Meet the Endeavor Entrepreneurs: An Interview with FintechOS co-founder, Sergiu Negut

Sergiu Negut, co-founder and Board Member of FintechOS, the first Endeavor Romania Entrepreneur, is one of the leading entrepreneurial figures in the local and regional ecosystem, as well as a natural connector, with an honest desire to bring people together to build greater things. “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together,” is one of the quotes that stuck with him.

Long before founding FintechOS, he was a fan of Endeavor for its power to create networks and use them to strengthen the loop of knowledge and resource sharing in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

In our interview, Sergiu reminisces about the origins of FintechOS, shares what he has learned from fundraising up to a Series B, expanding the startup to international markets, and formalizing the company’s culture, and discusses FintechOS’ plans for 2023. He also talks about how we decided to join Endeavor and what role he sees the organization play in the local startup ecosystem.

Could you tell us about your journey of co-founding FintechOS in 2017? Why then, why this market, and what convinced you to jump on board, even becoming the first investor in the company?

The world was very different in 2019 in many ways. The first reason when you start a business is that you see an opportunity. Several years before FintechOS, I decided to join Teo Blidarus at Softelligence as a small investor and advisor. From the discussions with Teo, I got the feeling that we have the potential to build something greater together. There was a timeframe of several years when we had several meetings and discussions about what this “something greater” would be.

The resulting platform, which was Teo’s idea, is a mix of many things that were on the table at the time. First, I think it’s the programmer’s dream to build the program that builds other programs. A second factor was that the financial industry was not meeting customer expectations because of the obsolete, slow, and data-lacking way in which financial companies built software. So creating a platform that puts data and customers together and lives within the complex structure of the financial sector would make sense. And finally, it was complicated to jump the board and suddenly start a new company from zero and take responsibility for it as a CEO while having a job as a CEO in another company with already 100 employees. Teo acknowledged the fact that if he wanted to build on the concept of FintechOS at the time, he could only do it by moving 100% of his attention from the services firm into building a startup. For me, the decision was much simpler, and I joined him in starting this firm.

The agreement was not to split the company, not to take essential people from the services firm, but to start from scratch and recruit from the market. We started recruiting, building the company, and landing the first clients – and the rest is history.

The FintechOS team has grown to four offices and over 300 employees. What are your lessons on growing a team at speed while maintaining the company culture?

The most important thing is to acknowledge that a company has a culture, whether you want it or not. And I think of the company culture as what people talk about around the water cooler when no one is around, or what people answer at a friend’s gathering when someone asks them about what it is like working for company X. Those anecdotal stories define who we are.

Up to the size of an ancient tribe (150 people), it’s easy to create a culture by just meeting people. You always walk around and everybody knows everybody. It comes naturally – it is a natural reflection of the personal values of the people who have started the business. But beyond this number, it becomes more complicated because you have to harmonize different national cultures and smaller groups of people who are well-bounded together. You have to start formalizing the culture.

And the way we decided to do that was to look for the anecdotes that defined who we are, those real-life stories of people doing something nice, solving interesting dilemmas in a certain way for the benefit of the client, their team, their company, and find the common threads among them.

We ended up with set values, and we then discussed what each means for different departments, on a day-to-day basis.

Sergiu Negut as a professor at BiSM source: BiSM

In 2021, FintechOS successfully raised a Series B in which Endeavor Catalyst participated. What helped you reach this stage? What advice would you give to startups fundraising at Series A+ stages?

What we did at any given moment from the day we started the company was to focus on the next funding round. From the beginning, we created the business for an accelerated development path, for which we would require money. With more money, you hire more people, develop the product faster, and get to clients quicker. So when we were raising a seed stage, we were waiting for Series A, and so on. When we were raising Series B back in 2021, we were thinking of what Series C looked like and how the company needs to look to achieve that. At any given moment, we were looking one step ahead and understanding what the company needs to achieve to get there.

Unfortunately, from the point of view of fundraising, 2022 and 2023 so far are not a continuation of 2021. There is a different funding environment when we are talking about VC-backed firms. The market for everything that is Series A+, rounds that exceed $10-15M, has changed, driven by the changes in public markets because there are 10 times fewer tech companies getting listed on major stock exchanges, and of those, even fewer that are still making a loss. So there is a new view in the market in 2022-2023 that says you should reach profitability. There is a collapse in valuations attributed to companies for the same growth parameters they had in the past.

So my advice for people fundraising today is to not rely necessarily on the type of journey that would have been achievable two or three years ago. Plan each round so that at the end of it, after 12-18-24 months you have a chance to converge to profitability and become standalone autonomous because that’s what the market values at this moment. So instead of creating maximum growth with the money raised, you have to grow the company to a level where it can sustain itself and then look for funding opportunities.

