018 is the year of scaling for us. We’re bringing on more team members, we’re serving more clients than ever before, and I’m excited what the future is going to bring.

 

LESSONS LEARNED & SHARED BY THIBAUT TAITTINGER FOUNDER OF Puzl CowOrKing.

LESSONS SHARED

PURPOSE

1. Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur rather than an employee?

I think that some people are simply not-employable and I probably fall under that category! :D 

Maybe I just did not find the company that would allow me to be myself. I am truly passionate about building things – have always been – and I have had dreams of building businesses from a very young age. I have tons and tons of ideas that I wish to develop one day. Being an entrepreneur and hopefully building a successful business gives you the opportunity to pursue your wildest and craziest ideas – probably, this is what got me started. 

2. What is the main reason that keeps you going when the entrepreneurial journey gets really tough and rough?

One of the main facts about entrepreneurs is that we do not do it for the money. If you are money-driven, when the going gets tough and you struggle to make ends meet, which you always do at one point of your journey, you will give up. 

What keeps me going, is that is I truly believe in our mission. We are here to unite the technology sector in Central and Eastern Europe and help IT professionals develop their full potential. This is why I live and breathe Puzl, every day and every hour. 

Another thing that keeps me going is that I never feel stressed out. Regardless of what has happened the day before or how shitty our current position might be, every morning I wake up believing that today will be a great day. 

3. What is the purpose behind your business? What kind of problems in your industry does it solve?

The purpose of Puzl is to create communities where people share, learn, collaborate, and grow together. This seems to be the pitch of many coworkings these days, but for us it really is our core mission. The goal of our team is to provide the infrastructure and support needed for our community to thrive.

However, building a community doesn’t mean pushing people to go to yoga together or giving out free drinks in the kitchen. Creating a community begins much earlier, from the moment you start searching for the right building. Then it continues with the designing your coworking space, selecting your first members, onboarding them, involving them, and a million of other things.  

DIRECTION

What is the real added value in your business/ industry felt by your brand EVANGELISTS?

4. What is the real added value in your business/ industry that is felt by the supporters of your brand?

I believe I am not the right person to answer that question. All I can say is: what you see is what you get. We are open, straight forward and honest. We are not perfect (no one is), but we always welcome feedback and we constantly strive to improve the experience of our members. 

I often say that the Puzl community breathes life into the spaces we build, and our team is also part of the community. We have old and new friends in each location, and all of us share our resources, experiences and lessons learned so that we grow together.

5. What is the future of your industry in terms of upcoming trends and technology?

Coworking is still a fairly young industry. Even though managed offices like Regus have been on the market for nearly 20 years now, WeWork has redistributed the cards and is now followed by a myriad of new spaces. 


Industry reports expect that at least 10% of the entire office market will be occupied by coworking spaces which is good news for us since we still have a lot room for growth.

In terms of technology, the race for coworking management tools has started long time ago. Office R&D is the Bulgarian Champion on the market and is doing great among the other alternative solutions to manage a coworking. The next wave of technological enhancements will come from the IoT sector from companies like OA Digital who are also Bulgarians. These solutions will focus on improving the quality of the office spaces and optimizing the utilization of square meters. 

6. What is the one lesson you would share with a fellow entrepreneur when it comes to accomplishing your goals in the most effective and efficient way?

Well I am all about efficiency and it drives me crazy when I see entrepreneurs running their companies in inefficient ways. Let me give you a few factors which I believe are key: 

  • Building a startup is not a democracy. It is a dictatorship. Whether you are a solo founder or you have co-founders, you need to make sure that one person and one person only is in charge of defining the direction and ultimately taking decisions. It does not mean that you should not empower your team to decide, it just means that if things are over discussed, you are the one that has to cut the crap and settle things to move on.

  • Meetings are often useless. Everyone says this but no one really does it right. The more intelligent people are part of your team, the more arguments they can bring to the table in any types of discussions which leads to a lot of inefficiency. That is why in Puzl we never have working meetings with more than 3-4 people involved.

