web summit 2014

web summit 2014 main stage

I think I understand why Facebook, Google, Microsoft and other big players picked Dublin. I’ve been to Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Budapest and none of them come close to Dublin. They’re all great cities with history and places to see, but what is impressive about Dublin are its people. Proud, funny, open-minded, hard-working Irish people.

The Web Summit was the first international IT conference I attended. Not only that, but we actually had a booth on the first day. Needless to say that reading about it is not the same as being there. FwdMarket raised more interest than we expected given the current (Alpha) stage of our platform. People that came by responded very well and gave us valuable feedback.

Also, we learned how important it is that you pay attention when filling in the description of your product. It needs to attract people in just a few words. That’s all you get, 2-3 seconds of their attention, nothing more. You’ll see in the video below that I also need to work on my interviewee speech :)

The first day was only about FwdMarket, but the other two days we spent between workshops and the main stage. Google had a bunch of interesting presentations that we attended about UX, Google Cloud, Scalability, Mobile, Hiring and more. It’s never been more clear to me that they play this game at a totally different level than what I’ve seen in Cluj-Napoca. Being a product-driven company comes with its perks. The kind of talent they attract is hard to match.

But there is plenty to learn and apply. Around25 is not going to switch over from outsourcing to product oriented over night, but the process is underway. Next year we are going to focus a lot on technically challenging projects, open source and startups. It’s gonna drain a lot of energy but on the long run it will give us the edge over local competition.


Like I said, Irish people are proud. For me it was impressive that each day Good Food Ireland was able to feed 20.000 people with food made exclusively in Ireland. Think about it this way, the yogurt was hand made and packed by farmers in the morning, the ice cream was made using fresh milk, the beef was supplied daily by farmers in the west and north of the country. These people worked their assess off and staid up nights so that we could eat the most bio, traditional, home made, Irish food possible.

Plus, for those who know me, I’m a foodie. My personal opinion is that the food rocked! What we need are some Irish consultants to get the Romanian agriculture and food industry going. Asap!


The Web Summit is very well organised. Volunteers are everywhere, large companies offer free beverages, food is take care of while mobile apps, hashtags and emails keep attendees in the loop. If you have a booth for one of the three days make sure you bring as much as you can with you. Whatever promo giveaways you have, tablets/phones to walk around and demo your product, lots of energy and business cards. Make sure you follow the guidelines that the organisers post on the website.

I’m back home after 12 hours of airplane and car. We are going to pursue FwdMarket and other ideas we have for startups. There is a lot out there for passionate people that are willing to put in the time & effort.

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rails, girls, weekend


I spent most of this weekend at railsgirls.com/cluj for several reasons.

First, to see how you can teach a programming language (Ruby) and a framework (Rails) to a group of people with little to no experience in coding. My colleague Nicu told us at work about the event. Since we’re organising a summer internship a lot of effort is going towards creating a plan for the two months interns are going to be with us. It was very interesting for Nicu and I to see the manner in which Alex and the other coaches explained Ruby and Rails to the 30 girls present at the event.

alex explaining

Second, because Around25 was a sponsor of the event. We went to get a taste of Rails and give a hand if the coaches needed it. On the long run we are very interested to see how the project continues. I won’t go into details but I highly recommend this link.

Third, one of our colleagues, Florina, was a speaker and it was awesome seeing her on stage. Florina gave the participants a bit of background as to how she went into programming and then a glimpse of a day at the office. What followed were about 5 or 6 questions from the audience, which I took as a good sign.

florina speaking

To some extent I expected that girls were going to be more into the visual aspect. Actually seeing things in the browser and being able to control them using something straight forward such as CSS is definitely more appealing than thinking in abstract terms such as class, model, controller, CRUD, variable, local, global and so on. What really got the participants engaged was this website: http://tryruby.org/ . At the end of the day my feeling is that the participants took home a lot: basic knowledge of programming (both backend and frontend), coaches they can stay in touch with and new friends interested in coding. Honestly, there’s not much more that you can get out of a rainy Saturday.

As for me I was there to meet awesome people and get some insight into the work they do and their views on the industry. It’s something you can’t take from a book or an article. It’s also a nice way to break routine. Oh, and I got a very high level overview of Rails. Cool framework, I definitely need to read more before using it on a real project.

The coaches and organisers did a great job putting together the event. RailsGirls happened this weekend in Cluj, Timisoara and Bucharest. You can say it was a full out “assault” of women on Rails. Don’t worry, there were no casualties :P

PS: the Twitter page of the event

PS2: and the Facebook photo album

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1 product, 60 days, 150 customers

Two months ago I was Skyping with Cosmin late at night when an email arrived. Subject: “You sold an item!”. It was the first purchase of Ark Admin.

Cosmin and I decided in January that we need to find a new way of working. First it was the release of Ark Admin, next it was Startup Weekend Cluj and more will come. We both love coding so we spent the past few years bringing together an awesome team and finding pretty cool clients all over the world. Now we want to do more. For that we need to brainstorm on ideas, create MVPs, do research, make pitches, meet people and so on. So we’ve learned the value of time.

