Meet our Board of Directors: An Interview with Vargha Moayed

A connector and generalist at heart, Vargha Moayed is glad his path intersected that of Endeavor Romania, the local chapter of a global organization that wants to connect entrepreneurs with the resources and network they need to shoot for global expansion. “Paying it forward” creates a virtuous cycle that Vargha believes holds the key to unlocking the next stage in the growth of the Romanian startup ecosystem.

After serving as the Chief Strategy Officer of global RPA leader UiPath, Vargha Moayed continues his journey of helping managers become better managers and entrepreneurs become more successful as a Venture Partner at global VC White Star Capital. He is also a Chairman Of the Board of the UiPath Foundation.

“Attract as much talent as possible that is better than yourself,” he advises entrepreneurs. And if he had a magic wand, he would hope that more Romanian managers had an appreciation and experience for sales.

Today, we will tap more into Vargha’s experience in the tech startup ecosystem, aiming to share some of his lessons on overcoming challenges as a startup in an emerging ecosystem, his advice for high-impact entrepreneurs, and how an ecosystem builder measures success.

What does it mean to be a hyper-generalist, and why is it important to have leaders who are hyper-generalists in a hyper-specialized world?

A generalist is someone who looks at a problem in its entirety and understands the connections and interactions between the different parts. This is similar to what we have in medicine where you have generalists and specialists. And then medicine has evolved in creating “internal medicine” practitioners that are in effect “hyper generalists”. So, a hyper-generalist is, in essence, a very experienced generalist.

More than ever, they are needed in a world where specialized knowledge has advanced so much that people are specializing in ever more niche subjects. So, these hyper-specialists cannot see the forest for the trees anymore. In his book Range, David Epstein explains this phenomenon and the utility of generalists in all human endeavors. In business, this is particularly useful – you could say that good CEOs and strategists need to be hyper-generalists.

You held the Chief Strategy Officer position for Romanian decacorn UiPath between 2018 and 2022. What are some key differentiators that made UiPath a leader in its market?

It is difficult to point out to just a couple of differentiators in success, especially when one should never underestimate the part that luck and good timing play. But if I must, I would highlight the mindset, with two specific elements in UiPath’s culture: humility and boldness. I would also mention having an exceptional founder, a product team that paid extra-attention to user interface issues and understood that simplicity of use is key, and, finally, agile and astute strategic moves.

After the UiPath experience, what lessons would you impart about globally scaling a tech startup from an emerging ecosystem such as Romania?

First of all, I am very happy that the UiPath example is inspiring many founders now in Romania and in the region to believe in themselves and have the ambition to build global businesses. At the same time, I would like to provide a word of caution: what has worked for UiPath might not work identically for everyone. They need to understand the specificities of their market, product, timing etc. and not just try to copy-paste what we did.

So, if you are from Romania, given the small domestic market at your disposal, it is much more likely to reach global success with a “techie” product that can be used universally and, even better, that can be self-provisioned.

What is one big challenge that you have seen startups face, and what is your advice for overcoming it?

The biggest challenge is often the access to talent, particularly for a small country, with little experience in tech management. But access to talent is not so much of an issue in the home country as it is when you try to enter a large, new market, such as the US, with a relatively unknown company. Access to talent in these situations becomes absolutely crucial. Luckily, our technology was solid, which allowed us to attract people.

The way you attract people is a combination of multiple factors. It takes some personal charisma of the founder and the early team, when they are personally capable of convincing other valuable talent to believe in their dreams. Investors can also help you attract talent with their reputation and expertise, so you need to ask yourself if the people who are backing you are serious investors, with a good track record. Obviously, you also need to have a competitive stock options plan in place. And last but not least, it helps if you can show that you have been able to attract big clients already. Usually, if a reputable company joins as an investor or a client, it sends a positive message to prospective employees. And the virtuous cycle starts kicking in.

Attracting talent is particularly important in two areas. First, with developers, although this is less of an issue in our region at first, because we have access to developers early on. However, it becomes a challenge later on, as it is a competitive market. The other key area is the sales and marketing function, where having the best talent is a real challenge in our region.

