Interview with Liviu Drăgan, CEO & Founder Of DRUID – On Innovation, Entrepreneurship, And Leveraging AI

Liviu Drăgan is a popular figure in the Romanian IT sector, known for his significant contributions and entrepreneurial ventures that have left a lasting impact on the industry.

He created two of Romania’s most renowned IT brands, TotalSoft and Charisma, which have become emblematic of the nation’s software industry. Under his leadership, these brands have expanded their reach globally, serving over 1000 customers worldwide, marking some significant milestones for the Romanian tech scene.

In 2018, he founded DRUID, a company that specializes in developing virtual assistants powered by AI, marking Endeavor Catalyst’s second investment in Romania.

How does Druid AI capitalize on the recent progress from open AI in the growth process? What does it feel like to be a part of development of technology in one of the most competitive verticals of 2024?

Open AI has been an incredible gift to the entire industry, and to us as people. Open AI will lead to an increase in the quality of life. It has helped us enormously. What we initially considered to be the kind of technology that will have B2C applications, we then started to integrate into the clients’ business cases.

This is a small miracle because the communication used to be done using the natural languages processing (NLP) of each platform, which had its limitations. Open AI is basically unlimited and a formidable gift. Some companies invested hundreds of people and tens of millions of dollars into a very high-performance NLP, which was a handicap for other platforms that could not sustain such investments.

Now these NLP platforms have no more value, so we gained an incredible advantage by integrating Open AI, which will cause these small players to disappear.

Because integrating Open AI into the clients’ business cases requires a superior platform architecture. ChatBots used to be enough some years ago, but now DRUID has reached another level because we quickly integrated OpenAI and generative AI.

I don’t think of it as being a part of a generation with this advantage. All I think about is how to stay a step ahead of the competition. And the challenge is not technical, it is the speed of adoption.

What is required to ensure a high speed of adoption?

It involves a very flexible company, not rigorous, not very mature. Once a company reaches maturity, this leads to slowing the decision making process, because it will have more infrastructure, people will have to stand by every decision that’s made company-wide and this responsibility ultimately leads to avoidance.

When it comes to making decisions, the Product Owner and I, we can change course from one month to the next and this is a real advantage. We have to prioritize everything. Generative AI is very complex, and DRUID is a flexible company that can make decisions quickly and keep a high speed of adoption.

The second thing this involves is a platform that’s mature enough to allow the adoption of current technology, which is a tough balance to maintain.

What challenges have you faced in scaling DRUID AI and how have you leveraged the entrepreneurial community to overcome them?

DRUID faces a good opportunity here as it has a good product thanks to the technical team in Bucharest. We also have a delivery team with solid business knowledge, but a sales team that could be improved. My challenge was to find high-performing individuals in sales and marketing from the United States. Initially, I made some hires two years ago, and now we have changed the team and hope this will make a difference.

How do you ensure that you promote a culture of innovation when scaling such a technical business?

That’s a complicated question. I passionately tell people that you need to have two brains – one that deals with solving product problems, which are always present and will inevitably arise, and another brain that ignores them and thinks about the challenges of doing something new. I have an inclination towards the second one, but generally, people are tempted not to start something new until what already exists works perfectly. But in life, you can’t afford to do that; you must also have a brain that thinks about the new even if something needs your attention. If you only deal with problems, you’ll solve them all and find that you have lost the competitive edge in the process.

For example, I used to be very close to Nokia, in Germany, as I used to work for them. The director was a Romanian guy who told me that Nokia had, at the time, an 85% market share. At that moment, they only thought about how to processualize the company, no longer thinking about innovation because they already had a large market share, and just wanted to strengthen their position. In that particular year, the iPhone was launched. And from 85%, their market share dropped to 7% in just a few months.

Here’s another, even older, example. In America at the beginning of the 20th century, there was a carriage manufacturer that had almost 100% market share. And they were in over their heads trying to polish the carriage some more, when Ford invented the car, and that provider collapsed completely.

Innovation is tricky – when you mature and are successful, you are tempted to continue consolidating the success you have. But it’s important to see what strengths you’ve got and when to make that jump to the next trend, which is why you need to have two brains.

Is there ever a moment when you can stop innovating in tech, or do you become obsolete?

Yes, if an organization matures and gains enough market share, it will stop innovating.

How do you balance rapid growth with maintaining product quality and customer satisfaction?

It’s the biggest challenge I look at. On the one hand, I need always to be ahead of the competition and bring innovation; on the other hand, the quality of my product has to be reinforced, which is the greatest challenge of any tech company.

What advice would you offer to entrepreneurs who are now starting to build a tech startup in Romania and want to have a significant impact in their industries?

I do have an answer to this. You need to meet three criteria: the first is to secure funding, without which you can’t go far.

Then, you must imagine the product you want to launch from start to finish, and it must be technically feasible. If you imagine a product that cannot be developed, that is a huge risk right there.

The third condition is to have a story. A story that you believe in, that your colleagues believe in, and that your customers believe in. Without a credible story that motivates people and for which they’re ready to fight and build a product, there is no future.

From the beginning of DRUID, no more than 2-3 people have left, with minor exceptions where we had to end collaborations. This is incredible for a tech company, and it’s the byproduct of our story.

And you build on that story. But does it also matter to keep the product the same way you’d imagined it? How far do you go in sticking to the original story?

When I imagined DRUID, I visualized something that’s very different from what the company looks like now. But what I based it on still exists. It was the idea of self-service – completely anachronistic. To have a computer or a machine with an environment that allows you to do business down to the level of tasks, of information. This was an obsession of mine, and I realized that self-service is the key behind the development of Artificial Intelligence – to be autonomous without needing anyone else.

There was a time when you had to go to a company and ask someone knowledgeable to show you the ropes or to describe how a process unfolds. Now, through AI, you can find out by yourself.

Does democratizing information change us as people?

Very well said, as I also use this word. Of course, it changes us in one significant way – it increases our quality of life. The idea that it destabilizes us and takes our jobs – of course, it’s true. But then, every great discovery had its negative aspects.

The mobile phone was the leading cause of divorce globally because it gave people the ability to chat, which made cheating easy to spot. There’s also the fact that now, instead of talking at a restaurant, we are glued to our phones. But this discovery also brought a fantastic improvement in the quality of life because it allows us to find out everything we want, at any given moment. It’s the same with AI – every gadget we use has some form of artificial intelligence embedded into it, down to the vacuum cleaner. And this improves our lives.

Has Endeavor Romania influenced the strategy and growth vision of Druid AI, this growth mindset?

Being a part of Endeavor Romania is a great honor for me, honestly. I was very dedicated to entering this community and went through many pitches until we got in. It is an organization that makes everything available to you. It’s funny because I’m in New York as we speak, and I was able to use their offices. But clearly, the implications go far beyond this, and having access to the network they provide is invaluable. I think Endeavor Catalyst is the company of whose investment in DRUID I am the proudest.