I set out to meet Bogdan at a crossroads of the seasons. The mid-morning air is invigorating. A hint of blossoming linden passes me while I hit the bustling streets. Electric cars roll like silent robots, delivery guys chime in shifting lanes, and construction sites roar. The overheating greenhouse noon tide begins to ground me. Change is a constant in our lives.
I am the first to arrive. Midday is for the unhurried and unmasked. I enjoy a dark Americano eyeing a cat strolling by on the window sill pondering her nine lives.
Bucharest is an adventure. COVID, pollution, and a neighboring war are looming as we venture into an entrepreneurial “Bildungsroman”. My guest has been tapping into the city’s unique personality for the past two decades.
He is the founder of How to Web, the annual conference putting a spotlight on the emerging tech startup community in Southeast Europe, and developing in tandem a community of like-minded people – LAUNCH. For more than ten years, the community around the event has been a place for over 2000 startups to take off. This set the ground for cultivating an innovation ecosystem focused on building a better future.
Romania’s capital has changed in the past couple of decades tremendously, and so has Bogdan. He is at a roundabout in his professional life. After tasting success and failure, he is releasing the helm of How to Web and is ready to embark on a new adventure: helping others grow through investment.
Bogdan has been called many things – from visionary to artful strategist, but he has also been as frank as one can be. He does what feels right. And, if at some point he has to choose between wearing flip-flops and working with the best founders, he will choose the latter.
Stoics used to say a man spends his life walking on the path written in his DNA. Bogdan is an engineer at heart and on paper, but his roots go deeper into entrepreneurship. Both his parents were engineers, and in the “crazy 90s” they began running their own business.
“I have made my own money since I was 12,” he boasts about the passion bubbling inside of him. “I wanted to have financial freedom, personal success, and recognition,” he recounts.
In the sixth grade, he proposed a serious business endeavor to his father. He figured out he could take up selling sunglasses from his parents’ shop at his high school. He sold over 50 pairs. People were parading them in the corridors.
Three decades later, you can still spot the excitement in his eyes as he remembers the first lesson every entrepreneur should know: think about all the variables. He confesses in a cheeky grin that he messed up the pricing and ended up empty-handed.
Developer’s job? Not too sexy
While others were juggling day classes, night jobs, and the occasional three-month-dream-internship at 21, Bogdan landed as Chief Technology Officer at Vodanet Media. The company was in the top three internet-focused businesses in Romania. “Nobody knew what we were doing”.
After graduating, he couldn’t pinpoint the job he coveted, so he made it. “I didn’t think it was that sexy to get a developer’s job again,” he puts it frankly.
The bumpy road to How to Web
While trying to fit in the entrepreneurial boots he crafted by himself, he developed software for human resources. The idea was good, but as his business skills were lacking, he didn’t set up his priorities right and went bankrupt in the first year.
Now a seasoned entrepreneur, he moved forward into the next adventure, Conectoo. His former colleagues at Vodanet, which were managing some of the biggest websites in the country, were having issues sending newsletters.
Challenge accepted! He proceeded to build an enterprise email marketing software solution. But the walls of not knowing all the variables, like marketing and sales, started closing in on him again.
Resilient, he decided to take things into his own hands and started going to local business events. “This was 2007. The scene was premature. People were presenting books about how the internet business works. The events weren’t actionable,” he sketches a bleak picture.
A year later, the concept of How to Web ignited. Bogdan tells me he was inspired by Loic Le Meur, a French entrepreneur living in Silicon Valley, who hosted LeWeb, one of the first conferences in Europe, trying to give back to his native ecosystem.
“It was a disaster from an organizational point of view, they had no heat, this was in December, but the atmosphere was amazing. I thought, ‘WOW, this would be so impactful if we were to do it in Romania’.”
As entrepreneurial journeys tend to merge, this is where he met George Lemnaru, co-founder and CEO of mobile gaming studio Green Horse Games, and Vladimir Oane, co-founder of curated platform Deepstash. Back then, Vladimir was developing uberVU, a social media monitoring solution that he later sold to HootSuite for over €10M.
With no mentorship in a developing ecosystem, but a lot of help from local entrepreneurs, Bogdan Iordache set about the ground for what would become a “must-go-to” conference in Southeast Europe. A conference that grew year by year, guiding startups about growing, investors to develop portfolios, and building bridges between the ecosystem players.
Adobe Romania joined as a partner to help the event take off. “They understood, even better than us, what we could do and how we could impact the local industry,” Bogdan shared about his partners – they were the founders of Interakt advertising agency that sold their company to Adobe in 2017.
Bucharest as an investment destination
At the beginning of 2010, Bogdan shared that only a few startups managed to have significant resources to grow. The ecosystem lacked knowledge, others went abroad to take part in accelerators but failed to raise money from investors to scale their solutions.
Amongst the few companies that grew and exited were eMAG, Bitdefender, and Avangate. “eMAG was the first e-commerce player to transform itself into a technology company, which was fundamental to its success. Bitdefender, after a few years of flat growth, started to work on the enterprise market, and they’ve done tremendously well. Then, in 2014, Avangate was sold to Francisco Partners,” Bogdan remembers.
