How come you’ve become professionally involved in the startup industry? For most it’s a no-brainer that a corporate career gives a much greater safety net.
Jakub Pietraszek: I’ve never liked pigeonholing and I’ve always focused on all-round development, both in terms of my education – I graduated finance and law among other subjects, I also studied at MIT – as well as work. Even when I was still working with the so-called Big Four, I never wanted to limit myself to just one project or sector. This allowed me to get to know the business from every angle – the strategic and operational one, but also with regard to various industries. And finally came that moment when I faced a dilemma: whether to follow this corporate path forever, or to step out of my comfort zone and look for opportunities to develop elsewhere.
It so happens that while still studying at MIT, I had the opportunity to develop an educational startup, Elab Education Laboratory. This allowed me to see in practice what the project implementation is all about – starting from conceptualisation all the way to execution. It was the stage of implementation and analysing how the market reacts to new concepts that was most interesting to me. The significant development of Uber Eats’ activities on the Polish market also proved to be an opportunity to experience the startup environment. Both projects have proved me that these are the professional challenges I am looking for.
Michael Kacprzak: My case was a bit different, as I have devoted most of my professional career to implementing my own projects – my portfolio includes co-creating TiqDiet, a SaaS platform for nutritionists, and Enablers, a company specialising in business agility. I’ve also worked with the developers of the Babbel app and the startup Tidio. The common denominator of all these projects was the possibility of self-realisation, which is a number-one priority for me when it comes to choosing professional projects.
I am on the lookout for ventures that can be compared to a strategy game. I like to solve interesting business problems and implement challenges that require an innovative approach. Booste, a project we are running under the wing of Tar Heel Capital Pathfinder, certainly falls into that category.
So how did you come across Pathfinder?
JP: I’d heard of Pathfinder before. At some point, I received information that the fund was looking for founders for a new project. At that stage, I didn’t know the details yet – I only knew that I could become part of a business operating in the area of e-commerce, fintech and revenue based financing, a model that is developing extremely rapidly abroad. I also had a guarantee of benefiting from the security that Pathfinder – the leading player on the venture building market, providing operational, strategic and financial support – was offering. Therefore, the chances of successful and effective implementation of a project carried out by such a team were much higher compared to doing it alone. What was also valuable to me was the fact that Pathfinder was looking for two founders, allowing for the synergy of key competences necessary to implement such a demanding project successfully.
MK: I stumbled upon the Pathfinder offer online. We fixed up a meeting, during which I became very interested in the idea presented by the fund – Booste was a business challenge from the get-go, and this ultimately convinced me to join and lead the project. Besides, I was after a venture that I could co-own and that showed potential to expand on a global scale. After more than a year of working on Booste, I can say that I’ve hit the mark with the decision to join Pathfinder.
Did you know each other before you became Booste’s founders?
MK: No (laughs) and we keep on getting to know each other. The moment of starting the project was very peculiar, because it happened to be April 2020, i.e. the time of lockdowns and mass transition to the WFH model. So, for a very long time Jakub and I did not have an opportunity to meet each other offline, especially because at the beginning of the pandemic I was stuck for weeks with my family in Australia. What’s more, we live in two different cities –Szczecin and Warsaw.
JP: We see each other a few times a year, and our first “normal” meeting took place two or three months after the project’s kick-off. Everyone in Silicon Valley would say it’s a recipe for failure. We’ve made it. The pace of building the company was pleasing from the very beginning – in December 2020 we acquired our first client, in June this year we raised PLN 54 million in round A and we entered three foreign markets with Booste.
MK: It was indeed an intriguing year. We worked at a breath-taking pace, especially considering that the first two months were actually devoted entirely to business analysis. An additional challenge was the pandemic itself, which imposed the specific way of working. However, from day one we quite intuitively understood our strengths and weaknesses and tried to complement each other. It was also crucial to understand each other intentions without fail when working remotely. In times when most of the information is exchanged via e-mail or instant messaging, misunderstandings can arise easily. However, we were able to develop a model of cooperation that translated into smooth communication, both between us and other team members.
What was the support of the Tar Heel Capital Pathfinder team at the time?
JP: Pathfinder helped us build Booste from the start. By joining the fund, we were sure that we could count on legal, accounting, administrative and HR support, which translated into saving a lot of time and allowed us to focus on strategic parts of the business. Without such resources, we wouldn’t have been able to create a company in half a year. The second key element was access to the fund’s network of contacts, which at the very start increased our chances of finding the right business partners.
MK: Importantly, all this time we’ve had plenty of freedom – both when it comes to management and choosing directions for the company’s development.
So how would you define the ideal manager to run a business in the VB model?
MK: They should have the qualities of a founder, not a manager. The reason is the differences in the approach to running a business. A founder doesn’t know the answers to all the questions, but he or she is not afraid to look for them, test various directions of the company’s development and verify all assumptions on an ongoing basis.
A manager strives to preserve the status quo – he or she wants to conduct a predictable process that can be managed from start to end. Such a person, as a rule, tries to avoid change, and in a startup business, where the area of uncertainty is large, sudden changes are normal. In a nutshell, I believe the ideal founder would be someone with a single-minded determination to seek solutions.
JP: Besides, founders, in principle, should be versatile and have a good understanding of the business ecosystem in order to freely take the reins over various stages of the project. There is no room here for a rigid hierarchy nor the expectation that, just because I am the founder, I will be the one to delegate tasks. They cannot be afraid of operational work but should act according to the all hands on deck and can-do principles – no matter what challenges they encounter.
In that case, have you run into problems during these several months for which you were not fully prepared?
MK: We both assumed that if we didn’t know how to solve a problem, we’d just find out. From the get-go, we were aware that the entire financial, regulatory and technological framework of the project could be complicated and would require from us a lot of commitment and an unconventional approach. However, great psychological comfort is given by the fact that in unexpected situations we can count on the support of such an experienced partner as Pathfinder.
Booste’s next steps?
MK: We want to carry on expanding outside Poland, because from the very beginning Booste was to be present on the global market. We also constantly come up with new ideas on how to develop the company. Remember that we have been present on the market for a short time, so we still have a lot to do.
JP: This goal includes the expansion of the platform’s functionality: we want it to be a so-called one-stop-shop for e-commerce companies, which offers several services, know-how and partners that allow stores to use financing effectively and develop as quickly as possible.
MK: Booste has been colouring outside the market’s lines from the start and nothing will change in this aspect.