Meet the CxO – Valentin Negroiu, CEO Digi-Soft
Valentin Negroiu is one of the youngest CEO’s of our cluster. Having only 35 years, his company delivers project for some of the biggest players in retail, among other industries and has a very positive and calm attitude. He is a man in a continuous search of balance and has a powerful vision that helps him to keep his cool in the most dire times. This specific type of vision helped his team and company to become better and, in time, to outlive his competitors through innovation and word of mouth.
Tell us a few words about how your company started.
The company started prior to 2007 based on identified and specific business need for a local cutting-edge supply chain solution that would cover the demands of large retailers for their sizable distribution centers supplying nation-wide.
The startup of the company was focused on the demands and alignment with our customers on customized business processes for receiving, storing, distributing and monitoring food and ambient produce and later evolved in software business solutions which at that time were the most technologically advanced solutions in Eastern Europe (according to the newspapers).
What drives you each day?
A BMW 5 series. 🙂
Achievement of goals. The feeling of having a custom solution built from scratch which is used by client for improving their operational processes, business reporting and ultimately improving their bottom-line financial results. We are extremely proud every time when we see another of our solutions implemented and accepted 100% by the users, and that gives us the hunger and energy drive to move forward to the next challenge. Is a very powerful reward system for all people in our organization.
In the same time our team sells itself, as we do not have any salesman in our company. Our biggest marketing strategy is the way our products interact with the specifics of every company and we are recommended by those for which we managed to develop a real solution for a real need.
What do you believe is the main personal characteristic that brought you here today?
First of all, I’ve always had this urge for personal development. It is this feeling that I need to do or obtain more. One would say that I’m more of a materialistic person, but that is not it what made me who I am. Working in a multinational from a young age I soon discovered what organizations means and how Management is performed.
I come from a modest family and there were plenty of times when I couldn’t have what I desired. This was at first the main reason that pushed me to become better. Growing and become more mature made me realize that there is more to life than money – for example, one of my dreams is to retreat on an island and go fishing every day, apart from crowdie towns & noise generators. Maybe this is the main learning in life – to be able to understand the ecosystem you work and live in, and in the same time cover the need of having equilibrium over all the ‘bubbles’.vThis equilibrium is what actually helped me to be in business after or challenges we had.
What do you believe is the main failure that brought you here today?
I always wanted to have a career in sport. I even went in the high school’s basketball team but I realized sport was not for me. I shifted for IT&C because it was (and it still is) the direction for our future. Therefore, I ended up doing 5 and a half years at The Bucharest University Of Economic Studies, with a major in Cybernetics.
I doubled my studies from first year when I got a job. That’s how I got to be an “operator help” – is that job when you help the guy who knows nothing in IT. You were being sent to press the power button because it was hidden in plain sight, helping with cables, peripherals, stuff like that. This is how I managed to meet with the GM of the corporation at that time who earned at that time some unimaginable salary. When I was in his office I honestly felt I was sitting next to God. After 15 years of experience and learning, my confidence made me acknowledge myself as a person who has a very good know-how in its field of work. I can stay in the same room with the president of the United States and I wouldn’t be baffled. Bear in mind that I am not comparing our titles nor responsibilities, but state the fact that we are humans and we should start from an equal position.
Do you ever disconnect from the office? How?
Sleep late and don’t give a shit.
We self-learned that high performance in the business environment has to be balanced with a strong disconnect from time to time in the form of a break or holiday, and even for a few hours in a day.
It is hard to disconnect, even though we know it has to be done. Emails are still running through my mind late at night, even when I am at home.
However, we learned and everyone in the team learned, that having a balanced mind will always create the right foundation from where life and work challenges can be met.
Personally, I prefer to go out in nature, having an active life mountain biking or even kite surfing (a new challenge I took this year) or just relax and do nothing on a beach or at the mountain side. I also ensure that everybody, in time, takes these breaks and have the space when they need to step out and rebalance after a tumultuous project development or implementation or managing a difficult business situation.
Do you have any books you wish you could forget just so you can read it again?
I wouldn’t like to forget some of the amazing books I have read so far. Their meaning sits at the core of my philosophy and approach I take in life. Some of the books are so intense that every time I re-read them they convey another message, subtler from last time I read them. Is like they adapt their message as I grow and evolve my understanding of life.
