First of all, how are you and your Family doing in these COVID-19 Times?
Victor Penev: Thank you for the question. We are thanking COVID-19 has been minimally disruptive. Other than largely minimizing and altering social life (which for my teenage son is quite important), things have been close to normal. I have always telecommuted, and the fact that we live in sunny California with lots of outdoors has allowed us to stay fit and do what we love. On the positive side, as my travel schedule became non-existent, I was able to take a 17-week course, which I had eyed for a long time.
Tell us about you, your Career, how you Founded Edamam
Victor Penev: I am a serial entrepreneur and have been starting or helping startups since the early nineties. My claim to fame is that I co-founded and built Bulgaria’s largest Internet company, NetInfo BG, which we successfully sold in 2008, as luck would have it, just before the market crash that year.
Edamam, my current business, is something I started a year after the sale NetInfo BG, and it combines my two passions for food and technology. By the time I began Edamam, I had been in the startup game long enough to take my time and find something I truly loved and believed in. Food has always been a big part of my life, and I decided to find what problem we can solve with technology in the food space.
Over time, the answer emerged. Eating right is a big contributor to health and well-being, but information about what to eat is often contradictory, not available, misleading, or too one-sided. So, I decided to start Edamam to organize the world’s food knowledge and give it back to people, so everyone can make the right food choices for every bite they take and live longer, happier, and healthier lives. This has been the core mission of Edamam from before we actually started work on it.
How does Edamam Innovate?
Victor Penev: We stay on the edge of technology, always trying and experimenting with what’s new, be it semantic databases, natural language processing, machine learning, chatbots, voice recognition, and so on. Our innovation is essential in applying those technologies to solve the underlying problem of organizing the world’s food knowledge and making it available for everyone, everywhere, all the time.
The innovation has led to unique IP, such as a natural language processing pipeline for the food domain that allows us to take any free tecx about food and convert it in real-time into accurate nutrition and diet information.
How the Coronavirus Pandemic affects your Business, and how are you coping?
Victor Penev: On average, the pandemic has been a net positive for us. Initially, we lost some clients in the restaurant and catering sectors (we are a B2B company), but that has been more than compensated by new clients in grocery retail, wellness, and population health.
As a distributed virtual company with a workforce in several countries and many cities, we had always worked remotely and did not skip a beat when the disruption started. Having achieved profitability, we also had the luxury of not scrambling to shore up finances as many startups had to do.
Lastly, as the pandemic has highlighted, health is crucial, and the recognition that food is a major component to good health has become the mainstream. We are riding the tidal wave towards healthier eating, having paddle paddled quite a bit ahead of that wave to gain speed.
Did you have to make Difficult Choices, and what are the Lessons Learned?
Victor Penev: Difficult choices are part of startup life, where ambiguity reigns supreme. Having had a few decades under my belt in this world, I have accepted and made peace with difficult choices. When you realize that they are just like any other choice, they stop being difficult.
Part of the trick is not to take yourself or what you do too seriously and recognize that life is unpredictable, and as a result, losing everything and starting back from the beginning is always in the cards. This recognition does not change the outcome. It just makes everything easier. So, yes, we asked all employees to voluntarily take a cut in their salaries as much as possible and still live well. It would have been a difficult choice, but it wasn’t.
How do you deal with Stress and Anxiety? How do you Project yourself and Edamam in the Future?
Victor Penev: I have not stress and anxiety anymore. There was a time when these two were eating me away from inside, but then I learned to enjoy the roller coaster, recognize emotions, and let them go if not contributing to well-being.
As a practical tool, I have a daily meditation and sadhana practice. Still, also I have accumulated along the years many tricks and tools form positive psychology that I use as needed. Also, I schedule priorities, including family, sleep, exercise, having fun, being in nature, and learning new things. Work on its own is simply not important enough to go above any of these. I guess this is my approach to finding balance.
Who are your Competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the Game?
Victor Penev: This is more a venture capital question and one I have always found perplexing and irrelevant. Truth be told, I do not think about competitors, but about companies, we work in the same space with. As practice shows, these companies become partners and collaborators more often than not, even if sometimes we compete for the same clients or resources. Having a goal as ambitious as organizing the world’s food knowledge gives us the luxury to approach all partners in scaling this mountain. Ultimately, if the problem is solved, but in the process, Edamam fails, I would feel we had done our part and celebrate the success of others.
Your Final Thoughts
Victor Penev: Since this is an entrepreneur focused, I’d share a lesson I learned early on, which has been very helpful to me:
There are only two things to help you do great things – passion and perseverance. So find something you truly love and stick with it. The only other element is timing, but this one you cannot control, so you just have to be aware of it when deciding.
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