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Marius Istrate: Technology and teamwork: two ingredients for growth

25 minutes reading time

Marius Istrate is an advisor and investor in tech startups that wish to go global as well as partnering with venture capital firms to help accelerate their portfolio's growth.

He was Chief People Officer at UiPath between 2017 - 2020, setting up and running the company's people and talent function during its rapid growth from 100 to 3,000 employees across the globe and from 4 to more than 50 offices worldwide. 

Before his role at UiPath, he was the CEO of SkillValue, and today he is sharing his experience and knowledge to help build great teams and get out of their way.


Today we are talking with Marius Istrate, an advisor and talent guru, so if you're into people and unlocking technology, we have the right man for you.

How does he know? He was the chief people officer at UiPath. He saw unicorns go from 100 to 3000 people. He has been and seen and got it done. He advises founders and he invests in tons of companies. He has a lot going on. So get ready to dig into the growth equation. 

Marius, welcome to the show. 

Thank you so much, Mike. Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to talk to you today. 

Thank you for taking the time to join us here on Unbounded. I would love to hear what it's like right now after our listeners have just shared in your entrepreneurial journey; you are now an advisor to other founders, folks looking to build something, working on bold and audacious ideas. But this time, you are advising them. What do you like most about this role, this advising of founders? 

Mike, I started doing this two and a half years ago after I left UiPath with this idea and mindset that post-UiPath it's worth investing the expertise and the knowledge I've gained there and my idea was if this was possible out of Romania and if we were capable of building a global company out of Romania, then there's the potential to do more.

We arguably have 5 to 10 successful companies coming out of this region in the next few years. I thought I'd give it a go. It's different from the operational role I've had with the UiPath.

Because my background is in software engineering, before UiPath, I was CEO of a company that was doing IT recruitment and assessment of skills -  a company called SkillValue. So obviously, an advisory role is utterly different from the operational functions I've had before.

But I'm enjoying it for a few reasons. First of all, I get to choose the people I work with. I have this flexibility right now. I get to invest time with founders that I believe have the best chance of success. So that's one thing. And I guess the other thing is that you also have to do a lot of research as an advisor.

It's a hands-off role, but it requires a lot of research and reading, which is stuff I've had limited time for before, but always enjoyed doing. I enjoy doing this now, but the beautiful aspect is the people you meet and the people you choose to work with.

I think that's wonderful; that's the beautiful thing about this experience. 

And when you look at the challenges of somebody looking to build a brand new company or trying to scale their company: upon reflection, what do you think it's the greatest or the most common challenge for founders and leaders of early-stage companies?

What are the common challenges they face? 

There are a number of them, and these challenges also have evolved over the past two and a half years. So I left UiPath and started doing this right before the pandemic, not knowing there would be a global pandemic. So obviously, for the first few months, I was confronted with questions like how do I make my company work fully remote right now?

People working from home, how can I trust that they'll do the right thing? And, globally, we didn't have an excellent track record in terms of managerial and leadership expertise anyway, even when we were in office. So that pandemic made things even harder for all kinds of leaders and founders independent of the stage.

Then came the sort of post-pandemic figuring it out. How do we work together face to face again, do we need, and how often should we need to? How does that make sense for my business? Should I keep things fully remote? They seem to be working. Am I losing something on the innovation side?

These are the questions that I've gotten from founders, throughout the course of 2020 and 2021. And then, obviously at the beginning of this year, the war started. The war in Ukraine started, and some of the startups I work with are regional. They are Eastern European based. Some of them had offices in Ukraine. Some of them have colleagues in neighbouring areas to Ukraine. So the Republic of Moldova, for example. I spent the day my daughter was born on the phone talking to startups trying to evacuate their colleagues from Kyiv. My wife was in the maternity ward with our newborn daughter. That's also part of the advisory life. 

Wow. That's amazing. It's incredible, Marius, that you are advising these early-stage companies. And two of the most significant challenges are, or were not common business challenges, ie. Worldwide pandemic. A war. This is not probably what you expected to be advising upon.

How did you adapt personally? How did you shift gears? What did it take from your side to make that shift and to help these founders? 

I had a lot of practice with UiPath. UiPath was all about shifting gears. I would say UiPath was a very different company every six months.

