Interview with Alex Negru

The Challenge

 “Minutizer is the PayPal for time”

Now that’s an ambitious statement from a young Romanian entrepreneur that started this project only a few months ago.

Read on to find out what are his plans and what sets him apart from his  peers in Western Europe. Interesting stuff. I promise.

Intro

I know Alex for maybe 6-7 years now. We first met during a blog meet in Iasi, our hometown. We were both there to find out other like-minded people and connect with the upcoming people in the Romanian online scene.

Even though we kind of lost the connection during the years, especially since I moved to the Netherlands, we still had Facebook and LinkedIn to keep up with each other’s achievements.

This interview proved to be great opportunity to revive a dormant friendship and learn so many nee things about the Romanian startup scene.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

Hi everyone, my name is Alex and I am an experienced marketeer that loves to work in Online.

Before starting my current project, I ran my own marketing agency in Iasi, providing online and offline marketing solutions to the local market. In 2012 I moved to Bucharest, the capital city of Romania, with only one thing on my mind: create a business that will bring me a passive income.

When I got here I started an online project, together with an ex-client of mine. We wanted to create a new market for the online services industry. After a few months of working and deep diving into this new area, I noticed a big need that wasn’t filled by anyone … so I decided to start a new company and solve it myself.

 Can you describe your new project for our readers? 

Minutizer is the PayPal for time. This is basically a tool that helps anybody to charge per minute an online conversation.

So for example, if you wanted to learn Spanish, Minutizer would allow you to pay per minute the video/audio call with the teacher instead of  paying him/her upfront.

You can imagine that as a buyer, you don’t want to pay upfront for a service that you didn’t receive and the teacher would not want to perform the service and hope the transfer will happen afterwards. This is a great solution as both parties are happy with this pay as you go solution.

For the moment Minutizer works only with Skype, but we are developing plugins for other VoIP apps like Google Hangouts, Viber and so on.

Alex Negru from Minutizer

So it’s basically real time payments through Skype. Correct?

Exactly. Another way you could think about Minutizer is to compare it to the paid/ premium number for GSM mobile phones but for Internet. So basically the 0900 numbers or whatever it is in your country.

How did you come up with this idea? 

As I mentioned, I moved to Bucharest to work on a project that was not related to online payments. We wanted to start an online market for people selling and buying online horoscope readings and tarot predictions. As I looked into this industry, I understood better both the market and the user behavior. And the idea evolved form there.

At first I wanted to embed Skype calls in a web page, but that is technically impossible. So… thinking about this I realized I don’t need to do that. Instead I could make a pay per minute tool for Skype that would simplify the process and free the user.

I bet you had a lot of ideas. What made you choose this project over other projects?

First, this idea made a lot of sense for me. I noticed that a lot of the horoscope readers that were providing services on the website were moving their clients to Skype after the first contact. So the need for an alternative solution was there.

Second, I believe that the time is right for a tool like Minutizer. Nowadays, many people understand concepts like e-wallet, e-payments and so on. Think about it, PayPal is already 11 year old and they did a good work educating the masses in this area.

Third, nowadays almost everybody is using video calling, and they even use on the go.

And last but not least, in the last two years the Bitcoin ecurrency has open the gates to the peer-to-peer, decentralized payments.

So yeah… basically I choose Minutizer because all of the above 🙂 .

Talking about ridding these waves. I imagine there are others ridding the same waves. So how do you feel about competition?

First of all I think is good to mention that Skype already tried this in 2007 but abandoned it after 1 -1.5 years or so. I guess that’s because they changed the CEO and they decided to focus on SkypeOut, their VoIP to operator solution, which I think is a much better revenue model for them. Also I had the opportunity to talk with some guys from Microsoft Europe (since Microsoft owns Skype) and from what I understand, their focus in a very different direction. So for the moment I am not worried about them.

So that is Skype. And the other players?

