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Read below the latest interview with Appzio’s CEO published in Economedia’s Capital.bg – one of the largest and most influential business media in Bulgaria. The original piece in Bulgarian can be found here.
I browsed your LinkedIn profile and I saw that your first job was as a producer in the students’ radio back at the American University in Bulgaria. Tell me more about it.
– Yes, I did this during my first year at the University. It was definitely interesting to work in an institution that was an officially registered company yet had the working principles of an NGO since nobody received any payment. It was a responsible job since that was the first private radio in Bulgaria with a license. Initially, I wanted to be a DJ there but they told me that my voice wasn’t appropriate. On the other hand, they used my technical skills and so I dived into the technical details and started creating promo jingles and other materials. Afterwards, I joined the board of directors of the radio and I did more business related things which felt right for me. We had to ensure there was a steady cash flow. The University would pay for the license but we had to find a way to retrieve all the other funds. That meant direct meetings with partners, building the right campaigns and finding advertisers.
Based on that experience what would you say to those who are just starting their careers – is it worth working on something that you don’t get paid for?
– It is definitely worth it if what you do helps a greater cause. Every experience counts, especially if it helps you grow and motivate yourself. For many people money is the only motivator, while in such examples the motivation is about the good work and that you can stand behind it with your name along with the fact that you helped others develop the same desire. That’s very cool and it has helped me a lot so far.
How did you choose your University Major?
– I graduated Computer Sciences and Business Administration simultaneously then I decided to continue with Marketing. I decided to study Computer Sciences because I had always been interested in creating solutions with my own resources. At AUBG I learned a lot about how to create a system and how it works. This helps me to this day since most of the people I work with do this. This brings me back to the idea that every experience counts, especially a combination of two Majors.
Still, Marketing is my thing. At AUBG I worked in other companies besides the radio. I was a QA specialist as I wanted to understand if software development was something I would do. During my second year, I started working in Fortumo – an Estonian company that I was a part of before we founded Appzio. The cool thing there was that I tried to do more than my age and my experience would set an expectation for. Fortumo was looking for someone with a Master’s in Marketing and I hadn’t had a single course by that time. I did an excellent market research and landed a job there which determined my career path. I started doing Marketing, finding clients and building publicity here in Bulgaria. Based on what I did I ended up in the Sales team. I liked communicating with people, speaking their language and helping them find the solution they needed. Our clients were some of the largest gaming companies in the world that dealt with mobile payments.
How did you start Appzio?
The idea itself belongs to my colleague Timo Railo. Back in 2014, I was looking for a new challenge as everything was going great in my previous company – it had grown to the top 3 in the world. I had a few goals at the time one of which was to open a branch of Fortumo in Bulgaria yet that wasn’t possible back then. I decided it was time to pass on my knowledge to a company in the region. That was when our other partner – Simeon Mitev, who was my classmate at AUBG, introduced me to Timo. He was looking for a consultant for Appzio’s version of the time. After our initial talk Timo said ‘Okay, that’s our guy’ because I suggested that we entirely change the company’s image and shift it towards a commercial product. Based on my suggestions we changed the concept a lot and at the end of 2014, we started the company. We’ve had a lot of changes since then and today Appzio has very little to do with its initial version.
How did the first year of Appzio go?
I would say it was the most romantic period, the moment when you move forward. During that time all of the three founders had to learn to work together. Each of us had a clear idea of what we wanted to achieve and a lot of experience behind our backs which always bring some baggage. We saw that many of the things that we had seen working before now had to be changed which was a pretty cool challenge. Many things were merely a hypothesis and we had to test them, fail if we must and find a better solution next time. The great thing was that during our second year we started working with Eleven. When you are inside of a company you tend to get blindfolded after some time and you need someone on the outside to give you a reality check.
In terms of funding during the first year, it all came from the founders. Together we put 200 000 euro right off the start and later we managed to attract 100 000 euro from Eleven.
We’ve been developing the product since 2013 and there are a lot of extra hours of work. We had a solid base along with our work on which we could start building up and make it through the first year. Naturally, we also counted on sales, because we started selling from day one. One of our first clients was Reader’s Digest which is a large company and it was quite a surprise that they believed us. We didn’t let them down and their apps were of great quality even back then.