Ark Admin Preview

Ark Admin is Cosmin’s baby. He did not even tell me about it until it was half done. Building a theme was not on his todo list per say. Later he confessed that he felt like it was the best way to learn about Bootstrap 3. At the end of the day apart from Bootstrap we learned something even more important, that you don’t have to trade time for money on a daily basis. This theme will not change the world, but it might give us the peace of mind and the minimum constant income that we can think about something bigger. When you build something of your own, make the decisions, take your chances, spend your time and money, it really puts you in charge. You have everything you need to make it or brake it.

Before we released Ark Admin we put together a future release list to give potential buyers an idea of what they are going to get on the long run. Once we had the first few sales we received great feedback from our customers: please add this feature, how about if you also do that, is there going to be some thing in the next release and so on. On top of that we’ve been contacted by Dirk Brünsicke who wants to use Ark Admin in an open source project called Radium. We said yes, of course.

We also found out that Ark Admin had been used on some occasions without a license. We contacted the owners of the websites and explained the situation. They were all kind enough to reply to our email and either purchase a license (big thanks!) or take down the page. I’ll be very honest, it is also about the money. But more important is that we want to gain that one more customer. This way we can keep you updated on Ark Admin as well as the other themes that we are going to roll out soon.

Below are the analytics so far for the Ark Admin preview site. Now we have to convert more and more of those unique visitors into customers. And we’re trying to do just that by constantly improving the theme.

Ark Admin analytics

What’s next? Another theme. Why? Because each new customer brings a smile no matter how hard & long the day was.

Thanks for reading. Live long and prosper.

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my startup weekend cluj

Hands down the best weekend in a while! Why? Because it was an amazing experience at Startup Weekend Cluj.

My best friend Cosmin insisted that we go. I wasn’t sold, but thought what the hell… why not? So we bought the tickets a couple of weeks before and then started to think a lot about an idea to pitch. That’s when it got interesting. One day we decided on something, then by the next day one of us had arguments that it would not work. So back to the drawing board. And this happened again and again. It can drive you crazy. Actually, one night I got so excited over an idea I couldn’t go to sleep. That had not happened to me for some time.

Friday afternoon I was super-anxious. Both Cosmin and I were in the conference room going over the 60 seconds pitch. We went through several drafts and then I pitched in front of our colleagues. Bad news, they didn’t understand it. But I got a lot of suggestions: say this, don’t use that, look at the audience, be relaxed, speak faster, speak slower. By the way, this was 90 minutes before we had to leave. Now what? Let’s rewrite it. Ok! And we did. I tried again and this time my colleagues said “much better”. (btw, thanks for your feedback guys)

We packed our laptops and went to Startup Weekend Cluj. When we got there we were among the first to arrive so we picked a table. As people started to come in we got company and learned from others how it was last year and the year before that, but we were still not able to relax.

It is important to say that the host of the event was Vidar Andersen. He is one of a kind. Great speaker, packed with energy, quickly managed to get me out of my discomfort zone and into a new zone that I now call startup fever :))

After Vidar told us about the event, the rules, the speakers, the sponsors and the organisers we lined up to pitch. The second I got off my seat I forgot everything I rehearsed. Yeah, I know. Talk about shitting ones pants. So as I came closer and closer to the microphone I knew I had to forget about my original pitch, stop trying to remember it, focus on the idea, try to stay calm, do my best. So I took the mic, I pitched (video), I went back to my seat, looked at Cosmin and got a thumbs up from him. So was it good? It better be. Truth be told I wasn’t able to focus on the other pitches that much. I was waiting for the voting to see if we would actually get picked.

the pitch
(Photo: StartupWeekend)

The voting coincided with dinner, so in between pizza slices everybody was talking to everybody and putting up stickers on their favourite projects. While all we were doing was keeping our eyes fixed on that sheet of paper with ontopic on it.

(Photo: Libertatea)

During the voting we met our first team member, Cristi. He is a professional blogger, Broadcast Media Consultant and Project Manager for some of the big names in the Romanian news industry. I approached him right after he gave ontopic his vote and we discussed about the idea. Cristi found our designer, Horea. This was major, because designers are very hard to find at Startup Weekend. As the team was growing, so was my enthusiasm.

Like everything else so far, things were about to take a turn. Vidar announced that there were 4 teams that did not get enough votes and which would have an extra 30 seconds to convince the entire audience. Only one team would get picked to continue as part of the competition. Guess what? We were part of the 4 teams. So once again I found myself holding the mic without having any idea what I could say in half the time to get the popular vote (that’s when people yell, applaud and cheer). It did not happen, we did not get picked.

But we had a team. And at Startup Weekend you don’t need to get picked in order to work on your project. So we were being given the chance to be rebellious, to compete outside of the competition, to disregard what others voted. Awesome! Now that we were set to continue no matter what we got another break. Nico, Brand Manager and Marketing specialist, joined the team. Five people with the skills required to make it or break it.

We ended the day by bringing up Horea’s hardware.

bringing up the hardware
(Photo: StartupWeekend)

Most people were going home, but it looked like we were moving in. And that’s how the first day ended.