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Interview with Elsa Alexandra Razborsek

Intro

I met Elsa at the beginning of 2012, when we both started the RSM Full Time International MBA at the Erasmus University. I remember that from the very first days of studying together, she seemed very focused, dedicated and passionated about learning…which proved to be exactly the case.

Hearing about her new project and knowing her, I knew that I could learn a thing or two from her experience so I asked if she would spare half an hour for a Startup Maze interview.

The Challenge

In this interview you will find out how a young professional woman who has a full time job and is full time mom, managed to start a website about work-life balance. Talking about of “practicing what you preach” huh?

Hi Elsa, can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I’m a 30-year old multi-passionate professional woman. Nowadays, I like to describe myself as a blogger, life coach, health & fitness enthusiast, financial analyst at Shell and, most importantly: a new wife and mum.

I have a pretty varied background as well. I started off studying biological engineering, worked as a scientist for a couple of years then I moved to the banking industry, where I worked nearly four years in the City of London. Now I am here in the Netherlands, working for Shell. So I changed industries, countries and jobs and I have been doing several things over the last 10 years or so.

So what it your new project? Can you describe it in a few words?

Around this time last year, I was pregnant and I found out that I was expecting a little girl. This got me thinking about all the things I want to teach her. Above all, I wish her to grow into a healthy, balanced and happy woman.

Achieving this balance can be a challenge, especially for career-driven females working in fast-paced, male-dominated environments. I’ve experienced it first-hand while working in the City of London as a Financial Analyst.

At the time, seeking to improve my work & life balance, I started researching personal development, productivity techniques, fitness and general well-being. Eventually, I trained as a life coach (CCF-certified) and also as a Body Control Pilates teacher.

Over time, I’ve developed my own ways to manage my time, stress levels, health and relationships.

It’s these strategies and attitudes that I wish to teach my daughter. And frankly, I believe they can also benefit a much broader audience of women who wish to build more vibrant and fulfilling lives.

With some time on my hands during my pregnancy and maternity leave, I decided to start XanaLiving.com.

 Elsa Alexandra Razborsek owner of XanaLiving.com

So this was an older idea/passion of yours and now you finally got the time to start working on it.

Yeah, I mean I have loads of passions, that is the good part. The problem is to focus on one.

Let’s say that the concept was not refined until quite recently and I still refine it as I go along, but I have always been interested in these things.

Even if I look at my professional career, apart from my current corporate job, everything I did was always related somehow to healthcare or well-being. Either I was doing research in laboratory to find tests that check the purity of vaccines or I was working with small RNAs which can be used to cure the auto immune diseases. In the City of London while working as an equity research analyst covering small and midcap companies, one of the industries I followed was that of health care services. And on top of that, I am very passionate about fitness. So yeah, there was always this healthcare/well-being theme going on.

Now the concept of the blog per se only came up last year.

What helped me pick this specific idea was going through Marie Forleo’s B-School. In the program, Marie talks about finding your “sweet spot” at the crossroads between your passions and what your audience needs.

Accordingly, I took an inventory of my personal interests, my professional certifications and experience. This gave me an array of potential projects.

I knew that I wanted to work on something related to well-being, something that I would like to pass on to my daughter. So the next step was to think about gaps in the market that would match my qualifications and personal story.

As I said before, something that I struggled with in the past was work & life balance as a professional woman. I would have welcomed some kind of coaching on the subject when I felt that my life was a mess. Although there are plenty of workshops and self-help books out there about career and time management, relationships, diet, exercise, spirituality, etc., I didn’t find ONE source that covered it all in an integrated and consistent way.

Hence, I my idea of filling that gap with XanaLiving.com!

So the blog is a way to share your knowledge with others. Is that correct? 

 Elsa Alexandra RazborsekYeah, and actually it’s funny because I started doing more research about these things about 5 years ago. As soon as people noticed that I was doing a therapeutic massage course, training as a Pilates teacher and studying coaching, they started asking me questions about these things, and I really loved sharing those strategies with my friends and my family.

