In this episode of Innovators Can Laugh, I sat down with Daniel Nicolae, co-founder of Innoship. We discuss his experience working on transformation projects in the middle east and Africa, his career rise at Orange, and launching an advanced multi-carrier shipping software for a retails business needs.
In this episode of Innovators Can Laugh, I sat down with Daniel Nicolae, co-founder of Innoship. We discuss his experience working on transformation projects in the middle east and Africa, his career rise at Orange, and launching an advanced multi-carrier shipping software for a retails business needs.
Hi, everyone. I hope you are all doing well today and enjoying the nice weather we're having here in Bucharest. to the dino museum here at Bucharest and eat some delicious tacos with Maria sass from sustainibli. If you wantauthentic Mexican tacos, check outMAT on Facebook, they're absolutely delicious.
And before I forget if you haven't signed up for my newsletter, go to innovatorscanlaugh.com and sign up. If you haven't done this already. You're going to want to do this soon, because over the next two weeks, I'm going to share some of the growth hacking strategies. We've implemented. I Bonjoro, which is a SAS company I work for based out of Australia.
I'm going to share what has worked for us and what hasn't, which in turn can help your business, your business grow. Now getting to our next guest, Daniel and Nikolai. He's the founder of innoship. Co-founder. Which is an advanced multi-carrier shipping [00:01:00] software for your retail business needs. Now if you're at a retail and doing business in multiple regions and countries, then you're going to want to hear it to listen to this. This was a great conversation. As we also discuss Daniel's rise in the corporate world while at orange and some of the struggles he had as a young manager who oversaw a team of dozens of people.
Hope you enjoy the conversation.
My guest today is Daniel Nikolai co-founder of Innoship and advanced multi-carrier shipping software for your retail business needs. Daniel, welcome to the show. No,
thank you very much, Eric for the invitation.
Yeah, Pleasure to have you here. I thought we'd get started with a few fun light questions. Uh, first question. What motivates you outside?
You know, I usually like to, uh, to, to get a ride with my bike, I have two bikes, one for the road and another one for off-road let's [00:02:00] see. Um, I used to do that every weekend, uh, but now with kids and start-ups, unfortunately the time is not in my side. So. Uh, that's, that's the passion. I still have, uh, investing in, uh, in the bikes, but still keeping their for, for them period.
What's one of your favorite courses? or places to go, ride?
Uh, usually I'm a fan of, uh, mountainside. So, uh, usually going through the first side of Transylvania, different side of. South side of your offer, Romania, where we have really nice places and you can enjoy a lot the way and the competitions there because, uh, uh, outside the geography.
That sounds so cool. I'm imagining like you going by like these old villages on your mountain bike and seeing farms and sheep on the mountain. And does that, what.
Exactly. Exactly. One of them. My favorite competition is in Vickery and [00:03:00] most probably in, oh, you hear about this? Video all the village where we have a child is coming from a UK from time to time he had, if I'm not wrong, he both houses there.
And there are a couple of villages, a worldwide suite, a very old church there. And, uh, there is a competition which is a passing, I think five or eight villages in one. In one competition, which is really nice because you pass the village afterwards, have a lot of trees and so on, and then a really nice, really different after that, coming back in it to another village, indeed, it's a, it's something different and this is the specific of the Transilvania and quite interesting.
that sounds so fun. Okay. Other questions. for you, if you could invite any Two or three guests alive or dead over for a dinner party. Who would they be? Any two or three.
Yeah, I think it's really difficult [00:04:00] question. I'm not sure if I can ask her now, too, that I need to see, because when you have a such opportunity to invite the few, uh, you need to think about it.
I always thinking about having the chance to learn more from other experience from others. Um, for surely it's about technology, but others. And how all those best technologies giants, or how bothers comes through to brilliant ideas lately to these type of technologies and even for B2C or for B2B, but afterwards how the healthcare industry has been changed.
How we can better serve different geographies. I know that still in Romania, there, we have a lot of challenges to do, but I had the chance to visit Africa and to be in Camira for a while and understood how they are living there. And I'm thinking about how we can help such countries.
Uh, to do some steps forward. So unfortunately I don't have the question, but I know that I [00:05:00] have a lot of curiosities and I really like to learn more about other, how others change. The things comes to the brilliant ideas, which help other white people to grow.
