How to Web Live Focus Edition – Hacking Innovation

Welcome to How to Web Live! The show you need to watch to discover the stars of the technology world sharing insights and lessons of their journeys so far. Every other Thursday, log in on You Tube and get inspired!

This Focus episode, find out from Anca Petcu (Digital Transformation Officer at BCR) and Julian Lukaszewicz (Strategy & Experience Design Manager at KPMG Romania) how banks are preparing for digital transformation, with the help of startups and experts in corporate innovation, and how large corporations are keeping up with their tech savvy customers, in a conversation with Ionut Stanimir (Director of Marketing & Communication at BCR).

Banca Comerciala Romana (BCR), member of Erste Group, is one of the most important financial groups of Romania, and includes universal bank operations (retail, corporate & investment banking, treasury and capital markets), as well as specialized companies in the leasing market, private pensions and housing banks.

Anca and Julian went behind the scenes and shared invaluable insights into hacking innovation and successfully managing transformation processes. Here is a sneak peek into their discussion:

Watch the full discussion on our YouTube channel here.

Listen to the full discussion on Spotify and Apple Podcasts too.
3 takeaways from Anca, Julian and Ionut’s discussion:

►”So when someone from the outside comes into a company and tells them that actually ‘What you need to do is to transform, is to change your ways of working’, I think that the self preservation instinct kind of kicks in and it comes to like, ‘No, no, no, we don’t want to change’, because it’s a very human thing” – Julian, on the companies’ resistance to transformation.

►” But then you can also have other triggers, in order to start thinking about transforming yourself. One of them is the expectations of our clients. We see more and more that the customers of banks and, again, companies in general, become much more demanding. They expect better quality of service, they expect speed, they are not willing to either wait a few days to get a loan or to receive an answer” – Anca, on the various triggers of transformation within companies.

►”And something that I also love when I see, it’s ‘I know the market, I know what you’re doing and I can show you also how much money you can do out of that’. It might be correct, it might be wrong, it’s not important. It’s very nice the fact that you are trying to position what you are selling and you are trying to explain all the benefits of the solution that you are coming with.” – Anca, on how startups can optimise their corporate pitching techniques.

Watch and Listen to the full episode to get your own takeaways!

Are you more into Reading? The Full Transcript is below!

Ionut: Hello everybody! Welcome to this How to Web session. We will be having a very special discussion today. My name is Ionut Stanimir, I will be the moderator of the discussion, and I have two special guests. One is Anca Petcu. Anca, say hello to everybody.

Anca: Hi!

Ionut: Anca deals with the digital transformation and transformation in general at BCR. She will tell you more about herself, but she does come with 20 years of experience in banking. The other distinguished guest we have today is Julian Lukaszewicz, he works with KPMG, and actually his career spans equally a number of years and quite a number of continents. Julian, say hello to everybody.

Julian: Hello, everybody!

Ionut: All right. So we’ll do a quick warm up. And Julian, since you’re the you’re the guest here in Romania, would you tell us in in one minute or 30 seconds, the most interesting and the weirdest thing about you?

Julian: The most interesting and the weirdest thing? I think the most interesting thing that I would say is that over the past 10-15 years, I managed to live almost on every continent except Africa, but I visited Africa a lot. Because I used to work in many different countries, because my background is in consulting in innovation and in design thinking, I worked for airlines a lot, which I lived on the plane basically for years, which doesn’t sound as fun as it actually is. And the most interesting thing about me is that last year, just before lockdown, I managed to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. So I’m super proud of that, that just before a lockdown, I managed to do it. So that was like kind of my last ‘hurrah’ in the in the wilderness before the lockdown happened.

Ionut: Allright, cool. Actually, climbing on Mount Kilimanjaro, of course, reminds me of every picture of PowerPoint that we see in corporates that we climb the mountain and we have a bigger mountain to climb. So, Julian will tell us more about that. Actually, one of my local favourite rap artists is called Dilimanjaro, but that’s another thing. Now let’s go to Anca. Anca, I always wanted to ask you something.

Anca: I start being afraid now, but okay. I will try to manage.

Ionut: What is more interesting, corporate banking or digital transformation?

Anca: Wow. Yes, it’s a tough one. Because for the majority part of my life, I was in corporate sales, either in banking or leasing. But I need to tell you that building something and growing something up, it’s amazing, either it is corporate or digital transformation. If you ask me today, I would say for me today is the digital transformation. But I will never ever give up my first love, which is corporate.

Ionut: All right. So everybody, I ask those questions for you to have a pretty clear idea of what is the background of our two guests today. Julian comes from a very special industry, where customer experience is key, where safety is key, I think in aviation industry, but of course I will not stop to that, I am only mentioning that because it’s the most interesting thing to start from. They depend on actually customer experience. On the other hand, you see Anca, who ran 20 years as a corporate, as a retail banker and then it’s pretty clear that she looks at long term trends and long term impact of certain measures. I know her from my work, we are colleagues together, I know that in one year, things go can go very well, but in five years, you have very, very different spans. So on that note, I would ask both of these two wonderful guests, what do they think about the transformation? What do they think about the buzzword ‘transformation’? And why is it, at the end of the day, a buzzword? Anca, I will start with you.