Also, at my previous employer, I was a mentor for a couple of junior analysts and I even started sharing the things I was learning with my mentees. Doing all that, I found that I really enjoy this side of things, mentoring and coaching.

So yes I do it for myself, but I am very happy to share it as well. And people say that the best way to learn something is to teach it, so for me it works both ways.

And how did you fund the project? Was it expensive to launch your own website?

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Interview: King Yiu Chu

Intro

I know King from back in 2008 when we were both working at Nimbuzz.

What always fascinated me about him was his ability to combine crazy/innovative ideas with a very pragmatic/down to earth attitude towards implementation. I learned a lot from him and very grateful for that. And the best thing: we are still friends after all this time.

The Challenge

In this interview  you will find out how King plans to create a new ecosystem around Social Location Based services.

Without any further do here is my interview with King Yiu Chu (朱景耀).

ME: Hi King, can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

King:
Hey, thanks for having me. Sure.

I studied marketing and I graduated in 1998. Since then I worked in the Internet industry for big companies but also small startups.

In 2004, I did business development for trader.com. Then I moved to Microsoft, as product manager Hotmail and I also worked on Windows Live mobile. At Microsoft I managed the beta of Windows Live Hotmail by rolling it out as a pilot in The Netherlands. After that, I moved to Nimbuzz, where I started as product manager for mobile and later managed the desktop apps and built the monetization strategy.

Next Layer hired me as Augmented Reality Strategist. With Layer I traveled around Europe and Asia to evangelize our AR vision and help agencies and brands to start something in this new field. I was responsible for building the entire ecosystem.

After a year of doing that, I started my own projects, while doing consulting on the side. I always dreamt of doing my own thing and at one point I told myself I need to be serious about it, I need to choose one and explore it. So I came up with beebump.

Me: And that gets us to my next question. Can you tell me more about the beebump?

King:
The app is not yet live but it will be very soon. So stay tuned.

beebump is a mobile app that announces yourself to your friends when you are almost at the meetup point.

The essence of the app is personal branding and is intended for people who are on their way to meet with their friends.  They can share their location in real time, together with a funny image that says: “I’m on my way” or “I am almost here”.

The way it works is quite simple. You open the app, you start a beebump, you select one or more friends and 2 messages (one for when you leave your location and one for when you are almost there) and we will send an SMS (at no cost for you) or a push notification to your friends . In that SMS there is a link (so your friends don’t need to have the app installed) and if they click on that link, they will open the mobile browser where they can see your messages and your location in real time as you move on the map.

It’s a completely new thing. It’s a new market, a new category of apps. Although it’s partly location based this is not the most important thing here. The innovation is in the announcement part, where people can brand themselves.

Our tag line is “Spark a smile before you arrive” and that describes it in a nutshell.

But that is only the start of it. My final vision is to make the map as we know it more social and use it as the canvas of your social feed. A place where users are actually plotting their location, messages, objects or messages about objects on the physical world and where clips and messages will appear when your friends are arriving in that area. But that will take time.

Me: That reminds me a bit of Repudo. Do you know Repudo? I remember I was very enthusiastic about it, but then I stopped using it because nobody else was using it.

King:
Yes, do know it. Actually Michael our developer, used to do freelance work  for Repudo.

The problem with Repudo was that it was not functional and your friends needed to have Repudo installed as well. This creates a chicken and the egg problem. Plus… you needed to run Repudo on your phone 24/7 which means battery drain. Beebump will place messages on the map in the future as well  but again that is all too much right now and we need to start with something simple, functional and entertaining.

Me: From all ideas, why did you pick this idea?

King:
When you have an idea you need to write it down on a piece of paper. By doing that it starts to materialize and you will envision the space you are in  and the ecosystem of the whole thing starts to come alive.

This will help you think it through and see what type of qualities you or your team needs to have. Also, as you define your ideas you will also find out more about the strengths that you as an entrepreneur need to have.

I started with four ideas and going through this analysis I dropped 3 of them. I dropped them because these were things I am not really good at or I am not passionate about.  For example, one of my ideas had to do with the B2B market. Although I have experience in this market  I’m not really excited about B2B apps so it was an easy decision to take it of the list.