Okay. Last question. If You could have someone like a personal assistant follow you around all day.
What would you have them do?
I never had a such, including in the corporation. I used to have an assistant, but I decided not to have an assistant than to let the assistant do some job team, which she liked to do better. Um, I'm not sure if I would like to do have an assistant, uh, because I don't like the idea to bring me the coffee in the morning to arrange me the agenda, uh, or to plan the 3% to buy the tickets.
It's not about the time. Right? I'm more like to be myself as an assistant, maybe for a while for a chef in a kitchen for a weekend and understanding how they are cooking and how they are playing with the things and the, the [00:06:00] learning some techniques there. Or I would like to be the assistant for, I dunno, an expert for some industry for few days, and to learn from their experiences.
That these type of experiences, maybe to be the assistant. Come next to me, if he believed that he would like to learn something from how we are doing the things or myself being the assistant or somebody I'm not talking always about business and talking, as I mentioned to you, I really love to have the chance to stay next to a, a chef for a weekend and to understand how they are fighting for each dish to be ready and tasty each time.
I mean, in, uh, for, for each customer, they have.
Yeah, I know. I totally agree with You That is such a great idea. You know, work in the kitchen for a week or two. follow somebody, you know? And that, that, to me, you learn a new skill, you get to appreciate somebody else's craft and you just grow, you know, you grow in such a [00:07:00] way that's going to enhance your life your quality of life. And especially if it's like a hobby or something, you like, you know, I would love to be like the ball boy for like Roger Federer and be as assistant for like a week. Right.
Exactly. I think is that that's the opportunity looking for more than thinking about what I should do. How I should manage the activities with my assistant, because up to now, I didn't have any time, uh, realized that really I do need an assistant to help me if I'm doing my best to be well organized as much as possible organized or what I'm trying to do.
I don't need someone to stay next to me up to now. I didn't feel that I'm more thinking about being myself, an assistant for someone from where I can learn.
Yeah. Tell us a bit about your background, about your education. Where did you go to school? What was your first job? Like, tell us a little bit
Yeah, very, very short on that. I'm from the countryside. I was [00:08:00] not born in Bucharest in the capital of Romania. I was born in Remnick vulture. Um, just to make a short, uh, joke around that it's called hackathon. I don't know if you know that, uh, there are a lot of hackers, there is not, there is nothing to do with, you know, shifts, so it's, it's totally different, but I think we had, yeah, and still there are very good, um, uh, schools and, um, for, for, uh, for IT see there, there is no, there is no university , there are only high school.
Uh, quite good in this side of, for computer science, programming and so on. So I have been born there. Um, uh, I was at the programming school. After that I joined. Um, the cybernetic university in Bucharest, which sounds very cool about, in fact, it's just letting us to understand how to deal [00:09:00] with the business need.
And they'll be the ones who are making codes and, um, being the one in the middle, understanding what exactly is the business needed, how to translate that in a software side. So that's mostly about what we have been learning for four for four years. Um, I realized I'm not in the top of the list of my, uh, of the students at university.
Uh, and, uh,
that's fine though. That's fine. Because have you ever heard this saying that a and B students work for C students? So, Yeah,
so that's, that's totally.
absolutely. Including in the when I was at school, I always in the second part of the, you know, top of the school of the class, nevertheless is not, it was not about how I'm smarter. Uh, to be in a certain moment in time, it's more about understanding the context of the things I realized that I will never be one of the top student or never take, [00:10:00] uh, um, the, the premium, um, stages.
And, uh, I understood that I need to start to work and to find the resource to, to be paid for that, thinking about the fact that my family. In that time has been done a lot of efforts to sustain me. And it was always too little for the needs of a younger boy in, in Bucharest looking girl over the place and thinking about opportunities.
So I been started to work for, for a software company. Uh, they were a certified Oracle partner for implementation for e-business suite, their ERP, uh, for big corporation. I remember the first day that I, it was impossible not to sleep because being a student, I never respect the time, you know, and the framework, uh, it was quite difficult to, to stay, to be present at nine at the office and afterwards to leave at six and to be concentrated in something which I didn't understood.