Anca: I was thinking, while you were asking that, indeed, I think we start using this word in many instances, and everybody’s talking about this and we all transform in one way or another. Basically, if you think what transformation is in, for a company, it means affecting or changing your processes, your products, the way you interact with your customers, for a purpose. Usually, that purpose is customer satisfaction, customer delight. I like very much this term these days, which also becomes a bit of a of a buzzword, but I think we more and more understand and learn that everything should converge to that, to the customer delight and happiness, and they should start loving more and more our products.

Ionut: Okay, Julian, so we heard Anca and you’ve been in consulting in the last 10-15 years. Now, I have to ask you also a very honest question. How serious are companies about transformation? And why is it a buzzword?

Julian: I think this is a very good question. From my perspective, and from my experience, even the word ‘transformation’ implies that it’s more of a revolution rather than an evolution. However, companies became, at least the ones that have to go through digital transformations, they became so good and successful because they know how to repeat their business models, and they know how to scale it very well. They are probably not as good at change, at innovation. So when someone from the outside comes in to a company and tells them that actually ‘What you need to do is to transform, is to change your ways of working’, I think is that self preservation instinct kind of kicks in and it comes to like, ‘No, no, no, we don’t want to change’, because it’s a very human thing. I think Anca also touched upon is like, transformation is all about people. And we do not really want to change, because change is scary, change is something that we don’t usually do, we like our routines, we like our days to be structured in the same way. So I think transformation is maybe more seen as a necessary evil in companies because it is something that they are fearful of, but I still think that companies, at least the smart companies, to be honest, are seeing this as a necessity in this day and age.

Ionut: All right, I like very much that answer and with the insights which you’re bringing from consulting so many clients, I would still keep the mic with you. So, we saw there is some reluctance and big companies believe more in evolution, so, what is the most common reason today? So every day, during this period for which companies are embarking transformation journeys, be them digital or not, which we will also touch a bit later.

Julian: I think at this point, in today’s world, to start a company is probably the easiest time that was ever in history. Anybody can start a company, especially in the digital space and take on and compete against this massive incumbents, this huge behemoths who had monopolies for decades. So companies now, I can see that’s why I said that it is a kind of necessary evil, because companies start to see the pressure of competitors approaching and they see that they don’t want to be the next Kodak, they don’t want to be the next Nokia, there are countless examples of companies who you thought will be there for 100 years to come and then disappeared because a new technology, a new company basically took them out of the market. So to me, I think it’s very important that companies see that and acknowledge it. And maybe even if they don’t want to do it, they see like, if they don’t do it themselves, someone else will do it, and they will basically cease to exist.

Ionut: All right. Very, very interesting. Anca, why are you leading a transformation process in BCR? What is BCR afraid of?

Anca: I wouldn’t say that we should discuss necessarily about fear because the triggers for transformation for us, as for any other bank or company, can be different. Julian mentioned one, which is very correct and we all feel it, regardless of the industry – it’s the competition, and the pressure of the competition. But then you can also have other triggers, in order to start thinking about transforming yourself. One of them is the expectations of our clients. We see more and more that the customers of banks and, again, companies in general, become much more demanding. They expect better quality of service, they expect speed, they are not willing to either wait a few days to get a loan or to receive an answer while they can get a book, even the same day that they ordered it. So customers change, and we have to change together with them in order to fulfil their expectations. I would say also that there are triggers for transformation that can be also efficiency ones, there is a lot of technological progress around us, technologies are changing, for certain tasks that you could do in the past, with spending a lot of time in executing them that now this can be done in an easier way, which frees the time of our people to do the creative things. Because we should unleash the creativity of our colleagues by taking out of their daily tasks the things which are not, let’s say, very interesting or even boring, or the ones that you can do with a robot very, very fast. So efficiency could be also a trigger to start the transformation. I will mention the third one. It’s the willingness and I’m going again to the people. There are companies in which suddenly the employees wants to innovate, they see what happens around, they want to work with new technologies, they are pushing the company itself to go on that road. And I think this is one of the nicest triggers for transformation, an internal one, which is coming from the embrace that you have.

Julian: I just  wanted to add to this that I’ve seen from my own experience that employees, when you engage with them in working on something new, something different, as you said, exciting new technology, their entire outlook on the role, on their career, on their company completely shifts, because we don’t want to be doing the same thing, right, some tedious tasks. It’s like whenever I come in and I do innovation workshops, people kind of peeking into the room is like, ‘Hey, what is this? I want to be doing this because this looks fun.’ So yeah, exactly, I totally agree that’s the employee drive and the employee pressure kind of drives the company as well, because they want to retain the talent but also then bring these unlocked skills from the company within to surface and make sure that employees also have that drive because in the end, that’s who’s going to change the company.

