‘What I wish I’d known then’ — Iulian Stanciu, CEO of eMAG
I started my first business a little over 18 years ago when I was only 22, before I’d even finished university. I began selling computers from a small apartment; I love talking to people, creating processes and technology, so working in this industry has always appealed.
In 2009, I got the opportunity to buy into eMAG. I was excited by the company’s potential so jumped at the challenge. At that time, eMAG was a small e-commerce company focused on IT with a monthly revenue of less than 2 million euros. People said I was crazy to leave the company I already had, but I had a dream to cross borders with technology. I had a vision that eMAG could one day be a platform where people could buy anything they wanted.
In 2012, we received funding from Naspers in exchange for 70 per cent of eMAG, and this investment has given us everything we need to take eMAG to a new level of success. Naspers gave us the luxury to plan for the long term and to develop a 10-year plan.
When you have the ability to look so far ahead, you can create something with the capability to truly disrupt the market. We decided to invest in technology; today we have more than 700 staff focused on product development and IT and over the past five years have transformed from a $100m company into $1b company.
Although there is still a long way to go, when I look back at my career to date, there are undoubtedly many lessons I’ve learnt along the way. Business is a life-long learning experience. You never stop learning about the core of your business, about new technologies, and about people. If you want to grow, to change the world or a small part of society, you need to adapt yourself.
Whenever young entrepreneurs ask me for advice, the first thing I say is that finding the right partner is essential — just as I have with Naspers — as this will give you the support and resources to make your vision a reality. A good partner can give you the tools to dream big and explore different markets — if you want to grow a global brand, expansion is something you’ll have to consider when your business is ready.
It’s a good idea to think about this from early in your business’s life, so that you can plan and prepare. When I joined eMAG, I set myself and the company a very ambitious set of goals and a mission to build a service that our customers would love. We moved towards achieving those goals one step at a time, and started to grow pretty quickly. Without setting the challenge early on, we’d never be where we are today.
Finding the right people is also important. I learnt quickly in my career that it’s critical, not only to hire talented people, but to delegate. When I was about 25 or 26 years old, I became exhausted and ended up in hospital for two weeks — all this because I didn’t delegate or involve my team.
From that moment, I realised that I needed to trust people and I resolved to share responsibility with others. If you teach people and give them trust and responsibility, they will try to do their best. A single individual cannot run a growing business entirely on his or her own; your management team needs to work as a functioning unit.
As any small business owner will likely tell you, cash flow is a constant concern which can make or break your business. Make sure you keep track of it — particularly when debtors have long payment terms — or you could find yourself in a tricky financial hole which can be difficult to climb out of.
When the 2008 global financial crisis was looming, many in the media claimed that Romania would avoid harm due to its distance from the US. Despite that reassurance, I made sure my company at the time was agile so that we would be prepared for the worst. I predicted that the IT industry would drop by 30 per cent (in fact, it dropped by 50 per cent!) and I adjusted our inventory, expenses, and other financial commitments to help safeguard the business in a volatile market. As a result, when the crisis came, we were ready.
One of the most important pieces of advice I give to others, and the one I will leave you on, is not to be afraid to fail and try new things. Experiencing failure helps you to learn — and remember that true success goes hand-in-hand with risk. It’s how you deal with setbacks that will make the difference.