Alin Breaban is the CEO and co-founder of Vestina, a cryptocurrency trading platform from Romania. After ten years of working in the corporate world, leading product and engineering efforts for a global financial platform, he closes the chapter by reflecting on ten business lessons he has learned over the years and how he will use the knowledge to build his fintech startup.
1. Companies don’t build things, people do
The team always comes first, ahead of management policies, KPIs, OKRs and other company acronyms. Recognizing the results obtained by the team and individuals, helping people to grow, being genuinely interested in their future and their motivation and empowering them, are key factors in guiding the path towards achieving the objectives.
In essence, prioritizing human centrality rather than employee centrality is the way to go.
2. Have clarity on your vision
Make sure everyone knows where your company is going and how it relates to their department and daily work. Align it with all stakeholders and get action items from each. Then break it down into smaller goals that guide the organization and individuals towards a larger vision.
For the spiritual ones, this works more like establishing an intention. Good enough to call the universe.
3. Take time for strategic thinking and optimize the outcome
In my early days driving products and engineering for a platform that transacted billions of dollars, I was optimizing input. Having 5 calendar entries at the same time or working 16 hours a day made me feel productive and valuable. That was just a distraction, though. I was running away from the fact that I didn’t know what to do in my role.
Focusing more on strategic decisions made a difference for me, the product and the team. And it was a milestone in my career. Now, as a founder with very few resources, I must also learn to narrow the field and be laser focused.
4. Building frameworks, systems and processes
Building structures, systems and processes gives a sense of clarity and stability to everyone on board. In addition, it improves performance by minimizing waste and errors and optimizing the result. In a startup, it could be argued that achieving this structure is not easily achievable. Having a two-week iteration on product development or marketing experimentation strategies is already a framework that helps tremendously.
5. You are not alone. Trust your team
Someone wise said, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together ”. I’ve always been part of a team, from being a handball player to being part of a team in the corporate world to being part of Vestinda. Learning to play with each person’s strengths is a pain in the ass: 1 + 1 doesn’t equal more than 2 on a team.
6. Listen to everyone and ask for help
Your organization, your team and your customers always know the answer. When lost or in doubt, seek out the wisdom of the crowd and you will know how to move forward. Listen with an open mind and an open heart.
7. Seek mentors and educate yourself
I wanted to spend time with people who were better than me. Having the chance to meet great people and experts in their fields from dozens of different countries has been one of the most amazing things I’ve achieved in the last decade in the corporate world. I have learned from each of them and some have become my mentors. Continuously educating oneself is the foundation of a better self.
8. Disgusting work ethic
Well, he’s just a figure of speech. Of course, you need to stay healthy, take a break from work and celebrate the victories. All the good things your guru teaches you. But we all know that overnight success stories take a long time, so it’s best to be prepared and patiently collect the 1% increments.
9. Have a succession plan
In life everything ends, including work. While it seems like a difficult escape, the pain will be easier to bear when you know that what you have built is in good hands.
10. Change is good
I will conclude my list of business lessons with a reflection on how to embrace change. While leaving the corporate world may seem like a separation, tearing the blindfold is just a new beginning. Learning by doing is always preferred and being the founder of a startup is a character building experience. Embrace uncertainty, take a leap of faith, and trust that your mindset will improve dramatically.
I’m looking forward to another 10 years, building great products with the right people and making the world a better place. And if the fantastic creatures appear along the way, it will be just the byproduct of all the experiences of the past decade.