Op-Ed: What a German entrepreneur learned in his first year of doing business in Romania
An entrepreneur in Romania and Germany, Volker Moser reflects on his experiences with his ventures for over a decade in Romania in a series of Op-Ed stories on Romania-Insider.com.
Here’s what he learned since the launch of the first media product of City Compass Media - citycompassmedia.com in 2008.
The fact that I would be writing a series of Op-Eds about entrepreneurship in the most read English online newspaper dedicated to Romania, with over 300,000 unique visitors reading it a month, would have sounded absurd to me in 2008 when I had just started to adjust to Bucharest and Romania. But that I would be one of the owners of such a newspaper - I would have bet against this!
This is not our history as a media company - if you are interested in what happened in which year and who else is a part of City Compass Media, just read more about it here.
What I would like to focus on are the learnings I experienced throughout my entrepreneurial journey- as a person and as a business owner finding a niche - in Romania and in a market I had never dealt with before.
When we started the project City Compass, it was exclusively focusing on making expats feel at home in Romania. As a matter of fact, we tried to define products and services for the expat community. The first product we launched at the end of 2008 was the „Bucharest Survival Guide“, which is nowadays a yearly published „Feel at Home“-Guide to Romania for expats and locals in print and as an e-book, covering the country (available here).
Before going into product details, I think there are 3 very important aspects to consider that every business owner should take care of and be aware of in the very beginning of the set-up. They are summarized below as recommendations:
- You need a good accountant that teaches you the basics of accounting, invoicing and reporting in the specific country for your specific legal entity.
- You need a good lawyer working hand in hand with the accountant. Ideally, in order to avoid long term fix costs, try to get a contract you can reuse for certain similar services you offer. BUT as soon as you have a bad feeling about a client that things might go differently than what you are used with, have your lawyer check the specifics of the agreement with these type of clients.
- Start to build a network. See who can introduce you to different business communities. Find out where you feel well, and where you get results in terms of qualified business leads or qualified contacts that help you with further advice or network.
I was very fortunate to have these areas covered by my business partners, who had significantly more experience in business and in Romania than I did. Despite all the difficulties that were to come, I realized very soon that they had helped me enormously regarding the above mentioned.
This is what I learned with our first media product, the printed guide, back in 2008-2009.
- The price for the final product (back then it was black and white paper) was too high. We did not sell enough copies in retail in order to cover the running costs of a local company.
- But what we did well was to find companies that wanted to reach expats and therefore paid for a customized printed edition including their introductory page and logo on the cover. This saved the first print run. I am not sure if the 3 founding partners in the initial project had invested EUR 4000 in 2008.
- The quality of print was not good enough as I had not insisted on an offset printing technology. As I had no idea about printing, I had focused on good content for the guide out of my own experience as an expatriate living in Bucharest. I learned the hard way that the cover of a printed guide is the most important thing, and the look and feel after taking the book for the first time in your hand is the second most important thing for probably 90% of printed book readers. We managed to improve that for the next editions.
- I had not established the distribution network before the book was printed. It took me months to go to different libraries and networks, points of sales, and many times I did not get to the person responsible for distribution. So I completely underestimated the necessary contacts in this field in order to just find distribution partners. All of a sudden I understood why Amazon´s idea of making people their own publishers was a powerful idea.
- I had not talked to a professional from the book industry about my plans. I was very active in business networking but had missed out the focus for this specific product. As an excuse, it could be easy for me to say that we focused on developing and selling intercultural training for expats in Romania and city tours as well at the same time, but I do not accept this apology from myself. As a layman in this industry, I had acted naively in some ways. As a result, in June 2009, I was shocked by how hard it was to write a guide for a niche target group and make money out of it. As a matter of fact, I had not made any money at all, worked days and nights for free, benefitting a lot from the networks of my 2 founding partners without showcasing any acceptable business result.
- I also had a few personal learnings during this first year of running a business in Romania:
- I still very much appreciate the fact that my wife supported me unconditionally with mental and financial resources. I always call her my first investor because of that.
- I had underestimated the social pressure on me leaving a „regular“ career path as an employee in an institution with a fix job. All of a sudden, „doing my own thing“ did not feel that sexy to me anymore
- From the very beginning, I completely distinguished between my personal finances and the company’s finances. I wanted to build a serious business and not cross-finance it with my personal money just to please my ego. That is a principle I am still applying today with all my ventures and I still believe a lot in this.
- I understood I could not provide content, sell books, create tours, recruit tour guides and develop intercultural training at the same time. We did that in a team, but in the beginning, we lost focus. And we learned the hard way that we had not thought a lot about the different target groups within companies (HR, Marketing etc) that had a very individual business mindset.
More to come in the next article. The following years were no easier, with plenty of new learnings while developing a media & consultancy business.
Volker Moser is one of the Co-Founders of City Compass Group, which provides intercultural training to multinational companies, tours&events services in Romania and foreign language media. He is also one of the owners of City Compass Media, which is the publisher of Romania Insider.