Good morning Day2!

It was roughly 9am when Cosmin and I got back to Exclusive Catering (that’s where Startup Weekend took place). We had a quick breakfast during which the rest of the team arrived. We did a quick recap of our idea and then we decided which mentors we’d like to talk to during the first half of the day. Our choices were Robbert Visser and Calin Fusu.

Robbert listened patiently and then told us that our idea, to have people create content and then be recommended to each other based on their current interests, is a long shot because there are very few people that actually write on the web compared to the ones that only read. He gave us examples from his own experience where people are reluctant to even click a button, let alone write a paragraph. But he did suggest that we could build a platform that gives the reader a small amount of high quality content that is very relevant to his interests.

We brainstormed a bit on this idea and then Calin came to talk to us. He quickly showed us a couple of apps on his phone that were doing something similar for free (!) and made a good point that monetising it would be very difficult. After going back & forth we got a suggestion from him that we could have famous people post content on their topic(s) of expertise and readers would most certainly be interested to read that. However, the problem would be to get famous people to move away from their existing blogs. Slim chance of that happening.

To recap: we came with an initial idea, then we went through 3-4 more ideas and it was already noon when we realised that we’re running out of time. Decision time! Let’s build an engine which shows relevant content based on a user’s preferences. Think of Google Ads, but instead of ads we show content from your website that is relevant to the reader based on his reading preferences/habits from other websites. Why do this? Because the reader gets content that might be buried deep into your site without having to search and you keep the reader on your site and reduce bounce rate.

Ok, that was it. We started working. There was no more time to pivot. We set up a couple of test blogs, wrote a WordPress plugin, set up and API using the MEAN stack, designed a logo. It was non-stop work until dinner. After that we just felt burned out. It had been a long day, with ups and downs. We knew that Sunday was going to be the real effort.

The previous day we picked a corner table and because there was room to spare we turned it into a co-working space for us and the Tooth Fairy team. I had no idea that by the end of the weekend I was going to have so much fun with these people and charge myself with a huge amount of positive energy. So true what they say: it’s all about the people.

our table
(Photo: StartupWeekend)

Around 8-9pm we simply stopped working and turned our room corner into a bit of a stand-up show. Joke after joke we even got some of the people from the other teams to join our little fun pub. The diversity of people (with their ideas and experiences) that I found at Startup Weekend was amazing. Since I was coming after a full week at the office I expected to be dead tired after the weekend, but to my surprise it did not get to me. Somehow I managed to combine work with fun. You know, like a real startup :)

Hold on, it wasn’t just fun. We also helped one another. Below you can see the Tooth Fairy “product manager” testing their app on me:

testing the tooth fairy app

Around midnight we decided to end the 2nd day of Startup Weekend Cluj.


This song describes the feeling all throughout Sunday.

Not just us, all the teams. The deadline was 5pm. That gave us 8 hours. No more, no less.

There was no plan and no time to make a plan. All work, no breaks. The organisers had to turn up the music (and play a really annoying song) just to get us to have lunch. Although there was no way we could try to even slightly change our idea we decided to get some last minute feedback and asked Patrik Jansson to come to our table. Patrik did not have much experience with content delivery and analysis so he wasn’t really able to validate or invalidate our product. Even so, we kept working. Time was too precious to consider calling another mentor.

In the afternoon, around 3pm, the organisers announced that there would be a test-pitch session with a few of the mentors. Sort of like a trial run to improve our presentation skills. Our PPT wasn’t ready yet, but that didn’t matter. Some slides were ready… great! As for the others ones, I quickly added some white pages with text on them. Next I moved to the other room and waited in line to do my trial-pitch. How was it, you say? I got great advice and it boosted my confidence. The best part was that they did not have negative comments about the idea. In my mind that meant that this time we probably have something valid. While I was doing this my colleagues were doing research to finish the PPT, created a site for the project and ironed out the last details for the demo. Talk about team work.

By the time I got back to my team it was 4:30pm. We did some last minute testing, then I had to go and make sure that my laptop worked with the projector (that costed me 10 precious minutes). Then it was “pencils down”. Pitches were going to start… randomly. We got picked during the first half. Once again I had the mic. It was a tad too much public speaking that weekend compared to my regular weekends :)) but I can’t say I didn’t like it. The judges paid attention during the pitch, some of them seemed interested, others weren’t buying it (especially the financial predictions), but at the end we got positive comments. Totally unexpected for a team that did not get picked on day1 and had their idea shattered on day2.

Let’s not forget that we were not competing for the actual prizes. Why? Because those are the rules. If you don’t get enough votes on the first day you can still work on your idea and pitch it, but no prizes. Am I sorry about that? Not really. I did not want the Macbook Air, the iPad, or the iPhone. But the paid trips and access to accelerators and conferences all over Europe big YES.

Congratulations to the winners! I hope they make the most out of the ideas and the products they have after #swcluj.

In the end this is us, the ontopic team, after 54 hours at Startup Weekend Cluj:
ontopic team

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