Let’s take it online
Radu Negulescu (26), founder and manager of Loading Media, is an unlikely hero on an unlikely mission. The monster he has set out to slay is one of the most terrifying he could find: the chocking bureaucratic Romanian administration. His weapons: common sense and simplicity.
When I first met Radu Negulescu over dinner I had the weird yet persistent feeling that he had just landed from Mars or at least from Silicon Valley. Rather slim, dressed like a band manager, the blond guy with hip no-frame glasses succeeded to twist my mind several times during one conversation.
Radu Negulescu – without his glasses
Coming from Baia Mare, a remote Northern Romanian city, he was ready to conquer the Bucharest website market with his company Loading Media using only three arguments: a very elegant content management system, decent prices and low maintenance costs. Web developers all around will promise you the same thing, but Radu delivers and sells.
To convince me that his custom management interface is intuitive and user-friendly, he asked our waiter to upload a document and to modify the first page of a dummy website. It took the poor guy five minutes to understand that we were not mocking him and only two minutes to perform the requested tasks.
An unorthodox sales strategy: Ask the janitor
“When we sell online solutions to city councils or local institutions, we ask them to call the security or the janitor and let them perform the necessary steps to administer a website. If they can read, they can do it,” Radu explains confidently.
His records confirm the unorthodox sales strategy: Loading Media sold 400 websites to the local and central public administration, almost ten times the number of commercial websites they developed. They closed 2012 with a turnover of 800.000 euros, but their success is not necessarily accurately expressed by these optimistic figures. Loading Media is striving for social impact and relevancy, not only for profit.
“Most of the problems everyone, companies or people, have with the central or local administration can be solved online. In my opinion, regarding this sort of problems, the not very distant future should bring minimum physical interaction between state and citizens. This is easily doable using the present technology. That’s what we are aiming for.”
Knowing too well the amount of paperwork you need in order to make something happen in Romania, his objective gains an almost humanitarian aura. It’s not an easy job, though: “Even if there is a great need for proficient IT solutions in the public sector, the budgets are very small and there is also a lack of coherence at this level”.
The I in team
But let’s rewind the story a little. “Loading Media was born when I was 16, still in high school, nine years ago. I failed then, but when I turned 19 I kept the name and restarted the company. Presently we employ 34 people, half of them are programmers, and a quarter of them are in the sales department.”
The average age in the company is 26, and this is not the only thing the team has in common with Radu. “We hire many juniors before we find someone with real potential, but once discovered, we invest a lot of resources in that person’s professional development. Furthermore everybody is involved in the decision process, regardless their position in the company, and we keep them together by continuous feedback and fair treatment,” he tells me.
He also mentions a definitive aspect of team management: the respect for their personalities, their passions or hobbies. I had the chance to meet, online or offline, some of his colleagues and I can tell you that they are a pretty heterogeneous party comprising a martial arts champion, a talented painter and a young politician, to name just a few of the characters.
Radu himself was a local aggressive inline skating glory and still fancies himself as a daring snowboarder. Aside from that he does not like to brag about his past: “I never did much apart from my business. I never had a resume. I started college three times, and I dropped out two times. Now I’m trying for the third time to graduate. What else? Oh, yes, I once won an award at a national Informatics contest, but, let’s face it, beside that I was a disaster in high school”.
Micromanagement and no business plan
You got the picture, he is somehow the typical IT start-up manager, the kind you find more about when they become millionaires. And yes, he’s not afraid of dirty work. “Of course a manager, especially a startup manager, has to get his hands dirty sometimes. I’m not afraid of micromanagement, I believe it can’t be avoided before you reach a certain status”.
Still, the harshest moment in the company evolution happened because of this inevitable habit. “We got stuck because I had not realized at that time how important delegating is in business, and how important it is to have a strong and trustworthy management team. I wanted to solve all the problems, to know absolutely everything, from accounting to customer support, sales, programming and design. I wanted to do everything. But after I lost control I realized what I needed to do and all the problems got solved. It was tough, but still I never wanted to quit. Now, the management is decentralized. I do many things, it’s true, but I have managers in charge of very specific activities that I only supervise.”
After six successful years on the market Radu admits: “So far, we never had a business plan, although we do use action plans. I don’t necessarily believe in the classic concept of business plan, because it requires too much time trying to predict the unpredictable. Short term action plans, for one to two months, correlated with an entrepreneurial vision are much more efficient.”
A business hybrid or a replicable model?
At some point during our conversations I called Loading Media a business hybrid, considering the apparent contrast between clear organization procedures and the lack of by-the-book planning. Radu sees it differently – this organic organizational logic might be, in his opinion, not a compromise, but a replicable model.
“We have clients all around the country. Actually, Baia Mare, our headquarters, brings in less than 5 percent of the turnover. The only advantages Baia Mare, like other similar cities, has to offer are the low rates for operational and production costs compared to bigger cities. But the same rule applies for other countries, too. I believe that the business model we developed can very well apply outside of the country.”
This is not only a statement, but also a promise. “In the near future we are going to launch a series of very interesting ‘software as a service’ programs and these will be internationally promoted. Also, this year, we will be busy opening a new office in Mississauga, Canada.”
For the win
Radu’s optimism is highly contagious. If you take this guy out for a cup of coffee, you will end up in an impromptu business strategy game, drawing software wireframes on your Moleskine and looking for office spaces to rent. It’s not his fault, I think there is something in the air.
Most of my friends are involved in some sort of web-based project; Romania, generally speaking, seems severely affected by the online virus. But is this good for business? “It’s true the market is overcrowded, but quantitatively, not qualitatively,” Radu explains. “I don’t really feel threatened by anyone, I might be a little inconvenienced every once in a while, but I like that. It motivates me to make better products and to innovate, to have better professionals and more satisfied customers. Being competitive is the charm of capitalism.”
Talking about the capital game he acknowledges that: “there is certainly room for startups on the market today. But in order for them to survive they should concentrate on innovation and quality, not necessarily on offering the smallest price.”
About the author: Vlad Ioan Tăuşance is a Bucharest based writer and journalist. He teaches applied creativity classes for Friends For Friends Foundation and also does freelance strategy consultancy.