Ionut: Cool. Now let me map a bit the discussion here. So obviously, our session here is dedicated to startups, to entrepreneurs in the tech world, which are looking somehow at the opportunities and the trends. So everybody, you could see how the consultant looks at transformation, you could see how the multinational looks at the transformation. And not surprisingly, I would say both of them insisted very much on people. Now, Julian, from the consultant side, you would be the advocate of a more process driven, of a more technology driven, of a more, how to say, the hard facts and figures about the transformation. So, would you tell me, why did you insist a lot of us on the human dimension?

Julian: So business is all about humans. Any interaction, anything is about human to human interconnection. So, I’ve done a lot of work with a lot of companies, where an entity of a company doesn’t really exist in the real world, it’s only a collection of people. So if you do not convince people that the new ways of working, the things that they are trying to create are better for them, then they will never do it. Because, that’s why it’s so important to make sure that you have the people you work with on your side all the time. Because it’s like going to the gym, I can buy you a gym membership, but if you don’t want to go, you’re not going to go, and I cannot force you to go. So you have to you want to change yourself. From my experience, for instance, I would help companies design and deploy new technologies, new products, but then the companies didn’t really wanted, so they didn’t know what to do with it, and then it kind of dies. And I’ve seen a lot of transformation fail because the people were not invested enough in those changes in those in those transformations. And then in the end it just stays on a PowerPoint deck and, as we all know, we don’t want our work to be like the only thing to show for it is the PowerPoint deck.

Ionut: Nice, so you are touching there the cultural dimension, sort of the environment where transformation is ready to be accepted. Now, Anca, you’re working in the banking sector, maybe it’s famous, or maybe it’s not for the for the transformation drive. But would you tell me how exactly do you work with your team nowadays? So do you focus more on the culture side? Do you focus more on the technology side? Do you focus more on the processes and hard figures side? So what’s your focus right now in order also for our audience to understand when they will be knocking at your door or Julian’s door? Who is going to answer and what is going to be on their mind? So very important, tell the people what’s on your mind?

Anca: In our particular case, I would say that we are focusing mainly on the people and on the culture because change is something very personal in the end and very emotional. And continuing what Julian was saying, and I had also this type of experience, in which you find unbelievable good projects, unbelievable good PowerPoint decks, really, great ideas, great layout, but somehow everything stops in implementation. And this could happen when the people around you didn’t understand why you are doing the related change or you are proposing it rather being a project or transformation or whatever, a change initiative, what you’re trying to achieve and what it is there for them? We are human. This is the company that we are working in, we would like to understand what is in for the company, but also for me as an individual. Why do I need to pass through that struggle, because it is a struggle, any change, any process is affecting the way that you are doing things, so this needs to be very well explained. I’m trying to see now how to turn the answer from the angle that you took it because I feel their question and tell me if it’s my understanding wrong that you would like to explain a bit also how we would interact with companies that will like to propose change for us.

Ionut: That’s exactly what I wanted to ask. Yes, you’re very right, because our audience wants to know that.

Anca: Yes. And for sure banks and companies have a lot to learn from the startups. It’s the energy which is there, the ideas, the determination of the people, it’s beautiful to see. So when you see somebody coming and presenting an idea in which they put a lot of thought and even money to develop a prototype, it’s an unbelievable nice moment. There are different ways in which you can cooperate and how you decide. And for example, there are some cases in which we have startups coming with an end to end solution for a problem that I actually have, and this is somehow very important to understand what you are selling and to whom and what kind of problem you are addressing for your potential partner. And you come with and then solution at that point, for me, it’s an easy choice, because if it’s a real problem, you’re bringing me a solution, it’s a matter of efficiency, in the end. Yeah, I might actually take the ready product integrated into my business, which could be also a bit challenging and this is why usually, it’s not very simple, ‘I’m buying this product and put it in the bank and everything is done’ and the cooperation starts. Yeah, this is one scenario, which is, let’s say, the nicest one, and the one that can have the biggest success and immediately. There is another one that happens more often, in which the company has certain level of knowledge about what you’re doing inside, of course, but there are missing parts, which means that the solution that you are bringing it’s not end to end. It’s good enough, it’s addressing the correct problem, but it’s not ready. There, usually, we co- create, yeah, we say, okay, you have something, let’s have a proof of concept, or a type of project together, in which I’m giving you the information that you are currently missing, let’s say, in order to have a full solution, and then again, this can work very well. The third case that I see is pretty much similar to the first one, you come with something great, but unfortunately, it’s not in my 10 priorities that I have in that period of time. Then, the company needs to never give up, by the way, yeah, because priorities change, everywhere. So if the idea is that great, it doesn’t matter that is not today, in my plan, it can become very fast, because it creates value for me, and it creates value for the customers and in this kind of cases, then things should, should go well, for both parties involved.

Ionut: Julian, it’s exactly to you where I was coming. So Anca laid down a map of your startup guide to collaborating with a with a multinational. So please add what you wanted to say and also please touch what are the successful examples which you have seen? And not least, whether a consultant of like, Big4, like you guys in KPMG are, are actually that kind of platform where the two entities can meet. And I’m not trying to sell your services, but I just want people to realise very well, what is the door to to success?

