Born in Bucharest, George Lazăr is a 43 years old CEO with an experience that goes back to the beginning of banking industry in Romania. With a passion for computers and technology that first started when he was 14 years old that never actually stopped, combined with pragmatism and prudence, you have a man with a stable vision that besides building visionary apps ahead of their time, he launched a bank in Romania.
Tell us a few words about how your company started.
When I started the company alongside my 2 associates in 2015, we wanted to do things differently by using our experience from the years we spent in the industry. We want our partnership with our clients to be a fruitful journey. When we work on a project we bring a new perspective, because we understand our client better than others. Our experience has taught us that you must have a larger perspective in order to anticipate your clients’ needs.
What drives you each day?
I have always tried to do things very well. I do not like half-done projects – it generates redundancies and inefficiencies in my activity and displease my clients – so I encourage the people around me to act accordingly. I teach my colleagues from my experience to do things with passion and professionalism.
What do you believe are the 3 main accomplishments that brought you here today?
I believe that firstly comes my permanent desire to learn and to do things well. Even as we speak I learn. I never stop learning. It is something natural, each new step to knowledge brings the next one and so on. After high school, I started my education at the Faculty of Mathematics at Bucharest University, and soon after I realized I need to complete my education and started the Faculty of Cybernetics at ASE. In 2007, I felt that I lacked some business and management knowledge, so I started an MBA. I didn’t start this MBA because I wanted to find a job, or to increase my salary three times, but because I wanted to learn new things and to have new perspective. I learnt to approach complex problems from new perspectives and I believe it helped me to better understand the reality that I work in. It helped me to see “the big picture”.
The second is the first meeting with a computer which happened somewhere around 1987-1988. My first computer was a Spectrum ZX 128k and it was something amazing back then. I was 14 years old and the computer only had 128k RAM, it was top notch, and it ignited my passion! The possibility to self-learn was almost a beautiful dream, the internet did not exist and it was hard to study, but I did it, driven by my passion.
Third comes the meeting with the internet, that happened somewhere around its prehistoric era. The www was still in text mode, but I found very interesting information. At each job I learned new things. At my first job, at Rasaq Stock Market, a very avant-garde project for Romania in 1996, I learned about networks, OS, business, to name a few. For Romania, in those years, to allow a number of over 200 companies to connect remotely and trade shares to over 5,000 entities it was extraordinary. Being an employee close to the start of the company’s activity, I managed to learn a lot, but most importantly, I learned how to be a professional.
What do you believe are the 3 main failures that brought you here today?
I don’t believe my failures have brought me here today, but rather my need for perfection. I haven’t met errors or very problematic situations – maybe because my need for perfection is doubled by my prudence. Structurally, I do not hurry and I do not panic when there are critical situations. I strongly believe that any problem has at least one solution – a thing I learned at the Mathematics Faculty. Also, I am very fair. I believe this counted as much as the others. I do not panic and I do not waiver from my professional standard.
Do you ever disconnect from the office? How?
Disconnecting from office. In theory, yes. My laptop is part of my holidays “must-have-in-bag”. Even before being an entrepreneur, as long as I had critical infrastructure in my responsibility, I couldn’t be disconnected permanently. I never had the luxury of being part of large teams, so disconnecting from the office is quite hard to accomplish. How do I do it? Sports – skiing, biking, basketball, travelling, everything my time allows me to do. Besides that, I read a lot – business and fiction – Science Fiction to be more specific.
Do you have any books you wish you could forget just so you can read it again?
Unfortunately, I have an excellent memory and it takes a long time for me to forget the books I read. But yes, I enjoy reading good books again because with every new read I discover new things or I see it differently. One of the series I have read several times is the Dune Series.
Education – classic or alternative? Both?
Hard to tell. In the classroom, one can learn new and different things. The quality of standard education is directly related to the average level of your classmates: If most of the students are brilliant, the professor chooses to teach at a higher level and the other students will not learn anything. If the level of most of the students is below average, then standard education is less valuable than alternative education. In my opinion, a combination of standard and alternative education is the best solution.
