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Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs
News blog20 January 2023Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs

"Try things out and dream as big as you can!"

An interview with 33 Under 33 entrepreneur Iulia Dorobanțu

Secrets of Success Iulia Dorobantu 33 under 33

On the Promoting Enterprise portal we are talking to all the entrepreneurs on the 33 Under 33 list. This Secrets of Success initiative aims to shine the spotlight on a selection of successful young entrepreneurs, documenting their stories in an effort to inspire others to consider entrepreneurship as a career path. Today it is the turn of young Romanian entrepreneurIulia Dorobanțu.

 

Tell us about your business

Charger.ro is the first end-to-end online platform dedicated to green and smart solutions. We are bringing together in our portfolio charging stations for EVs and PHEVs, photovoltaic systems, and Smart City solutions (intelligent urban furniture, charging solutions for electric micro-mobility, air quality sensors, etc.). From advisory and know-how to a curated portfolio of devices, implementation, and connected services (maintenance, management of devices, etc.), Charger.ro provides the answer in the green-tech solutions industry.

Our mission is to offer our end- customers the opportunity to choose the right solution in a safe, fast, and simple way, from a complex and complete range of products on the market and from verified and reliable suppliers.

By creating easy access to a team of experts and years of know-how and experience, we help companies and individuals solve their sustainability needs, by implementing real solutions, all in one place. We are doing this by combining data and information on product specifications, the profile of the buyer, and the installers, with the expertise and know-how of field experts, i.e., the Charger team, in a scalable way. We believe that the mix of these elements is key in addressing the green energy industry, which requires personalisation and an important local footprint.

Where did you get the idea from?

It was a need for our team. We have a background in architecture, interior design, and urban regeneration so, a technical background. However, when it came to renewable energy or electrical charging solutions, we got stuck and didn't know where or how to recommend solutions to be included in our projects. It was an extremely complicated experience - a process that took a lot of time, all parties lost time and money, and the suppliers were unable to coordinate with each other in the process. Therefore, we set out with the mission of creating an ecosystem that aggregates and integrates all available solutions on the market and a service dedicated to the industry that does not depend on the background of the end customer. We began to offer this product to both companies and individuals.

Because what are our options at the moment? On one side, sellers are not managing to have a global approach to clients, while buyers are facing a chaotic and clustered market. This is happening because both are facing a dilemma. They can either call a consultant or grow their team, which is too expensive and slow. Alternatively, they can use a bunch of online tools, which are too generic and low impact. That’s how the idea for Charger.ro appeared.

It helped a lot that our team and advisors come from different backgrounds and have expertise in various areas, such as architecture, engineering, business development, and sustainability. Moreover, we are working directly with multiple actors, such as the World Bank on urban regeneration and climate action. 

How old were you when you first decided you would start your own business?

I could lie and say that I had big plans to start my own business from a young age, mainly because I had quite a peculiar journey up to this point. I had hesitant attempts during my high school years, but I forgot about them once I decided to pursue architectural studies. In my 3rd year at university, I realised that I needed something different beyond what I’d seen up to that point. I left to attend university in Paris to complete the last 3 years of school, where I discovered the industry of renewables and sustainability.

After graduating, I became more aware of the opportunities around me, the start-up industry, and all the amazing things other young people were doing. I fell in love with the freedom of entrepreneurship and building things on my own terms. Being frustrated within the limits of my school years, I became fascinated by the actual limitless scale you can play in and dream about.

After finishing my studies, and returning to my home city - Bucharest, firstly, I looked for jobs in the industry I well knew, but which would give me the time to explore other areas. Connecting the dots, working in this direction, asking for it, and taking myself out of my comfort zone, I decided to take this leap, and here we are. 

However, I believe that being employed or having your business is equally important and both experiences have taught me tremendously. The most important thing is to feel that you are part of something bigger. It’s just that, sometimes, you have to create that “something bigger” by yourself.

How did you get it off the ground?

The idea existed for a while before someone decided to put it on paper. As we all know, an idea is worth absolutely nothing without execution. Finding out about the Black Sea ClimAccelerator by Impact Hub Bucharest and their pitching session to join the autumn 2021 minimum viable product (MVP) cohort, we decided to try and send a short application. We had nothing but a good idea, but they invited us to the next stage. We put it in a very bad presentation deck in just 2 days and pitched it to their jury. Somehow, we made it through the following stages, and this gave us the courage to move forward and start building from scratch. We raised our first EUR 5 000 and quickly invested it in building the MVP - the website and setting up the brand universe.