[00:11:00] So it was a, it was complicated about afterwards. I realized that I had the chance to learn from, uh, from, uh, Belts, they're soft, software understanding about business processes and so on and after it was, I had the chance to visit few sides of Romania. Big manufacturers, uh, decided to buy a such tool and to implement a sash tool, um, companies three to 10,000, 20,000 employees, on, um, 10,000 meter squares with different type of factor warehouses and so on.
And it was, it was amazing for someone from the country. Uh, quite younger coming in Bucharest could be important for software company, understanding how the business processes are running and having the chance to visit several places around the country and such a big places. Uh, it was a fantastic opportunity.
I deal with that being [00:12:00] fully passionate about, uh, this industry. I, uh, finished the school and afterwards it does in that time, quite complicated too. To sustain, uh, the dream to grow in the same time. Uh, I decided to think about, to look at the around opportunities because there are, in that time, a lot of companies coming from all over the places, investing in Romania, creating offices here, working, creating software, creating, consultancy, creating a product, everything.
So it was
this in the early two thousands?
exactly, it was in the early two thousands. And I joined in that time I joined orange. I remember that orange paid me twice. Then the software company to join supply chain department for having an entry level job. Uh,
a no brainer.
That was no brainer indeed from strictly or financial side. I remember that I was feeling that I'm flying when I [00:13:00] received the offer and going back at home, they said, you should not tell us now if it's a approval, not or not, you should let us know tomorrow.
But I was, I was thinking about saying yes from, from the first second. And afterwards I realized that. I need to do something, something more on that time. I need to grow because before doing basic job and the entry level in the supply chain, I was doing a lot of things with rhetorical orange.
It was a company using Oracle. That was one of the reasons they decided to hire me. And I said, okay, I should grow. And I started to grow step by step, but being a first manager of a small team and growing up, step-by-step up to the moment when I was the head of supply. InOrange to Romania, um, coordinating 50 people.
And in the last two years of, uh, of orange, I work for center of excellence in Paris as a senior consultant in supply chain doing a transformation project in supply [00:14:00] chain for middle east and Africa. And I have been work closely with Jordan and Cameroon.
Daniel. What was the hardest part about this role that you were in right now? I mean, you're growing, you're now went from a small team to now a large team, 50 different people During this time What was the hardest part.
Um, I think the drive to, uh, to do the best every day, it was, um, what helped me to grow, but in the same time, sometimes I think. Uh, I was only follow my dream and only followed the end end of, of the process, um, which at the end, maybe in the early stage of my, uh, my life, early years of my life, I think I was the head of supply chain at 31.
That's a very young age.
Exactly. Being. Top management position, uh, being there in board, the understanding what the things are happening, how the fight is the, I remember that my boss [00:15:00] said that Daniel, from this moment in time, your friends in the meetings will not be your friends Because, uh, in, in a, in a such position, everyone will fight for his role for his chair, for his position, for his opinion, for his influence in the company.
And I think I was too. Yeah. To understand what exactly that means. And I think corporations should do something with very young, enthusiastic, talented people, which are growing in, in short time, up to the top positions to come back to the beetroot advice is I should say with coach or something like that, to let him know about it.
What you should understand from this moment in time, what can be changed? What, what can be your, uh, strange or difficult position, uh, unexpected from time to time and you should be prepared for that because that it will be happen. And you should be mature to understand that it's just a play or is not something personal, [00:16:00] but in such early age, you'll take it personally from, from that moment in time.
Yeah, I know exactly what you mean early in my career Had so many ideas, You have so much energy to contribute to the company you want to give so much back to the company. You're helping them grow. You become a very important person, they promote you. but then , All of a sudden, you realized you're you're spending a lot of energy just fighting with some of the other people at the company to obtain resources or something political or something. And you're not, you're not using that energy to actually do something, some real work, something.
good for the company.
So I, know what you mean. Yeah.
but I believe that that that's the, the way the things are are happening is not something unusual. The incorporations that does the way he just thinks I'm making an a are playing like, uh, but you should be prepared. And I think that that's the, that's the place where sometimes [00:17:00] a human resources department and, you know, some, uh, or other companies, departments should prepare people grow in by step internally because they always look at promoting someone from internal, from, from the team to grow.
But afterwards they, they are not preparing them to fight and to understand what they should discover afterwards in each step they are growing.