Who are the company’s clients?
Around 70% of our clients are start-ups. Our product fits them great because it allows them to create mobile apps many times faster which lowers the price without compromising the quality. The other 30% are corporate clients that have department budgets but nonetheless have to spend them efficiently. When they see that something that would typically take them a year can be done within 2-3 months, they are keen to work with us. There are very few places in the world where we don’t have clients. We work with companies from Europe, Asia, North and South America and of course locally, in Bulgaria.
What part of success lies in the great product and what part in the great Marketing?
Success is something that has to be built; it’s not something that you can simply keep. This is valid for both the product and the Marketing approach. We have a habit of testing the different hypothesis and thus our product is constantly improving. Nonetheless, it is also connected with Marketing. Both are equally important. It is vital that the clients see what you promised happening for real. We have always tried to listen to our clients and apply changes where necessary – in the product features or even the business model itself.
How big is your team and how do you coordinate the working process?
We are nine people at the moment. Four of us are not developers and the rest are either building the mobile development or the backend part. We aim to be agile not only because we’re a start-up but because we believe that a person should feel good in their office in order to perform good. Our office is designed with the idea to make you feel at home since we spend most of our time here anyway. We give the people the option to work from home whenever they feel like it but most of them prefer to be in the office as it’s a hub for sharing information and ideas. We have a weekly meeting and every separate team has its own smaller meetings. The communication happens all the time and of course, we use different means so that we don’t have to be physically present to do our job good.
What have been the hardest decisions about the development of the company so far?
The hardest moments, at first, were those when you had to decide what to drop. Those were the moments of focus. For example, we had a product that allowed the creation of fully native apps, meaning high quality for mobile devices plus a web version for PCs and laptops. Back then we decided we would concentrate on the mobile devices only. It was hard because this led to questions from clients that were using the web feature. Those are the hardest yet the most valuable choices because when you focus on something you achieve better results. At first, you try to cover everything and as time passes you get more direct in what you offer and to whom.
How do you see the company in 5 years?
Hopefully, by then we would be one of the top solutions for building mobile apps. Our goal is to make our current platform the equivalent of WordPress that holds 30% of the website market. Now mobile devices are the main point of communication between people and we build apps for them. In the future, there might be another such device.
How do you evaluate the start-up ecosystem in Bulgaria and do you think you might have developed better if you were elsewhere?
No, I’ve always wanted to bring a change here and I believe I can. During my studies, I always knew that my path was here, despite the fact that I spent time in England. Even while working at Fortumo I wanted to bring something good in Bulgaria from Estonia, because Estonia is a very progressive country. In the beginning, I saw how easy it was to start a company there and I thought it would be very cool to have that here. I imagined it would happen in 7-8 years time but it was faster. The people in Bulgaria are very open to work for something that has true value. That’s actually the reason why my colleague Timo Railo came to Bulgaria to open an office in Varna with 100 employees. That’s his previous company that he successfully sold. The human capital is good, the environment also – surely, there are some cons, but you can’t change a thing if you keep thinking how bad it is here. It’s better to consider changing it instead. This is what we strive to do – to set an example and train people that are happy with what they get from us as a company. Usually, everyone that’s been working with us continues their career on a higher position with more opportunities.
Branimir Parashkevov graduated from high school in Ruse, Bulgaria. After that, he got his Bachelors‘ degree from the American University in Bulgaria and a Master’s degree in Marketing from Aston University, UK. He started his professional path in AUBG’s radio but later he found that his true passion was Marketing. Without any prior experience, Branimir got hired in Fortumo – an Estonian company that, during his time there, climbed up to one of the leading platforms for mobile payments worldwide. In 2014 Branimir, together with the entrepreneur Timo Railo and his former classmate Simeon Mitev, started working on Appzio.
Appzio is an innovative platform that makes the mobile development process faster and easier for both start-ups and large enterprises. This year Branimir Parashkevov was among the 11 finalists in the Next Generation Leaders competition, organized by Capital and Karieri.
An interview by Nikolay Neychev, Capital.bg
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