As we grew, the organisation changed a lot. And the challenges evolved for founders right now. What I've learned that I can do best is help them navigate these events, which truly are unprecedented in our lifetime. While at the same time helping them understand the big picture.

Independently from Ukraine or independent from the pandemic and post-pandemic world, the winners are still going to be the founders that build great businesses.

And what's the definition of a great business? It's not that complicated. It's building a product that your customers love. Build a team that works well together, stays engaged and is capable of delivering that exceptional product and that exceptional customer experience and a lot of other things will fall into place.

As long as you do these things. Tackle events as they come. Throughout my career at SkillValue, at UiPath and even before skill value when I was working in software engineering, I learned that nasty events will happen. Sometimes there are external factors. Sometimes it's just things going wrong within the organisation.

There are things that you cannot control and with scale sometimes simply with scale come new challenges. I was surprised to learn that one of the, let's say blue chip, very large, blue chip IT corporations in the world which have attended events of roughly 300,000 to 400,000 people annually.

I'm talking about personal events here. So pre, pandemic level, right? Was always prepared with emergency services because each year, two or three people suffer from a heart attack, an aneurysm, or something of this type during their events. And you are probably thinking, Wow, that's an awful way to plan events, right?

I need to have an ER on-site. But in reality, it's because of the scale. The statistics don't change. The probability of it happening is still very low. But when you organize events involving 400,000 people, there's a higher chance of it happening. 

And it's the same with a growing company, with scale and with time. Some challenges will come. They are inevitable.

You don't expect a double punch, a two punch. Like pandemics and war within the space of 24 months. But here we are. 

So if I understand the kind of lore that seems to have been experienced by you and where are you helping founders now in this advisory role? I think it sounds like it. It's expect the unexpected. Plan for it.

It is. Walking to the fire, right? Because ultimately, the people who walk into the fire are the ones who have the best shot at making it out of it. 

That's right. There's a very famous speech given by one of the early American presidents about stepping into the arena or the man in the arena and that only the man that steps into the arena is the one that has the chance of winning.

And if you do so in the world of technology and business, expecting the unexpected is one thing that will drive consistently throughout the business. I wanted to build on this topic a little, and I think what you were saying is the pursuit of scale and growth, which is so natural for a young, early-stage company.

There's a natural tension inside of that because you must move fast and take the time to build the culture methodically. Sometimes, to me, those seem almost oppositely opposed? They're like conflicting with each other because it feels like in a young, early-stage company, every day, every week, there's a new person and did we introduce them?

Who are they? What are they doing? And meanwhile, you need these people too; there are jobs to be done. The same time, you've gotta nurture people, communication, and collaboration. What did you learn in this rip-roaring journey at UiPath? And for those of you, I want to remind you that UiPath experienced enormous growth in a short amount of time.

It was the first unicorn from Romania. It's now publicly listed. So that's a big whirlwind journey with that in our minds. My question for you, Marius, is how do we balance these two things, moving fast, building teamwork, and building culture? How do we do that? 

First of all, Mike, I don't think these are conflicting terms.

I believe there is a way to move fast and to be able to keep that flame alive, keep the culture working for your organization. And I would say, first of all, speed can be a way of operating a business. It can be, I would even say it can be a value by which you function.

There are founders who prefer to move things around quickly and they break them. And that's their way of working, that's their way of operating. And they try to instil this into others, or they try to surround themselves with people who believe the same thing, at least for the early stages.

There's some tension there, but I don't think the tension originates because the two are opposed to growing fast as opposed to keeping the kind of culture alive. I think the tension arises from the fact that we, as human beings, are hard-coded to not favor uncertainty.

We like certainty, right? We like things that we can put our arms around, that we can understand. Walking into an environment or working in an environment where things are changing very fast, we're not comfortable, and when we are not comfortable, by default, we start creating tension around us.

Now, this can be turned into creative tension, or it can become something else, something more toxic. What I always tell founders is, first of all is: favor building great businesses over everything else. And we talked about this just a few minutes ago about what a great business is.

Then, when you have to think about speed versus culture. Or speed and culture, which I think is the right way to think about it. Think about how you enrich your culture. I think for several years the conversation has been how do I hire people that are a culture fit?

