What happens when you think your dad wasn’t successful enough? You win.

This is the (short) story of an entrepreneur who was competitive from the very beginning.

Today, he is part of the Telenav executive team, leading the global engineering team (400+ people). Focused on innovation in the connected and self driving car space, they are delivering solutions to tens of millions of vehicles.

His name is Philipp Kandal and he grew up in South Germany.

Technology won his heart at seven years, when he got his first computer. At only sixteen years he managed to start his own company. But how comes that?

Well, as he says, he always believed that his father’s success wasn’t big enough. And yeah, it takes a lot of courage. However Philipp couldn’t understand how it’s possible for an entrepreneur like his father, who had a small law firm, to be home at 6 p.m, having dinner with his family, rather than staying up till late, working.

The kid became so transparent about his concern that his father had nothing to say, but…

„Son, if you’re such a smart-ass, you should start a company!”

And this is how it all began. Imagine a sixteen years old kid who hired two of his friends and started to build websites, web shops, and stuff like that, back in 1997.

It’s unusual, considering the fact that a lot of people didn’t even hear about the internet in those days. But with such a competitive mindset and with the entrepreneur blood flowing through his veins, he was making more money than his father after only one year.

He was co-founder and CTO of Skobbler, a pioneering company in OpenStreetMap which was acquired by Telenav in 2014.

With offices only in Germany, Skobbler wanted to go bigger and started to consider other countries. There were three key factors, as Philipp says, which convinced them that Cluj is the best option:

1 — Tech talent.

Is not a secret that Cluj has a big potential, speaking about developers. They saw a big opportunity in Cluj and believed from the very beginning that they’re looking in the right place, searching for talent.

2 — The European Union Legal System.

They considered other sides like Bulgaria or Ukraine. Thinking about how close to a war zone they could be (if they would’ve started in Ukraine), Cluj seems to be an excellent choice.

The European Legal System helped them a lot. It made them feel completely safe. They could send their engineers to Germany anytime, when needed, and it was so important not having problems with that. A good legal framework proved to be crucial.

3 — The Connections

More specific, the Airport in Cluj. Philipp considered that this gives him the ability to travel in and out. This was very convenient compared to other cities which don’t have an airport or even if they have one, it doesn’t give you the chance to fly in multiple cities in Germany.

„Hierarchical thinking is not very good for a startup!”

Philipp didn’t had to think too much about what was the hardest thing in growing a team.

He told us that the beginning was the hardest part. Why?

Because he believes that you must build trust with the people, not just a channel where orders come from the top, they have to execute and that’s it.

You’ll never learn from the mistakes people have to cover and that’s why an employee must have the courage to come with better ideas, like making a process better, or telling his own boss when he is wrong.

The top 3 assets of Cluj

1 — „Really, really strong tech people.”

Philipp believes that if you go to an event in Cluj, there are like 80% developers, but if you go to an event in Berlin, there are 80% non-developers. He thinks that a lot of startups fail because they didn’t find a good developer, so here you have a very good chance of finding a good developer that can be your co-founder.

2 — „The cost is much lower here than Silicon Valley, much lower than Berlin.”

I think this affirmation doesn’t even need any explanations. It’s obvious how convenient is the cost, compared to what enviorment offers here.

3 — „A fair enough developed eco-system.”

The truth is that Cluj is already ahead in the way that it’s developed. Compared to another similar regions, which have the first two assets, Cluj has a lot of entrepreneurs and a lot of startup events.

„The biggest mistake for most developers is that they still work for outsourcing companies.”

The biggest mistake a developer can make in Cluj, in Philipp’s opinion. He doesn’t understand why people like to feel so comfortable, why they just want a decent salary or why they are very risk-averse.

In this case, he thinks that the romanian mentality is similar to the german mentality. And maybe a little bit funny. Why?

Well, if you’re telling your parents that you quit a high-paid job to start a startup, your parents will send you to a doctor. Like something must be wrong with you. Either it happens in Romania or Germany.

People shouldn’t be so scared about failure, but they seem to consider that a failure is the end. Even if it’s not.

In Sillicon Valley, 90% of startups fail and that’s ok.

Philipp shared a very nice way of looking at a startup: to consider it like school. You don’t get money from school and you end up without money after school anyway.

This is why he believes that you shouldn’t start a startup for money. You should do it for experience, to learn new things, to solve real problems. Money will come as an effect, don’t make it a cause.

„The biggest part is not about skills, is about character.”

This is the real asset of an entrepreneur. It’s all about the mindset, the character, not about skills, which you can learn in time.

A good entrepreneur, with a good mindset, will know how to improve his skills, for sure.

Speaking about skills, perseverence and the ability to work hard must be always on.

They are crucial, because they keep every startup doing it against the odds. A startup fails because someone chose to give up and refused to try one more time.

„Virtually, every industry will be disrupted.”

Being asked about what technologies are awaiting us in 5 to 10 years from now, Philipp thinks that AI and robots will reach a whole new level. And this is going to disrupt industries in a way they never did before.

Just think about transport or restaurants!

Think about the drivers that won’t be necessary when self-driving cars will become something as normal as the sun that shines every morning.

And how about a robot that can learn recipes and improve them depending on the feedback that comes from the customers. Maybe a metal head helped by lines of code will know better how much salt you want in your steak.

We can also speak about the clothing industry. Robots will be the new tailors, and there’s not that much time left until each and every jacket will perfectly fit anyone with ease.

Decisions, decisions…

In the end, we were curious to know what Philipp thinks about his best, and of course, his worst decision.

Bringing the good news on the table first, he thinks that starting Skobbler was probably the best thing for him so far. Why?

Because that worked out really well!

The good timing brought them over 10 million dollars in revenue on the Apple platform.

But the best things in life never teach you the most important lessons. That’s why you need to be aware of the worst decision you ever made. It never comes without a great lesson.

So here comes the tough part:

At 20 years, Philipp refused an offer close to 100 million dollars for the first company he co-founded. And the worst thing is not that he didn’t take this chance, but the fact that it failed afterwards. No millions of dollars, no company.

They were back to nothing, as you can imagine. Even though, he was able to see the best in this.

„It forced me to think about what’s really important.”

Starting again from the ground with nothing, and trying to build something great is a big test. And probably the best way to separate the ones that accept the failure from the entrepreneurs that can make it anywhere because of their DNA.

*This a story with key takeaways from the Startup Grind fireside chat in Cluj-Napoca with Philipp Kandal.