Patrick Nordstjærne is a Dane who came to Romania in late 2010. He decided to leave the corporate world and start out on his own. The founder of the social network Let’s Meet in Romania, in 2014, he developed Sibus – Simplicity in Business, an online platform that connects small and medium-sized companies with local professionals: accountants, auditors and lawyers.
By Daniela Oancea
Has the business environment changed much since 2010, when you first came here?
No, I don`t think so. I recognize that we have financial growth in certain sectors, but overall, the business environment hasn’t changed much. The businesspeople and the foundation of business in Romania are the same. There is the same level of not trusting people, and this is the core reason why this country is not moving forward. Here, when two people meet, they think: “I don’t trust him, he is going to cheat me and he`s making a whole lot more money than me.” Because they think like this, it’s easy to step away. This is mainly because people were cheated in the past. They are used to thinking: “This man is going to cheat me.” In this country we say no to things, without even understanding why we say no. We just say no. To say no is safer than saying yes and trying to understand.
What made you leave your corporate position as a financial manager, for entrepreneurship?
I was always stuck in an office, getting paid for doing something very specialized, but inside I was thinking: of course I can do this, I have proven that I can, but I can do a lot more. I wanted to go there. Just like in the playground when your mother tells you to play here where she can see you. And every time she looks away, you are crawling over there, because the bigger toys are there, and you want to play with them. And every time she sees you’re leaving, she pulls you back. I was always like that: if I saw that something could be done and nobody else was doing it, or they tried to do it and failed, I`d be like: give it to me! When I see something and I know it can be done, I need to do it.
So why did I quit my corporate work? Because it was time, and I’m realizing this today and I want other people to realize it too. No matter how good I am at something, I can be the best in anything I want to be. Also, no matter how good I am, someone could come up to me and say: You are fired! And when you are fired, it forces you to rethink everything that you were and everything that you are and it forces you to look ahead and see what’s out there. I think this is typical for many people today. They sit and keep on sitting and forget that the future is ahead of them, and this is what we need to prepare for.
What is the business model behind Sibus and what makes you think it will be successful?
We have not created anything revolutionary; this business relies on one main principle: that businesspeople need to meet. Businesses – they all need an accountant at some point, an auditor or a lawyer, that’s a fact. These people over here are looking for those people over there. No matter how good you are, there always will be ups and downs. We provide a service to the businesses; we help our partners find what they need, at times when they need it. When do they need it? Well, maybe they just lost a client; maybe they have an employee with available resources. We are here and we can offer a steady supply of new business to our partners. That`s what we do: we connect businesses online.
You told me that you almost failed as an entrepreneur in 2014. Why was that?
I wouldn’t use that term. My attention to my first business, Let’s Meet, failed. I started Sibus in May 2014. The idea came to me after Let`s Meet (2011) – when we started bringing business people together – this is the core of anything that happens in this world. We are dealing with small businesses – these people need to meet. I am an example of this myself. When I arrived here in 2010, I had 60 friends on Facebook. I knew no Romanians. Three years later, I had 1,500 Romanian friends on Facebook, I had founded the social network Let`s Meet and I was meeting people all the time. Everything that I have today is because I was meeting people then. What I do now is done online. I can sit in Bucharest and do business in Sofia, Chisinau, Cluj, Timisoara, Oradea. We have started doing business in Berlin, Hamburg and Munich now. Online allows us to go to places in the blink of an eye. I can start an advertising campaign tomorrow, at 10 am in Paris, and by noon, I’d have my first client looking to meet a professional from my database.
How much have you invested in this platform?
Everything! Everything I own has been invested in this platform over time. In terms of money, I invested EUR 25-30,000 myself. I have been in Romania for seven years now. Even if I don’t speak Romanian, when people ask me why am I here, I reply: I am here because I believe so much in what I’m doing, that I invested everything I had in it. My business relies 100 percent on online advertising, either on Google or Facebook. In Germany right now, Google is producing 90 percent of our revenue. My business model works like this: it is free for the client, he can ask for my help for free. Our partners pay us money to meet the clients (small and medium-sized companies). Where do you go when you are looking for stuff, today? You go online, to Google and you write: Accountant in Bucharest. In Berlin they write: “Ich suche einen Buchhalter in Berlin”. We are spending EUR 30,000 per year on Google advertising in Romania, but my advertising budget on Google in Germany is planned to be EUR 300,000 next year.
What are your recommendations for a young entrepreneur who would like to start a business?
Online, online, online, don`t do anything physical. I see people opening up stores and shutting them down all the time, and if you start to consider how much money it takes to open up a coffee shop or a bar, you will see that you get nowhere with EUR 30,000, while with EUR 10,000, you’ll have an online business. You need money to start, and I am not saying you need a lot, because you can definitely work smart with less money. You get it from people who know you and trust you, in the initial stage. This is important, because at the initial stage nobody trusts you: you are just another amateur, like all the rest, and this is how people look at you. They look at you and think: “You will fail!” And if we look at the statistics, they are right, because 95 percent of start-up businesses die in the first year.
The other thing you need is to trust in yourself. You need to have confidence, to be really good and hard-working. You will not be successful in this life just because you think you deserve it, because you have rich parents, or because you think that your idea is good. No! You need to work your ass off.
The recipe of success is: hard work. There are no shortcuts. And if you think that you’ve discovered a shortcut to make you rich and you think you are the only one who has seen it and nobody else sees it, you are an idiot. What does it take to make an online business work in Romania, then? You must have a good idea; you must have money and good people around you. But you also need to be there at the right moment. Timing is everything.
What kind of skills do you look for in people?
People skills. I need to work with people that are positive and smiling, that are energetic and trustful. I need to work with people who think that this can be done, I train them every morning; we talk about everything that can be done. I hate negativity: “No, I cannot do it; no, it is wrong.” I am like: “Move forward, let`s do it!” And when you start thinking like that, the whole world opens up to you because you realize that everything can be done and trust me: IT CAN!!
I am a little bit crazy and you have to be a little bit crazy when you do what I do. You have to believe it can be done, even when it`s almost impossible, and you still do it. You have to do it, it needs to happen!
What are your expectations for 2018?
My business, Sibus, will be four years old next year and I intend to make it an empire. We are going to be in six countries. Next year we`ll be in Spain, Italy and France. If I can find German speakers in Bucharest, I`ll find people who speak French, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian, too. Can I find English-speaking people in Bucharest? Yes, then let`s do business in the UK, in Ireland, in Canada and the US.
I would like to make at least EUR 1 million in revenue. I think that Germany will bring me EUR 600,000, and the rest is going to come from a combination of Austria, Hungary, and either France or Italy. I am also looking for investors. I want people to know that investing in this business is going to be a gold mine. We are going to produce a very successful story – made in Romania.
My ambition is to get my company listed on the Bucharest stock exchange and that’s exactly what we are going to do. A business that relies on connecting people is based on trust. I try to build trust with every person I meet, everywhere I go. I try to produce benefits for all the people I meet, all the time. I am looking to see what you need and she needs and say: Meet!
Founder and owner
Sibus, Simplicity in Business
He holds an MSc degree in Business Economics and Auditing from Copenhagen Business School. For 11 years, he worked as a Financial Auditor in Copenhagen for companies such as E&Y and KPMG – specializing in international activities within the Technology/Banking/Medico/Pharma sectors. Furthermore, he headed group finance teams for Danish companies such as Radiometer Medical, Carlsberg Breweries and Firstline Real-Estates.