Now tells us more about the business you are running.
We work for the banking industry; we develop modules together with the specialists in the field. What we bring is experience, innovation, more complex modules than they can develop and cheaper than if they started to develop them themselves. We are determined to bring value and efficiency, all at reasonable costs.
What is your most beloved project you worked on?
I do not have one, but three projects:
The first one is a bond transaction app, the first of its kind in Romania, in 2000. Unfortunately, Romania was not ready for that, as the interest rates were very high, so issuing bonds was not profitable. The project was successful IT wise, but business wise it had a low impact. The primary market (the primary offer, listing the bonds) and the secondary market (transacting the bonds), started to be successful a few years later. We were there first, but too early for the business market.
The second one happened 10 years ago when I had a very complex project inside the bank I was working. I completely changed, across 2 years, the old systems: infrastructure, hardware, software, network, the core banking system, I installed card systems and made internet banking functional.
The third one, and very few people in Romania and even the world can say they had such an opportunity, was a greenfield project. To be more precise, I launched a new bank. It was an ambitious and complex project of which I am very proud.
What project forced you to be creative and innovative
Unfortunately, in my field of work, creativity does not follow the classic definition. Creativity for me means to find extremely efficient solutions because the industry I work in is extremely rigorous and does not allow for experiments, and I mean that in a good way. Working in banking for the time I have, one develops an aversion towards risks, everything must be well tested before, thus creativity appears when you choose one or more solutions from a somewhat limited series.
What was the biggest struggle?
We were going to launch a product at a conference where the President of Romania was going to be in attendance and 2 nights before the event we did not have everything in order. The pressure was extremely high and given the launch it was a great challenge but yes, I managed it well that time too.
What makes your company different from others in your field of expertise
I have the clients’ experience as well, as I was an IT manager in banks for more than 10 years, thus we understand very well the client and their needs. We want our projects to be finalized in a professional way, that’s why we have a different approach.
How are your products innovative?
Right now our products are focused on the consumer’s experience. And then everything that translates to a modern app: simplicity, elegance, easy to use and learn.
It is innovative because everything it does, as a result of our programming, makes it easier for the user.
Who is the biggest innovator for you?
An extraordinary innovator is Gutenberg. Developing the printing press gave us the possibility to learn, by multiplying the books at a much faster rate than the scribes and monks in monasteries.
In the same time, Elon Musk is a great visionary and I believe he managed to revolutionize several industries. PayPal money service struck a revolution when it comes to payments, SpaceX is the first private company that launched rockets on our planets orbit, Tesla Motors raised the standards in the auto industry by having the electric automobiles. Next is Hyperloop One and colonizing Mars.
What advice do you have for a young entrepreneur?
Do what you know. If you want to make it in a certain field, it must be one that you know very well. You will not have success in a field you do not know. There are many challenges even if you know it. Going from employee to employer is not very simple. You should start reading some business books, understand how the market works, how supply and demand work, even if it is a small market, not very elastic, there are laws that you have to understand. Understand the power of marketing, especially online and social media… and to be patient. That success won’t come right away, just because you want to became an entrepreneur.
Smart Alliance – Innovation Technology Cluster
Why did you join Smart Alliance – Innovation Technology Cluster?
I found the people in Smart Alliance, my peers, entrepreneurs resembling myself, some who have been entrepreneurs for longer, and Romanian companies that want to do things differently, better and more professionally in their own area of expertise.
How does it benefit you?
Brand awareness is our first benefit; we already collaborate with a few companies from the cluster and we will have joint projects.
How do you see your company as being part of the cluster?
Each company from the cluster delivers very well and together we can deliver even more complex projects for our clients.
How do you see the evolution of the cluster?
We want this cluster to grow organically, slowly, we do not want an explosive growth, but to bring in members that share our vision. Bring on more offerings for its members, organize more and more events about technology and what the cluster can do for its Romanian clients.