Taking the Leap: From Developer to FinTech Startup CEO [Interview] by@ioanabob

Taking the Leap: From Developer to FinTech Startup CEO [Interview]

Ioana Surdu-Bob HackerNoon profile picture

Ioana Surdu-Bob

CEO & Co-Founder @ Konvi

What is your current position?

I’m the CEO and Co-Founder of Konvi. We enable anyone to partially own investment grade alternative assets, such as luxury watches and fine wine.

If you love investments, collectibles or luxury items, keep your eyes peeled on LinkedIn, we’re always looking expand our passionate and talented R&D team!

Why did you start working on Konvi?

While researching new ways to diversify my personal financial portfolio, I’ve realised assets like handbags and watches can be great investments. And, after further researching this with my team, we’ve found that this industry existed for a long time, but hidden from the average consumer. High-net-worth-individuals have been investing in alternative assets for centuries. But, with entry barriers in the hundreds of thousands, they are not accessible to the average individual, like myself.

In the past decade, we’ve seen how more and more financial instruments were democratised. As more people had access to investments, the investments industry just boomed. I then became sure democratising alternative assets was the next big opportunity in front of us.

What motivated you to focus on Konvi?

There were various motivations that pushed me to work countless evenings and nights on Konvi. Most importantly, I always wanted to go through the journey of growing a successful product driven business. Every time I tried and failed, I ended up trying again.

I am a generalist. Career wise, I enjoyed coding, but it wasn’t something I wanted to spend 100% of my time on. I get bored when I do the same thing all the time. Konvi enabled me to solve more high level problems than of a software developer, coming from various fields. The work I’m currently doing just feels the right thing to do.

How relevant is your educational background?

I’ve finished a bachelors of computer science at Cardiff University. I think my degree was most relevant when getting my first two paid internships. After graduating, I believe I could have gotten by without. I believe everyone can join the tech sector - you just need to have the right mindset.

How did your career in tech develop over time?

I’ve been surrounded by tech my whole life, since high school. I’ve played with making websites since I was 13, and even set up an online store at 16, which landed a couple of sales from clients that found me through SEO. Nothing fancy, but enough to get me hooked. I realised there are huge opportunities in tech and made a point to gather enough experience that would allow me to build the next big thing.

My first paid job was in 2016 as a software development intern at MailButler, after my first year of university. I worked at a small startup as the only developer besides the CTO, where I built a CMS from scratch. Then, in my next internship, I wanted a completely different experience. The year after, I went to work at Zuhlke, a large consultancy. I built mobile apps, and got a wider view on how structured processes work by the book. This is when I realised I’m the happiest when helping companies grow their own product.

In line with that, I’ve then moved on to Blacklane, a growth stage startup. I’ve worked on the backend, mainly building from the ground up their airlines vertical. Again, I gathered super varied experience that I wouldn’t have been able to get at either small or large companies.

Despite my previous beliefs that I wouldn’t like working at such a large companies, I then moved on to work at Shopify. And, the work environment surpassed my expectations. I enjoyed the fast pace things were happening at, and specifically working in the FinTech sector, building Shopify Payments. And, three months ago I quit, to work full time on my own startup, Konvi.

Have you ever had a mentor? If yes, we’d like to know more about it.

I’ve had so many informal mentors that shaped my views in various different areas. Andreea, my previous Product Manager, strongly influenced my focus on efficiency. Andrey, one of my team leads at Blacklane pushed me to stand up for myself, and share my opinions without fear.

And, Konvi wouldn’t be where it is now without the entire team at the Ignite NI accelerator. I have to be thankful especially to Chris, who spent countless hours training me to pitch to investors, and helping to shape our narrative.

What was the best piece of advice you got over the course of your career?

No one owes you anything.

Great wisdom coming from my Co-Founder and now fiancee, Eran.

Like everyone, I have the right to ask. But, I am not entitled to a better team, a promotion, or investment for my startup. However, if I work hard enough, I can prove I can deliver great results.

How relevant was self-learning to where you are today?

Initially, my degree was a symbol of my ability to learn. My performance on the job then validated my ability to learn. Most of what I do, I’ve learned on the job. Be it product management, data analysis, software development or any other day to day tasks.

As an employer myself, I view degrees as proof of a decent amount of dedication. But, I’m looking for excellence, not decency.

There’s so many skills degrees don’t test, and that’s why I don’t consider them a requirement. To me, personality fit is key. Especially for early stage startups, excellent employees have a drive that keeps them dedicated to learn, and focused on the goal. They do whatever it takes to build something out of nothing.

What do you think is the biggest myth about starting a career in tech?

Software developers have very high salaries compared to other industries.

With time, as lawyers, doctors or financial professionals keep learning, they become more respected in their position. Automatically, their salaries keep growing throughout their career. But, for the average senior developer, the salaries can reach a cliff after 10 years in the industry. Because technologies and standards change very fast, everyone has to learn in order to stay up to speed. When working on new technologies, young developers end up performing as well as more experienced senior developers.

While more experienced developers take advantage of their wisdom to get a task finalised, young developers have the power to adapt fast. Also, as young developers don’t have as many responsibilities, they are often able to stay overtime to make up for mistakes. So, in order to keep earning more throughout their career, developers either move to management positions or commit to keep learning new technologies at the same speed their entire life. With their wisdom, they can architect larger systems or help younger developers improve.

Knowing what you do now, where do you think one should start learning if they want to work in your position one day?

Honestly, nothing fully prepares one to become a startup founder. But, if you are ready to give up everything for your idea, and learn anything in a short period of time, then go for it. But, if there’s one thing you could prepare for, is learn to persuade, because:

  • You’ll have to convince your co-founders that this is worth giving up everything for.
  • You’ll have to convince employees to work for a better future, even if you have limited resources to offer.
  • You’ll (possibly) have to convince external stakeholders, such as investors and advisors to back your idea with their time and money.
  • And, most importantly, you’ll have to convince your customers that what you’ve built is worth paying for.

What is the work-related achievement you’re the most proud of?

I’ve contributed towards building something that external investors believe it’s worth backing.

On a less serious note: What do you listen to while working?

Techno. I’d say I’m that classic Berliner that is totally disconnected to the rest of the world when it comes to music trends. 😃

Thanks so much for taking the time to tell us more about your career path. Any words of wisdom for aspiring founders?

Don’t give up on making any version of your idea work. If you do, you’ll do it all over again. But, you will lose time by starting from scratch.