Because I feel like if I hire people who are a cultural fit for my organization, then I don't have to explain certain things to them, and then I would be able to move faster. What you learn, over time as you're building your organization, there isn't necessarily a culture fit.

The real valuable thing is more of a value fit. How do I hire people who have the same sort of intrinsic values that I have, even if their behavior sometimes will be slightly different to mine? So how do I get that value fit? Then how do I use these people's diverse ways of thinking, operating, and behaving to enrich my culture and my organization so that I move even faster? And this is the correct way to think about it.

Now, some organizations call this culture ad. What do I add to my culture when I bring this person in? How does my company get richer in terms of experience and knowledge, but also ways of operating and ways of behaving? Ways of building?

What does this person know, and what have they done that I haven't? Or what have they seen that I have not seen? And how will this help our company move faster? When moving faster is what we need to do? And that's what a lot of companies need to do is move faster.

So let's break this down together because I think we are getting into something that is immensely helpful for any early-stage company.

So I think that, to set the stage, you're saying, focus on the value fit. I like this. And you break it down into basically two parts. You need to spot it, and then you need to, like, when you bring those people on board, how do you stimulate it? How do you get the best of their unique characteristics and qualities?

Let's dive into the spotting of values. What's a great way or technique that one of our listeners could use if they're talking to a candidate or partner? How do they spot a value fit? 

There is no easy answer, Mike. Unfortunately. I would love to start with the punchline here.

But there isn't a punchline. This kind of screening has been done through situational and behavioral questions. To be able to assess what a person would do in a particular situation, in my opinion, is not sufficient. I think that's an interesting starting point. But if you want to be efficient and if you want to move fast also, in hiring, you have to move fast.

Also, not just in, in work with your customers or building your revenue.

 The best way to screen for value fit is to expose your candidate to as many people from the organization as possible.

And I don't just mean interviews. Inviting them for lunch, inviting them for dinner.

Remember, we're talking at an early stage right now. Your company is probably 15 or 20 people, and you must bring another five or six amazing people on board, right? 

 I believe your number one job as a founder is to spend time with excellent candidates and identify those people who essentially believe the same things that you believe. 

They might believe those things because of a slightly different childhood or educational background. But fundamentally, you want people who fundamentally believe what you believe. That's what the value fit is about.

If you want people, if you want to work with people, or if you want to surround yourself with people who believe in scrappiness, right? Who believes in getting a lot done with fewer or fewer resources? I think you're going to find that. This comes in different flavors. Some people grew up in very humble backgrounds, like many of us did here in Romania, and Eastern Europe, for example, and who just out of necessity have had to be scrappy.

Or there are people who naturally enjoy getting stuff done with very limited resources, and enjoy constraining themselves. And the reason for that, psychologically speaking, might be very different. Maybe they had an abundance of resources, but they considered that to be noise.

And they close themselves in, if you wish, sometimes into a world of working on their computer to get magical, great stuff done with few resources. I'm trying to say that I took the example of scrappiness. The exact value can come in different flavors. 

that's what value fit is about. Now how do you spot it?  So you spend time with people and learn how they became who they became

These past couple of years, with all the Zoom interviews going on and people being hired remotely without ever meeting in person. There's a downside. There's been a downside, and there's been some noise in the process of hiring for value fit, if you wish. But now we're beyond that.

I encourage founders to go out and meet the people they'd like to hire face-to-face. Spend time with them, and expose them to other people in the organization. Schedule a few meetings before you make that decision. Schedule dinner, schedule lunch, whatever.

This will also make their integration into the business a lot easier.

This will also make their integration into the business a lot easier. Suppose they don't see this as a recruitment process but rather as an opportunity to know as much as possible about the organization and the people already working in it before you make the decision to jump on board. This is so rich. It's like onboarding before you even start. 

Pre-onboarding. I think we've got a new product here. I love this. I think the takeaway here is that if we want to find that value fit and spot it. Make the time to understand their beliefs, and get a bunch of people to talk, work, and collaborate; get to understand them, and you'll be able to spot it. 

Let's shift for a moment now to assuming that we've got great talent coming or already on board. How might we stimulate that value and culture fit in an environment with a lot of complexity, technology, and an early-stage company?

How might we stimulate the kind of the right mindset and attitudes in the organization? Once we've got people in the team, how do we sustain and nurture it? Marius. 

