March 2, 2023

From Management Consulting at BCG to Creating an Accounting Software Startup

From Management Consulting at BCG to Creating an Accounting Software Startup

Taking calculated risks can often lead to great rewards if done correctly. In this chat with Alexandru Anghel, co-founder of Solo, Alexandru shares journey from management consultant to startup founder. 


To begin, Alex quit his job as a management consultant and joined an incubator run by an experienced entrepreneur who became the first investor of Solo. From this experience, he learned how to hire, manage money, build a product that people love to use, and bootstrap for as long as possible before seeking out investors.


Solo solves a problem for customers by providing them with an easy way to manage their finances and investments. It provides an automated system with transparent information on income, taxes, and paperwork filing that is easy to access and understand.


What I love about this conversation is that Alex shares wonderful advice when seeking fundraising for the first time, his approach to creating a winning culture, and why bootstrapping for as long as you can has its advantages.


Show highlights:


0:50 – when was the first time you got your first taste of entrepreneurship?

2:35 – you didn’t think of another profession like being a lockpicker?

6:33 – is there a lockpicking community in Romania? 😆

7:00 – what was your experience like living in Austria?

9:58 – what do customers get excited about when they discover Solo?

13:05 – who was the first investor and what was that experience like?

14:40 – what advice would you give to anyone who wants to launch a startup?

19:58 – what is something that you do that has contributed to your success?

21: 40 – a favorite tv show that you can watch again and again?

23:05 – instead of stock options, you give your new employees ____________

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Past Guests:
Past guests on Innovators Can Laugh include Yannik Veys, Ovi Negrean, Arnaud Belinga, Csaba Zajdó, Dagobert Renouf, Andrei Zinkevich, Viktorija Cijunskyte, Lukas Kaminskis, Pija Indriunaite, Monika Paule, PhD, Vytautas Zabulis, Leon van der Laan, Ieva Vaitkevičiūtė.
Additional episodes you might enjoy:
#55 Yannik Veys - From creating the Uber for service professionals to growing Hypefury
#53 Tzvete Doncheva - Overcoming barriers to get into a VC with Tzvete Doncheva
#50 V...


Hey, you're listening to Innovators Can Laugh, the Fun Startup Podcast. I'm your host, Eric Notcher. On I C O. We interview an innovative entrepreneur in the European tech startup scene every week. My goal is to have my guests share their wisdom while having a little fun in the process. Now, let's dive in.

Hey everybody. Eric, you're from Innovators Kala. I'm here today with Alex Anghel, co-founder of Romanian Startup Solo. Solo is the first full digital service for setting up and managing a so proprietorship and everything can be managed from your phone. They have around 20 employees and are on pace to generate around 320,000 euros for the 2022.

Alex, welcome to the. Eric, thanks for having me. And thanks for the great intro. Yeah, my pleasure. So first question I have for you, Alex, is when was the first time you got your tastes of entrepreneurship? ? Actually I grew up in a household in which both my father and my grandfather were entrepreneurs.

Okay. And and so that's where I kind of got the first image of it, truly for someone else, not for. Were they selling a product or a service? Funny enough, funny enough my grandfather had actually had an accounting company, so he had like an old school accounting service. . Okay. Okay. And my dad also was also under services, but something else.

Now, did your grandfather always carry around a calculator or, you know, pencil and pen, do a number of calculations and things like that? ? No. No, no. He, he was a pure communist, so he always had other people do. Thanks for him. So, But he acted in the way he had the, the prestige for himself that he's a great accountant.

So. Okay. So when you were as a kid, did you know that, Hey, I wanna be like my grandfather and be an entrepreneur? Or was there something, another profession that you wanted to be? Definitely not. Definitely. Actually, when I went to uni e I went to Economics Bachelor. I despised the captain. I said, this is a job which is meant to be automated instantly, and I, there's definitely no way I'm ever gonna do a accounting.

That's what I said back then. Yeah. And I was really attracted by management. That was the, the big thing for. And then an internship. Summer started a small management consulting company, and I found out about big McKinsey, BCG company. So I was really excited about it. Okay. That's what I wanted to do.