Julian: So I think what I wanted to add is that where innovation comes from or creative ideas most often than that, comes from the outside in perspective. So basically, coming from somewhere different, from a new place than that of the company or even that tough environment, because one of the very effective methods, for instance for innovation ideation, is to take the team from their usual office space, to a new space. Because it’s proven that if you are in a different place, your mind works differently, and then you will have more creative ideas. So what I’ve seen is that the biggest benefits of working with external partners and either consultants or startups, doesn’t really matter, is that they do not have that legacy of, which I sometimes describe when you ask a questions like, ‘Oh, don’t don’t ask that question, because, you know, you shouldn’t ask that question.’ And I think is that childish curiosity that either startup comes in, or a consultant comes into a company is like, ‘Why are you doing this this way? Why is this happening this way?’ And that either uncovers new problems and new gaps that the company was not aware of doing or it completely shifts the thinking, because as a consultant, I bring my biggest values, I bring the breadth of experience from many different industries and I can apply them to other industries. So for instance, what I’ve learned, as you mentioned, in aviation, which is, again, it’s all about people, is just like, you know, transporting people from A to B, but is the same as serving a person in a bank branch, right, they want to achieve a certain goal, so to me, that I think is the biggest value. And to touch upon the startup world, startups have that outside in perspective, naturally, because the entrepreneurs don’t usually have the experience in the industry that they’re trying to break into, to serve. So they come in, and they have a extremely different view on processes, on technologies, because they’re usually looking, you know, several years ahead of what the customers are looking for. So not being afraid of saying, ‘Hey, we are new, we are different, we are looking at it from a different perspective’ and that kind of brings in a lot of value, because I think a lot of companies, a lot of startups saying, ‘Oh, no, we wanted to learn as much about your business as you do and then kind of become your colleagues.’ It’s never going to happen. I will never know the same 20 years of banking experience as people working in banking, but I can bring what other industries have done and how they applied innovation and new ideas. And I think that is the biggest value that anybody from working externally can bring to any company, to be honest.

Ionut: All right, so now a key question, would you advise then a startup to rather address a conservative sector where the need for innovation is, you know, massive and urgent and there’s some fear factor? Or would you rather advise them to go to the use to innovation, use to transformation and then the radical novelty sectors? What would you say?

Julian: Again, a great question. I think it depends on the perseverance that the founders or the company has, because, of course, the bigger prize is in the industries that haven’t transformed, they are not digitally native, but you’re going to knock on a lot more doors before one of them opens. And, of course, it might not be as sexy, as exciting, even to investors, even to VCs in terms of if you’re going to pursue, you know, more traditional industries. However, if you go to the industries that are used to digital innovation, I think your product actually is the most important thing, because you will have companies for instance, like banks, they can choose from thousands of fintechs to collaborate with. So then the only quality, the only kind of USP of that startup is the quality of the product, because I think in more conservative industries, almost any transformation, no matter how small, how incremental, it’s going to be huge for these type of industry. So I think then you might kind of have a little bit more slack in terms of compromising on the quality of product, rather than when you’re working in a very, very crowded market, because then companies have seen them all, they’ve heard it all, you really have to stand up.

Ionut: Very good insights. Coming exactly from the fields, guys and girls, pay attention to what this man is saying because it was the cheat sheet of entering the corporate gateway. So let’s ask Anca about the cheat sheet. Anca, what is the ideal profile of a startup knocking at your door and saying they can help with digital transformation? What do you care about? What do you want to see? How do you think they should pitch to you?

Anca: First of all, it goes back to what Julian was saying, to the product itself. Because either you are coming and you are pitching a product which has a clear business case, clear benefits, there is a market outside, which I can also see an assess and then the discussion, let’s say theoretically, becomes a bit easier. Why I’m saying theoretically it is because we need to keep in mind all the time that in a bank, there are also, in certain points in time, discussions about the opportunity of doing certain investment, the way you integrate it in your overall IT system, how easy it is to be to be done and so on. So product is very important. The pitch itself is very important and also what I like very much when I see it is that a company that comes with a real problem. Because sometimes, if you are not very well, I wouldn’t use the word ‘prepared’, if you don’t have enough knowledge about what your counterpart is doing, you might come with a brilliant thing, which it’s not at all meaningful for me, because I don’t have that problem. And then, regardless how good you are, or how nice you present it, then it’s not going to be a successful discussion, companies, startups should think also a bit. And something that I also love when I see, it’s ‘I know the market, I know what you’re doing and I can show you also how much money you can do out of that’, it might be correct, it might be wrong, it’s not important. It’s very nice the fact that you are trying to position what you are selling and you are trying to explain all the benefits of the solution that you are coming with. So it’s not just ‘Look, I have something to sell’, it’s ‘Look, I’m trying to become your partner, I know about you, I learned a bit more, I studied, and I think I have a solution for something that you might need’. And sometimes it’s not even that one, because out of the co-creation that I was discussing before, you can end up in doing other things, which has a huge upside for the startup itself, because you learn even more about the related activity, about the financial sector or whatever it is, and you can end up creating a new product in the end. So clarity of the proposal, the product itself, how nice it is, how easy to be used, how nice you explain it. And please show also the benefits of your solution. If it is acquired by the related company, this would be an advice that I would give.

