Meet Our Board of Directors: An Interview with Voicu Oprean

We all know that launching a successful startup requires a special skill set, including boldness, adaptability, and creativity. But have you ever thought of humbleness as being one of the most important traits to possess?

Today, we learn about the importance of humbleness in entrepreneurship, as well as many other topics, in an interview with Voicu Oprean, founder of AROBS – a successful Romanian-born software development company operating globally for the past 25 years. Voicu is also an Endeavor Romania Board Member, through which he aims to help scale-ups unlock their potential.

Keep on reading to learn more about the evolution of the IT ecosystem in Romania and Central and Eastern Europe, the challenges of good leadership, and ways to find the right investment partner.

You launched AROBS Transilvania Software in 1998. What were your goals and motivations along the way? 

Our goal 25 years ago, which is a long time ago, was to develop software for the international market. Back then, this was a new concept in Romania. The goal evolved over the years, with numerous mini-goals along the way. For example, we decided to develop products within our service company and place them under the same umbrella, as well as get listed on the local stock market.

I am glad to see my example was followed by other companies on different levels, such as mixing products and services, developing successful products for international markets, and expanding service offerings regionally and internationally.

Looking back, how has our national brand in the IT market evolved since then?

It’s much stronger now, for sure. Back then, it was very difficult to convince people that our offerings were a good alternative to current solutions, so we had to focus on cost and pricing. Over time, we evolved in the areas of competence and quality.

At least with the level of financing accessible today, companies can raise capital from outside the country, with Endeavor being an excellent example of empowering start-ups and scale-ups to be found internationally.

However, now I see another challenge – although we are qualified and have a good reputation, we need more people and resources.

What is the role of Endeavor in developing the national tech ecosystem?

Although there are multiple funds here, there is only one company that helps ventures grow not only across international geographies but also at different stages.

Before Endeavor, there was only one option: to test in Romania and move to the UK or US. Now the process of entering different markets is easier and smoother. Endeavor, for example, helps companies grow as an ecosystem, let’s say from an initial threshold of €5M to €50M and even €500M, with the goal to move internationally.

Given this more positive outlook today, what’s your vision for Romania for the next 5 years?

We will see more unicorns and we will witness them go international. Despite the current global hassle, I remain optimistic. In fact, even if we see one unicorn every 2-3 years instead of every year, that’s still a success.

How will you be judging the success of the Romanian chapter of Endeavor in the next few years?

Promoting and attracting more startups is an important criterion. More investment in the ecosystem, as well.

Along with funding, the number of people involved is another important indicator of success. If we see 5x more people attending Endeavor meetings, that will be a success.

So how could that happen? What are the key ways to coagulate people successfully?

While this is a question for sociology and psychology experts, I’d say people are aligned around success. Seeing good examples of successful ventures in Romania and neighboring countries like Bulgaria and Poland can bring people together.

Of course, you must add funds to this number game and attract banks, influencers, and more stakeholders.

Tapping into your experience as a leader, what can you tell us about your approach to leadership that has helped you grow a global software company with more than 1,000 people and several successful acquisitions?

The leadership style I love is leading by example. Because I believe in the saying that “leaders eat last.” A good leader should be able to set examples, point to the direction the company is going, and monitor people regularly to ensure they’re following and satisfied.

The most important aspect is that when the team fails, this should be seen as an opportunity to learn rather than punish people. Any organization, including the ones purchased, should encourage people to test, fail, and then recover from mistakes. It’s like changing the wheel while driving and still keeping the steering wheel straight.

Talking about failures, what do you find most challenging about entrepreneurship? When have you experienced failure, and what has it taught you?

Experiencing hiccups, such as delays or even canceled plans, is expected and necessary, to be honest. The failures will teach you the best lessons in life and business. Therefore I learn from my mistakes and others. My first crucial so-called failure was when I got fired, and that pushed me to launch AROBS 25 years ago. After that, there were times when I should have chosen better – better products, better negotiation, better partnerships – but each and every one of these mishaps turned into vital lessons that made me who I am today.

You are also a startup investor and mentor. What are the most important elements for you when assessing a startup? What differentiates successful startups from the big majority?

When it comes to startups but also scale-ups, something Endeavor focuses on, the level of knowledge is crucial to help you master the field.

Secondly, being humble is a quality I cherish the most, as many entrepreneurs I’ve worked with are full of themselves and in love with their products so much that they do not accept feedback and are unable to see the situation realistically. Admitting you don’t know, however, is a crucial element to success.

What can you share about the trends you follow and expect to unfold within the ecosystem here?

I’m curious, so I’m always staying up-to-date with significant disruptions and exploring new products and business models.

This includes even ChatGPT and ways it can be used to write code and add value to existing solutions.

What are the pieces of advice you offer most frequently to entrepreneurs, considering the current climate?

To find a partner they rely on, especially in the tough situation our society is in. While investors can be looking into money, one should have the integrity to ask for support and just keep human contact with their partners. This creates trust.

Because, after all, we all – entrepreneurs and investors – are in the game together. With the level of complexity and an excellent board, Endeavor is an important element in that game.

So how can scaleups determine whether they found the right partner? 

Finding the right match is tough and complex, but it’s not impossible. To accomplish that, you should know each other personally and on a corporate level, understand all challenges involved, and be able to see what’s next for the organization as a whole.

Once again, being humble is very important. While it’s not always easy due to social and peer pressure, there’s one big lesson that should be remembered: to be able to accept when the business is slow, when the ROI is low yet sufficient, and when the market level or international situation doesn’t allow you to grow. Ultimately, we can’t always shoot for the stars; sometimes, reaching the clouds is just enough.