At its 15th anniversary Accesa, a Cluj-based Romanian-owned company, that seems to be “a favorite” of Deloitte’s Technology top, has 800 employees in Eastern and Western Europe. On this occasion, we met Iulian Iuga, the founding father of this international company with offices in Frankfurt, München, and Zurich. We talked about what were the main challenges that he stumbled upon along the 15 years of entrepreneurship and what is the reality of today’s IT market.
Stefana Muresan: What was Cluj’s IT landscape during the 2000s when you started?
Iulian Iuga: Nowadays, out of 100 IT graduates, 95 have a job. Back then only 5 were employees and every student’s plan was to leave Romania to work for a company abroad. When the first IT companies were founded, I was the 5th employee of Softvision, handling web solutions.
SM: Back then you didn’t have much access to the Internet either, right?
II: We used to connect two times a day to a USA server. We communicated more by phone and by e-mail. IT documentation was difficult to come across. You usually had to bring books from the States. In 2001 I went to Germany, to work for a company that had an office in Cluj and needed experts to work there. I developed a Business Intelligence solution for Ernst&Young. I was one of the hundreds that were waiting in line for a visa at the German Consulate in Sibiu.
SM: How did you manage to start your own company?
II: I lived in Germany until 2004. In the beginning, I was a programmer, but I ended up coordinating business models. That was quite a big professional leap that happened in just a few years. In Germany, I learned that IT is in fact just a tool, it’s like when you are using the hammer to build a table. The key is to know how to sell the solution, not the hammer. I stepped away from the technological area and became a consultant.
I founded the company in Romania together with a partner. It was a shared ownership of 50%, but he decided to leave after a while. The target was to build a strong core in Romania that will become the company that expands outside the borders and conquers the market. I came back home in 2008, I had some money from my job as a consultant in Germany, and I invested a part of them in the company. At this point, some big companies purchased consultancy services, but the IT ecosystem from Romania was not that developed.
SM: What is the situation in Romania now?
II: The IT tax-exempt introduced in 2010 helped this industry a lot. Since then, a lot of foreign companies opened headquarters in Romania. It would be a mistake to reduce or remove this fiscal facility as the IT industry is the no. 1 engine of the Romanian economy.
SM: How hard is it to gain a competitive edge on the Western market?
II: It took us 15 years to enter the German-speaking market, given that almost everybody tries to approach the USA and British markets as English is easier to speak. 30% of our employees from our Romania-based offices speak German. For the rest of our colleagues, we hired two in-house teachers.
We also took an extra step: we hired German-born specialists. In 2011 we opened an office in Germany and in 2016 in Switzerland. We are looking forward to opening one in Austria as well, but the market there is a bit hard to enter. The German market has a huge potential, especially in industries like retail, manufacturing, and financial-banking, areas in which we have the most expertise. The retail industry needs digitalization, manufacturing goes for the Internet of Things and automatization. Also, in the financial industry, they are looking for technology that enables them to stay competitive and prepared for what comes from outside the banking system.
SM: Aren’t you tempted by the American market? Cluj seems to be more oriented towards Silicon Valley, as there is where the money and the investors are.
II: We are part of the Romanian companies that go towards the markets they can fit in. The German economy is based on entrepreneurs like Allianz, Mercedes, BMW that have expanded at a global level. In a healthy economy, you need both big companies and small entrepreneurs that want to stay in the country.
Our goal is to find companies that put technology at the core of their development. In Romania’s case, companies that want and can export.
SM: Cluj is seen as a center of entrepreneurship. Is that true?
II: Unfortunately, in Romania, there is no entrepreneurial education. The Start-up Nation governmental program was conceived to enable entrepreneurs that have an idea, to make it a reality, even if they fail. To succeed they need mentors that are able to help them. The objective of an entrepreneur should not be to have money but to create value, by a product or a service.
SM: Making people taking responsibility: how do we do that?
II: We introduced self-management cells, where each is responsible for their actions, both as personal development and when working with colleagues.
Each community of 10 to 80 people, has its own annual budget, based on the income they generate for the company. The cells can opt for specializing classes or team buildings that they organize for themselves. This autonomy is then reflected in the relationships with colleagues and in cooperation with the clients.
You can read the full interview in Romanian as it has been originally published by the Transilvania Business Magazine