Yes. During that period. Was there a time you told somebody? Why not? Like, was there ever a big decision or a big initiative where somebody, you saw something a different way and the entire team or a group of people didn't see it that way?
They didn't think it was possible.
And you said. And you were able to change their mind and push something through.
Um, I think personally for a period of time of up to six months, it was, it was for me. So, uh, feistiness to look at how [00:18:00] many information I can have, how, how the things are decided, uh, to what they are looking when they, uh, uh, realizing that something is not happening. So it was a discovery phase for me in the beginning.
Uh, I, I remembered that each Friday it was a war room, the name of the meeting at every Friday morning at nine, uh, the, the second level up to the commercial chief officer in a meeting the next to the, this guy, which was a brilliant guy. And, um, we all prepare some slides. I remember it was a presentation of over 66.
it was, and I do believe that still today I do have at least 10 slides, which I don't understand, uh, because so too many KPIs, too many threads, too many combinations between services being in a telecom provider. A combination between different type of services, different type of [00:19:00] combination between the service and the products.
Um, and so on. It was a complicated infrastructure there and understanding how the C's are owning it. It was fantastic afterwards. Indeed, I, I was the promoter of, uh, being an innovative company and, uh, my boss, it was a as well as such. Which which pushed me sometimes, maybe too much in this perspective, which I otherwise pushed the team to go forward.
So, uh, and I said, yeah, yes, we can be a bit better than, um, I dunno some, uh, uh, retailers in the local market, which are fighting better for serving the customers. We can do better financial aspects, which are not simple to be sustained afterwards in the company. I had few times this power. To raise the flag and say, guys, now that that's possible, we can do that.
We, we should not be afraid because if we look at a little bit deeper, it's not so complicated as, uh, uh, came, uh, we [00:20:00] consider, and we can think about it now. Uh, but again, uh, in a such position, people don't like the guy feature raising the flag. It's not always a good, a good point to raise, uh, to be someone she's saying no, no, no, no.
I do see a solution there.
they think you're showing off, right? Yeah. They think you're big headed. Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
It's nice in the beginning, but afterwards it has to be somehow the one which is challenging the rest of the, of the, both of the players.
Okay. So what happened that you decided, Wait a minute. I need to launch a solution out there in the marketplace. I need to launch an, a ship. When did that come
about? only thinking about this, uh, you know, my background in the technology side and I was always, looking into the software providers, how easy they can make money comparing to them. The operational sides.
I said, how, how can they ask us to [00:21:00] pay a few, I don't know, 1000, 2000 of Europe for implementing a button, which is doing a simple thing. So considering how much you are working to save 2000 or fewer or from as such, I don't know, specific operational aspect. So, uh, from this perspective, I was always under.
Working with technology and doing technologies is it's a better future for myself being more comfortable with that. And from one project, or we had in, in, in orange in that time, uh, trying to serve better customers into it was a customer experience, big project in the company, all over the place and the interactions the customer has with the company to elevate that as much as possible.
And I said, okay, Implement for our e-commerce customers, multiple delivery options at the checkout, being able to choose the timeframe to be delivered the parcel, at least for Bucharest and afterwards being able to deliver same day delivery. [00:22:00] Essentially it was in 2005, 2006 or something like that. So early stage, including big players, which are offering now very fast.
They didn't have that in their checkouts. I always looking to be placed in their national. And I said, we can do that. I wish we invite, uh, carriers to, to understand, to code for a such delivery. And afterwards being such a big company, we can sustain part of the cost from our marketing budgets and afterwards asking the customer to pay because that's, it will be the future.
And, um, it was a good, really good, uh, received the project in the company. We started working on it, but afterwards I understood that the such. It's in a very difficult position to be interconnected to the multiple delivery companies for the PAs instrument, because ERP is it's still for us. That will be company is not the most flexible tool.
They have to be interconnected with multiple other partners, external partners. And, uh, again, coming [00:23:00] from the industry or software side. Yeah. That's not possible. It's just our elephant moving framework is not due to the fact that the technology is not helping us. It's just because we are so slow in the way of doing the things and we don't understand how we should move ourself further.
And I said, why not? Why should not be a software which is already interconnected with everyone? And I should interconnect myself with only one software and they'll have available everybody. And, uh, I started to look at, to the local market. I didn't find anybody doing that. I was starting to look at different markets.