I believe that it is impossible to do multiple extraordinary things at the same time, so quickly afterwards I decided to get fully involved and start accelerating at full speed. With the financial and moral support of all the co-founders, we started to build up the puzzle and get it ready to show to the world. We joined the InnovX-by BCR Accelerator in the spring of 2022 and were one of the 10 finalist start-ups. During those months, we launched our platform to the public, started promoting our products and services, wrote to investors, and built a strong portfolio of partners.

We were ready to get it off the ground once we identified some of the pain points in the market, as well as building a “good enough” product to solve the customers’ problems. Now, we are ready to make it better!

Who did you turn to for help?

I turned for help to friends, family, collaborators, mentors, and potential investors... Amazing people joined us the moment we decided to go on this path. They brought a lot of enthusiasm, validation, know-how, valuable resources, questions, and a valuable network.

There is also another segment that showed up to help us, though we didn’t think about it at the beginning - our partners: producers, other integrators, resellers, service providers, and NGOs. They offered us their long-term learning, market insights, knowledge, team members, and even clients.

Furthermore, the two accelerators we participated in brought a strong community of people who helped us along the way.

Describe some of the obstacles you faced as a young person starting this business.

I don’t necessarily see an obstacle in being young. In my experience, I believe that it gives you courage, the freedom to make mistakes and fail 100 times, and the option to try again maybe more times than later in life. Maybe it’s the craziness and freedom of being in your 20s, or maybe it’s the lack of experience and courage to try anything.

However, there are also obstacles. It is tricky to make people trust you and give you a chance, without having much experience written on paper. Moreover, working in the energy sector, an industry where big players are setting the rules of the game, it remains a question of how new actors can enter the market and bring about change. Especially now, in such an unsure political and economic context. Moreover, bringing partners on, without any background, and showing them how you can promote their long-time work in a different way and through a different product, can be a challenge. In addition, let’s not forget about bringing people into the team, to join your big dreams. Without any doubt, you must prove your expertise, potential, and results, more than a well-established individual or company.

How do you define success?

I believe that success is data-driven and how I measure the impact that I have upon the local community. In addition, by building and leading a team of passionate and diverse people who will bring their passion and know-how to take a project to the next level, and with whom I love working.

On a personal level, I define success through freedom - the ability to live day by day by my personal values, as much as I can, without forgetting about the community I am a part of. I think about leaving people and places at least in a similar shape, if not better. That’s why I love this industry - any positive impact equals success.

What was the most challenging aspect of setting up your business?

Two things come into my mind when I think about challenges throughout this year: facing new things and earning trust. First, every new business, if it is innovative, comes with learning a ton of new things, changing your approaches, and doing things differently than anyone before you. Maybe it’s the mix of products, services, and industry, or working with a new team, but I truly believe that you need to bring something new to the table to become relevant and win the market. Therefore, setting up the business in a completely new context, and facing different challenges and situations every day, was a challenge, both mentally and emotionally. You don’t have time to get comfortable in your role, and you already need to think about the next step.

Second, making people believe in your dream. It is not easy to explain your ideas, receive various kinds of feedback, and convince people to trust you and your story. Especially people joining your team and deciding to spend every day with you, while working on you project – and all of this while only having a nice .pdf and a plan. Producers, investors, and partners, all have a hard time trusting a business without a track record. And rightfully so.

What has been the most rewarding part of your journey so far?

Linked to the challenges mentioned above, I would say that earning the trust of investors to join our story. It is not necessarily about the capital, but about the fact that a handful of people decided to fully believe in us and make this big dream happen, before anyone else. Receiving validation gave us the confidence and energy to move forward and the possibility to do it the right way from multiple angles - with know-how, financial resources, a network, and a strong support group.

There are many challenges, but also many rewards. Happy customers, repeat business, completed projects, and fulfilling collaborations, all come at the end of the day because of many working days and nights.

What are the future goals of your business, and how will you go about achieving them?

In the following months, we will focus on three main things: team growth, platform development, and a good brand and marketing strategy. Our main goals are to find product/market fit, build a high-quality product, and address our customers in the best way possible. Developing a good advisory process, consolidating our portfolio, bringing on board the most innovative solutions in Europe, and creating a great experience will keep us busy for the upcoming months. We plan on expanding our team with passionate people, and the funding round we are currently closing will help us accelerate all these steps and achieve the next step in our journey.

Going forward, we have set ourselves an ambitious objective: becoming the leading ecosystem for the green energy industry in Central Eastern Europe, in the coming years.

What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs out there?

Try things out and dream as big as you can! Very cliché, I know. However, looking behind, for me, this was the hardest step - to leave my day-to-day life, a well-known industry in which I was doing extremely well, to follow my instinct and try out new things, even though I had no clue how to do them. In addition, dream as big as you can! You will see along the way if this is the right path for you, the right idea, or the right team. However, you will never know how big it can get if you don’t start doing the actual work.

 

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