It's a tricky question because of what we just said earlier. People don't embrace uncertainty by default.

Yet, as a leader, you must help people exercise their muscles. I love to think about it this way, Mike. It's like going to the gym, but for your brain, so exercising your ability to deal with uncertainty or your ability to deal with diverse ways of thinking with people with different backgrounds who are now coming in and contributing to what the team and the company are doing.

A great framework to think about this is. We're building a great business. We're building a product that customers love, and let's build a generational company. Now, as a founder, you're going to have to ask yourself, what am I doing, what does a generational company look like?

What's out there in the world and what do I want to do? To improve on that, to change that, to build a better organization, to build a better company. And if you think about it this way, this is your framework of building things; then some stuff will start falling into place, and it's up to you as a leader, as a founder, to over-communicate these things. 

I find that a great way to exercise these mental or brain muscles is for the leader to over-communicate on the topics of interest, especially around cultural values and how these will help us achieve what we need to achieve.

Remember you are in a fast-growing company, in a fast-growth environment, highly volatile.



There are new people probably coming in every few weeks or so. So if you repeat your key messages in every, all hands, for example, there's always going be one person or a handful of people, getting it for the first time. So it makes sense to repeat it.

That's a simple example. Talk about the values that you want to see throughout the organization. Give examples of how you want those values reflected in people's work with customers and each other. And if you do that consistently, if you drive with that, you have got the best chance of getting the correct output from the team of people getting it, of people understanding it and of people dealing with change more quickly if they understand the north star of the company, if they understand what you're driving toward.

Then they're going to deal with that uncertainty a little bit better, or at least they'll be capable of leaving it aside for a while. It's not easy, though; the occasional sparks and fires will erupt. There are significant cultural differences when you are building a Global organization.

It's one thing doing it locally in one country or just a handful of countries in the region. Or just between Anglo-Saxons, let's say. And it's another thing, building it, building a global organization. 

And Marius I would imagine that over the lifetime of a company, different values are more relevant or prioritized over others. You might be talking about one value a lot in the first year, but maybe in the second and third years, it's a shift and a focus on some of the other values. So I think that awareness matters as well, doesn't it? 

I would say there needs to be one North Star regarding values.

That's genuinely overarching. And then, as you say, of course, the company's needs may be different tools and instruments to help it evolve at each stage. And sometimes you need to double down on one of the values too. To make a point or to help drive through a particular set of circumstances.

But as a leader, I'm returning to the leader's responsibility here. As the leader, you need to communicate about that. You can't just expect people to get it. I think a lot of founders expect people to get it right. And I hear them like; I hired super intelligent people, I did all the right things.

The best two drivers for performance, in any organization for an individual, within any organization are IQ and level of how conscientious they are. These are not my findings. This is organizational psychology research.

It's a peer review that has been verified over tens of years. These are the two best predictors for the performance of an individual within an organization. So I see founders who know this and who've done this and will say, I hire great people. They're working hard; they're doing fantastic work; but they don't welcome change.

They don't embrace change. I feel like they don't understand why we've grown into that country and hired those people to help get us to the next level.

My first question is always, do you talk about this? Do you, as a leader, talk about this? You can't just expect people to get it. 

If they're focusing and delivering a lot of work and probably a lot of high-quality work, they don't have much time to think about your strategic direction.

They expect that to come from you as a leader, and they expect you to communicate about the strategic direction of the company.

Also, the journey is not the same. A founder within a fast-growing startup has a different path and a different journey. When you compare that founder to, let's say, a seasoned operator that they bring in on a valuable individual contributor that they bring in, it's not the same journey.

But part of your journey as a founder is to ask, am I becoming a great communicator. There is no way around this, founders who do not become great communicators and who do not assume that responsibility have fewer chances of succeeding, in my opinion, and experience. 

Marius, I feel like you gave us a lot of homework there.

For all of our listeners involved in fast-growing scaling companies or very early-stage companies, I think the spotting of the value fit, the stimulating, the value fit, and the emphasis on over-communication, build that generational company. This is big stuff and what's exciting for everyone is we got plenty more to cover with Marius.

And just a reminder that FLOWX.AI powers Unbounded; we've talked much about Growth. We've talked a lot about balancing different priorities over-communicating. This brings me to what you observed being part of an iconic, fast-growing company that's achieved the greatest of heights listed on the stock market.