Now tells us more about the business you are running. Let’s start with the number of clients you currently work on
We provide services and solutions both nationally and internationally. We cover quite a diverse range of industries; however, the coverage is very much dependent on the type of service offered.
Our core focus and expertise are in providing tailor-made business solutions that provide our customers with competitive strategic advantage in the industries they operate and a cutting edge in the technology employed and business processes used. Some of our customers are leaders in retail and wholesale, end-to-end supply chain, logistic and transport providers. We also provide customized business solutions to HORECA customers and even for ecological management companies.
We also offer standard IT services e.g. Oracle management, hosting to several other industries such as financial institutions, marketing companies and even for telecom companies.
Name a few of the biggest clients you work for
As mentioned above we work in partnership with some of the leading retailers and end-to-end supply chain companies in Romania and in the region. We work in partnership with them to create the best fit processes and software solutions that will give them a competitive edge in efficiency and optimization of resources, which in turn allows them to adapt to their market needs and thus enable further growth/ expansion and exposure within the industries they operate. Some of our solutions and part of our clients may be found in our website ( www.digi-soft.ro ).
Name a few of the projects that made you a force to be reckon on the market.
I would start with how we understand the market dynamic. We found that the Romanian market is not as stable as in other more developed countries such as UK, France, Germany, thus allowing a progression of certain solutions to evolve in time and be reckoned with by other competitors, thus achieving a recognition in the long run of being the best in class.
Truth is that we have seen in almost every industry we operate that even the most powerful, leading companies have unfolded. Ideally, each software and IT company will chase for the strongest companies in their fields, as the opportunity to have a long-term relationship and contract with them will minimize the risk of losing services and thus revenue.
We went out and we provided services and solutions to top companies, which in those times were leaders in their industries, each expanding tremendously and providing us with the right mix of services and resources for us to expand, to learn more, to improve our solutions.
To our dismay, some of these large companies in time have imploded. Due to different reasons, could be strategies were not effective any longer, the financial crisis created contraction, and so on.
So we came to realize that the market is dynamic and we cannot rely on one outstanding solution, even if that solution was a force to be reckon at that time, as the players in an industry have changed and continue to shift all the time.
However, we learned one of the thoughest business lessons I think all companies in Romania are faced with (at one stage or another). Adapt or you will not survive. I say this having in mind that some of our strongest and biggest competitors from 10 years ago are no longer on the market. Today we have other competitors, as the market for IT solutions divided into fractions.
So, I would say, from our perspective and experience, it is adaptability which is the vital business capability a company needs to grow and have in Romania – and not the projects that become a force to be reckon with – these projects, even the best in the region at a certain moment in time, have a short life cycle and thus you have to start again.
We had to adapt our solutions to several other industries, we have dealt with large customers disappearing and working our way (and thus services) to the new players, in such a way that our company will continue to provide the cutting-edge solutions and technologies to the new market leaders in their industries.
I think all our solutions and specifically supply chain and retail are the best customized solutions on the Romanian market. I know is a bold statement… but why do I say this?
First, because at different moments since we have started our business in Romania, we won several times projects against renown French, German and British solutions. We are cost effective, solutions more flexible and more adaptable to local conditions, with a strong local user support.
Secondly, because in Romanian we have pioneered solutions in retail and supply chain. For the past 10-12 years our teams have provided the best in class services and solutions to retailers and supply chain companies and we have gathered a lengthy experience witnessing and servicing the growth of these industries in Romania (from inception to now) which no other consulting company can offer.
As always, the challenge remains to make this experience and cutting edge solution known to the new, ever changing players.
What is your most beloved project you worked on?
I will always consider my first project of rolling out a very complex integrated solution for the massive logistic warehouses of a large leading retailer as one of the most exciting and exhilarating professional experiences I had. Seeing daily hundreds of logistic personnel, hundreds of trucks loaded going to multiple stores receiving the goods (national and regional), all done on a technological platform and business processes which were built by us (our teams) is amazing. Even though we knew what we wanted our platform to deliver, seeing it made us so proud that created an insatiable hunger to do more and more projects like this. To see the changes you bring in such large-scale organizations is an unique experience and its different for every client you deliver.
What project forced you to be creative and innovative
All projects require creativity and innovation. Every challenge requires a fresh look at the business context and environment in which your customer operates and the possible competition you face. So, we are constantly forced to be creative and innovative with every solution and every deployment.
