A few clarifications on startups

16.01.2019   |  Press  |  Startup

In entrepreneurs’ and investors’ lingo, the meaning of the term startup is pretty clear. However, after several years of business in this field, I’ve noticed the necessity of some clarifications, both for experienced businessmen and young people who tackle business for the first time.

What is – and especially what is not – a startup

Let’s start with a definition. The common feature of the numberless business textbooks and encyclopedias is that a startup is an incipient business, which aims at increasing and reaching a replicable profit in a number of years. We all know that, but the interesting thing is what a startup is not. From this point of view, if we exclude big listed companies, the definition above does not include incipient businesses that do not aim at growth by capitalization. In other words, a convenience store or a small family farming business, dealing in bio products, does not fall under this category.

According to certain sources, the term ‘startup’ started to be used in the ’70s by various publications such as Forbes. It is no wonder that its birth coincides with the computer revolution and the birth of Silicon Valley, which have led to the incorporation of the most innovative companies – but also to numberless failures associated to the idea of startup. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, in the USA, the fixed capital investments in the IT industry amounted to 0.6% of the US overall economy in the ’60s, whereas in the timeframe 2010-2012, it reached 12.2%, which is a good indication of the sector growth: times 20 according to this indicator.

However, the money invested in a startup is supposed to make a profit far higher than in a conservative industry. In IT, only from 2004 to 2017, according to Statista, that the turnover of Apple increased from $ 8.2 billion to $ 229.23 billion, that is 27 times, and Apple was no longer a startup in 2004.

Financing Cycles

In other words, there is no startup without an IT component. According to World Finance, of the five industries with the highest growth in 2018, three (cybersecurity, virtual reality and artificial intelligence) are intrinsically related to this field and the other two (renewable energy and biotechnology) are include technology.

Speaking of money, the successive capital infusions in a startup are called financing cycles. It is not my intention to tackle these in this article, but I would like to only point out a simple difference: the business will be supplied by founders and angel investors for the incipient period, during which it does not make any profit and it cannot access venture capital or bank loans and neither can it be subject to a merger or acquisition without exceeding a break even. This is the so called validation phase of the startup. From this point of view, all advice on attracting capital is very well put by Tim O’Reilly, the creator of O’Reilly Media and the main promoter of the term Web 2.0: “Money is like the fuel on a car ride. You don’t want to run out of it, but you aren’t making a tour of the gas stations.”

This means that, as far as startups are concerned too, money does not make you happy, but you cannot do without them. In order to get them, you need to refine your idea with research means and detailed business plans.

A Romanian version of this article was published by Capital business magazine, on 19 December 2018.

Octavian Pătrașcu  |   16.01.2019   |  Press  |  Startup

Three things to test and maintain in HR: hard skills, soft skills, and motivation

25.04.2019   |  News  |  Startup
The quality and efficiency of an employee mainly depend on their professional qualifications, but the modern human resources theory refers to this only through a partial term, namely "hard skills". In terms of evaluations and professional management, these “hard skills” are supplemented by a range of different qualities defined as "soft skills", such as the motivation that an individual demonstrates or chooses to develop.

Hard Skills: Easy to identify, necessary, but not enough

The term "hard skills" applies especially to fundamental professional knowledge, skills, and abilities, but not only. For example, if a programmer has to write code in Java, he will obviously have to know the programming language. In the field of hard skills, however, complementary skills such as foreign languages ​​or driving licenses also come into play. If the job description is not IT-related, the computer skills - quasi-generalized today - are also in the same complementary category. Upon hiring, hard skills can be easily tested or proven. Basically, all the skills in this category can be certified through a diploma or a certificate of qualification. These skills are the basis for the future work of the employee, but in the vast majority of cases, they are not enough to ensure good performance at the workplace.

Soft Skills: harder to test, especially required for higher positions

These are somewhat social qualities, relating especially to people-interacting abilities. Soft skills include teamwork skills, communication skills, leadership qualities, and the ability to solve problems as they come. From simple politeness to a nonconflictual attitude, a whole range of attributes can be added here, including good time management or the desire to conform to strict professional ethics. If hard skills are easy to identify, in the case of soft skills, the stereotype enumerations present in CVs are never enough proof of their existence. They can somehow be felt when hiring, during their interview or, possibly, through psychological tests set up by human resources specialists. As they mostly focus on human interaction, soft skills are increasingly needed as the position of the employee in the hierarchy is higher, but the situation differs from one job description to another. If the programmer we had as an example earlier does not necessarily need soft skills when writing code, a sales or marketing specialist will interact with the top management and thus cannot work without them.

Motivation: differs from case to case

Motivation is a problem that concerned psychologists way before Maslow's Human Pyramid of Needs. There are many hypotheses and models that relate to this theory. I will just state that a first classification refers to financial and extra-financial motivations. The former refers to material compensation and are accepted unanimously. However, since the beginning of the 20th century, it has become clear that there is no direct link between payment and the efficiency of a person. 100 years ago, however, besides the famous $5-a-day salary, Henry Ford offered land lots, kindergartens for their children and, in the case of immigrants, English courses to help them integrate into the mass production processes. Today, large companies provide health insurance, relaxation areas, various educational classes, physical activity facilities. All of these include career plans and contract terms that offer job security and much more. Perhaps, the first thing to remember is that motivation differs greatly from one employee to another. Effective management should be as flexible as possible, in accordance with the needs and incentives of employees, beyond the standard packages.

The Employer’s Perspective

From what we described above it seems that that the employer will consider the three components as we’ve structured them. Hard skills are easy to identify and absolutely necessary to ensure performance in a particular position, so these are the first ones that will be tested. Soft skills can be identified to a certain extent in the midst of the employment process, but initial perceptions can be confirmed or denied later on. What’s more important is sustaining them at the workplace, often as a necessity for promotion on a higher hierarchy level. As final words, motivation has qualitative rather than quantitative aspects. Employers should be less concerned about the answer to the question "how motivated is an employee?", but rather show concern towards the type of motivation that employees are most responsive to. Schematically speaking, if hard skills are mainly the employee's concern, soft skills relate to a process that takes place between the employee and the company, and in the case of motivation, it should meet the needs of the employee. Only by paying attention to all the three components, the employer and the employee can have a mutually satisfactory and productive relationship.
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