Yeah. Well, what about another profession, like being a lock picker for, for instance, you know, you never thought about that ? Look, the lock picker is just the hobby. I, I do love it. It's, it's just, it's like it's like the most amazing type of puzzle solving. I do think you can make a career of it, but I don't think you're gonna get away please late after that,

Well, how did you get into it? I mean, how did this become a Javier? Right. So I browse YouTube quite a lot and this has kind of been the only thing that's been constant regardless of how much or how much like worked. And one of the channels that I follow on YouTube is called the Lock Picking Lawyer, and it's.

I'm sure you're familiar with YouTube as a platform in general and how creators work in it. But the Lock Pinky law, the lock picking lawyer, is like the opposite of a traditional YouTube. He makes videos way under what the algorithm contain, considers like great videos. So the, he never passes the 10 minute threshold.

He doesn't ever say subscribe or follow or anything. He gets to the point, he has a kn and he says, hi. Hello everyone. This is Lock X from Master. And they were gonna open it, and he just spends 30 seconds or 45 seconds opening the lock, says, congratulations, this is not a great lock. Goodbye. That's it.

And it's so therapeutic because he counts. It's an art, right? You don't have anything visual. It's a video. Of course, you see him picking the lock, but it's all now the sounds. And because you can't hear as well as he does, it's a bit of ASMR as well in it because he just, he pick stocks. Nothing in number one.

Number two, okay. Three. Set four, and then it clicks. So it's very satisfying from a sinal like audio perspectives. I highly recommend very therapeutic. And I said I have to do this. I have to try this. You're the first person that I've ever heard saying picking G blocks is therapeutic. . Okay, now I can imagine, are you walking through the aisles of Deman?

And for those who don't know, de Men is like the Home Depot, Karen, Romania. And are you looking at these locks and, and, and telling? Yeah, I can pick that one. Yeah, I can pick that one. , . I actually have two things to say I about. It's because it's a huge problem for the lock picking community in America. So first of all, yes, a lot of the locks are super basic, so they're super easy to pick.

Even for someone who is not experienced, like I, I've only been doing this for a couple years, trying and learning. But I cannot do anything complicated. So this, it's kind of a sad thing that a lot of the optics, lowest complexity wise, but there's a, a second thing is that in order to be good in lock picking, you have to, of course, like anything else, you have to practice it.

And the idea is not to practice on the same lock. You'll practice on the same lock. You just learn the, it's, it's that doing the same path over and over again. You, you get no extra experience from doing it the third or fourth. Okay? So what you have to do is you take the same model of lock, but you need 20 of.

Because it's the same technology, but it's a different pin layout. So you learn a lot from doing this, getting like 20 of the same model. But they're all different in their own ways, of course. So, and doing that. But in Romania, there is no such thing as a secondhand lock lock market. In Romania, people only change their locks if they break.

So you cannot find secondhand. . That means that all of the lock suit you have to buy in order to practice are brand new and they're extremely expensive. So it's super expensive to. And for example, the lock lawyer, he says, just go on, go on. What's what's, what's that? Like you know, generic sales shop in the us like online platform?

You, you sell all kinds of, all your junks, eBay no. You, no. Craigslist. Craigslist. Okay. Just, just go craiglist craigslist and buy. 20 or 30 lots are gonna be like five bucks. And I'm like, no, no, it's 10, it's $10 just for one lock. I'm gonna give four. I buy 20 of 'em. Yeah. Yeah. Is there a lock picking community here in in Buchar or Romania?

I'm not, I'm not that deep down the rabbits hole yet. , I, I've kept it to myself. But, but I have seen some Facebook groups. Okay. All right. Interesting, interesting. Okay. So before we get into solo, I wanna talk about something that I learned about you. You spent some time in a village in the Alps, in Austria.

What were you doing there and what was that experience like? Alex? Yeah, it was, it was purely an amazing experience. Like I grew up in a relatively big city. It's for Romania, these, it's a 200,000 population size. Then I moved to Bucharest, and when I finished my bachelor's, I moved to, And I was Vienna for like six years, and one year I had the opportunity.

So always big cities. Relatively big cities. Yeah. So, and, and one, one of these years whilst I was in Vienna, I had the opportunity to go work for a company which is based out of Lichtenstein. It's like the one big company Lichtenstein has, it's a, it's a 10,000 people country, maybe a 50,000 and it's called Hilde.

They make power. Okay. And I said, yeah, that, that sounds like fun. Let's do it. So I moved to this village in Austria really rural side of Austria, like literally no big cities, nothing. The biggest metropolitan center had like 20 people south. And I lived in this village and I crossed the borders to lived in China every single day with the bus to go to work.