Julian: Can I just say, because I also worked in a startup and what you, Anca, were saying it was kind of just thinking like, ‘Oh, that that is the advice that I would want to have when I was approaching, you know, big corporates’. So from what I’ve learned when I was working in a startup, and exactly was in the B2B space, trying to approach companies and what I’ve learned and one of the advice that I would give to startups is to be honest when they are presenting the maturity of the product. Because I’m guilty of it myself and I’ve seen a lot of startups basically over promising in order just to get the foot into the door, because a lot of startups in order just to have the meeting, say ‘Hey, our products are going to revolutionise everything’. However, it is a startup, so usually, especially in the B2B space, startups meet to have these partnerships, these collaborations with companies, where both learn of each other how they are working. So I think, do not go and over promise because most likely than not, you’re gonna under deliver, and then you will kind of sour the relationship with your partner, you want to come in to the door and say ‘Hey, I am trying to, you know, solve this big problem and you might be able to help me solve this big problem by plugging some of the gaps in my knowledge and my experience helped me develop the product’. Because then, I think the partnership will be much more long lasting, rather than coming in and then just saying whatever you want to say in order to get the project. Because then, in the end, companies also will have unrealistic expectations like ‘Oh, I use this one product that’s going to revolution my entire business’. It’s a process, it’s never kind of, like a golden bullet, in terms of one thing is going to change everything, but I would advocate strongly for honesty in the sales process and approaching corporates, because that is the only way that you can ensure kind of loyalty and long lasting relationship between the two partners.

Anca: And also, if I might add something here, I think the honesty part is a very good one in this ensuring you indeed, the further discussions. Because look, when you are coming for established company and you let’s say that you have already the meeting, you go there and what you’re telling to the other party, ‘Look you have a problem I have a solution.’ This sounds very good when you say ‘I have the solution’, but you need to overcome that you have a problem, because this means that you need to make me challenge all my assumptions about the way that I’m doing business, because we all believe that we are doing good, what we are doing. So here it’s a thing. You need also, to be very honest, very resilient. I might not understand from the beginning. I would say, ‘It’s interesting, but I don’t think we should do that or we don’t do that here’. You know, it’s a very famous statement, I think in many places, yeah, ‘We don’t do things like this’. The longer the businesses is, the biggest it is, the well established it is. Assumptions that you are doing are very deep embedded so it’s hard to change that. But everybody should try and should be resilient, because once we all understand that it is value there, cooperation starts.

Ionut: Both of you actually were touching one key point, contact and collaboration. So obviously, it starts from there. My question to both of you is, how  does that exactly happen in real life, not how it should happen. Because of course, we see a lot of innovation tourism, of course, we see a lot of this kind of corporate travel to accelerators, and selfies and, you know, posting on our innovation page. But in real life, Anca and Julian also, maybe you can touch briefly, how would you see that? Would you hire people from startups? Would you intern them? Would you send people from your teams into incubators to learn? Or where does it start?

Anca: I think all the options that you described are valid. And it’s either starting from the company itself, like from from us, from the bank, when you realise that market is changing and you need to adapt and you are getting interested with new technologies and you send your people. So basically, you do everything that you just described, or even, the things sometimes happen the other way around. As I said before, your people are coming and they are the spark of innovation. And this is the internal innovation, which is, let’s say, the nicest one from the company point of view, when you see that your colleagues want to contribute and want to take things further. Then it’s the example that you gave, I think there are a lot of forms in which this kind of exchange is happening from the startups that they have ideas and something to offer for the companies which are interested to be there. If you are a startup, you can pitch it directly also, what’s the problem? You go directly, ‘I think I have a product which has a banking use case’, find people there, write to them, do a short pitch, try to explain why you should have the meeting and what you have to offer. And really write to them, you don’t lose anything. So be persistent and insist, because if you have a good idea, you will have something to sell. So I would really leverage all the options if I’m a startup. And also if I’m a company trying to transform, to be connected to everything that happens around.

