Meet our Board of Directors: An Interview with Andrei Dunca

Browsing through Andrei Dunca’s professional bio can be an inspiring journey for an early-stage entrepreneur passionate about technology. He has worn both the founder’s and the corporate manager’s hats and worked on both sides of the Atlantic, from the European and the US tech ecosystems. He is an engineer and has led tech teams, but he also has experience with early-stage investing.

Andrei started his career in Cluj, Romania, co-founding and leading the team of engineers as CTO of Trilulilu, the first internet startup success in Romania, acquired after 18 months. Later, he co-founded LiveRail, which was the leading published monetization platform for video at the time of its acquisition by Facebook in 2014. The latter exit brought a career switch for Andrei, as he joined Facebook in San Francisco, California, as an Engineering Manager.

Fast-forwarding to October 2021, he became the CTO of Cargo, a company building a marketplace that aims to make shopping fun by connecting people and businesses through video.

And since January 2021, Andrei Dunca has been a Board Member of Endeavor Romania. Today, we explore Andrei’s lessons from exiting successful startups built in Romania, working in the US tech ecosystem, investing in tech startups, and joining an ecosystem builder such as Endeavor Romania.

Your background is a mix of experiences from the engineer’, founder,’ and investor seats. What attracts and suits you from each of these different roles?

I see it as an evolution. I started as an engineer because I was passionate about building software and internet products. But I did not want to work for a big company and be a cog in the machine, so I started my little outsourcing firm while in college and then co-founded Trilulilu and LiveRail a couple of years later. Growing a business and a team has been very fulfilling. It’s about achieving through others and through collaboration what one cannot achieve on their own. Having been through a complex journey with LiveRail, building it from nothing into a big business and taking it through an acquisition, I realized I’ve learned a lot. I could apply those learnings in advising other startups or seeing good investment opportunities.

What impresses you most about the startup ecosystem in the US? How has this evolved in the last 10-15 years since you joined it?

It’s much easier to start something in the US, you’re much more likely to succeed there, and that potential success can be pretty wild. That’s because of several different factors. One is cultural–people are much more willing to take risks, start working on a random idea with a small team, and go all-in in making it happen; people are much more likely to go for “moonshots.” The other has to do with access to capital–investors have more of an appetite for big, risky ideas, and there’s much more capital in general, so you’re likely to raise larger rounds and grow faster. Lastly, academia is vital; there are massive amounts of talent in universities – people come from all over the world to study at Stanford or MIT. The network and access one can build through that channel is very valuable.

In 2014, you exited the company you co-founded, LiveRail, to Facebook and then joined the company as an Engineering Manager. What key factors contributed to the startup’s successful exit? And how did you transition to a corporate environment from an entrepreneurial one?

One of our most valuable assets in this acquisition was the strength of our product and technical infrastructure; Facebook was impressed with our technical chops, them being a technology-first company as well. Another critical factor was the strength of our business–we were growing fast, we were profitable, and our customers were happy.

The transition was not easy; it’s pretty tricky to navigate a large corporation, and neither of us was prepared for that or had any experience with it. But I welcomed the challenge and tried to learn as much as possible during my time there. Those four years were more valuable than any MBA in learning about organizational management, product strategy, cross-functional collaboration, leadership, and culture. So I’m very grateful for the experience I gained there. But I did end up missing my previous role. Being in middle management at a large organization, you’re far from the hands-on work that engineers do every day, and you’re also far from the high-level decisions that happen at C-level. So it got pretty frustrating and unfulfilling over time, and I don’t think I’d want to go back into that kind of role.

As an investor, what is your checklist when choosing a target company?

I’ve made a few investments in pre-seed/seed-stage companies. At that super early stage, it’s mostly about getting a sense of the passion and commitment of the founding team and believing in their vision and the opportunity. I also tended to focus more on ideas that would positively impact the world at large, whether it’s optimizing charging capabilities for electric cars, detecting cancer early, or providing innovative sanitation solutions for communities that need it most.

Why does the tech ecosystem in Romania need an organization like Endeavor?

The Romanian ecosystem is at–or is approaching–an inflection point where you start to see multi-million dollar companies sprouting across the country in various fields, and they’re ready to scale up or expand to other regions in Europe or globally. That is very difficult without an organization like Endeavor, because access and connections are limited, and markets are fragmented. Endeavor acts as a catalyst for that kind of expansion, providing emerging businesses with a robust network of peers, mentors, business development opportunities, and venture funding, all at a global scale.

Many other countries or regions have been in Romania’s position years ago, and Endeavor was there to see that evolution through and learn important lessons along the way. Having access to that knowledge is very valuable as well.

How would you measure your success moving forward, both personally and as part of Endeavor Romania?

I want to continue staying involved with technology, both directly and actively, and also passively as an investor, continuing to build innovative, valuable products.

And for Endeavor, the success of Romanian entrepreneurs will be our success if the organization can help them scale and expand. So we’re looking forward to adding more founders and local businesses to the Endeavor network in the years to come. And we hope this new generation of entrepreneurs will eventually pay it forward and help compound the returns of this initial “investment” in the Romanian ecosystem.

What top advice would you like to share with high-impact tech entrepreneurs in Romania and Southeast Europe?

Given the global economic environment we’re in right now, with soaring inflation and a looming recession, I think the timely advice would be to be super disciplined about numbers–costs, margins, cash flow, runway –and keep going!

But this aside, I hope to see more moonshots coming out of our region and more entrepreneurs thinking big and crazy ideas. And more of the VCs in our region have to do the same–take some more risks, think outside the dull enterprise SaaS bubble, and be bold and brave!