“As an entrepreneur, you tend to be in love with your idea and expect that everyone will feel the same way.”

A conversation with Serban Damian, founder of Superfit.

As an experienced medical professional in Romania, Serban Damian was dreaming of building a place where anyone — sedentary, amateur or professional athlete, could find all they need to improve their physical performance, from nutrition counseling and training to recovery, rehabilitation, and psychological support.

The goal was to put together medical specialists, know-how and the latest top-notch technology under the same roof in the downtown area of Bucharest, Romania. And if Serban had all the medical knowledge, he had no idea how to grow a business. Until he took The Leap, Bridge for Billions’ online incubation program, in January 2019.

Bridge for Billions: What were the main obstacles when starting Superfit?

Serban Damian: Not the money: fortunately, I had a part of the investment from my earlier activity, and the rest was covered by a business angel, who is also a friend of mine — she believed in my dream and covered a part of the expenses and purchases. The main obstacle was my lack of knowledge in business management.

“ It was the first time in my life that I regretted having so little training in almost everything that is important when you intend to start a new business. Ok, I was a successful doctor, but my business until that moment was limited to what I did in my own office. “

When I started the new Superfit, I had to manage a clinic, not just an office, which is 100 times more difficult. I had to learn a lot on fast forward and to take a lot of decisions without having a base or experience. That’s why I chose to join Bridge — I needed incubation and acceleration at the same time.

When you Joined The Leap, Superfit was already an established business. What were you hoping to find?

From 2007 to 2017, Superfit was just a “one-man show” (myself), so basically it wasn’t quite a business. At the beginning of 2018, I started to develop the new business. It took about another 6 months to buy new equipment and to arrange the building. After that, I started to hire people and announce our new services. At that moment, I realized that I had so many questions. The Leap was a chance for me to learn how to actually build a new business.

“It’s probably stupid that I started to learn when I already had the business, but after all it was very useful for me to see what I was doing well and what I could change.”

My main need was knowledge in the marketing field. With the help of Bridge — workshops and weekly talks with my two mentors, I have learned a lot. What I really got form the program was structure in my mind and of course, a lot of tools that I could use in my activity as a manager and entrepreneur.

Was mentorship a game-changer? If not, what was?

Mentorship is very important and helpful. I know this because I do some kind of mentorship every day with my patients — I help them to find their way to a healthy lifestyle. They come to me because they need guidance — it’s the same as in business.

I would say that mentorship is a game-changer. This change could be sometimes only a subtle one, but in many cases is enough to give the right direction to success.

Serban Damian in his office at the Superfit clinic in Bucharest (Romania)

We talk a lot about getting to know your customers at Bridge. What have you learned from your clients in this process?

This was one aspect that I considered particularly useful but difficult at the same time. I’m still learning how to know my clients better. In my business, I have different categories of clients and logically I feel closer to customers that I know best, such as nutrition patients. But we have to learn how to manage another category, such as professional athletes or people who come for physical rehabilitation programs.

I realized that in the moment, when you find out how to “talk their language” — meaning when you address their real needs, they become your clients and maybe will stay for a long time. We’re still learning how to do this.

What did you learn about your business during the incubation in The Leap and since then?

I discovered this obvious truth, which is also very hard to accept, that what you think is cool and interesting, could mean nothing to other people. This is the main risk in any business.

As an entrepreneur, you tend to be in love with your idea and expect that everyone will react in the same way. Well, chances are you will be very disappointed when you start the business for real.

I experienced this with some aspects of my business — I thought that they will be a hit, but they weren’t Maybe this is too soon for them, maybe they will fail, eventually.

What changed since then in Superfit’s offer?

I could say that Superfit started to become more visible in the market this year. We are still far from where we believe we could be. There is still a lot of room to grow. The first year (2018) was dedicated to the set up of the new business and this year (2019) was one to settle many organizational aspects. At the moment, the internal mechanisms of Superfit work well. The main challenge remains on how to attract more and more new clients and make them loyal to our brand.

What’s next for Superfit? Are you planning on raising more funding or launching in another city?

Not for now. Maybe in a few years, I’ll take a new step, probably open a bigger clinic, but it’s too soon to think of extending in another city for the moment. I observed that at least in Romania, the trend is to raise a clinic up to the point where another big clinic becomes interested in buying the business.

In this way, the owners make a nice and profitable exit, but they stay as managers and practitioners in these clinics, continuing to do what they like most, all the while making a lot of money. I don’t know if this is my way, but I see it as one of the future possibilities.

I would like to end this interview expressing my gratitude to all the people from Bridge, especially Pablo Santaeufemia and of course, to my wonderful mentors — Juan Pinzon Mendoza and Carlota Pereda. Thank you guys for all the help. You’re doing a great job!

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Maëlle Lafond

Maëlle Lafond

Trilingual writer based in Montreal. Also, unicorns are real. Twitter: @maellelafond

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