This month we sat down and talked to Eli Bernal – a passionate entrepreneur of the tech world with more than 10 years experience working in both start ups and large corporations as a Business Strategy & Development Manager, Project & Product manager, Marketing & Sales Director. Currently, Eli is a mentor for Volvero who is supporting us in the launch of the pilot in Tour & Taxis, Brussels.
Scroll down to get valuable insights about entrepreneurship, keys to success of a start-up, Eli’s journey as a mentor, and technology!
5 min read
“Entrepreneurship is something that you have inside yourself and if you have it, it’s difficult for you to be in a corporate world for a long time without missing the other parts of who you are. “
How did you start mentoring and how do you find yourself in this role?
I was an entrepreneur myself, I created two startups and sold them to bigger competitors. After closing that circle in my life, I went to the corporate world and started working for a Microsoft company, but I was missing a lot the startup ecosystem, the people, the feeling. However, I couldn’t create a new startup back then, because I was already fully packed with a new job, so I decided to start collaborating with different accelerators and giving classes in different master’s programs or business schools. And that was the way for me to keep in touch with this ecosystem while I wasn’t able to create something new myself.
Now, the situation has changed because I started working with a venture builder, I’m related to startups again and that makes me really happy. I think entrepreneurship is something that you have insight yourself. And if you have it, it’s really difficult for you to be in a corporate world for a long time without missing the other parts of who you are.
Since you were an entrepreneur yourself, what difficulties were there on your way? Sometimes mentors don’t fully understand the struggles of the new entrepreneur because they were never in those shoes, but you have lived that experience.
My first stage was a service, not a product. There I learned that businesses have to be scaling up all the time and replicable. What I found out with services was that it is complicated to maintain the margin. Because the more projects we were getting, the more people were involved, and if the providers wouldn’t accomplish fully what they said, then this was always against our margin. Thanks to that I realized that services are not profitable, or it wasn’t a good business.
After that, I turned to SAAS and technology. I started being involved only with startups that had a recurrent subscription model, which is the best fit I’ve found. In those places, I feel better because you have a very hard job at the beginning, but afterwards, you can see that you renew the money of the first year and the sales do not stop.
But in my second phase with startups, what I faced was the difficult times, when you don’t choose the best investment group or venture builder to belong to because that can really change the way they see the business, the way they want to manage the investments or the money. So I had a big struggle with that because I wasn’t really okay with the investment group, they saw the business as fully economical. I mean, if you want to be like this, it would be better if you bought flats, make a refurbishment, and then sell the flats. Because if you want technology, you need to be in love with it and understand that technology doesn’t come out in one day. So being very aligned with your investment group of venture capital, I think, is a key to success of a start-up.
“…the important thing about not stopping is not investing your own money from your pocket, because unless you’re very rich, it’s difficult to see how you burn money every month. At some point, you just shut the door. “
With what issues do start-ups come to you the most? Is there a tendency?
Well, not really, depending on the stage of the startup, you can see different problems. In the first stage, the main problem I see is that sometimes there are certain questions they didn’t reply to, like how much you think you’re going to sell with these, which is the business model… These are the most dangerous ones because even if someone invests in a prototype, but you didn’t plan the basis, the chances to go wrong are really big.
Then you have the second stage of the start-ups, which already have a prototype. For them, the main problem is how to make it profitable and reach break-even. In the first stages, expenses are really high and you cannot see a moment when, when you’re going to have the income. You need to be prepared to wait for the first two, three consuming and stressful years. But as long as the investment keeps coming and things are clear, the product is tested, the KPIs are followed, and at some point, the business is going to be profitable. But it’s tough. Every beginning is very tough. Most startups on the market are those who did not stop in the first years.
In my opinion, the important thing about not stopping is not investing your own money from your pocket, because unless you’re very rich, it’s difficult to see how you burn money every month. For an average person, this is a kind of stress difficult to tolerate. At some point, you just shut the door. So banks or investments really need to come from somewhere else, not even from family and friends. Otherwise, you may always think: ”If people invest in me, what do I need to give them to keep receiving the investment?”. You may probably need to choose whether to make a better product or have more sales, and you will always pick more sales.
So make sure that the money is not yours, but take care of the money as if it was yours. Meaning you need to make good investment decisions because once you spend the money, it’s not coming back.
“Whenever the company has an exit, the employees’ profiles are highly valued, because they were in a success story.“
We saw that now you work for Tranxfer and you are passionate about technology in general. What’s the technology that takes your attention now?
We are in cyber security at the moment. Tranxfer belongs to a venture capital, which also has other companies. The main goal of this venture builder is to make the companies grow, and once they are big enough, they sell them to bigger competitors or other companies This is the model they’ve been having for the last 10 years, and I think it’s a good end for the company. An exit is really good at some point when you cannot grow more with your own resources, so when someone buys you, with a bigger structure or network on which you can rely and then start all over.
If you want to stop being a startup, you either sell or become a consolidated company that keeps on investing in growing. Often people are really worried about the exit, they don’t want to work in a company that is going to be sold in three years and leading them to lose their job. However, in my experience, whenever the company has an exit, the employees’ profiles are highly valued, because they were in a success story. Other companies want that, because you can replicate things that you saw, things that you were applying and that had a good impact.
Why did cybersecurity catch your attention?
Honestly, in the first place, I wasn’t thinking: “Oh, let’s go into cybersecurity.” I was always in technology, I’ve been in artificial intelligence, the cloud, and 5G. And I simply had a job offer where I could go back to the start-up ecosystem and venture builders, the project was good, and it was cybersecurity. My only rule is to keep belonging, to technologies that are a trend, and cybersecurity is now a boom. Right now I’m in encryption and protecting files that get out of the companies, but cybersecurity is a very big world, and I’m only focusing on a little part, that’s increasing all the time. The digital workplace is an issue in the company so anything that can complement all the policies and best practices is something that the CISOs are looking for.
I really enjoy my job. I could also go back to B2B product, which I like more than services or selling projects because with the service I feel that there’s a lot of nothing until you have something with a client, while with a product, whenever you start explaining or considering how this product can add value in the company, it’s all clear. You can like it or not, but it’s more to the point. But, as I said, I’m comfortable in any business that it’s recurring, like subscription, or SSAS model. So this job has everything I was looking for in my new experience.
My final question would be: what do you think about sharing services? Do you use any in your life?
I would use car sharing, but I have kids, so I need the chairs for the cars and this is something difficult to find. So I would consider the service if the cars were close enough to me and I didn’t have the problem with the chairs.
In my case, I would share my car and once in the past I looked this up, but I had a problem because my car was in a garage, and they told me that cars inside parking were not accepted.
Now my car is in the street, so I could probably join the community, but the only thing I’m worried about is that my car right now is full of breadcrumbs and toys all over the car. I think people would expect a certain level if they take someone’s car…
And of course, I would want a super clear insurance both as an owner and as a driver.
Thank you Eli for the useful insights and for your opinion and concerns as a potential user of the service!
Ekaterina Efimova, Marketing & Communications Specialist at Volvero