  • Hire the right people. Alone you will achieve nothing. This means finding the right people but also empowering them to give their best.

  • Know the basics. If you cannot pitch, then there is no point to begin a company. There is a model by Guy Kawasaki you can follow. Then practice, practice and practice again. Test it with all kinds of products around you, there is no need to make it about your business. Pitching should come naturally and talking about it should not sound robotic.

  • Time is money. Every wrong decision costs time and time is money. Surround yourself with likeminded people or find the right advisors to decrease the chances of mistakes.

  • Take decisions fast. This is where things get complex. Taking the wrong decision is bad but taking no decision is even worse. Better take the wrong decision, realize it fast, and fix it on the fly than discussing for hours and days what the best course of action could be.

Building a business is about fixing problems daily. Do you have the solution to that problem? This is called experience. If not, then you must brainstorm and search for it. Instead of working your brains around the problem, ask around. I bet that one of your friends or contacts will be able to give you the solution. At the end of the day, we all go through the same process when building a business and solutions are not as industry specific as you may think. 

TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES THAT REALLY LEVEL UP YOUR GAME

7.How did you evolve from a solo entrepreneur into a company founder with a team? How did you hire your first employee?

Instead of telling you how I recruited the first team member, let me tell you how we generally recruit. 

The most important lesson I have learnt from making recruitment mistakes, is that both parties should click with each other. Unless you get along with the person and feel 100% sure they are right for the job, do NOT recruit. Being overworked is better than recruiting the wrong person for you team.


For example, Petya, our Chief Navigator, had been warmly recommended by a common friend of ours. So as always, we went out for lunch to see if her personality and values were a match to the company. Normally, we start by ignoring the person and being random (random seems to be part of our company culture :p).However, with Petya, 3 min after sitting at the table, we were all laughing our heads off. That was it – we all knew that Petya was exactly the person that we were looking for and there was no point to ask ourselves further questions. Guess what – we were right and I am sure all our members will confirm!

8. Which are the best marketing channels to reach your target market? What are the most effective strategies to share the story of your business and why?


The best marketing channel to reach your target market is your product! :D I know it is not a marketing channel. But if your product is right, word of mouth (that must be the channel you are looking for) will always be the most effective source of marketing. 

If you have the right market fit, everything is easier. You should always see how to build a business that already has natural virality at its core. Not always easy but definitely achievable. 

9. What are your plans for the development of your business and its growth in 2018 and upcoming years?

We are super ambitious. The entire team has been preparing to scale Puzl across the board for the better part of a year. I have also made my transition from being the Founding Manager to being CEO of Puzl. Trust me – it is a hard one for a doer. As a founding manager, my time was the cheapest asset of the company and I did myself a lot of operational work needed to push the business forwards. Now, as a CEO, I am learning to delegate part of my work to the team things which I used to do myself because they are easy fast. However – those rapidly accumulate… 

Our goal is to grow by a factor of 2x or 3x every year for the foreseeable future by expanding to multiple countries. Maybe even faster than that. That is we are currently looking to bring a lot of experience in the team. They will share our responsibilities and help us take our growth to the next level.

 

LESSONS LEARNED AND SHARED BY BORIS HRISTOV FOUNDER OF 356labs.

bobi story.jpg

LESSONS SHARED

PURPOSE

1. Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur rather than an employee?

Surely it was not because of the hype in the last few years. Let’s start here. I started 356labs mainly because I was just sick of seeing so many ineffective presentations out there in the world. Together with that, however, I must admit that I am also one of those people that always asks himself “what if” and so the thought that I wouldn’t know what was about to happen if I started the company was going to chase me. That’s why I started a presentation agency even though I was a highly paid and respected IT Consultant.

2. What is the main reason that keeps you going when the entrepreneurial journey gets really tough and rough?

Our mission. We strive to see a world where everyone presents and communicates effectively. I know we are going to go through numerous rough moments while on our way to see that world happen. I have accepted it already and don’t even bother when something challenging is in front of me or us as a company.