While building How to Web, he also launched spin-offs on the side with the scope of developing the ecosystem. MVP Academy, VCP Angels, TechHub Bucharest, and TechAngels are only a few names in his portfolio. But his mark is unforgettable even after many years.
Next, Bogdan joined the team of 3TS Capital Partners. It was his first contact with a VC fund that invested in startups. Green Horse Games is amongst the most notable success stories for the fund and also Bogdan’s, as an Investment Manager for the fund and Board Member at the gaming company between 2014 and 2015.
As more VC funds started popping up, and tech companies like UiPath began influencing the ecosystem, Bogdan says the founders became sharper and started building useful solutions quicker. “This is a snowball effect that will continue to accelerate.”
The snowball continued building momentum for Bogdan as a partner of Gecad Ventures. There, his life changed, working side by side and learning from Radu Georgescu and Carmen Sebe, while trying to raise a fund. “They were focused and clear on priorities and gave responsibility to everybody in the team. I realized I’m more of a creative and less of an operator, and I worked hard to improve this,” he admits.
His confidence in the local ecosystem continued to grow. He believes Romania will incubate a dozen more €1B companies in the next decade.
“Computer science turned out to be an exciting career opportunity. I was talking to somebody, who told me that in Bucharest there are around 40%-45% female students. That’s good growth,” he adds.
The wind of change
After failing to raise a venture fund at Gecad, he said: “I am never doing venture again”. But you can’t always get what you want, as The Rolling Stones put it. What you do get, is what you need. At the end of 2020, he received a call from George Lemnaru, the co-founder of Green Horse Games:
“Hey, listen, I am selling my company. How can I repay you?”
“Good for you, but you don’t have to repay me, I was doing my job,” Bogdan responds.
“No, you should be raising a fund, I’m going to give you some money, so you can start raising funds”.
“He insisted. Then I talked to a few other people, hoping they will tell me this is a bad idea. And all of them said: ‘This sounds like a great thing to do. And this encouraged me to start thinking about it,” Bogdan confessed.
“If I were to start a fund, what should I focus on? Can I bring any value to the market? How can I do things differently, in my way? This is how we started with Underline VC.”
Like swinging from one tree to the following one in a jungle, you cannot catch the next branch until you let go of the first one. Bogdan knew the best choice for How to Web to remain a platform for everybody was to set it free. So, he bestowed the leadership baton to Alexandru Agatinei, CEO of How to Web, former Facilitator at Startup Weekend, and Community Builder at Rubik Hub.
Underline VC - helping others achieve their goals
Bogdan Iordache clarifies what success means for him now. “I measure my success by the success of those I helped achieve their goals.”
“When you become a father, you start focusing more on somebody else. It has profoundly changed me, and it suits me, I like doing that,” he declares.
He shares that by being an investor, you align with helping founders. And he is lucky to get into this, although it wasn’t the plan.
“I’m the general partner and I have two venture partners, Vlad Ionescu, the ex-Head of Growth at UiPath, and Iulian Cîrciumaru, who sold the 7Card (Benefit Seven) to Sodexo a few years back,” Bogdan Iordache describes the managing heads of Underline Ventures.
“The past is not a predictor of the future, yet it seems to be on a good trajectory,” he shares. The market is a reflection that investors want to put money into startups.
The solo GP venture fund leads with €10M and has a target of reaching €20M to invest in early-stage, high-growth Eastern European startups with global ambitions. The fund is backed by 20+ founders from companies like UiPath, Green Horse Games, Telerik, Elrond, MorphL, Smartbill, and CleverTaxi, amongst others.
Bogdan will focus on founder leadership, on helping entrepreneurs do small but correct steps by asking questions like “You want to achieve this goal? What are the options? Have you talked to people who have been through this? Has this worked or not in the end? Why not?”.
He believes founders that want to do something meaningful are the main driver for making technology a force of positive change. And this is the only way they can achieve success in the long term.
Underline VC will focus on pre-seed investments, in early-stage technology startups that can scale at a European or global stage. “You have a significant critical mass of founders that need guidance understanding the venture space and aligning venture constraints to their objectives of growing their business, that need international connections, and exposure,” Bogdan details.
They will target experienced entrepreneurs, but if it makes sense to invest in first-time founders, they will do it. “You have to put your money and time into things that can have an impact,” he affirms.
Picking under the hood of the VC, the general partner doesn’t want to limit their action plan to verticals or solutions. But an investment thesis is tightening around product-led companies and those presenting technical aspects, like deep tech and AI capabilities, especially in the security vertical.
The importance of growth
As he undertakes this new adventure, Bogdan Iordache is aware that growth is an important factor both personally and professionally. “Staying relevant and being useful needs a lot of work,” he admits.
To keep feeling the pulse of the ecosystem, he talks with many founders about their doubts. “I write down the common questions that arise, the answers, the nuances, and the challenges, to be able to debate them internally. It structures my mind.”
To do so, he keeps a fixed schedule of around 10 AM to 8 PM. Afterward, he reads books. “I read the book, and watch interviews or talks of the author to see what the critics say about the book. And sometimes you discover that books that sound amazingly good and scientific are just bull****,” he says candidly.
Thinking of the past two years of hard work building Underline Ventures, I leave Bogdan Iordache dreaming of lazy summer days when he will be able to grab a beer with friends at alt-J and Gogol Bordello concerts.