An Interview with Mihai Ivascu By Ioana Rucareanu
1. You are an alumnus of the IUM, what made you choose this University?
I like the fact that Monaco has a lot of opportunities - I think it is the center of entrepreneurship in Europe - and I wanted to do an MBA in an area which is rich in entrepreneurial knowledge and important from this point of view. The International University of Monaco had a good reputation, and even though I had the other option of going to Harvard where I was pre-accepted for an MBA, I decided to choose Monaco for its entrepreneurial spirit and for the fact that I would be close to my main operations and companies that I started in Romania some time ago, so I wanted to have continuity. Basically I wanted to work and at the same time continue my studies while having a fantastic time - this place was the right fit for the next step in my career.
2. As the main sponsor of The Mark Challenge, could you tell us a bit about your passion for The Mark and what motivated you to take part in this project?
As an MBA student of the IUM, I was involved in the first edition of ‘The Mark’, and since I was already supporting entrepreneurs and I’m very passionate about this field I decided to support it since its first edition and I think it’s a project that has grown, with a lot of potential and talent joined together. I think now that we are at a certain stage with our businesses and projects – partnering with ‘The Mark’ and supporting an event such as this one aligns perfectly with our vision and our passion. Entrepreneurs need to support entrepreneurs all the time. When we see each other we recognize each other so we should make teams and support each other for a common benefit. I’m very pleased to support ‘The Mark’, I’m very pleased to be part of the jury and help other young entrepreneurs “make it”.
3. What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is a mindset I think. It’s first of all a mindset and second of all an expression of a certain kind of obsession. It’s a state of mind and a lifestyle. There are many traits of entrepreneurs and if you have to define the mentality of successful entrepreneurs, you will see that they have a lot of common traits that are not easy to find in everyone else. As we know, 9 out of 10 entrepreneurs fail, so entrepreneurship is not for everybody – it can be taught but if you really want to do it at the right level, you need to pay a very heavy price for that and you have to embrace failure. As an entrepreneur, to be able to win you need to be ready to lose. I think entrepreneurship is a state of mind and it’s a full time job. It’s hard...when I define an entrepreneur, there are many things that I can identify with. At the end of the day, I think it’s a life decision – either you go in this field, you pay the price and you go through all the steps and fight all the battles, or you don’t go in at all. So, since 9 out of 10 entrepreneurs fail, 9 out of 10 businesses fail and then again after the ‘first series or first level’ 9 out of 10 fail again, and the chance of making it is so low, it can frustrate a lot and create real traumas for one’s ego, career and personality. It’s a tough battle and I don’t recommend it to all people. I recommend being open about it but if it’s not for you, don’t force yourself into entrepreneurship. You can learn many things but if you’re not taking it as a life mission, it doesn’t make sense to do it. It’s getting harder and harder to become an entrepreneur and making it by yourself so I encourage people who have this drive to go into it but otherwise it’s getting more difficult to grow new products and businesses in the market because there is very high competition. Entrepreneurship... is a very special state of mind.
4. Do you think a fresh graduate should be an entrepreneur?
Even a 14-year-old can be an entrepreneur and we see that more and more in different industries where extremely young and talented students, with the help of technology and with the help of a lot of information available to them, start building products and start this life mission. If you are comfortable with that, you can refine it all the way. It’s just like jumping from a cliff: if you jump from 1000m you’re going to die for sure, but if your goal is to jump from 7000m, on the way going down you include your chances of learning how to fly. You need to push yourself to the highest peaks of the industries you want to go into and jump from there, otherwise it’s hard because you won’t have time to refine your skillsets by the time you fail. As long as you are ready to fail and pay the big price of becoming an entrepreneur and being alone - because it’s a very solitary mission as you’re alone all the time and you’re alone in your mindset - do it, but first have knowledge of what the pluses and minuses are. You have to be extremely organized and very consistent in what you do and if you get the help of family, friends or the first investors, I think you should do it. The worst thing that can happen for a bright, talented potential entrepreneur is a good salary at a very young age because it puts you in a comfort zone and nothing good comes out of comfort. You become committed to that role, you start liking your lifestyle and comfort and entrepreneurship has nothing to do with comfort. If you come from that comfortable area of a nice job, a nice environment with a good salary, it’s extremely hard to get into entrepreneurship. There’s never ‘the right time’ for entrepreneurship so you don’t wait for it that ‘maybe one day a chance will come’, not at all. An entrepreneur always creates different projects and ideas from nothing. Entrepreneurship is the ability to transform ideas into invoices.