3. What is the purpose behind your business? What kind of problems in your industry does it solve?

The reason why I created 356labs is because I wanted to see more effective presentations. You can say I started the company as a sign of protest! I am blessed to be able to speak across the world and it shocks me that almost every single time I see someone present, their presentation is just… bad. Like… bad, bad. That means that they lose their audience’s time. They also ruin their and their company’s reputation and last but not at least, they are missing a big opportunity to grow, get a new client, investment, whatever their goal was. This is sad and I believe we have to fix it.

DIRECTION

1. What is the real added value in your business/ industry that is felt by the raving fans of your brand?

Well, I believe we show people that through effective presentations they can achieve their goals. We now have numerous clients that closed multimillion-dollar deals and received investments for their startups because of the presentations that we helped them create, design and deliver.

2. What is the future of your industry in terms of upcoming trends and technology?

I think we are already seeing the first trend – online presenting is taking over like crazy. Many of us are presenting online way more than offline which means you must understand the specifics of online presenting because there are such. Together with that, AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning) are already part of products like PowerPoint. Let’s also not forget VR and AR. These two, I believe, can bring a huge disruption to our industry. Even though it won’t be a quick change, there will be such.

3. What is the one lesson you would share with a fellow entrepreneur when it comes to accomplishing your goals in the most effective and efficient way?

Build a great team.
 

TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES THAT REALLY LEVEL UP YOUR GAME

1. How did you evolve from a solo entrepreneur into a company owner with a team? How did you hire your first employee?

I needed a designer badly. However, I was not able to pay that person a lot of money because I didn’t have them back then. I tried to find that person in almost every single way I can come up with. Didn’t succeed. Then I remembered I have a friend who runs a training company specializing in design and begged him – please, please, tell me someone who was part of your courses and you think has the potential to really become a good designer. He told me the name, I called the same day, arranged the meeting and persuaded the person to join me on some kind of an “intern” position because she was just graduating from university. Now that I remember that story… gosh I was desperate for finding a person with those skills back then…

2. Which are the best marketing channels to reach your target market? What are the most effective strategies to share the story of your business and why?

For us our public speaking is the most effective channel to promote us and our work. We organize two free events per month where we share a ton of knowledge and experience. The other channels we use heavily are Facebook and Instagram but 90% of our work still comes from word-of-mouth.

3. What are your plans for the development of your business and its growth in 2018 and upcoming years?

I will just say that – expect a lot from us online. We are doing some heavy behind the scenes work setting up something special that we believe has the potential to impact just an incredible amount of people. Stay tuned as 2018 is indeed an important one for us.

 

LESSONS LEARNED AND SHARED BY STOYAN DOBREV CO-FOUNDER OF SPEEDIFLY.

 

LESSONS SHARED

 

PURPOSE

  1. Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur rather than an employee?

I remember when I was in high school, I was really passionate about reading biographies of successful businessmen and politicians. I was deeply inspired by the stories of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and how both of them created products that had shaken whole industries (i.e the iPod and the Music industry), products that actually created new industries and products that completely changed our lives. That was when I decided that I want to build my own company and do or create something meaningful that could positively impact our lives. Back then I didn’t really know what this thing was, so every day I was having a new idea. A couple years later, when I was studying in Hong Kong, one of my best friends called me from the US with a really interesting idea in the travel space and he asked me to join them. I immediately said YES because I saw the potential in his idea and I believed that with a good execution and a little bit of luck we had the chance to change the way young people and students travel. That was when we started working on SpeediFly.

