GET TO KNOW OUR MEMBERS!
In this interview, Mihai Ivascu, Monaco Impact’s youngest serial entrepreneur, talks about what it takes to be a young entrepreneur, how he now helps the new generation of business owners and how blockchain will soon change our lives.
Since the age of 16, Mihai has founded many companies, including M3 Holdings, MoneyMailMeand Modex. Last year, Mihai featured in Forbes’ “30 under 30” list
I. BEING A YOUNG ENTREPRENEUR
1. M-I: You are a young entrepreneur. When did you set up your first company?
Florian: I started my first company when I was 16. It was an internet café. Then I sold it, started a cable telecommunication company, sold that one and moved to Monaco. I then had a software company and media company, Ingenium Media Monaco. After that, I started a Fintech company, MoneyMailMe, a micro-payment app that allows for easy instant money transfers.
That is a “Monaco Impact project” because my first investors in the project were Monaco Impact members. In a way, they also shaped my business as they have had many constructive comments.
For instance, Monaco Impact members and other investors advised me to help charities by adding a feature in our app enabling our users to donate easily to NGOs. It means a lot to me to be a social impact entrepreneur.
Finally, my most recent company is a blockchain project, Modex, “a Smart Contract Marketplace and app ecosystem that allows for easy, user friendly access to crypto-currencies and smart contracts alike”.
I had the pleasure to introduce Monaco Impact members and their guests to my latest venture and to what the blockchain technology is during a talk organized by Monaco Impact at MonacoTech, last October.
2. M-I: What led you to become an entrepreneur so early on in your life?
Mihai: Starting with the internet café, I saw an opportunity and I took it. I saw a niche in the market, a demand with the increase of the use of the internet and of gaming. In the early 2000s, people wanted to go out and play with their friends on computers, and not just go out and play outside.
Since then, I’ve been a serial-entrepreneur, always on the lookout for new opportunities.
II. HELPING THE NEXT GENERATION
1. M-I: Do you have at heart to help young entrepreneurs?
Mihai: Of course. Especially since I know how much support they need.
The Mark Challenge, an international luxury and services business plan competition, organized by the International University of Monaco (IUM), is one project through which I help young entrepreneurs.
When I was doing my MBA at IUM, I started helping the university’s staff with setting up the Challenge. As of now, I’ve helped with the 1st edition, the 2nd, 3rd, 4thand the 5th.
Today, I sponsor the event and mentor the teams. I am happy to be supporting other entrepreneurs. My strategy to help them as much as possible is that instead of giving them the fish, I give them the fishing rod.
I’ve been part of the juries for the Challenge and I really follow-up some projects because young entrepreneurs who do not have a lot of experience need a lot of support. It’s not about the yes’s that they say, it’s about the right no’s.
They need to know when to say no and how to structure the start of their company. The hardest thing in my opinion is to escape the gravity of smallness. That is extremely hard.
At the same time, I teach them that branding is extremely important. They need to brand themselves and the company. They need to work a lot on it and not only on the product.
The new Monaco Impact / MonacoTech partnership is also a new opportunity to help more young entrepreneurs as hopefully I will mentor one or more startups from the Monegasque incubator.
III. HARDSHIPS & REWARDS OF BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR
1. M-I: How hard would you say being a CEO is?
Mihai: Entrepreneurship is not like any other jobs. It is a way of living. There is no work/life balance. It is your life. It is the price to pay to be an entrepreneur. Personally, I could not stop and be something else. I always start a new venture with pleasure and I do not think that I will stop.
I’d say that if young people want to become CEOs, there are many skills required. Entrepreneurship is not for everybody. Because 9/10 of startups fail in the first round. In the second round, 9/10 will fail again. To take a company to over 100$ million in revenues, that’s another 9/10. So technically, your chances of succeeding are 1/1000.
If I’d ask you to put 10$ now on a roulette with chances of winning being 1/1000, would you do it? Probably not.
So when you start a company, you should be aware of the fact that your chances are really low and that it is hard to be better than your competition.
2. M-I: With all of these risks associated with being an entrepreneur, are you afraid of failure?
Mihai: Entrepreneurship is like an extreme sport. There are risks and there is failure because we face many challenges. For instance, you have to manage the money of the investors, of the contributors or operate in a system that is brand-new, like the blockchain, where there are not that many regulations.
It’s tricky, but in my team, we have good lawyers, we are careful, we have been used to building these kinds of ventures for the last ten years, we also know how to work with Boards, with investors and Legal departments. But you always have to be scared. If you are not scared, you are not in the game. You have to be scared, but in a constructive way.
This fear can be frustrating because as an entrepreneur, you identify yourself with this project so you also identify yourself with the failure. But that should not mean that failure is the end of the world.
What young entrepreneurs have to understand is that all entrepreneurs fail at one point.
In the 1990s, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon had 60 meetings with investors to raise USD 1 Million and he was refused every single time, even if he already had a company and an operating business. It shows that even the most successful entrepreneurs have failures and rejections.