A major challenge we faced was in the area of mobile technology. Hardware and software capabilities have evolved at a fast pace and we faced at one stage the challenge of moving into completely new technology such as mobile devices for all our operational solutions – we had to adapt or in time face a slow demise. We gathered all our strengths, gathered all our teams and together we learned and deployed the new project technologies virtually overnight. The pace to which we made the change from the older versions/ technologies was tremendous, even now I am amazed how well and how effective we have done the shift.
What was the biggest struggle?
The biggest struggle is that we continuously face the economic instability. I don’t mean Romanian economy as a whole, but the rate of change of major players in the industries we operate and offer solutions. The retail landscape today is different from 10 years ago, major companies have folded or have been bought. Same in banking sector and also in logistic and transport. Big players come and go. Our customers grow exponentially, we grow with them and one day they found themselves unable to sustain their businesses.
We, then, are left to find new customers in a shifting market. Solutions which we have built over the years and have provided good streams of revenues can overnight be closed.
Afterwards the only solutions are to start fresh again, armed with only our experience and the possibility of re-using some of the solutions which until then were successful. Is very hard to find these days a long-term partner and build a pool of customers who you can rely for many years to come.
What makes your company different from others in your field of expertise
We are the fucking best.
Our experience spans several years from the beginning of supply chain, retail and logistics industries in Romania. Romanian economy is a young economy and we were there since the beginning of these industries’ modernization offering pioneering solutions to the largest and most successful companies. So, in time, we have accumulated a tremendous expertise and specialization in understanding the complex needs of our customers, with a strong business analysis and business process optimization acumen across all our consultants. That allows us to move in a project swiftly, have a fast-paced deployment and provide a high level of training and support to our customers.
How are your products innovative?
Our products are best in class because are used and have been built together with the top companies in their fields. Not only our solutions offer a wide range of process and technological support, but also our consultants together with the customer teams work continuously to improve and optimize operations, thus constantly evolving the solutions and the know-how of our customers and ours.
What advice do you have for a young entrepreneur?
Believe in yourself. Know that not all roads are smooth and be ready to encounter failure from to time to time and most importantly… learn from failure! Don’t get failure get the better of you – get up and continue walking. If you have success, celebrate! Always look after your teams as you would look after you.
Patience. Perseverance. Passion, even if not rewarded.
What do you want to accomplish in the next year?
We need to capitalize in some of the areas we have been developing such as e-commerce and mobile technology.
What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?
It is hard to plan 5 years in a shifting economic environment. However, for us the business and company fundamentals remain: you always aim as shareholder and executive manager that your company will continue to grow the pool of clients, increase revenue, have solid foundation with our partners to sustain growth and ensure the best interests of your teams are met. If all these are met in the next 5 years I think we will continue to be in a very good position.
Why did you join Smart Alliance – Innovation Technology Cluster?
I think is a necessity in the current business environment in Romania. There has been too much fragmentation in the IT services market with providers coming, going, breaking up into smaller parts. As such Romanian IT doesn’t have a solid shape similar to the ones you see in developed countries such as UK, France and Germany. Their IT companies have grown from strength to strength and have become recognized as best practices in the respective countries.
I think the IT market in Romania is still young when it comes to technologies offered and penetration. Too many players are easy prey for larger foreign IT companies.
So, it makes sense to unite the Romanian IT companies in clusters. A cluster can provide more services, can provide stronger exposure in marketing campaigns and events for its members, participation with a high chance of success in large bids with large companies and thus providing the power to compete against some of the larger foreign IT companies.
United we can be stronger. A cluster can provide the synergies which the individual companies cannot achieve.
How does it benefit you?
Sharing of information and networking are the most important advantages we have experienced so far. Also bidding together with cluster partners in our projects increase the competitiveness of our service offer.
How do you see your company as being part of the cluster?
We are best in our fields and expertise. Our partners are also the top performing solution providers in their fields. Putting together complimentary resources increases the potential and confidence to tackle more difficult projects and creates the collaborative environment for win-win situations.
How do you see the evolution of the cluster?
We have plans to grow and increase marketing coverage. This will benefit the members with brand management and further exposure of their solutions and service. We believe this a winning strategy for the long term.