2. What is the main reason that keeps you going when the entrepreneurial journey gets really tough and rough?

Building a business is definitely amongst the most interesting things that have happened to me, but it was also one of the most difficult ones. I remember when we were in Prague and going through the acceleration program of the business incubator StartupYard, we were working 16-17 hours every day. Back then we were just the 3 cofounders and 2 part-time developers working remotely. I remember I was doing everything except for coding - from hiring to accounting to managing Facebook and Instagram pages to running marketing campaigns to looking for an investment. At the end of the day I felt completely drained of energy. What kept me going was first, the fact that I was working on SpeediFly with two of my closest friends and it was exciting for me and second I truly believed in the idea of SpeediFly, so I didn’t care how hard it was, I just knew that I need to find whatever energy was left in me and work - simple as that. Once our team started growing I thought maybe things would get a little bit easier, but they didn’t. In fact, when our team grew to 9 people we faced new challenges such as planning and synchronising everyone’s work so that we are on schedule, keeping everyone motivated, keeping everyone busy, keeping the investor happy. These challenges tough me a lot about business and management - much more than any book I read at University. So every time I faced these challenges with positivism and determination . 

3. What is the purpose behind your business? What kind of problems in your industry does it solve?

Booking travel is an impersonal, price-centric and unsocial process. It is impersonal because old-fashioned travel platforms such as Expedia and Orbitz do not invest enough in user analytics for recommendation purposes. Instead of offering someone who is a skiing fan a flight to Innsbruck for €70, traditional platforms would offer him a flight to Venice for €55 just because it is cheaper, which naturally makes booking travel excessively price-centric. Last but not least, travel platforms lack social functionalities such as sharing, inviting or messaging, and thus make it difficult for young people to organize group trips the way they are now used to doing on platforms such as Uber or Airbnb. 

SpeediFly is a social travel platform providing highly personalized travel recommendations based on last minute flight availability and users’ preferences for sports, music, activities, countries and culture. SpeediFly allows users to sign up with Facebook, invite friends to the platform, share with them interesting flight deals and invite them to specific trips. In addition to the data SpeediFly collects from Facebook, it asks users to indicate their preferences for activities, sports, music and culture. Based on these, SpeediFly makes personalized recommendations such as “Fly to Berlin to see Beyonce’s concert this Friday” and group recommendations such as “Fly to Paris with Jane and John and watch Nadal vs. Federer this weekend”. By tracking users' in-app activities, SpeediFly is capable of predicting what they are likely to book. This allows SpeediFly to make customized recommendations based on user behaviour instead of simply trying to sell the cheapest available flights. 

DIRECTION

1. What is the real added value in your business/ industry that is felt by the raving fans of your brand?

We always thought there’s something wrong with the way groups of people book their travel. What usually happens when a few friends are booking their flights on Kayak, Expedia or Skyscanner is that either one person books everyone’s flights and then collects his money back from everyone (which is not practical), or everyone goes and book their flights separately, in which case the people who book last pay 15-25% more because airlines employ differential pricing – first two tickets cost €200, the third cost €260 and the forth is €280 (which is also not very practical). So we though how could we solve this - how could we change the way people book group trips? To offer a solution we started developing a group booking functionality that allows groups of up to 9 people to book together and then splits the total fare equally amongst all travellers. So in the case of our previous example each of the four people would pay (€200+€200+€260+€280)/4 or €235. 

2. What is the future of your industry in terms of upcoming trends and technology?

The travel industry has always been at the forefront of technology adoption, especially with digital technology trends. Travelers have been equally enthusiastic about adopting the technological changes to make travel simpler and more enjoyable. This has given rise to tremendous innovation in products and business models such as Airbnb and Uber. Nowadays we are observing how the Artificial Intelligence (AI) entering the travel industry. The industry is adopting AI first approach betting on “relevance” becoming the winning factor. AI in travel and tourism is being used to predict travel choices, personalize services, complete bookings and manage in-trip and post-trip needs. 

Another interesting trend Virtual Reality (VR). I believe that VR has two major usages in the Travel Industry: inspiration and demonstration. It is an extremely powerful selling tool most of all because it is visual! This technology takes you on virtual journeys in a complete immersive way. Each stakeholder in the travel industry can enhance user experience by adopting VR - airlines can showcase the aircraft cabin, so passenger can more easily select a seat; hotels can demonstrate the type of rooms and amenities; DMOs can show attractions and must-sees; restaurants can showcase dishes and allow customers to quickly choose their favourite table. The list goes on. 