What is still missing in the Romanian entrepreneurial ecosystem, and what are the next steps that need to be taken for the community to reach the next level?

As a nascent ecosystem, it still lacks the managerial talent of people who have done it before. And this is the thesis of Endeavor, paying it forward, as they have seen it play out before in other countries. Having one big success story builds the desire for more people to try. Also, as people leave a successful company, they can put the experience back into either themselves or others by mentoring them into launching and growing other companies. This is the goal of Endeavor – to help nurture and institutionalize this mindset of circular entrepreneurship, people giving back to the ecosystem and nurturing the virtuous cycle.

Another thing I would mention is that, even if we have some big corporations locally, very few support and are buyers of Romanian-born technology, which is unfortunate. This applies to Europe overall if we compare it to the US, where larger companies are much more open to adopting innovation from smaller companies. And this is because of the track record but also the mindset because, in the US, they are in the mindset of “why not?”, “why wouldn’t I try something new?”, as compared to a more conservative mindset in Europe. And it would be of great help to startups to have close-to-home buyers with whom to fine-tune the products before shooting for global expansion.

Since February 2021, you are a Board Member of Endeavor Romania. Why does the tech ecosystem in Romania need an organization like Endeavor? What do you hope to achieve?

Endeavor is entering the Romanian tech ecosystem at a very opportune time, as it is really in its early stages. Most companies with few exceptions are at a pre-seed or seed stage. 18 to 36 months from now, several of them will need advice to grow beyond their home market and start scaling and this is when Endeavor with its global network of knowledgeable practitioners can be of tremendous help.

So, we are already locally “nursing” some entrepreneurs, helping them to, at least, not make “wrong” decisions that may hamper their ability to grow to the next stage. We would love to have contributed to creating several global category leaders from Romania, who in turn will enrich the Romanian ecosystem, as at Endeavor we believe in the power of the ecosystem and in “paying it forward.

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

They blend to a great extent, because Endeavor Romania speaks to my heart. I’ve always wanted to help managers become better managers and creative and enthusiastic entrepreneurs become successful, and help them avoid making major mistakes. To try to be there as a top partner, helping them connect to the right people and encourage them to shoot for the stars. And Endeavor has the same mission to help create the next success story and to convince more and more people in the ecosystem to give back their experience, network, and time, not just their money.

You’ve changed hats recently, becoming a Venture Partner at global VC White Star Capital. How does this fit your journey, why White Star Capital, and what are your objectives with this new endeavor?

Well, as a Venture Partner my role is primarily to advise founders and executive teams of White Star Capital portfolio on strategic and scaling issues. This is something I enjoy doing as you can see from my involvement with Endeavor. This is something I did to a certain extent full-time at UiPath.

White Star Capital is an ideal organization for me because, from the start, it has been a Global VC equally investing around the world, with offices in Montreal, Toronto, New York, London, Paris, and Singapore, and with a presence in Tokyo and Seoul. And I am in essence a global citizen, having lived and worked in several countries and continents. It is a VC that invests from Seed to Series B, which is my sweet spot, i.e. companies ready to scale. Finally, it is a founder-friendly VC. It does not hurt that it was also started by Canadians like myself.

I hope to be able to help a couple of portfolio companies scale bigger and faster and avoid perhaps some traps along the way.

In previous interviews, you advised entrepreneurs to learn to balance humility and boldness as a way toward success. When should you be humble and when should you be bold?

Ideally, you should be both simultaneously. Being humble allows you to listen better and to truly believe that you do not know everything and thus you are not too proud to ask. Furthermore, a humble attitude makes others, be they advisors, clients, or employees, willing to provide you with genuine feedback and knowledge. No one enjoys speaking for too long to a “know-it-all”, which is, unfortunately, a posture that many leaders found necessary to have, as in the past vulnerability was seen as a form of weakness. However, being humble does not mean that one should be meek in its ambition or not willing to take risks to achieve lofty objectives, therefore it is also necessary to be bold.