Pedro Pinto January 14, 2021 9:50 am

The disruptive entrepreneur series: Janos Barberis

We have created a new series at Neat. We interview entrepreneurs from around the world to share knowledge and advice on why they decided to start their own business, what challenges they came up against and what advice they would give to a new entrepreneur!

Our first entrepreneur is Janos Barberis! Janos is Co-Founder of SuperCharger Ventures. Let’s hear from him directly on his experience.

Tell us about your background:

I first went to university and studied a BSc in Economics & Finance. Like most I thought I would become an International Investment Banker, but didn’t realise how competitive it would be, even more so during a financial crisis. Fast forward, I didn’t get a job so I created mine. I used what I have:

  • A degree in Economics Finance & Law
  • My understanding from Asia with previous travel and experience 
  • Creativity and sense of timing

The combination of the above made me come to Hong Kong to build SuperCharger. A FinTech accelerator helping great founders (re)build Finance. I did this for 3 years, with success but also at a cost, personal health. 

I took a break for 2 years, worked for a company called CFTE where I lead their entrepreneurship content and projects. When COVID happened, I saw that education is about to be disrupted just like finance was 10 years ago. So I restarted SuperCharger with 2 co-founders that I meet whilst in London, Tamas Haiman and Alessandro Di Lullo.  We still work with great founders, but this time to to (re)build education.

What do you think is the best way to get started when you have an idea for a business?

The answer changes depending on when you ask it. For example, if you would have asked me 5 years ago, I would simply say: Go for it, build it (the product / service) and they will come. After all, real financial value is in markets where there is limited validation / information. People don’t know what they don’t have. Its very aggressive and exhausting, but you can be a first mover. 

In my case, it was setting up a twitter account @fintechhk and doing a report on FinTech in Hong Kong. It allowed me to gain visibility (report) and connect with people (twitter). From there it was talking a lot to discover weak signals and build, adapt on the back of it. It was chaotic, but productive chaos for sure. 

If you ask me today, I would say build a team that you enjoy having around you. When we re-launched SuperCharger, we put a lot of effort into building a team that was as capable as my first team back in Hong Kong. Because when things get tough having the right team around you makes a big difference. 

Of course a great team, doesn’t guarantee success. You still need to build something people love AND are willing to pay for. Otherwise you just subsidise the industry and clients with your time, effort and sweat.

As a mentor, do you think entrepreneurs have innate characteristics (if so what are they?) or can entrepreneurship be taught?

Entrepreneurs are honest. Entrepreneurs are creative. Entrepreneurs are action driven. 

What I find so powerful with entrepreneurs (and therefore why I like to be around them) is because when we talk about going to the moon (i.e. change an industry, create a new product) they actually know or genuinely believe they can build the rocket to get there. 

I really do not know if you can teach entrepreneurship, to me it’s an emotion, a way of life. I have been very lucky that I always have done what I love. Always aligned with my purpose. But this came also at a financial cost. I am not a life-style entrepreneur,  entrepreneurship is my lifestyle, at least for the next 5 years. I gave myself one decade to be successful. 

With that being said, you can build healthy companies and you can learn to be a good CEO. There are best practices, benchmarks and peer-learning that can help. In this definition “entrepreneurship can be taught”. 

But I don’t think you ever are done learning as an entrepreneur. You might get more comfortable each time you jump out of the plane. But you should always respect and have a lot of humility that what you are doing, the act of jumping into the unknown is dangerous and commends planning (on your side), respect (from others) and understanding (from your friend).

What has been the most exciting part of starting a new business for you?

The first time: Making an impact

The second time: Building a team, making an impact and making money

One of the elements I enjoy the most now is the (re)building of the team. I want to create a competitive advantage for SuperCharger by having the best performing team there is. 

Education transformation can be very meaningful, a lot of people need better education and I am not just talking about developing countries. But beyond meaningfulness there are incredible businesses to be build. And we want to be part of that story of founders and entrepreneurs. 

From your experience, what challenges do entrepreneurs face when starting a new business?

Not knowing what they don’t know. 

It’s not as obvious as it seems, but if I look back at myself, I had (and still have) an incredible chance to be around some of the best mentors, board members, founders. They would give me advice on what I should look out for, but I didn’t understand. I heard but didn’t listen. I didn’t believe it would be that simple and yet hard. 

“Cashflow can kill your company”, “Ask for advice not money” “Listen then speak” “A bad apple can kill the whole company”, “Get a dog, it will be hard”. 

I used to say that these sentence were “Captain Obvious” advice and so I never stopped to really understand why the person was telling me this. 

Instead I should have always asked the person telling me something so obvious, why is he / she sharing this and what has happened in their personal experience that makes it an important advice that I should remember. People remember stories more than advice. 

When you start a business, leave your ego on the side, you don’t have space for it. If another founder says something, understand why. Founders don’t speak for the sake of it. Dig deeper and see why they are saying it. Founders will always be able to find money, not time. If they spend time with you respect it even more. 

What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?

“Get a dog” is one piece of advice I got from a very experienced Venture Capitalist in Hong Kong during my first week in Hong Kong. I eventually got one 5 years later, or I should say 5 years too late. 

It takes time, but eventually you will find advisors or board members that can help you build a company or build your product / services. However it will be hard for you to create a safe space, to build yourself as a person. 

Going from Founders to CEO is a long and not obvious journey. Often you will have to fit in clothes that are not ready for you. Ask for millions of dollars when you do not have anything to pay your team, yet alone yourself. This is hard.

Find yourself a personal coach,  who you feel safe to discuss YOU. Most founders I know are selfless, they will sacrifice themselves to achieve the vision they have. But they forget to practice self-care. Doing both is not paradoxical and they are self re-enforcing. But you need to externalise with someone before re-internalising it.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

I think the first time I was an entrepreneur was by mistake. I couldn’t get a job so I built my job. I still do not know if this is a mistake, from a financial standpoint. Earning when you are a founder is not linear, because your market impact / ideas are not incremental. I might have my “ah-ah” moment in 4 years and become an overnight success a decade in the making, or not…. 

However something interesting happened 6 months ago. I decided to my previous role. I had a choice. 

  • Leave and join a corporate or university. 
  • Rebuild a company, with open eyes to the difficulty of what lies ahead.

Without a single doubt in my mind I decided to rebuild a company. Because I have learnt to enjoy the journey. I have learnt to dissociate myself and personal success from the company I am building. Meaning that irrespective of the outcome, I will have enjoyed the ride. 

As they say: “it’s not the destination it’s the ride that matters” another “captain obvious” advice, but trust me if I say it, it’s true.

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