Lastly, Google searches for “solo travel” and “travel alone” were at the highest they've ever been in January of this year. Travel companies are now building catered products to not only accommodate, but celebrate the solo traveler. 

3. What is the one lesson you would share with a fellow entrepreneur when it comes to accomplishing your goals in the most effective and efficient way?

We all have those days when there are a million things to do, and we don't know how we're going to get it all done. Sometimes we have so many balls in the air, that we may even lose track of some loose ends and forget to do important things. Figuring out how to get all of your tasks done in one day can be quite the struggle, and that’s where to-do lists can be so helpful. Nowadays, there are all sorts of swanky to-do list apps that take your agenda-completing to a whole new level, however I have always found it practical to sit down the old fashioned way with a list of paper and a pen and just write down my tasks. This way I make sure I am not going to forget or skip something. Then I prioritise what is important and needs to be done asap and what’s not so critical; I form a plan and start executing. Having a list is making me more productive and it makes me stick to my plan. 

TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES THAT REALLY LEVEL UP YOUR GAME

1.How did you evolve from a solo entrepreneur into a company owner with a team? How did you hire your first employee?

Building a company did not happen overnight. We started working on the idea in the summer of 2015 from our home town Burgas. It was just me and Alex - the CEO of SpeediFly, working on the vision and strategy for the company. It took us a few months before we were accepted to participate at the StartupYard Incubation Program. We spent 3 months in Prague, where we met hundreds of interesting professionals, some of which really liked our team and idea and later became our mentors. These were the people who inspired us to think big and think creatively about how to disrupt the travel space. At the end of the program we met our future angel investor - it was around April 2016. 

Our first full-time employee joined us in June 2016, so that was almost a year after we started working on SpeediFly. To be honest hiring the first person turned out to be more difficult than we expected. It took us more than 2 months and we interviewed around 15 people for this position before we eventually met Miro, who became our first employee. 

One thing you should keep in mind when hiring developers in Bulgaria is that  these people could easily find a job at a large corporation like HP or SAP Bulgaria, where they’d get a high salary and the job would be secure, unlike a job at a startup. So you need to be super creative when you are making them an offer. Think what would be the best way to attract these people. Is it money. Is it home office or gym membership. Is it learning opportunities? Or is it some kind of a mix? 

2. Which are the best marketing channels to reach your target market? What are the most effective strategies to share the story of your business and why? 

 We have been experimenting with a wide range of marketing techniques and campaigns, trying to identify what works best amongst students - offline campaigns at university events and giving away free trips, social media advertising, mass university emails, sponsored shares on Facebook and Instagram, a sponsored article on a university website, a post in a travel blog, influencer marketing on Instagram etc. The three methods that proved cost-efficient were Facebook advertising, sponsored articles (PR) and email marketing. 

In addition to Facebook paid advertisement, we also promoted the platform in popular Facebook groups related to travel, in groups related to specific hobby such as caving, diving kayaking etc. thus growing communities of people sharing the same interests, and in Erasmus groups, because Erasmus students travel more often than others.

We differentiate between two types of email marketing - mass emails and promotional emails. We send mass emails to universities and other organisations to attract new users. While, we will keep users engaged through promotional emails and push notifications, featuring hot weekend deals - on average these campaigns have 45% open rate and 7% click-through rate.

Lastly - PR. Publishing sponsored articles in respected media helped us build credibility and trust and establish reputation, which is essential for any travel company. On the other hand, travel blogs and social media are a powerful source of inspiration for travellers, which is why we have invested time and effort to keep in touch with writers and travel influencers who helped us reach customers and spread our message.

3. What are your plans for the development of your business and its growth in 2018 and upcoming years?

In the beginning of 2017, after spending a couple of months fundraising we did not have any serious leads from investors. In April 2017, we took the hard decision to freeze the project because it became impossible to sustain operations. That is why currently the SpeediFly app and website are unavailable. We did not turn SpeediFly into a success, but we learned a lot along the way.