And it was just amazing because it's the absolute opposite of it. And you have the one bar, you have three restaurants, a cheap one, a medium. One and a, an expensive one. Uhhuh you every Sunday. It's a fair, and everybody brings their homemade goods and everybody's there. So you meet a lot of people. And the sense of community, I was just astonished by it.

I I expected it to be. , you know, kind of, we live in a, an era where it's not really that welcoming, especially in traditional communities to have outsiders or foreigners movement, especially from four countries. But I was so welcome. I remember one morning I was, I was running toward bus, I was late Uhhuh and a neighbor who I had never met before.

Yeah. Just stopped open this side doors. I stopped hopping out. I'll take . Okay. It was, it was, it was insane. And every weekend we meet the same people at this, at the one. Yes. And we had so much fun and it was such a tight community and a lot of sports, of course a lot of outdoorsy stuff if, if you are into that.

But just it was a complete, everybody went to church. I started going to church. I'm not even a Catholic . That's where everybody said . Well, that's a, that you could not do anything else on Sunday. Yeah, so pay it. And just everything about being in that community was so, so supportive. It was a completely different life experience.

Right. And made some of my long life friends up up of that experience. Very, very cool. Did you speak the language? Are you, do you speak German or Austrian? I do speak, I do speak German. But to be honest, in that region of the world it used. Like, even Germans can't understand what what the Swiss poker taught.

Okay. Especially in rural areas. The, the accent is so solo. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm like that. I got fine. Okay. I'm like that with people from Ireland. You know, they, they speak English, but I, I don't understand it. . . Okay. Well, tell us about solo. What problem does your startup solve and what do customers get excited about when they discover So solo is as you mention, It's basically a tool that helps you get paid or we, we say we sell ease of mind because when we looked at this market, especially in Romania specifically, because this is where we started, this is where our products are still oriented at. We've only been lodged for like 10 months.

. The problem is that traditional accounting services are extremely, are expensive. They're not of good quality, they're not of consistent quality. So like one accountant's gonna have give you one experience of one. Accountants give you a different experience, and this is applicable to any size of company.

Now we realize that there's a huge boom in the past two years in the gig economy, right? So you. Like ride sharing. You have the guys who deliver food, but also you've got the internet account. You see you have YouTube person, TikTok friends. Yeah. Instagram investor. So there's a lot of people working by themselves.

All of a sudden have to put up what we think is one of the most bureaucratic and not digital economies in Europe. I'm going through that experience right now. I have an accountant in every quarter. I send her my expenses, but I, I have no idea what she does or where they go or what paperwork she files on my behalf or anything like that.

It's like a, it's like a black box. Exactly. So this is the, exactly. Your problem is the exact problem we want it to fix. So we said, why not? This is have to be simple. That we can build a tool which automates everything. So no humanness because people make mistakes for sure. So a robot that doesn't make a mistake.

Secondly, giving you all the transparent information about where you're at. How much money am I making, how much taxes am I expecting to pay at the end of the year? Is, are all of my tax statements filled in? And, and you know, sent to the i to the fiscal authority inside. And we wanted to build. So we built it and we also wanted the cherry on top because we have an advantage in Romania, at least.

I personally think I have an advantage because. Romanians are not used to good quality services. They're not used to having a great experience with a service provider. Hey, neither are the ex pets. I live here. . There you go. There you go. But, but especially you coming from the us. You have the experience of having an amazing experience with, with service providers.

They, if they're fighting for your money, they wanna give you an awesome customer experience. Yeah. So we said we're gonna build that as well, because accountants traditionally are not the friendliest bunch. And especially in Romania. And we said, we're just gonna build a digital wall that also when you call us or when you write to us, you know, she like, wow, these people know what they're doing.

So that's what we did. That's what Saw is it's basically a friendly digital account. All right. Well this sounds exciting. It sounds like something I need to try and actually, I want to try because I would love to have that transparency of what's going on with, you know, my taxes and my payments and, you know, all the expenses.

Just having that in one central location that I could access pretty easily, and it's simple to understand, so I'm definitely gonna try it out. Who was the first investor of solo and what was that experience like? Alex? So we started off, I, I started by quitting my former job as a management consultant.