ME: So part of the selection process was a strength analysis. You wanted to be sure that you could take this idea and make it reality.  

King:
Yes, that’s true, but the most important part is that you need to love the project.

I really love beebump. It’s an entertainment app, it’s B2C, I have a lot of experience to see it through and it’s building a completely new market.  And if I do it right I know I can get a huge market share.

I really believe you need to love what you do and be really motivated.  Otherwise you won’t be able to see it through.

Me: So what inspired you?

King:
I believe that the SOCIAL Location Based services market has a bright future. Maps and navigation are already successful. But the SOCIAL part is yet to be figured out. It seems very obvious to me.

 

Me: And how did you fund the project?

King:
Well … my story is not that complicated but that doesn’t mean is not a tricky process.

These guys were sitting at the table listening to my concept and they texted each other “shall we invest”?

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Interview: Isaac Riquelme

Intro

I had the privilege to meet Isaac, while working for Greenhouse Innovation, a young startup in the heart of Amsterdam. 

Isaac

Before this interview I knew he is from Spain, he listens to good music and he likes good beer.  Little did I know what an interesting story he has to share …

The Challenge 

In this interview you will find out how a social anthropologist learned to code all by himself and landed a job building Android apps for a startup. #selfDetermination

Who is Isaac?

Isaac is a self-taught Android developer with a background in social anthropology.

He was born and raised in Madrid but after his studies he traveled the world, working on social projects and even publishing a paper about his work.

At one point he decided it was time for a change so he started coding. Soon after, he got a job as Android developer in Amsterdam.

What project did he work on?

Isaac had an idea to create a simple Android app that would allow Spanish-speaking expats to read news from their home country. If you look at it the app is quite simple, but considering he learned everything while coding it, it seems pretty impressive.

You can take a look at his app here: Noticias Latinas.

The Interview

For this interview I met Isaac in a noisy bar and recorded our 1 hour-long discussion. Below you can find the summary of our chat. I tried to transcribe as much as possible of the conversation.

photo 4

 

Me: How did you come up with this idea?(What, when, how, where or who influenced you?)

Isaac:
It all started when I joined a programming course. I liked it but realized that if I really wanted to learn how to code I need to build my own product. I wanted to do something free and useful.

I think that my background influenced my choice. Being an anthropologist, living in Latin America and doing projects with emigrants/expats, I noticed people need to connect with their home country or city.

Also I noticed that most news available through news agency were quite broad and talking about the broad economic situation. I wanted to build an app that would inform people what happened in their own neighbourhood. Just pick a country and automatically get the news in a mobile friendly format.

I wouldn’t say this was a problem in the real sense of the word or I don’t see it as a problem. I just wanted to help Spanish-speaking people feel more connected to their homes.

Me: I bet you had a lot of ideas. What made you choose this particular project?

Isaac:
Being my first project I was scared to start something and not finish it, so I wanted something that would be easy enough to finish.

However, I learned that once you start, you also start growing and you learn more by the day. Big tasks like sorting the news in reverse order or selecting if you want to download the news over Wi-Fi or Internet become small tasks.

Additionally, I also did a research and I saw that there are a lot of Spanish-speaking people abroad and thus there is an existent market for an app like this.

Me: So who developed the app and why?

Isaac:
I did everything from scratch and this was the first time I ever built an app.

I did this all by myself because I was trying to make a shift in my career. I remember thinking that there are many people taking courses and graduating from university but when you go and apply for a job people want to see what have you done. So I wanted to be able to show them the app and say look this is what I did. With a background in social sciences this was even more relevant in my case.

However, I did have a good friend to ask when I got stuck.  There were moments that I didn’t know where to go. When you hit a wall and spend a week on a problem it helps to have someone to ask for help.

As a programmer you develop a way of looking at things. When people study for 5 years in university they slowly develop it, but for me it was difficult at the beginning.

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