First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
What a nice initiative! Everyone is safe and sound. Some of us were worried during this time as we could only visit each other once the lockdown period was over but now we are all in good health and in good spirit, nobody lost their job and we are looking forward to sunshine and a more relaxing summer.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined this company
I always wanted to contribute to education and to inspire others to improve. I consider myself very lucky to have received a good education. I always wanted to create a company with a social impact and I can never forget where I first saw that: the Cesim company in Finland. To date, Simbound has helped tens of young people progress in their commercial or technology careers something which I am proud of. There were ups and downs, and to date, I witnessed some great achievements: a company with no venture capital funding making the same amount of revenue as an established company is no small accomplishment. Also witnessed some serious disappointments such as when our former distribution partners who copied our product and didn’t pay for the services we delivered. I find the current digital business landscape interesting and full of opportunities but it is not always what it appears to be, especially to novices. Through my work and that of my many colleagues, I hope we can bring about a better understanding as we provide people with the skills and confidence to succeed in their professional life. I am really trying to treat everyone on good terms, even companies or individuals of whose practices I don’t agree with. It’s a challenge to stand impartial but it’s a good exercise in discipline.
How does your company innovate?
We build and maintain dynamic content technology for some of the best learning establishments in Europe. Our clients rely on us to deliver functional and fast services. We have developed the original digital marketing simulation platform on which tens of thousands of students have advanced their study programs. When we unveiled this concept back in 2012 we got a lot of interest at a time when not even the big internet corporations recognized the value of investing in education. If you look at its history and the milestones we reached as well as the global presence, Simbound is an iconic venture.
Without Simbound it would have been a different educational experience and as long as there will be online advertising and commerce our concept will continue to be very valuable. We expect the industry to continue to function pretty much the same way for another 5-10 more years after which we will need to switch focus. We continue to build upon the best product in the space and we are always experimenting with new concepts and new technologies.
Some of the features that are presented in our main product – a web simulation – have become industry standard shortly after we first envisioned them. Another interesting aspect of Simbound is that it is still owned by us as the original founders. We achieved all of this without external funding, and I see it as a family business, something very common in Europe, but not something you often see with technology ventures.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Many industry observers have been quick to claim that the shutdown of schools is a blessing in disguise for educational technology companies such as Simbound. But the reality is that recent events took both schools and education companies by surprise. It generated a lot of headache for school and business managers alike. Schools had to deal with safety and student concerns while companies needed to change their way of working almost overnight. As soon as the lockdown period started we did see an initial surge of interest with more inquiries for online learning solutions, however, the companies and institutions soon after realized they are short on budgets, that many of their students or employees lack the necessary equipment or knowledge to take full advantage of our services and that it is quite difficult to coordinate and monitor large groups of people online. All in all not much has changed for Simbound. Our service is still delivered online and people continue to use this to learn from anywhere where they have an internet connection.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
During times of crisis it does help to make quick incremental decisions so as to limit the amount of damage that the business is exposed to. One of the first things we did was to prepare for unexpected events such as outages and discontinuity from some of our key suppliers. Next we had to move part of our equipment from the office into our homes. Working from home can be a temporary solution but soon after we saw that burnout can come up and this leads to a lower level of productivity and job satisfaction. The main lesson learned is that we would need to better prepare for unexpected situations such as this one and be understanding and be emphatic towards others who are struggling during difficult times. Of course we had to cut some costs and also to renegotiate some ongoing commitments. All these measures were successful and even though we skipped a beat we are pretty much in the same position as before. We did not have to take on new debt and we kept everybody on the team to date.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and your company in the future ?
At work, I take on simple tasks, and avoid taking on bigger projects. I am learning new skills and I keep an open line into what others are doing and try to learn from them. All of this keeps stress levels at a low. We must remember that nobody should be alone during this period. I also contributed to two non-profit initiatives: Edtech Romania (www.edtechromania.ro) – a platform that aims to connect local learning technology companies with schools and the EU vs Virus – an online hackathon that crowdsourced amongst others, e-learning solutions. This kept me busy, working on a good cause. At home I talk to friends and play chess online. I exercise a few times a week. I believe that it’s not the best time to make plans for the future right now but I remain confident in that Simbound will continue to provide meaning and value to those that interact with it. I get a lot of satisfaction from being involved in this venture.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Things have changed since we launched the website and nowadays it is a very different landscape, we have some of the biggest technology companies in the world taking direct interest in our venture and competing against it. Often we see them provide services for free or through unfair competition practice. Clients are attracted by a big brand name first only to recognize later that our service is better. We have built a very resilient business model and at the same time we have opened a lot of roads on which we can move forward on. Luckily we have some great people working with us and the clients are also very successful and highly educated. They know what solutions to use and they respect the values that they teach such as that of authorship and contributing to research.
Your final thoughts
During the pandemic we, as a team had a unique opportunity to turn more to personal and family matters and to appreciate some of the more simpler things in life. Amongst the constant array of bad news there were some positive aspects to it as well such as less traffic, cleaner air, more authentic relationships and a huge opportunity to help others. If anything this period showed us that we need to be in tune with our environment and care for one another as good as possible since we are on this journey together.