Meet the Endeavor Entrepreneurs: An Interview with DRUID co-founder, Andreea Plesea

When looking at the founding team of DRUID, the Romanian-born end-to-end platform for building AI-driven conversational business applications, one thing has been signaling the startup’s success from the get-go: a good blend of technical and business knowledge. Andreea Plesea, co-founder and Global VP, Chief Customer Success Officer, is savvy on both fronts, which serves her greatly in her current role.

While working in her first job as a programmer at Total Soft, right out of university benches, her passion for deep tech motivated her to pursue a Ph.D. in Business Computer Studies with a focus on Artificial Intelligence. Little did she know back then that she would end up applying her research in a real business environment, and helping hundreds of companies create richer interactions between stakeholders with the help of chatbots.

Over the years, Andreea has won numerous international awards and has been named one of the most successful young managers in Romania. Today, she is guiding the DRUID team, part of Endeavor global, on the way to creating better experiences for existing and new customers, as the company ventures on global markets.

In our interview, Andreea shares how the founding team of DRUID came together, how they raised a $15M Series A round, what joining Endeavor Romania has meant for them, as well as other lessons on scaling and building strong teams she has accumulated along the way.

Tell us a bit about your journey co-founding DRUID. How did it relate to your Ph.D. research and previous work experience? How did the founding team come together?

My Ph.D., which ended ten years ago, had the same theme and research area as what we are doing at DRUID. At the time, I was researching semantic web and ontology building for business applications. Ten years later, we started DRUID as a conversational AI platform for B2C customers. Honestly,  I never dreamt I could use my Ph.D. like this.

My first job right after graduating from university was at TotalSoft. I did my Ph.D. while I was there. Together with Liviu and the other three founders, we worked together for 15 years. So, we knew each other and worked together on building a product. Each of us came from a different area of the product space, but Liviu managed to solidify this co-founding team, and after he sold his company and left TotalSoft, we decided to join him on the journey. I was happy and enthusiastic because it was following the purpose of my Ph.D. research, so I got the opportunity to put it into practice. As a bonus, it was something modern, energetic, and creative.

What mission did you embark on with DRUID?

Our mission is to offer a virtual assistant for every role in the company and every employee. It is a big dream, but we reached this goal with various companies. For instance, we have companies with over 10,000 employees that use virtual assistants to interact with any department of the company, whether it’s legal, procurement, finance, HR, and so on. So, at a particular scale, we managed to reach our dream, but we continue to dream bigger and go for a global scale.

DRUID successfully raised a $15M Series A round earlier this year to fuel international expansion across Europe and North America. What helped you reach this stage?

Before the investment, we were a small team, around 60 people. We had a significant valuation three years after launch, which was something we hadn’t even dreamt of when we started. But the quality of the team and the product, which is competitive enough in the very crowded market of conversational AI, made the difference and got us to that stage. To succeed in such a market and end up working with international companies such as McDonald’s China, Texas Children’s Hospital, or AXA Group is something only a good product could have helped us achieve.

We also had strong partnerships that helped open the markets for us. We are grateful for our partnerships with UiPath, Microsoft, EY, PwC, Deloitte, KPMG, and Capgemini, which allowed us to grow. We have a strong partner network of more than 100 partners.

All this led us to the investment round, with which we plan to accelerate the growth process. We hired a new CRO, who is in charge of building the sales team. He has already hired over 20 people all around the world. We have built teams in India with around six people; in the US, we are hiring in the DACH region, France, and the UK. As part of the financial round, we are also doing a flip toward the US. We aim to move the headquarters to the US by the end of the year. Yesterday we were 100 people, and our target is to reach around 140 people by the end of the year.

You are among the first companies to join the Endeavor Romania Entrepreneurs network. How do you see the role of Endeavor Romania in the local startup ecosystem?

Even if Endeavor Romania has not started long ago, they have already left a mark on the entrepreneurship ecosystem. First, they helped us get into the global Endeavor family, a unique global network of companies and entrepreneurs with significant experience that helps startups and scaleups build their strategy, hire people, and access markets. Endeavor Romania worked with us, helping us schedule and prepare for the pre-qualification and pitch interviews for the selection process.

As part of the network, we also talk with mentors with experience at large companies to help us build up the partner network. We have also attended events they organized where we met other entrepreneurs to exchange ideas. Some of them are our competitors, but others may be future partners. And apart from all that, Endeavor also has the Catalyst investment fund through which they invest in promising startups.

We are grateful and happy to have them as our partners along this journey. And so we encourage all Romanian startups with a big dream and a strategy to go internationally to work with them.

On the other hand, what do you hope to pay forward as part of Endeavor Romania?

Endeavor was built to get something, but you also need to give something back. That’s another reason why we like to be part of this network, as mentors, to share our story and lessons learned, and to help future members prepare for the Endeavor experience.

What universal lessons would you impart further about globally scaling a tech startup from an emerging ecosystem such as Romania?

To be honest, we are also learning. But I think the best way to grow internationally is to be part of a network and to work with global partners. Because if you base yourself only on your work capacity and your internal insights, the growth process will likely be slower. We highly encourage companies to become partner-driven and hire top talent locally, especially in a field like IT, where you need to offer full on-premise customer support, speak their language, and be available anytime, at any time zone.

What do you think the Romanian startup ecosystem needs to unlock the next growth stage?

The startup environment in Romania has changed. I think Endeavor Romania plays a significant role in supporting and promoting entrepreneurs and helping them scale to international markets. But, of course, other successful startups and tech companies act as role models for the startup space to inspire entrepreneurs to dream big and not fear the fact that they are coming from Romania.

What was one big challenge as you were growing DRUID, and how did you overcome it?

In Romania, we snowballed and sold quickly due to Liviu’s brand, the fact that we were the first conversational AI platform that spoke Romanian, and the team’s business experience. But you need to have a brand to get on the global markets. Also, the space of conversational AI is very crowded. So, there are already big players on the market with experience, products implemented in large companies, and so on. So the main challenge for us was to start selling internationally. And for this, we are very grateful for our partnership with UiPath because they were the first to help us sell internationally in 2020 when we signed the global reseller agreement with them. So, they were the ones opening markets for us.

You have a track record coordinating diverse teams. Why do startups and scaleups need diverse teams, and how can we build them successfully?

We are now in the process of building diversity because, initially, our team was very coagulated. We were like a family because we were hiring based on our previous work relations. Now we have reached a point where we need to hire massively.

So, we need to hire many people from various cultures and regions. And this diverse team might become a challenge to rally everyone within the DRUID culture. Fortunately, this challenge hasn’t seemed so big, as people were quickly onboarded and aligned with our culture.

We will, at some point, turn ourselves into a corporation where we will have stricter rules and regulations. But, right now, we have a startup mentality, which helped us bring a strong team.

Where will DRUID be in the next one to three years?

For this year or up to mid-next year, our goal is to reach a more than 100 million euros valuation. For this, we need to have powerful sales teams, partner teams, and customer success teams, to support more and more customers in scaling up. In the next three years, we aim to have 3,000 customers in our portfolio.