It started with a few founders and, literally in a decade, has done some fantastic things in the automation space. I would love to know, in particular, when you were there, it was just into a hundred or so people and scaled up to 3000, and a big part of that was scaling across countries, borders, or continents.

And I would love to know what you learned from that dramatic global expansion you saw at UiPath. 

Before I tell you what I have learned, I'd like to tell you that I always have wanted, expected something like that to happen out of Romania. Prior to UiPath and with SkillValue, I had met probably around somewhere between 200 and 250 startups across Europe.

Some of them Romanian, some of them French, some British, some Dutch and German. And UiPath immediately caught my eye and especially the founding team at UiPath caught my eye when I met them because, in my view, they had understood something super important, which is if you are building out of an emerging small economy like Romania, you are forced to go global from day one.

But if you do that don't necessarily walk in the footsteps of everyone else who has attempted that and failed up to that point. By the way, there weren't a lot of success stories up until UiPath or, let's say, more limited success stories up until UiPath. So one great thing that UiPath did, and this was before my joining, is just something that impressed me.

I decided to join because the initial expansion was in Asia; more specifically, it was in India. Now that might seem counterintuitive, right? But from the type of business that UiPath was building, it made sense at first. In India, where a lot of business process outsourcing is happening. A lot of companies have hired people to handle those business processes.

And it made sense to go there and talk about automation and the possibility of getting more work done via the UiPath, using the UiPath platform and the place where that work was actually happening. So It made a lot of sense. And UiPath's first customer was signed in India.

So, that made me raise an eyebrow like, fascinating. Somebody got this right. Somebody figured this out. It's not about hiring a salesperson. It's not only about just hiring this salesperson in the United States and expecting them to bring tremendous amounts of revenue for you.

But instead of asking the question, where are my users? Where can I get that love from? From my user persona? Where do I get those users that love my product? Because if I have users that love my product, then the strategic conversation with the C-level executive will be much easier. And I think that's something that UiPath did right. It's built bottom up and top down at the same time. 

So there was a free community edition and a community forum where people would talk about the automation they were doing, about the challenges they were facing, by the time you got to speak to an executive, there was a high probability of having tens, if not hundreds of your organization already familiar with the UiPath. Which was amazing. 

Do you think there's a parallel with companies with a significant focus on customers and community? Do you see that often overlaps with a focus on some of the internal dynamics with employees? 

It does. The short answer would be that PLG product-led growth drives a particular set of behaviors within the company and a specific type of focus. In contrast, top-down enterprise sales will drive a different kind of focus.

What I'm trying to say is, it matters if it's adapted. If that focus you have, whether it's a community and product-led focus or an enterprise focus that's adapted to what your business can and should actually deliver. I think this is the magical sweet spot. Don't do product-led growth because you've read that it's nice to have!

Or that it's the way companies do it these days. Don't do product-led growth because of that. Do product-led growth if it matters. Don’t do the classic enterprise sales motion that is more significant, and you're gonna get to a specific revenue faster.

You will find that the sales cycles are much longer with enterprise sales. You might use up all your resources before you make the first significant sales. So don't make those decisions as a founder. Don't make those decisions, and don't make decisions about expansion. About where to go globally based on what you've read. 

Or based on the fact that UiPath did it that way or some other fast-growing company. By the way, there are a dozen of them right now who've grown faster than UiPath since then. Just because they've done it that way doesn't mean it's correct.

The magic in what UiPath did was that I felt we did it in a convergent way that was compatible with what the business needed. And what it needed to get to the next stages and what the customers needed from us.

I think there is a very powerful rule that you are reminding us of, which is very easy to lose track of, and that is to stay incredibly close to your customers and make sure you are building a product worth building.

Make sure you are solving the problem of the customer. Now, while that might feel incredibly simplistic, I think it's incredibly important to lay out this fundamental idea because you often see products mimicking each other. They're more interested in their competitors than their end users.

And you are bringing us back to focus on the end user. And it was through that, that UiPath had this tremendous insight to go to Asia first. And it may have been even a bit counterintuitive, but the confidence to make that kind of move, maybe even a game-changing move, we might say.