5. Could you give us some tips and suggestions on entrepreneurship for aspiring future entrepreneurs?
I think if you are at the start of your career right now and if you have to choose a field, you have two options: either you choose a field that you’re extremely excited and passionate about so your real work will be very joyful, and you identify different niches of your specific field in which you can add value and which you specialize in – or you choose a domain like fin- tech, bio-tech, hedge funds, which are extremely “hot” and can bring very significant profits and returns, and in which you can really make a difference in the next ten years. I think it all has to start from this: if you’re starting your entrepreneurial career, you need to be very clear about the field you want to go in, so I think that doing a lot of work in and identifying the opportunities in that specific field – that is a must and it’s what I advise all the young entrepreneurs I work with to do. The second biggest advice would be to embrace your project so much that it becomes an obsession. You need to become obsessed, in a constructive way, with your segment and field. Whether it’s cooking, if you want to become a famous chef, or any other field, go on with it and become the best in your segment. The only thing that I would not advise you to do is to stay average just because it seems profitable. Average is never profitable – it’s just a short-term comfort market opportunity that is completely against the normal growth of a real career. These are the main advices I would give. Then, try to get specialized and go to as many courses as possible in your specific field, try to attend as many international events as possible, set a list of 10-15-20 publications about that specific field that you start reading all the time and try to become passionate about that field even if you aren’t initially passionate about it – try to find the beauty in that field. These are the main things and the other ones will follow: you will refine your way of working, you will refine your skill sets and your attitude but the most important thing is to have a good start in a field which either you really love or it’s extremely profitable and “hot” so you concentrate your efforts on it. I think these are the two major tricks that I would share with young entrepreneurs that haven’t already defined their direction.
6. What is Money Mail Me and your vision for the company?
Money Mail Me started one year and a half ago as a social money transferring app that is now evolving into a challenger bank and a financial platform with presence in over 130 countries. We wanted to offer our users and clients the ability to communicate video, audio and text with their close contacts while also allowing micro-transactions and the ability to donate to causes in the App. So we wanted to offer communication and money exchange in the same platform because I strongly believe that money transferring has a very strong social component - actually exchanging monetary value is a way of communicating – so I think in this case, combining the two leads to a better communication between the ‘top 5 contacts’ that you have in your list. It’s a way of sending a message, transmitting a state of mind or even by helping you are communicating – donating 10 euros to a cause with one click with zero costs is something that can really make a difference if it’s applied to hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Whether it’s an earthquake in Italy, and you get a push notification saying that we all need to support them, we click, we donate 1 euro and we make a common effort donating directly from the app, or whether one of your good friends has an urgent need of 100 euros and you send it right away. It’s hands-on, it’s clear, it’s done. It’s a new way of communicating with peers around the world and starting from this simple need, we built a product around it and we are now expanding the attributes of this project and we’re evolving into a challenger bank offering these kinds of services to businesses and payment infrastructures at extremely low costs. We can say that we have a social impact business model because by allowing people to have direct access and to move their small amounts, micro- payments globally, to communicate at extremely low costs – this is basically a way of making a social impact.
7. What is Ambra Ventures?
Ambra Ventures is an interesting project that I really believe in. It’s a venture fund but we act like an incubator for small businesses for bright entrepreneurs. Since we have a lot of skillsets in our team from a technical point of view to media and marketing, journalism and branding – we can offer strong support to young entrepreneurs who are just refining their ideas or already have a product or business that is ready to be launched on the market. Since we’ve helped over 100 businesses and have refined over the past 10 years many business plans and concepts, we have a strong understanding of what a successful start-up should look like and what the attributes of a start-up are. The real added value of Ambra Ventures is that it can add that secret sauce to an initial project, an idea or to an entrepreneur. Therefore, coming with a strong set of services that we can add to a young business or a young entrepreneur, we like to think that we can make him better. Through Ambra Ventures, we incubate projects, we help them grow and finally we help young entrepreneurs to become better entrepreneurs.
8. What made you choose Monaco as a base?
I chose Monaco for the quality of life, for the opportunities and as an entrepreneur, I think this is the capital of entrepreneurship. You have a lot of world class entrepreneurs around here and by spending time with the best of them you can really develop some great ideas or transform some visions into working products. I think it was a mixture between the quality of life – the fact that we have 300-days-of-sun – and also the entrepreneurial spirit that is very developed here. It’s a good center because from here you can fly anywhere, you’re very close to Paris, London, Geneva, Germany – it’s a hub – you can fly to the US, Asia very easily. Monaco is a business and entrepreneurial hub and I would advise a lot of young entrepreneurs to try here. It’s a very selective and tough place but once you make it here, it’s a guarantee that you are up to something.
9. Finally, what is your message for the 2017 Mark Challengers?
I want to first congratulate them for joining this interesting competition. I want to assure them that I offer my full support to young entrepreneurs and that I think they should consistently follow their vision and push in the direction of ‘making it happen’, to become obsessed with what they do and really try to transform an idea into a working product and into a concept that serves a clear need in the market. I would encourage all of them to transform their ideas and entrepreneurial drives into real products and real businesses and follow that very consistently - make it their life mission.