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HR Talks with IT leaders is a campaign organized in collaboration between The Recursive and BICA Services, one of the most prominent HR service providers on the Bulgarian market. Our goal is to give more visibility to the knowledge of how great tech teams are built. Every week, we will meet with accomplished entrepreneurs and managers who will share their personal experience and what’s their approach to leadership, communication, hiring, talent development and much more.
Our first conversation is with Boyko Iaramov – a serial entrepreneur, angel investor and mentor. In 2002, he co-founded Telerik and helped the company’s growth to over 800 employees and a $262.5M exit twelve years later. Boyko is also a co-founder and CEO of Campus X, a coworking hub that brings together startups, VCs and talent, and co-founder of Telerik Academy, a tech education organization that trains the digital builders of tomorrow.
What’s the number one lesson about leadership you learned over the years – first with Telerik and then with Telerik Academy and Campus X?
Boyko Iaramov: To have faith in myself, my partners, and especially in the team. When we launched Telerik, neither of us imagined that we’d go as far as we did. We all had our concerns in the early days about how we would compete on the global stage. Moreover, we are talking about 2002 – back then, there were no VCs in Bulgaria, no mentoring, nor any startup ecosystem in Sofia.
So, for me, lesson number one is that you need to believe in yourself. In the long run, if you don’t have that – it doesn’t matter how much funding you have. It is equally important to believe in the people around you.
How can you help others believe in themselves?
You need to be willing to make sacrifices for the team. Everyone on the team must know that you have their backs. At all times. Because inevitably, as an organization grows, a lot of mistakes are made. If these mistakes are judged and penalized from the very beginning, this team would not have the confidence to develop and innovate. Innovation comes through trial and error. A good leader protects their team even when failures and mishaps happen.
Leader behaviors and traits are contagious. The good and the bad ones. On that note, when the leader’s dedication and willingness to sacrifice is felt by the team, it usually spreads within the organization.
There is one big caveat, though. Sometimes this dedication leads to serious burnout. It’s very difficult when you try to be available all the time – there are only 24 hours a day. So, you need to be able to find the balance as working non-stop is not sustainable in the long run.
Is there a type of leadership style or behavior you want to see more in the Bulgarian IT ecosystem?
Giving-back. We measure one person for how much he is willing to give back, as my Telerik co-founder Vassil Terziev says. No matter how successful you’re in business, if you do not give back to society, you have not achieved anything.
I definitely see progress in recent years but there is still a long way to go. It is an educational process and we need more good examples. For me, it will be a success when all companies in the ecosystem become regular donors for all children in Bulgaria to receive quality education – both academic and digital. If you make millions in profit and don’t donate a few thousand to develop the environment further, you haven’t achieved that much and will definitely not be perceived as a valuable member of society in the long run.
As an investor and co-founder of Campus X, you work with many startups. What’s your advice on keeping teams focused, which is particularly important for startups and early-stage tech companies?
Focus. Too often we see teams willing to do 100 things at once, only to fail with all. We like to encourage and at times challenge many of the young teams we work with, to focus on one topic at a time.
Our approach is to make them come to this conclusion on their own – by asking various questions and steering the thought and analysis process. If we just tell them ‘you’re not focused, you have to do this and that’- that’s a judgment. We engage not to judge, but to encourage and support. The best outcomes are those that organically evolve the teams, define their strengths and as a result sharpen their focus.
Startups are by nature extremely chaotic. Therefore, we try to advise them to stay focused on the 3 or 4 main things that contribute the most to the accomplishment of a given milestone.
In the second part of this interview, we explore Boyko Iaramov’s approach to talent development, recruitment, and how he’d measure his success as leader.