And then imagine, what this does. I'm coming back to the team and the morale of the team. Imagine what this does for your team. These are the early-stage people. The first, I dunno, 10s, maybe 100 people you've hired working super hard on this product. That's still sort of early stages, right?

And you get love from customers or users. Imagine how that feeds the morale of the team. 

Oh, it's like fuel, isn't it? It's like turbo charging. 

Amazing. And then imagine the opposite. An excellent way to think about this is to imagine the opposite. Imagine what happens when you are not building a product that users love, right?

When you're not focused on that, frustration settles. People are upset. They don't know why things are not working. They're fiddling in the dark because they're not asking the right question. And then, at that point, you can talk about values and culture-fit all you want.

It's not going to make a difference. It's the reverse, right? It fuels discontent. It fuels disengagement.

And if you don't step in to fix it and recalibrate yourself to build a great business and a great product that customers will love, you're going to lose the battle, and you're going to lose the game.

I think to call out some of the learnings I'm having with you right now, Marius is staying close to the customer. Go on the hunt for the value fit when looking at talent, spotting it and stimulating it and never forget the rule that business is built upon the idea of expect the unexpected. I feel like I'm getting a master class here, and we're not done yet. I want to bring you to another topic. And it seems like some of the big themes that you're saying that you've seen work well and that you encourage founders to embrace is agility and the capacity to adapt.

Looking for values and empathy for your customer. Are there other mindsets you have seen that seem to come up a lot in successful founders? Are there any things you see that create a winning mindset? I've seen that before. I know that works. Is there anything else in the toolkit that founders need to build?

You've summarized the idea of a growth mindset pretty well just now. So it's something I look for in a founder before I decide to work with them or before I decide to invest in them. One thing that I like, but I don't know how to articulate this in the punchline, is I love founders that talk passionately about the kind of company they're trying to build.

When you're talking about technical founders. Most of the time, they're going to be super excited about the kind of product they're building or the problem they're solving.

And I'm not saying that's not important. That's super important to talk about. Because ultimately, you do have to solve a real problem for customers, to get their appreciation and love and to have some traction. But Imagine a founder who does this well and, in addition to that, spends the other half of his time talking about the kind of company they're trying to build and the kind of people they want to bring together to solve that problem.

Now for me, that founder has a much higher chance of succeeding because not only are they technically bright or bright from a product standpoint, if you wish. But they also know how to build a team, and if they know how to build a team, they have a higher chance of success when delivering the solution to their customers.



I get excited when I meet founders already thinking about what kind of people they should have in their team to solve that problem, and that is always recruiting. I think there's a saying in English that says, always be selling, always recruiting is equivalent.


And, sometimes, the conversation can have both. It can flip to both sides. It can be a sales conversation, or it can be a recruitment conversation. A customer that loves what I'm talking about, a user or maybe a decision maker from your customer side who loves your product or your business might one day join your business because they love it so much.

Exactly. And they might help you build for the next stage.

So you are always, not just selling the product; you're always selling the vision for the company you're trying to build. And founders that do that, their terms of success increase exponentially because they understand the employer brand and value fit.

Maybe they can't articulate it as clearly as we have in this conversation, but intrinsically they get it. They know that they have to build toward it. 

We see the work of Simon Sinek "Start with why" they catapulted the idea of having vision first.

People don't buy what you're doing. They're buying why you are doing it. And if you have a sense of clarity about that, it doesn't matter what kind of meeting you're in, like you said, is it sales or recruitment? Both stakeholders are equally drawn in by the idea of your purpose, the future state of the world you are trying to create, and the vision you have.

And I think that the beauty here is you don't have to worry in the end. Is it a recruitment meeting or a sales meeting? That same vision would compel everyone.

Exactly. Spot on. So it's not about what I am trying to sell. But instead, is this conversation about meaningful subjects about my business?

So great founders know how to do that and it's not like they went to a master class or a workshop or an MBA for that. Some of them are very polished. And they know some of this , but some founders know this intrinsically, and I love working with those. They've got great instincts about this.

Perhaps it comes from caring about your customer, seeing the scale of the problem your customers face, and being energized to go out and solve them. 

It's more like a worthy cause, maybe. I don't know. 

It's more than that. I learned this from a very seasoned executive in one of the World leading technology companies that I had the privilege to discuss this with a few times. And he had such a fantastic track record in his career.