I realized that there is such type of business in the UK, in Nordics, but nobody in the center or eastern in Europe. And I said, that's the, that's the opportunity. That's the, that's the moment. And I explained to two of my closest friends about what I have. said, uh, how much, how do you think it will cost us to do that?
I [00:24:00] don't remember exactly what was the amount in that time. They said, okay, we're sustaining. We are your angel investors because from the beginning in this company and go further and,
year was that?
in, uh, into falls thousand and 16. And it was, it was quite a nice journey from, uh, from that time.
It was one of the projects I, I did. I did the exit from that project in this moment. In the side of software lady to supply chain, uh, which is good for, it was quite sure from perspective of time as being an entrepreneur. So I took her on the fevers month. Something happens from the way of organizing the team we're playing, uh, dealing with, uh, investors with, uh, with the partners.
And so on. I realized, I realized that that how the feet are moving. Are not in the way of my dream. I decided to do my exit. My first date is just a good exit from, from, uh, [00:25:00] for that time I didn't have in my bank account as such big cash, which was not the cash for buying a house, but never the, the lease, it was good enough for, for the first experience.
like 40 or 50 million us dollars. What are we talking about here, Daniel?
no, no, at least at least, no, no, no, no. Fall away from that. But nevertheless, it was, I think it's good for someone who's just starting to, to, to run the first steps in that entrepreneurial life to understand that that is a lot of hard work to do. Uh, you need to be, to look at several aspects to, to, to just, um, put a little bit your way.
Uh, safe. Uh, I need a lot of mistakes in the beginning in two of the projects that have been started now, it's, you know, innoship a third one. I can assure you that I was deeply. Uh, focused on how the, the, the company has been established and how the rules are related to the founders and the investors [00:26:00] and everything.
I started for the beginning, with the branding of the name, uh, with, uh, with the colors, uh, with everything related to this image of the company. From the moment zero, I registered you the company name and having the property of the name. And every thing related to that, it is not just when you start a company and you start a startup is not only about your idea and your product.
It's about the whole eco system around the company you want to build. And they realize that the product is just one of the asset of your company. The product has some needs. The company has others. You should understand all elements as much as possible from this puzzle and work on everything at earliest stages possible.
If you have money to invest a little bit in each and to help you and early it's better.
So now this is your third company. What are you [00:27:00] spending more time or money? Because from your experience, you realize I need to invest more in this area, that business, so that the business as
as an entirety can be better.
well. We are always trying to, to split the, the budgets in, uh, taking care about not only the product, because this is the most important tool. And this is the one which typically it's covering most of the budget or it's, if it's making you feeling that you should spend most of the budgets on the product side I don't technology side, but I think I don't want to consider our region and the founders from the region feeling more like that in the beginning.
I do believe that we don't have too much experience by creating companies and selling our services and our products to the customers and having enough people with such experience, which can help afterwards other companies to build. I do believe [00:28:00] today we are building, we are helping another, the generation of sales people, marketing people, and which is related to technology enterprise B2B, fast growing.
Uh, which will be extremely valuable or the next generation of startups should come. So today coming back to your questions, we are keeping, uh, let's say, uh, actually move 40% of our spend on the technology side. Not because we are putting pressure on that, just because we are growing and we are investing more and more, less on the side of marketing and on the side of.
Yeah, because, uh, it's always better to push enough the paddle on the sales side, on the marketing side, on the partnership programs and understanding the partners in the way afterwards, to be smart enough to develop properly your product, because in the beginning, the idea of the product and the validation you have been received in the beginning is the most important [00:29:00] one.
But afterwards you should think about how you can. Still keep your product as simple as possible in general, it's possible to serve multiple customers, but being flexible enough to help you to grow accelerate.
And what's the one thing that makes innoship stand out compared to other shipping software. out there.
I think the mixed of the technology and the knowledge you have and how we are moving our knowledge, business knowledge into the platform to being the platform more smarther than us. In the beginning, we decided to be four co-founders at the ship. It was a clear decision why we do that. Uh, one it's coming from the technology side.