I used to work for consulting group. Mm-hmm. . And I quit kind half, maybe two, three months of, of thinking about what I wanna do next. I knew what I, I want to go into entrepreneurship but I hadn't found this idea of solo I, and when I started. Working by the actual kind of research on what I wanna do, topics I'm interested in.

I joined an incubator what's called Ventures and here and this incubator is actually run by an experienced entrepreneur in Romania who has. Of multiple exits. He's built multiple businesses here and he wanted to make a, a, let's say, kind of a school to teach other entrepreneurs to do the same.

Mm-hmm. . And we became, and we were friends, we knew each other from, from before, and told me that he was to open this . So I joined it and he was also the first investor in. All right. All right. So the experience was not that complicated. Basically, I had to describe what I wanted to do. Like I had two months mm-hmm.

to build a very, very solid business case say how much money I needed, and have at least, you know, 150 to 200 potential customer interviews. In order to build kind like a presentation in, in which he decided, yes, it's a go. Here's someone having worked with this person that who was your friend, but had been involved in many successful startups in exits and learning from him.

What advice would you give to anyone who's trying to fundraise for their startup? Okay, so. First inspired, I think. So it was a privilege for me, right? Like I had no entrepreneurial experience and my, and the, the entrepreneurs in my family that told you about it, they were more classical entrepreneurs.

Not really revolutionizing anything, but kind of seeing, I'm good at this, so I'm good at turning it into a small business. He Boban who I, I'm working with now, even, even now as well, he has, you know, more, you know, let's. Disruptive, let's be revolutionary in this market perspective. So there are a few things that I learned a lot from him from the beginning in terms of how to hire, which is extremely important.

How to, you know, manage your money, what to, what kind of decisions you make based on instinct and what kind of decisions you have to do a lot of research before, before making. How to build a product that people love, how to use that love to use, and how to build a product and is as simple as possible, especially in accounting.

It's easy to go into a into that version of a product which has a million tops and buttons and all of the responsibilities on you, the, let's say, the owner of the business to decide what is each setting. But we wanted to build a product in which we decide all the settings that you just focus on here.

So I learned a lot. Financing about the product, about the team from him. And in terms of my advice to new startup founders, I think definitely the first one is bootstrap for as long as you can because it's all the more empowering. When you go to an investor with a, with an mtp, which has a little bit of traction, you know it has its first users.

They love using it. They give you feedback. You, you've validated some of the hypotheses around your product. It's not your business. So bootstrap for as long as you can. That's definitely number one. And then when it actually comes to, okay, it's time to raise, raise funds for my startup. The first thing you want to do is understand your local, regional, and global competition extremely well.

Cause that's gonna be a lot of the questions around it. And nobody, if you say, I'm the first one ever to do this. Nobody, everybody's gonna be super skeptical. Nobody's gonna believe so either. If you do something truly revolutionary, nobody's done it. You have to bring some real solid evidence about it.

But in most cases, you gotta have competition. You have to have a really good mastering. Second of all, be really good with your numbers. So whether it's five customers, Use the product, whether it's a hundred customers, to use the product. You have to be so capable of understanding every little number in your business model, in your product before explaining it to a potential investor.

And third of all, find investors who understand your market to understand the value proposition, the underlying value proposition, because you're trying to teach someone about your market. It's just gonna be a, an extremely difficult uphill. Where that person's kind of thinking up with the business I invest, don't have this churn, or they usually have a much uh, higher tickets value.

Yeah. Whilst your business is small, it's based on volume. I've not, I've done this before, so they're never gonna say, I've not done this before. Investors don't, , they don't have a humble approach to this problem. They know everything, or they, they try to act like they know everything. Exactly. So you have to find an investor to understands your market.

Got it. And then finally, you know don't, don't be afraid of invest, of finding an investor. I think this is a huge, if you have an interesting product and you're capable of verbalizing the value proposition and you're passionate about it. For example, we just, we're just participating with SOLO at this How to Web Conference, which is a huge startup conference in Bucharest, and we participate in the main pitching competition spotlight.

Which had a potential prize investment of half a million neuro. And one of the startups that made it to the final was up coding. And this guy who's from Moldova , he made the most passionate, most, most interesting, most convincing pitch I've ever seen. Even though if those is an online coding platform Yeah.