Julian: Yeah, I cannot agree more. Exactly, you have to be open, because you never know where that one idea is gonna come from. It might come from something completely unrelated. It might be that you met a startup while you were at a conference somewhere in a completely unrelated field, it might be that one of your employees, friend of a friend of a friend of a friend is doing something. It doesn’t even have to be a startup, it can be just someone, some entrepreneur with an idea. Someone said, ‘Hey, I’m just been tinkering after work with something, can I show you just a two page presentation deck?’. So you have to be connected in the in the ecosystem. And it’s with universities, VCs, whoever you want to do, you cannot just be kind of isolated in your own bubble. Because if, let’s say banking employees and banks just going to meet other banks, then that’s actually not what’s going to drive change, what’s going to actually change. So even if I’m a big fan and a big supporter of people in companies having dedicated budgets to, for instance, going on conferences that are unrelated to their work, because everybody has hobbies, everybody has passions, everybody reads books that are not usually on their work, right? Like we want to expand our knowledge and our interest. And just fuelling that brings a lot more value rather than just saying, ‘Oh, you are working in a bank, you can only go to bank conferences’, because that’s actually you just gonna be mixing in the same sauce, it’s like expanding your group of friends, right? You can learn from every new relationship, every new interaction. So exactly what that’s what I would say to corporates, to kind of expand it. And for startups, exactly, as you said, be bold, just go and knock on those doors. Yes, probably a lot of those doors won’t open, they won’t even reply to your email. But if you believe in the product, you should go in and yeah, convince them, meet them, send them a letter. Like, for instance, I spoke to some entrepreneurs, that how they got a lot of pitches is they wrote an actual letter to a person, because they have the corporate address, they have the name, and who receives letters now? So they were so touched by receiving an actual letter written, they were like, ‘Oh, I want to meet a person who knows how to use a post office in the 21st century’. So, I think having that openness from both sides will only lead to results, because if you just kind of narrow down to something, you never know who, who we all know. If I go to you, Anca, and I present something, and you say, ‘It’s actually not good for me, however, my colleagues in another bank, or my colleague in another department, actually might be able to use it’. And we, as humans, we want to help, right? It’s not like we say, ‘No, this is the door’. So you never know where these relationships gonna take you, so just be open and try to talk as many people as possible, because you’re learning from any of these conversations.

Ionut: Good. There’s another cheat sheet for for everybody who is listening to us, ‘how to get your pitch to the consultant or to the to the multinational or to the department of transformation. Now, I think there’s also another thing we have to touch. During this period, we all saw various statistics that basically, the digital acceleration of our entire life, personal, professional or social, has accelerated, you know, when doing the comparison with the previous period, like 7 or 10 years. So obviously, we are in the future. Now, I think one very important aspect is also that people who are looking at innovation, startups or corporate innovators or consultant innovators, see the trends which are contouring in this period. So again, I would ask you both to chart a bit the waters ahead. What do you think will matter, or what kind of innovation would be very, very relevant 3 or 5 years from now on? I don’t there to ask 10 because honestly, I am totally confused. Julian, would you have a shot?

Julian: Sure, I think now we are so overwhelmed by the amount of technology, we can order food, we can order a car, we can buy a plane, a ticket, everything from our phones. So it’s too much, we’re fatigued by the amount of technology that we’re having. So, to me, I am actually a big fan of scaling down to technology and thinking more about the usefulness and the desirability of the goal of the actual product. Because not everything has to be done with technology, there are some things that actually you do not need technology to do. So I think the more important thing for me is not what will happen in the future in terms of products or services, or even experiences, it’s much more about how the companies themselves going to evolve and going to portray themselves towards customers. Because even KPMG does every year a customer experience report where we talk to a lot of customers in many markets, including Romania, we ask them what are the most important experience pillars for them whenever they’re interacting in company, and consistently, number one pillar is integrity. That means that consumers want from companies to be honest, to stand for something, to have values, to not compromise on those things. And I think that’s actually where the evolution of business innovation is going to go is how do companies actually going to be true to what they’re selling? Like for instance, we just saw all these means that the new iPhone doesn’t come with a charger and the headphones, right? It’s like, so what, iPhone 14 will just be like an empty brick? So a lot of companies really need to see that in order to connect with customers, technology can bring them only to a certain level. It’s that purpose, that sense of ‘I want to leave this world a better place than I was before’. And have that positive impact on society, positive impact on the environment, right? That is a huge aspect. So I think consumers won’t care about the fact that you can order a car and it comes to you in 20 seconds. It’s like, what type of car is it? Is it electric? How much fuel does it burn? What are some of those aspects that are beyond the app aspect, the technology aspect? So I think that actually will be the continuous trend, or companies, because we, as consumers, are much more kind of values conscious and purpose conscious. And I think that will happen, I hope as well, it will.

Anca: One of my fears it is that we might not like the world in which we are living in 20 years from now on, or even in 10. If we overdo with the technology part up to the level that we destroy the humanity, human relationships, and yes, there is a lot of effort. And we are also doing a lot of effort to put our products in the digital universe, to make them very convenient, very likeable by our customers, we would like basically to give to you the option to do everything that you would like to do from your house. But there is still something, there is that moment in which you need an advice. It’s that moment in which you need somebody to tell you, to explain you, to be near you, in the moment that you make a big decision for yourself, buying a house, for example. You don’t want necessarily the loan. The loan is the mean for you to get the house, but it’s a very important moment for you. So we should have the option, in any type of work, of still keeping the human touch and still having the human advice and going, in our case, in a branch, and getting more trust in the choice that you are making. I’m not sure that you can do this  fully online. Yes, you can, it’s very convenient and for many people it is. And you take it and you reach your purpose and your goal. But I am sure that we should have in mind all the time the balance, and giving you the option of doing this digitally from your home, it’s convenient, it’s perfect. But if you need me, if you need advice, if you need a partner that you can trust, you can find me there in that type of setup. And I can do the same things for you that you would do it online. So, I don’t predict over or say how this should be but this would be my personal preference for this.

