Business, People

Rebel Tech Stories: Tudor Ciuleanu – CEO RebelDot.

Rebel Tech Stories Tudor Ciuleanu 1

Who is Tudor Ciuleanu?

Over the years, I’ve come to embody many roles, but the most important of them all are being a father and an entrepreneur.

I have been present in the tech scene for more than 12 years. Until not long ago, I used to introduce myself as a young entrepreneur. However, having started to interact more often with entrepreneurs 10 years younger than me, I thought I’d better get rid of that “young” label.

My passion for technology surfaced at 9 years old, when I was given the first PC. I vividly remember it was winter when my father got back from France with a Macintosh Performa 430. You can imagine that I spent most of the following months at home, studying each component of my new PC.

Despite being raised in a family of doctors, I have graduated with a degree in Computer Science, as part of the Technical University in Cluj-Napoca. I am constantly asked varied questions regarding the professional trajectory that I chose, especially in relation to my parents’ career. I always reply that I was simply fortunate to have a family that supported my rebellious spirit and willingness to choose something different.

I am drawn to everything that’s new, challenging, and that seems impossible. I enjoy being surrounded by people with whom I can transform that impossible into possible.

I don’t like olives, dancing, and sports that involve balls, nor do I have a favorite singer or actor. I am into everything with an engine, I still play with LEGO thanks to my kids, and I will never be able to pick between the seaside and mountains because I like them both.

When it comes to the things I like doing, sailing, snowboarding, skiing, whitewater kayaking, and triathlons are the “sports” that give me the adrenaline rush I am craving for. Lastly, as I’ve been told that I have my way around storytelling, I am trying to enchant both my kids and my friends with frequent stories.

Despite the many facets that remote working has brought to some careers, I am grateful enough to be claiming that working from home for almost 8 months now offered me the chance to be even closer to my kids than before. We already share the same passion for boats, snowboarding and biking, but what is even more fascinating right now is that I started to let them get involved in my work too, which makes the line between work and personal life even thinner.

Not like I have ever believed in anything like work-life balance… In the beginning, it was a bit annoying to have them interrupt my meetings, but now I got used to it and I am not lying when I say that their presence often makes those calls less dull.

What made me start my own business?

Ever since I was a kid, I have developed a clear picture in my mind where I was my own boss, but never had a clear plan for this goal. I only knew I had to identify opportunities and make the most of them to achieve this vision. Few years later, I became fully committed to this vision, starting to invest far more time and resources to make it my new reality. Having a sleeping bag in the office drawer has definitely proven to be a brilliant idea many times.

The reason why I had this specific goal in mind is because I was craving the kind of freedom that entrepreneurship offers you. I am talking about the freedom to decide and build something based on your own values, not on a predefined agenda that you cannot really alter.

What is the current situation of the company and what plans do you have for the future?

It’s been a little over 2 years now, and although this time went by so fast, when I look back, I feel like RebelDot has been here since forever…that’s because of the many great things we have achieved and especially because of the family-like bond that we have cultivated.

From day one, I was transparent with my colleagues. We were all aware that, immediately after the emergence of RebelDot, despite having worked together before, we were now a startup, facing many of those specific problems that a startup has to confront with.

We were already a homogeneous group and had a unifying purpose of growing the team. The idea was to make the business sustainable faster by luring clients as soon as possible. Thankfully, this purpose was reached a year after the company was born. In Romania, I met way too many times the wrongful mentality that a company should be profitable from the very first day… in reality, this is almost impossible because everything starts with an initial period where the foundation is built and that requires considerable investment (in both time and money).

For the future, we aim to continue expanding our web and mobile apps development team to support more companies with our technical expertise. Our purpose is to become tech partners of our clients and even invest in some of the projects we’ll be working on. Our focus will continue being providing consultancy for organizations aiming to develop innovative digital products.

Besides consultancy, having already developed our own digital product, Visidot, we wish to carry on with similar initiatives and create even more digital solutions in-house, ideally supporting the local community.