Don't take, it's something revolutionary. I, I met him in person a few weeks ago, not well, and, and just having, just chatting with him for like two or three minutes, you could tell he was very passionate and believed in what he wanted to do. And I was. I, I, you know, I was excited about it learning just in that two or three minutes wanting to learn more, but not, not only that, you could just, you could just tell that from his heart that what he was doing, it was about changing lives.

Right. And so what, when you're telling me this, I'm like, I met that guy. And Yeah, he is, he is so persuasive and convincing, but I think it's from a genuine place. Yeah, exactly. It's, it's when you, when you, when investor. That you love your product. He believes that you're gonna do the best possible for thing, for that business model.

You're gonna work your ass off. Yeah. So these are the things that I would say when you're raising your first round in best investment, and I definitely recommend a lot more startups go and look for funds in the, in head of the official investor community. Yeah, I think in Romania it's still an other.

Industry and more startups could get access to funds to build whatever they're trying to build. Awesome, Alex. Okay. A few more questions, some around your personality. First question is for you is what is a habit skill or something that you do, that you feel has contributed a lot to your success thus far?

Well, . It's . I will call it success, but sure. let's, I, I'll think about some of the things I'm, I think I'm doing right. So I, I, at least in the, in the context of the startup and in and in any other professional context that I've been in, I think what I do right is, first of all, I listen a lot. I really prefer hearing everyone's opinion before voicing mind.

Okay. And that has helped me, you know, make better decisions and think things through, involve a lot more people in the decision making process. So it's one thing. And second of all, I value feedback immensely and our entire culture, it solar has been built around. I appreciated when I worked at bcg the fact that you are surrounded by super, super smart.

and you're constantly learning from them. You're never the smartest person ever. So I, I cont I, I appreciated that context and the value of getting feedback from these super smart people. Mm-hmm. and I, when I started working at Solo, we actually read the founding team. We read No Rules, rules the, the book about the Netflix culture mm-hmm.

And I highly recommend this book. For me it was, it's very inspir. And one of the pillars of their culture is very direct, very open feedback and cost and feedback. Mm-hmm. , and we implemented this from the ground up in solo and everybody gives and receives feedback and I think it's a huge added value for any organization.

Absolutely. And I think that's, that's important to me. For sure. Absolutely. Okay. Okay. Now for some fun questions for you, Alex. What is a favorite TV show or movie that you can watch again and again? Sopranos. Okay. I love the Sopranos . It's just, it's so gritty, it's so real life, and it's this character who, I don't know if anybody's watched, a lot of people have watched it in the discussion.

But I love the fact that the, the hero. Is so conflicted about his own actions, about the fact that he, though he's a mafia boss, he believes he's the good guy he believes. He's doing the right thing at all times and I love that cuz everybody believes they're doing the right thing. , that's one of the few series I have, I have watched like the entire series.

I've seen a few episodes here and there and I, I know it's, you know, highly acclaim. I know a lot of people love it and I think I just need to find some time to put it on the list and watch it because I feel like I'm missing. For sure, for sure. Yeah. Okay. What is a well you already, actually, you already said this.

I was gonna ask you, what is a book, an article, maybe a podcast or something that has impacted how you think and run your startup? And you mentioned the book no Rules, rules By uh, no Rules Pops Company, Netflix. So the other question I have for you now is instead of stock options and bonuses, you now give your new hire.

What, Alex what do you now give them? . So let me think about this. If I'm, if the objective were locks to pick, locks to pick and if they pick, if they pick their lock, they can get some stock options,

no, but that's, that's actually a really good idea. Yeah, that's absolutely a really cool challenge. I, I, I think I would make them, you know, may maybe. In order to get the top options, they could, they could like have. Write essays about their colleagues or something like that. I, I would like to see the creativity burst out of people in, in thinking a lot about what they would say to their colleagues.

That's all I would like to get though, as charge. Okay. Okay. All right, Alex, thank you so much for being on the show. Show notes on the website. For this interview can be found on the website. If you enjoyed any of this, then you're gonna love what I'm about to tell you. If you go to innovators can, and hit the subscribe button, you'll be added to an email list where I share exclusive content related to the show.

This is where I'm going to share my key takeaways from each episode. Alex, thank you for being on the show. It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure for me. Okay, everyone, have a wonderful week and thank you for listening.

Thanks for listening to the show. If you enjoyed it, I'd really appreciate it if you could give us a review and star rating. Also, don't forget to sign up for the ICO where you can get the bio in details of each guest. Thanks.