What’s important is to understand the stake and the rules of the game. If you don’t, you will think that failure or rejection is the end of the world, but it’s not. It’s just a business failure. What is important is to understand why it failed. Is it because one of the founders left or because the market was not ready for your product? You can be ahead of your time.
For instance, there were many companies that were more advanced than YouTube when YouTube started, but it started two years later than the other ones. Because it entered the market later and because the internet was spread out, their system made sense. Others failed before because videos were not as easy to watch two years before, the internet had not boomed yet.
3. M-I: You were talking about timing. Is Modex not too ahead of its time as blockchain is not yet widely used?
Mihai: We are a bit ahead of our time. That is a challenge and an opportunity at the same time because we are building the road ahead of us.
Blockchain will be present in our lives in about 3 years. It will be everywhere. So we have 3 years to move the project forward and to consolidate our product. It is a challenge because we are competing with companies from all around the world.
In the crypto space, companies from Japan can operate in the same market as companies in the USA or Monaco. They can be very competitive in this market and be direct competitors. It is very different from the retail market. The competition is global and there are big companies.
As we are a small company compared to them, we need to go fast and change the strategy. We need to be aggressive and fight with the big ones. And once you have decided to do that, it is very challenging. The big companies we are facing have many resources but at the same time, they can be slow, they can be dinosaurs, as they are more hierarchical. That is why our strategy is to be fast on the market, add a lot of substance to it and then receive an offer to be bought by a big player.
IV. ENABLING BLOCKCHAIN DEVELOPERS
1. M-I: How is Modex different from other blockchain projects?
Mihai: We have realized that Modex is more than an appstore for blockchain apps.
Developers are such in the early days of blockchain that they are having problems building the apps because it takes a lot of time and they need to go to different places to find the resources to build the app.
That is why we have decided to build a complete infrastructure for them. Modex is not just a marketplace, it is a marketplace with unified developer environment. It means that when developers come to our platform, they have every tool that they need.
We are the first project in the world that provides that. We are empowering developers by renovating the space. Our platform reduces the development time from 2 days to 2 hours. You just write your code, test it, receive, audit — we have developed an auditing tool in the platform, customize and send it.
We are then the first ones to buy the app but it is sold many more times.
We want to provide developers with the funds that they need and pay them in Modex coins.
We wanted to make it easy and to solve the last mile adoption problem of the blockchain.
2. M-I: Which kinds of apps are available on the platform?
Mihai: here are apps that everybody can use in their daily life. You can find an app for a decentralized lottery directly available on your phone, an app connected to your fitness watch: you can have any kind of app that has a blockchain component in them. These apps, or smart contracts, will not be completely different from the ones that we are used to today.
Another example of app is when I am on a plane and I order a water that I have to pay for, the steward does not know who I am and has to ask for my credit card. With blockchain, the water can be paid for without me having to take out my credit card. This example shows how blockchain is invisible and is an interlink between systems.
V. FORESEEING THE IMPACT OF BLOCKCHAIN
1. M-I: It seems that blockchain will create a new way of life then, right?
Mihai: Absolutely, that it because in the blockchain, you have a clear identity, people who have access to it know who you are. And that solves many problems because trust is restored.
That will trigger a lot of efficiency improvement in banks, companies, everywhere. A lot of third parties will disappear with the introduction of the self-enforcing technology. In airports for instance, there will be no need to check your passport and visa because they already know who you are.
Another example is microlending, a banking service that is currently a problem for students. They need small amounts of money but lenders are reluctant because they are never sure that they will get their money back.
With blockchain, a smart contract exist so the lender knows exactly when the money will be repaid because the contract will execute itself automatically. Self-executing relations are built by the blockchain between companies and individuals. The lending problem is solved.
2. M-I: Does that meant that banks will cease to exist?
Mihai: No, but they will not exist in the same form as we know them today.
For this interview, we have now been seating 30 minutes at this table. If you have 50 euros in your pockets, during that time, they have not been used. What if your money was put to work during that time for someone that needs it anywhere in the world and would pay you 50 cents in return for it?
There would be a smart contract so that you would know for sure that you would be paid back and you would also know exactly when. That’s the new bank. There will be a lot of small interactions and we will become our own banks.
A 1000 euros loan can come from 1000 loaners each loaning 1 euro. Money will flow in a different way. There will be more appetite for spending and the market will be more fluid.
3. M-I: Do we know just how much blockchain will affect our lives?
Mihai: Blockchain is considered to be the second internet. When the internet came, at first we could only think about a few functionalities and a limited vision of the impact that it would have on our lives because our minds could not even imagine all of its capacities.
It is the same with blockchain. This is why at Modex, we did not start developing the apps ourselves but created a place where the apps could be created because all of the apps that can be developed are too much to think about. We thought that we’d better offer the tools for the miners going to the gold rush than be the miners.
We want to be an enabler in the market, and that is very powerful.