Julian: Can I just add this? Because exactly my story kind of correlates exactly to what you said. So I I’m in the process of buying a house right now. And a few weeks ago, I had to send, transfer, the first patch of money to the developer. And it was a huge amount of money, the most expensive thing I ever bought and I was very, very hesitant, you know, ‘am I doing it correctly’, I checked the bank account number 50 times in order to make sure that it’s correct. And I finally send the money and I received a phone call from my bank asking like ‘Did you intend to do this transaction? But also did you get a invoice or a contract for this transaction?’ So basically, in that moment, it made me feel that the bank is trying to protect me from myself, from my own mistakes, is that I’m not getting scammed, I am not getting  screwed because of just sending money to a Nigerian prince. That completely changed my perception of the bank, that they actually have my interest at heart. Because that one phone call, you know, didn’t cost them much money, it was nothing. But it was a phone call, rather than as you said, like a text  ‘Oh, can you approve this, click yes or no.’ It was that someone called and say ‘Hey, are you sure, you’re ready for this and you have the right paperwork, so it is legal’. And to me, I was like, ‘Oh, okay, so I can trust that’ and exactly, I agree with you. It’s that human touch, is like when you go to a shop, and you say, ‘Hey, do you have this?’ And they’re like ‘Oh, I don’t have it, but shop next door has it’. Next time you want something, you’ll go back to that original store, because they become an advisor, they do not become just a transaction, they will have the best interest at heart, they will tell you where to go, they will direct you. And I totally agree with you.

Ionut: So both of you actually made very, very strong points, maybe unexpected points at some layer. Julian, you were talking about integrity. Anca, you were talking about care and advisory. So again, my question to you both, because that’s very relevant to our audience, they would expect you to say ‘I want to see the most innovative and transformative technology which we can plug and play tomorrow’. But instead, you spoke, well, it’s about a cultural mindset in the company, it’s about the sustainability of a transformation, it’s about the long term view. And ultimately, what we care about is customer with integrity, care, and advisory. Where does a start up learn about that?

Julian: I think that’s a great question. I don’t think it’s something that you learn, is something that you have to almost start with. It cannot be an afterthought. I’ve seen a lot of startups that basically thought, ‘We don’t care about culture, we don’t care about values, we just have a product and we want to sell it’, which at one point, maybe at the beginning is going to be successful. But one point, where your team grows, you need to know what are the values that are going to bring the team together? What are some of the common beliefs that everybody in the team will be able to ground their work on? To me, a startup founder and entrepreneur has to be almost this chief values officer, be the person who embodies the values, because that’s the person who can define the values. So if the founders do not define what drives them, what is the ‘why’ behind the company, because they had the drive, maybe they forgot about it, maybe they were focusing more on the development. But I encourage all founders and entrepreneurs to kind of take a step back and be like, ‘Why are we doing what we’re doing? If we succeed, how does the world is going to look like differently in 10 to 15 years? If our vision comes true how are we going to make it better? Is it just that everybody will have that product and we’ll be rich? Or is there a deeper meaning to it?’ So I think you have to start at the beginning. Because that is the only way that you’re going to stay true to yourself and to your mission, and you’re gonna attract talent that doesn’t only care about the pay check, but cares also about what you care about. And of course, that has huge implication on productivity on retention, all of those aspects, but I think it still starts with why are you trying to do what you’re doing, and then kind of start with that, because that will be the nucleus that will keep everybody together and everything together.

Anca: And I would just add something here, because I like very much the way you put it together. The entrepreneur for sure needs to have the vision and the values, then the next step it is, you take people around you and I think this is a natural one in a startup, that share your beliefs and your value system. What I wanted to add it is, on the way, don’t give them up, the values, your initial thought, what you wanted to do, don’t sacrifice anything out of that for, I don’t know, there is a business opportunity now and maybe if we take that type of person, which is not exactly in our country, okay, we can make a compromise. Of course, we all do compromise in our lives. Don’t do that one, so stay exactly true to what you want it to achieve, to your idea, to your values, to the people that you have around you. Because I think, and especially when you are growing, this is very important, but this is hard to be kept. And I think should be a point of interest and all the time remember why you did it and why you actually got there.

Ionut: Good, very cool. Now, we’re slowly beginning to get towards the end of our interview. So, before one very personal question, which I will keep at the end for you both, where you will have to answer with only one word, I will ask you to do a role play. So the role play is as follows: Anca, you’re a founder of a startup, you’re in the audience, you just heard Julian speaking, giving tips and tricks and insights, ask him a question. The first question which comes to your mind, it does not need to be smart, it does not need to be interesting. It needs to be very relevant for you, as a startup founder.