What was one big challenge you faced while growing FintechOS, and how did you overcome it?

First, when you start international expansion, especially from a market that is not among the major ones, you think of expansion and having to recruit talent in a different market. The reality is that you are a small firm coming from nowhere and trying to recruit from the top. So, you may not find the best people you want to recruit on the first try. You may realize along the way that you didn’t recruit top people and that you have to fix it, which means letting those people go and hiring others who can grow the firm. Like many other companies, we had to go through this challenge.

And the other challenge came in the past months. Because the funding paradigm has changed, the company strategy needs to change, too. So instead of growing into getting a Series C sometime in the future, we are growing to reach profitability, which requires a slight shift of focus from creating the best product to arriving at the best product for the customers to use in the next 12 months. The shift means focusing on customer quality and customer success so that customers achieve their goals with our help. It takes changing plans and redesigning some teams and processes to ensure that everyone aligns around making clients happy, such that their business continues to grow.

At the end of 2022, you released a new version of the product. What excites you most about what the platform can offer and the technologies that enable it?

The product is an amazing tool that financial consultants can use to build financial products, launch them into the market, and operate and grow them. FintechOS is the first firm that turns that famous article that says “every company will be a fintech company” into reality with a tool that enables this transformation by building digital products and launching them into the market. And I think the last versions are the first ones that make this very smooth and easy to consume.

One thing that I am very proud of in the last version of the product is the Academy. Today, you can go on the website, enroll in the Academy, and get access to tutorials that explain each component in detail, which you can work with unassisted. The truth does not reside with a handful of people. The product is transparent, mature, well-connected, and scalable. The Academy can get you from nowhere to becoming certified as a FintechOS consultant or developer. What has always been the essence of FintechOS is how easily you can start from scratch and build a financial product.

You were the first company to join the Endeavor Romania network of Entrepreneurs. What role do you see Endeavor Romania play in the local startup ecosystem? How did the community help you so far?
I have always been a fan of Endeavor. I first heard of them before FintechOS, as I was always passionate about creating a support infrastructure for entrepreneurs in Romania and was looking for models to replicate here.
Funny enough, when Endeavor decided to create a Romanian chapter, some people I knew from the past came to Bucharest and started to make lists of potential board members. I remember discussing with someone and mentioning some names in the ecosystem. When the Romanian chapter launched, I was happy to see that 70-80% of the board was from the people I recommended.
What is so special about Endeavor? It is a strong network to be part of. It prides itself on two things. One is the impressive network of connections that can help you fundraise. Endeavor is proud of placing its members in contact with investment funds, angels, and people who can help you raise money. The other strength of Endeavor is its massive network of mentors – senior professionals, ex-CEOs of top companies, or serial entrepreneurs.
Even so, the most helpful part for me is the members’ community, through which I can meet other people who struggle to grow their businesses fast, become unicorns, and expand globally from an emerging market. I am talking to people who have gone through similar situations and challenges, and we share our vulnerabilities and learnings. This facilitation is something that I think Endeavor is massive at.

Sergiu Negut at the Endeavor Gala, with Mihnea Craciun, Vargha Moayed and Kurt Lacroix.

What would you advise companies wanting to apply to be part of the network?
I would advise them to not delay the application. Endeavor has different programs to assist entrepreneurs before they become members, when they are candidates looking at whether Endeavor is for them or not. Use the opportunity to participate in Endeavor meetings and meet people.

Where do you see FintechOS, as well as the overall Romanian startup ecosystem in the next 1-3 years?
FintechOS will continue to grow. We will continue to grow the client base in the markets where we already have a presence due to the limitations of funding. This means focusing on the US, UK, and France, to some extent the other European countries, and the clients we have started with in Romania and the surrounding countries. We will get closer to being profitable month by month, which will strengthen the firm and bring more stability and long-term confidence to our clients.
Then, the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Romania has succeeded in the past few years to go from being not very important to quite prominent. There are more developed markets around the world that did not manage this jump, this effervescence of the ecosystem, where companies are growing, expanding internationally, and hiring people.

We have a community of professionals growing together with the companies they have built – product managers, engineers, architects, marketers, salespeople, and team managers, all creating a strong entrepreneurial technology environment. I think this entrepreneurial focus is coming of age very fast. We also have more funds being raised from the region and many more functional public markets.
Finally, we have vibrant communities of entrepreneurs and business people helping each other and believing in the power of community to better the environment, society, and economy for everyone’s benefit. I think we are using the power of entrepreneurship to make a better society in our part of the world – and Endeavor is a massive catalyst in this process.