Currently, we are in the process of growing from 50 to 100 people, a critical stage in the life of a startup, one that has been documented by so many for its difficulty. Having started this entire journey with 20 of us on board, we are now at 75 and continue to expand, all that while working remotely. So far it has been a surprising success, despite the many myths that I personally read in the business books. The most fascinating and perhaps rewarding result of our onboarding efforts was to see that, even in these circumstances, being agile and aligned, we can still maintain the culture that we have worked so much to define. I am glad to see that we are not only surviving, but functioning better than ever.

What challenges did you have in growing the company?

There were plenty of challenges in the past and just as many emerge on a daily basis. Some of them would be:

  1. Finding a name – After 10 years of having the same name, logo, and visual identity, we suddenly found ourselves in the position of having to change everything… We couldn’t settle on something because none of the alternatives seem to fit our vision. It took 6 months and some draining brainstorming sessions until one of our colleagues has mentioned “RebelDot” and we all felt like something finally represents us.
  2. Building the brand – 2 years ago, RebelDot didn’t mean anything as no one was aware of it. Lately, we made some considerable progress in generating awareness around our name, both locally and internationally. Here, the work will continue for a long time.
  3. Differentiation – Just like I mentioned above, we knew right from the start that it would be a drag to hit the market with something completely new. The challenge was to find an authentic approach to differentiate ourselves on the Eastern European market, an image that our clients would also resonate with.
  4. Perception vs. reality on/around the costs – When we started, we hit a harsh reality of this widely known association of the Eastern Europe and, respectively, the Cluj software development ecosystem with the low-cost attribute. Time went by and today, I strongly believe that this is no longer a competitive advantage for Cluj and its entire development hub. In this respect, at RebelDot we seek to offer premium services to our partners, which is why it is impossible to find ourselves as part of this association between Easter Europe and low-cost software services.
  5. Financial History – Having some history behind, our expenses were similar to those of an established company. Basically, we started out as an independent branch of a larger corporation, having to spend like an already established company, but our resources were significantly lower. Being a new organization, there wasn’t any institution that wanted to risk and fund us. Consequently, we had to rely on our friends and the creative spirit within our team to make it past these tough times.
  6. Non-paying clients – Unfortunately, this topic has been escalating in the industry. Neither of us wants to deal with something like that, which is why we always have to be ready for it.
  7. The discrepancy between the expectations and knowledge of the people applying to our opportunities – Eversince RebelDot came into existence, we managed to lure extraordinary colleagues, but the effort put in the selection and interviewing process is huge, especially when you want to get on board the right people.

What advice do you have for the young Romanian entrepreneurs?

I think it is paramount to have the courage to try and the willingness to make the most of the opportunities that often emerge. Nevertheless, as an aspiring entrepreneur, it is vital to befriend failure and manage to leave your pride aside. You should see failure as a natural part of the process, expect it and, obviously, learn from it.

A startup’s purpose should be strongly tied to the problems it aims to solve for the potential clients. It should be centered around the novelty of the solution it brings to the market and not on the ambition to generate profit in the short term. Focus on doing whatever you are doing the best you can, and the profit will follow.

Throughout the years, I have realized that it is painful and costly to only learn from your own mistakes. It drains time and energy that you could otherwise invest constructively in your business. When you are only starting out, it is important to have alongside people that have already been through what you are going through, at least once. Consult with those who have some experience and aim to learn from their mistakes too.

We tend to forget that the business is done between people, which leads us to underestimate the power of networking. Identify the niche that could help your entrepreneurial progress and start investing in building relationships with people who share the same goal.

One last piece of wisdom:

"An entrepreneur has to do two things: To promise what he's going to do and to do what he promised."

This interview was originally given to Expose at the end of last year and then translated & updated by us.

Dragos Cojocea

Dragos Cojocea

I am a tech marketing enthusiast, who strongly believes that creativity has a detrimental impact on the digital growth of a business. My aim is to become a Brand Strategist and for that I am currently striving to support startup founders in crafting human communication strategies for their B2B brands.

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