Anca: You know, what I wanted to ask and again, it fills in all your points, because it’s the first thought that came to my mind now after you asked. When a startup, if it’s the case for a startup, that would need you? In which point in their evolution you would see your advice, the most needed or important?

Julian: That is a great question. I would say, the biggest value that a consultant or someone externally, doesn’t have to be consultants, is exactly what you’re saying, is that staying true to what you’re doing, especially in that customer development phase, so making sure that what you’re doing actually addresses a problem, because a lot of entrepreneurs start with their self drive. So they start with like, ‘I have a problem and I’m going to go and solve it.’ However, that kind of outside in perspective is like, ‘Wait a second, just because you have that problem doesn’t mean that others have that problem. Or even if they have the problem, they maybe don’t care about finding a solution to that problem, because they found work around or anything else’. So to me, when I work with startups, I bring them always back to the problem space, and to the customer that they want to solve. When I was in a startup I came in with, there were two founders, they had a product, they’re trying to sell it. And always I was trying to help them to be like, okay, but let’s talk to the customers, let’s ask them, what are actually their problems that they are willing to solve, rather than coming into something to them, and I get it that in that mad rush of developing something creating, and you’re kind of keep going, keep going, keep going, it’s very difficult to top and be like, okay, ‘Let’s show this, it’s kind of ugly, it doesn’t really work. But let’s show it to customers, and talk to them and see what is the value proposition, what are they trying, what they would want to do with it, because sometimes they take you in a completely different direction, which is fine, because your product solves 1% of the problem that the customers have, and then you can expand that 1% to everything. So for me is that always coming back to the customer and always making sure that what you’re doing has a market value to your customers.

Anca: Thank you very much.

Ionut: Julian, you have been a founder and now I’m asking you to be one again. Ask Anca a question.

Julian: So, my question to you, Anca, as working in a bank, is I’m afraid as a founder, when I work with you that you will not have enough time for me, you will not have enough resources dedicated to working with me. How will you make sure or what is the best strategy for you to make sure that the relationship that we’re gonna have together is as beneficial to you as it is to me?

Anca: I think here honesty and communication, again, play a very big role. Because, let’s say that tomorrow, we decide we’re going to do this project together. For me, it’s an investment for you, it’s opportunity to sell something, at the end of the day, we both have the same interest, to have a successful cooperation. The points that you raise are very correct and this happens, we stay here we discuss we are very happily engaging into this cooperation, but we do not set from the beginning and this would be my answer, to set from the beginning how we would like to cooperate, which are my expectations, even in terms of check up, interaction, milestones, and which are yours, because I might have a certain vision about how this should happen and how this should be implemented. Take into consideration my constrain, my systems, the way that we operate, but for sure you have yours. And if we don’t put these things together, in the beginning, you can have a lot of misunderstandings on the way and unfortunately, this happens. So clarity, from this point of view, setting the expectations on both sides, and discussing even the small details, like ‘Should we meet every two weeks, or every two months? Should it be with us, or we should dedicate some people and if yes, who are the people? Let’s meet them, let’s make sure that they know also the terms of our agreement’, because it’s one thing, if both of us have the same opinion, the same plan, everything is perfect, we are going towards a successful end, but we do not communicate in the same way to the people that we actually put together to work and deliver. So I think it’s a very important thing, it needs to be taken care of, but it needs to be done in the beginning. And then, by the way, from time to time, we should check also the result. Is this working properly? Is this happening like we intended? Are we happy with this? Not like ‘We started for six months, I didn’t end it. You don’t like it? What did we do actually here?’ This should be and this can be somehow managed in advance, this can be avoided.

Julian: Super valuable insights really even now. Thank you so much.

Ionut: Julian, that’s really great role playing. So I will end this session, it was really a great session with what I think might be just the most valuable insights about our guests. But in one word, each of you, Julian first, Anca second, say what is your most treasured professional or personal value?

Julian: You need to give me a second to think about that one. For me, honesty.

Anca: Fairness.

Ionut: Alright, so everybody, you’ve got two wonderful guests, two wonderful mentors, I think they shared a lot. They shared a lot about customer experience as a focus of any transformation, of any technology being developed. I think they gave you the cheat sheet of approaching corporates and also looking inside, what matters for the long term success of a team in a startup. But they also insisted a lot on values. Or maybe – and they also insisted a lot on values. Maybe that’s the most important thing, which we all should consider, technology will evolve, the startup mindset will evolve. Nevertheless, we all have to have our Northern Star and maybe is just honesty, integrity, and fairness. And with those words in mind, thank you, Anca, thank you, Julian, you have been really wonderful guests. I learned myself a lot during the session and I hope everybody will benefit as much as possible from your insights. I think your LinkedIn profiles are public and available, you communicate a lot. And I encourage everybody in How to Web community, in Startup Spotlight community, or just all the entrepreneurial ecosystem here present, to reach out to you, get in touch, get advice or pitch to you. So thank you, everybody, and have a great success forward.

Anca: Thank you very much.

Julian: Thank you so much, everybody.

6

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