Alin Popescu started avocatnet.ro as a hobby, in 2001. In 2008, he gave up his career in law to become an entrepreneur, focusing on avocatnet.ro team and business objectives.
In the following years, avocatnet.ro went beyond the “legal website” label and became the biggest online business community in Romania.
Now, avocatnet.ro is the largest Romanian online law, economic & financial community, with more than 850.000 registered members and 2.800.000 monthly visitors and one of the biggest legal online networks in the world according to SimilarWeb. In 2013, private equity and venture capital fund Catalyst România invested in avocatnet.ro.
Alin Popescu has written four books (all related to internet law and business issues) and told many stories on different scenes in various events. He also helped in drafting legislation related to the internet business.
I was curious to know more about Alin’s experience developing avocatnet.ro in the past eighteen years, so I’ve asked him a few questions. Find his answers below.
[bctt tweet=”Avocatnet.ro CEO&founder Alin Popescu: It doesn’t matter how much money you make if neither the power nor the projects nor the limits you exceed are out of balance.” username=”brand_minds”]
1. Name three lessons you learned in your private life that enriched your business-running skills.
I learned a long time ago that if you want to have a fulfilled life, it is essential to have something to do, someone to love and something to hope for. I positioned this idea as a significant direction in my life.
It doesn’t matter how much money you make if neither the power nor the projects nor the limits you exceed are out of balance. Work brings great results, so it is worthwhile to work hard for the things that matter to you, but you must know how to recover after such periods.
After a long time in which I had lost myself in all sorts of failed experiments, I realised business was not a part of my life. I also realised I couldn’t change into a new person, a husband and a father when I got home to my family, who had no connection with the businessman. So I embraced the idea that my life had them all at once, in a mix that needs to be balanced, in which all these things must coexist and not get in the way of each other.
It is important, though, especially for those who are used to being bosses at the office, to leave your crown in the garage when you get home. It is a principle I have heard from Indra Nooyi, which, in my opinion, defines someone’s relationship with their family. Many of the problems at home come from the fact that we carry with us, like potato sacks, the functions and habits of the office. At home, whether we want it or not, the relationship we have with our family members is not one of subordination, but a more complex one, which has nothing to do with hierarchy. Respecting this principle is important for your mental health :).
2. You are a successful founder and CEO. What fears did you have to overcome?
Success is relative. And I don’t think there can be such an extraordinary bird that lives in the madness of Hiroshima or Chernobyl. Although the media and the modern world present it exactly this way: out of context, fixed on a super niche of one’s life, etc. Success is, in this way, a kind of diploma that we all hang on the wall, trying to prove to others that we deserve their attention.
And this is also why one of the diseases of modern man is the so-called impostor syndrome. Nature has given us the awareness that we should balance things, not just perform in certain areas of our lives, so it is complicated to live with all those diplomas. They are true millstones, preventing us from doing all the extraordinary things we could do.
Eighteen years ago, when avocatnet.ro launched, I wanted to reach a million people. To help each of them solve a problem, no matter how small. As it turned out, I was thinking impractically. Dreams often do not have that practical component like “good, you got there, now what are you doing?”.
So, when we happened to reach these people, a few years since launch, we had to learn how to build a business on the go. And we learned the idea that a project that helps people has to live. And, slowly, we developed a mindset and many, many other things. We started to help various associations and foundations, which build the infrastructure for multiple problems of our readers. We have created services and products to help us monetise part of the audience so that we could continue both social and commercial projects. We have invested in technology, in machine learning and many more, because if you cannot keep up with the society you live in, you are facing a slow and painful failure.
Today, avocatnet.ro reaches, every year, over three-quarters of the Romanians connected to the Internet. To these people, we explain the Romanian legislation. There are many places where different people thank us for the impact we had on their lives. But, to get here, we had to, one by one, understand how to build a community, how to develop products and services online, how to do eCommerce, how to do online marketing, how to build a business, to manage a business, how to make money, how to spend money correctly, and many more.
And I had to understand that I had a pretty strong introvert component, that it was much easier for me to talk to a crowd than it was to speak to a single person, and that, although I did not have a relationship with money, finances should interest me, though, because they are one of the critical fuels of our lives.
