What's the idea behind Entrepreneurs' Organization?
When you're an entrepreneur, life is often quite lonely because no matter what's going on, you always have to show that you're in control. EO gives me and all our members an outlet, an opportunity to talk openly about everything, our concerns and difficulties. It's hard to talk openly not only about bad things, but also about a lot of good things - if I'm very successful in my business, many of my friends who have corporate careers wouldn't be able to understand me. At EO, I can talk openly about success because all my entrepreneur friends know that the life of an entrepreneur has many highs, but also many lows.
The Entrepreneurs' Organization was introduced to Bulgaria in the fall of 2018, as part of the regional office, including Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia. To date, there are 13 members in the Bulgarian wing, and 11 in Romania. The annual membership fee is $1,000.
What does membership include and how much does it cost?
There is a global level fee which is $2550. There is also a local fee, which is determined by the chapter, the local office, which in Bulgaria is $1000 per year. We also have an initial joining fee which pretty much covers your training in the beginning.
We organize several types of events. We have the forum - a meeting, usually with about 8 to 10 people that we hold once a month for about four hours. It has a very clear agenda: sharing our mutual experiences. We also have learning events. They happen at local, regional and global levels. We recently hosted an interview with Richard Branson available to all 18,000 members. There are also regional events with panels, lectures and talks with business leaders. We partner with Wharton, Harvard and INSEAD. We also offer MyEO, a flexible framework for members to find people with similar interests and do something together.
What are the membership criteria and what is the profile of people in EO?
In terms of eligibility criteria, there are very few mandatory ones: you must have a business that has more than $1 million in annual revenue and be a founder or shareholder with a majority stake in the company. We want the people who actually make the decisions. In terms of everything else, we are extremely diverse. Members range in age from the youngest who are sometimes 19, to people joining in their 60s or sometimes we have members who are 60 but have been in EO for 20 years.
We are organized in ten regions. The Asia-Pacific region, which includes South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand, is the region where we have the highest percentage of female members at 23%. This may sound like it is far from 50%, but 50% is not the reality because no market has 50% female and male entrepreneurs. I would say that our real goal in terms of gender diversity is to be better than the market - if there is approximately 20% female entrepreneurship, we should be at 25.
We have both company founders and family business owners alike. In Europe, most of our members are founders themselves, first generation. In some areas like South Asia which is mostly India or also Southeast Asia like Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, most of them are second or third generation entrepreneurs and so on. The region is more family business oriented. The profiles vary partly depending on which area and which region we are talking about.
You said earlier that when you have your own business, there is no separation between work and personal life. What are the biggest challenges that come with this?
Entrepreneurship is an emotional roller coaster. The highs are high and the lows are low and we all fail. There is a beautiful Japanese proverb that says "Fall seven times and get up eight". This is entrepreneurship. Most of us have failed more than seven times. The most important characteristic one must have is to be able to get up again. Dealing with that stress, not getting arrogant or smug when things are going well, but staying grounded. This is what matters most.
What's most satisfying about the job?
Building something, the reward is this real intense inner satisfaction of going through something that's hard and building something successful. It doesn't have to be a big project. It doesn't have to make a lot of money. I think that is secondary. It could be product creation. It can provide employment for hundreds of people. It is deeply rewarding. One thing that drives me is people development. I love working with young people, sharing my experiences with them and helping them find their way, be successful and progress, it's so rewarding. That is the greatest reward.
What are the five qualities a successful entrepreneur must have?
Persistence. The ability to inspire is crucial: your team, your customers. Most businesses I know have gone through crazy changes. One of my companies has been very successful in workforce engagement, developing a tool for all frontline workers, nurses and waiters and construction workers. But they initially started as a dating platform for students. That was their starting point. They had a vision, but they were willing to adapt and be flexible.
So I would say a combination of clarity, vision, but flexibility and a growth mindset to adapt to change.
What was your personal experience with starting your own company?
I came to entrepreneurship relatively late; until then I had a corporate career. I've worked in investment banking and strategy consulting, but I've always been intrigued by technology. My first business was a cybersecurity software company. I left operationally pretty quickly and one of my co-founders took over the business. However, when we started, we couldn't even pay salaries. The pressure was overwhelming at times. There were times when at the end of the month I didn't know exactly how I was going to pay my team. That's real stress for you. This is exactly where being a member of EO is so important because it gives you that support network.
We've all seen and been through that "valley of tears" where I'm in a crisis because I have no cash flow or my client cancels the contract. It's important to prepare for this, have a network of people who support you but also challenge you. Support is a good thing. You need people to cheer you on, but you also need people to ask you the right questions. That's what we do at EO.