And I asked him why they haven't started their own company yet. With everything you've done and contributed to, this business in particular, but the others before you, you could have such an incredible journey. And he told me: I would not be a successful founder.

And I asked him why, and he told me that I believe successful founders are those people who believe that the world should not continue to exist without their idea being implemented and put in the hands of customers. And that was a very powerful message for me.

I don't have that; I don't have that muscle in me. There's nothing yet that I've identified that I believe the world should not continue to exist without. I think that's the power of it, these founders not only do they want to build a great company, but they believe that without their company and their solution, this world makes no sense. It's illogical. 

Build something the world desperately needs. Build something that makes this world make more sense. Positive vibrations heading in the right direction. The thought that it doesn't exist would be criminal, right? 

Yeah, exactly. This keeps you awake at night. This is what keeps them awake at night.

The fact that, oh my God, this world still exists without this solution and it, yes, it's still not working, right. I find that super fascinating. 

It's a very powerful construct because there's a sense that it must be built. It has to be built. There are no maybes about this.

It must be built, which is a very compelling idea. Something else that must be built is FlowX, and you've been working with the leadership team of FlowX for some time now. I'm interested to know what has attracted you to this. We've just been talking about vision and mission, and I'm dying to know your connection to this world.

What drew you into the world of FlowX? 

First of all, I have known one of the founders of the CEO, Ioan, for several years now. We first met, I think, circa 2013. And he's one of those individuals who get it. As I said before in our conversation.

And he knows how to talk about a great business as well as a great product. And his tracker track record indicates that the previous company he led had a very polished and authentic employer brand. I see him doing the same thing with FlowX right now.

They know that too. To build the right kind of company and deliver value to their customers. They need that value. They need certain types of individuals in their business. Plus, I've seen this idea evolve. I was privileged enough to have conversations with Ioan about this several years before FlowX came to life.

I saw the inception of this, if I can call it that.

I believe both he and Serban, his co-founder, were healthily thinking about this. They allowed this slow hunch to work in their favor. It was a slow hunch for them that a lot of time is wasted in large corporations with these digital transformation projects and it's not done in the right way.



They've let that slow hunch function for them, and it ultimately became FlowX. And I was happy to jump on board once I understood the shape it would take as a product and as a company, it's a relationship built over time.

It wasn't one single aha moment, I'm afraid. For our listeners, I can't tell you: I have a great story: I met with Ioan one evening and drew out my cheque book. 

Or he drew on the back of a napkin, right? Isn't that how it's meant to go? 

I was among the first people to tell him that now that you've gotten to this stage, I'd like to be one of the first to invest.

But it wasn't that classic sort of Silicon Valley conversation if you wish, because again, we've known each other for years. We've met over the years, we've had conversations, and it was great. It was just simply amazing too. Wonderful group of people. 

But this was cultivated over time. It wasn't just one encounter.  

Marius; it sounds like you did your high exposure to spot the value fit. So I think you're drinking your own Kool-Aid here

I am. 

And I think you're doing your work. So I love this. Listen, Marius, it has been wonderful to have you here on Unbounded.

Before we let you go, if people wanna reach out to you, or get in touch with you, how do they find you on the internet? How can they track you down? 

It's pretty simple. I'm very active on LinkedIn. So this is where I spend the majority of my time. Feel free to follow me.

I'm also publishing some material there every now and then, and if not on Twitter, Mariusistratex is my handle on Twitter. You can find me there. Let's start a conversation. 

That sounds fantastic, and I have certainly enjoyed this conversation. Marius, I want to thank you so much for coming on to Unbounded Talks.

I want to thank you for all the lessons that you shared about the number one rule. Expect the unexpected, looking for the value fit, whether you are spotting it or stimulated by staying close to a customer. Always be recruiting and building something that the world must have. These are great lessons, Thank you so much!

Did you enjoy having a chat and giving us a bit of a masterclass on early-stage companies? 

Enjoyed every second of this. And I sincerely hope people who listen to this find this helpful. And who knows, maybe a couple of years from now, we can have another iteration of this Mike and add to what else we've learned.

In the meantime, I think we might have you back quicker than that. So a huge thank you to you, Marius Istrate, here on Unbounded Talks. All right, ladies and gentlemen, that's a wrap. 


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