He was like he manager for several big retailers in the local market, which represents him, in fact, a big regional players from Germany, myself from the retailer industry, Daniel robber from the carrier industry. So we said, okay guys, let's put our notes. [00:30:00] On on , one single project build this platform, which is covering not only the technology side, but it's built in a such way that it will be easy for any retailers to be, to be used and valuable for them.
And each time when we interact with the customer, the customer is filling that. Do efforts to understand his business, to understand how we can help his business, our technology, that we are their partner. And afterwards with our technology, we are helping them to grow, to serve better their customers, to sell more, uh, and to keep their costs under control and having this approach.
We. are so glad today to have more than 100 customers in one year and a half it's it does a lot of work up to December last year. We only the three co-founders we're responsible for selling our platform to the customers and the implementation and everything. It was so difficult afterwards. We started to [00:31:00] hire people on the marketing side, on the sales side.
And so, but I think that that's does that make the difference? Day-by-day care about how we interact with customers, how we can be better at understanding the problems, understanding the challenges, understanding the needs and the future objectives of different retailers we are interacting with. And afterwards, each time when we interact with.
Existing or with a new prospect or with an existing customers. We are coming with this know-how and letting the customer understanding how they should improve their things. And that's something which is not repetitive. If you come back to the business side and look into the company, you cannot repeat as such knowledge quickly and let the company to grow.
And one of our main focus. The fourth co-founders we are meeting each month in only one, our meeting, outside the city and thinking about, okay, what we discover the [00:32:00] following 10 points, which are the ones which we can implement. We can make the platform being smarter and doing this. I don't know, maybe four out of 10.
Understand to do that automatically. And afterwards being smarter, smarter they're nuts because the platform can understand for the whole traffic has all the data has how to come to the recommendations. And I think that that's making the difference. The system starts to be smarter and smarter, make a recommendation.
We are looking to the promising. Really th that's possible. How, how did the calculation looking back? Because always we are thinking about not to be something misunderstood or the system to calculate something which you didn't realize in the beginning, it takes some elements which can then to raise on how the recommendations.
Yeah, I totally agree with you. a hundred percent. Last question for you, Daniel. Um, what do you wish you realized five to 10 years ago?
that you are doing.
Another, uh, [00:33:00] another, another good question. Um, I was always thinking about being an entrepreneur and having this freedom to, to think about, innovations, which I can derive. I remember that. Co-founders of internship. We are remember ourself each month that we'll have an amazing opportunity to be all of us in a boat, on a sea, on a river, no dumb, no matter.
And as being the one, deciding if we'll take it to the right or to the left, or if we'll move on to ours from the team on the right side. And the moving forward and two on the left or three, one, no matter it was it's it's in our hands to decide everything, which is it's fantastic. Sometimes. Yeah. We see that we didn't took the right decision or, uh, we, we believe something and the reality was different, but sometimes we are so happy to see that.[00:34:00]
It was the proper thing. And, uh, we ceased to have, uh, this, uh, this, this meeting of four of us. I think we are complimentary totally complimentary in the way of real life, uh, as a, uh, as a human in the way of interaction with people, uh, One it's taking the flexing. I'm moving to the fight. I'm the one opening the territories.
And so on another one saying, but do you think we are good enough? We are well-prepared, which is good because it's making the difference is putting all together and understanding gifts. What I should take my plan is like that. What do you think I'm think you are from Bishop, maybe you should think about more about us being four and being complimented.
It's fantastic because always at the end of the day, we are happy with what we decided. And sometimes it's, it's, it's so important to have the feedback from others in the way you believe the things and sharing between us and still [00:35:00] doing this, uh, this ambition to have these interactions and keep this interaction between us is helping our company.
Uh, we, we did up to now.
that's fantastic to hear. It sounds like you four are setting up a really, really strong culture of collaboration. Understanding and Because you guys are, in sinked, there's no bickering, there's no fighting amongst yourselves that regardless of whatever road that inner ship is going to take, it's going to be from four people.
People who are passionate about the company who like working. with one Another respect one, another, And are enjoying the journey. And that just makes it so much better.
you know, so much better.
Daniel, this was a pleasure having you on innovators can laugh, really joined this conversation. Um, for everybody wanting to find more about innoship, I will put the website in the call notes below and thank you everybody for joining in And until next week uh, goodbye and la revedere