3. What was the most challenging moment developing avocatnet.ro?
The defining moment for us was when we were a few days away from potential bankruptcy. We bet a lot on the construction of a legislative software, which would update and provide the Romanian legislation in full. We built the project, attracted investment and subsequently failed to push it on the market.
We had to pivot and build all the services that now support our budget (avocatnet.ro premium and the online courses we sell). We have lost, somehow, throughout this period, a few years in which we could have grown. We are, however, at a moment when we have definitely overcome all these problems, and I am glad because there is nothing more stressful than having a financial deadlock when you call your suppliers waiting to get paid only to repeat the same sorry excuses like a broken robot.
4. You have been running avocatnet.ro for 18 years. In a world where Silicone Valley startup founders grow their companies as fast as possible with the goal of selling them later to investors, what are your recommendations for entrepreneurs looking to develop their businesses in the long term?
I believe more in long term businesses than in those that have been majorly inflated over a short time and sold afterwards to others who continue playing the same game. And I think that from many perspectives. It’s weird for projects that never get the maturity they might need. It is stressful for the entrepreneurs, who are the perfect mice running on a wheel.
[bctt tweet=”Avocatnet.ro CEO&founder Alin Popescu: Don’t rely on one chance, because things might not work out that way.” username=”brand_minds”]
And, more importantly, it is bad for society. Because a steroid-increased project has much more chances to fail than to succeed. Most do. And the people who work for these projects are thus trapped in a flood of uncertainty that is transposed into their daily lives.
Do we wonder why our society is becoming more and more strange?
Maybe that’s one of the reasons why. We live in times when landmarks we used to consider poles of society for many years (job, family, peace of mind) are transformed into something else, perhaps as interesting, but difficult to understand now.
If I were to give someone advice, I would advise them to envision their life for the next ten years at least. Think about how their business and their life can be combined all this time. Don’t rely on one chance, because things might not work out that way. And nothing is harder than waking up at 40 or 50 years old, confused, in a world that has changed so much that you find it very difficult to adapt to.
[bctt tweet=”Alin Popescu (CEO Avocatnet.ro): We talk about the Internet of Things now, but soon enough we will talk about the Internet of Bodies.” username=”brand_minds”]
5. Technology for established businesses: friend or foe?
I think technology, at least for now, is just a tool. Technology is neither a friend nor an enemy. The people behind the technology, however, are many. For business or other reasons, technology is becoming more and more a means of manipulating our will, attention and desires. And that will not help us, in the not too distant future.
If we talk about the internet of things now, soon we will also talk about the internet of bodies. We may not care what the smart vacuum cleaner does or what the smart fridge does, but it will definitely matter if the artificial, smart pancreas turns against us. If an older man calls his nephew or granddaughter to help him pay the ransom in bitcoin because otherwise, he cannot access the pancreas he needs to live.
Technology is, in many ways, the greatest good that has happened to us, humans. It has expanded our experiences in a way that we cannot fully understand even now. However, we must pay attention to how we interact with technological development in the future, because the golden age we are living now, that of primordial discoveries, will quickly change into a chase after gold, when corporations, states or various individuals will understand that they can use our data, equipment or mind in a much more harmful way.
And this without talking about AI and its unpredictable future.
6. You are a proud and responsible father to Ana, your daughter. How do you achieve the much sought after work-life balance?
It’s hard to say I reached the balance I was talking about. My wife has the same type of problem. As a doctor, it is easier for my wife to solve this particular problem by explaining to Anna that a child was suffering and had to operate or do who knows what other procedure. If we are to joke, being a doctor is still an extra power in the eyes of children.
But we strive to find that balance. And there is nothing more difficult for parents to digest than their child telling them to put the phone away, in certain moments. So I tried to involve Ana, who is now seven years old, in the things I do at the office. To understand why I talk to certain people, why it is important to respond to certain things at certain times. And children understand these things. You give them the power to feel like great people, to lead the world from other positions than they have now.
And without a doubt, it helped me a lot to leave my crown in the garage when I got home. Because Ana, sweet as she is, does not accept masters. She accepts only people she can partner with, to help her forget that she is a child and has no power over the world around her.
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