This story of a successful business starts in a garage. It begins in the attic. In Vratsa, Bulgaria. But we will talk about the Vratsa’s attic later. Our meeting with Ivan Lekushev and Ivaylo Ivanov is in a modern building in Sofia centre. They work in huge offices, sit on big desks with opened MacBooks on them.
Their doors are transparent, and I see how work is going in their colourful office while talking with them. However important things happen in this office, the first thing I notice is the quietness.
The time in the begging of the democracy wasn’t so calm and quiet for Ivaylo Ivanov – one of the founders of BGO Software.
“My father had a small fabric for plastic packages. In the late 90s, it was tough. At some moment, he needed to buy equipment from foreign countries”. Ivaylo says that while looking for machines, his father realized that the websites for this equipment are not good enough. So then he decides, together with his friend from barrack, that they could create a better online doorway.
So, in 2003 they create their website: machinesbox.com – an online store for industrial machines.
Today Ivaylo is laughing at this story because his first steps in the business are a surprise for himself: “When we launched the website many people started to visit it, to register, do publish their ads and we haven’t even think about how to earn money from that, we just wanted to do it. Our first office was a small room rented from the Vratsa’s newspaper “Call for Truth”. The room was always with tones of newspapers and smelled of ink.”
Ivan appears years later. The first meeting of nowadays collaborators is in 2007 in Sofia. They met in a job interview where one is a candidate for a position, and the other is an employer.
Ivan: Ivo and I met on a job interview in an English company that worked in Bulgaria. They were looking for a sales manager. The company’s owners interviewed me and Ivo were CEO there at that time, so I had to win his approval, too. The second interview was with him, so he wanted to ensure that I am the right person because it is not hard enough to abuse the Englishmen.
Vyara Deyanova: So, they use the Bulgarianman as a lacmus?
Ivan: To see what is happening. They want to be double assured.
Ivaylo: Then BGO was just a hobby company.
Ivan: It was an additional project.
How happens the chemistry between you two, so it grew to a common business?
Ivan: I started to work in an English company as a sales manager, where work turned well. Then Ivo came to me and told me about BGO. He told me that they have a business project, but there are only technical people and asked me if I could help with the sales and searching of new customers. He also said: “You could become a partner at some moment – you need to buy a part of it. And things happened that way. The first money I won there, I invested in the company, and in the short term, I bought ⅓ from the company.
Vyara Deyanowa: Have you then wanted to give up?
Ivan: I have never had such a moment in my life. I am sure that I am doing the right things. I feel it.
However, in Bulgaria, sometimes it gets tough when you are doing something following the rules.
Ivan: Surely there are such moments. Every person has his weak moments when he is wondering if he is doing the right thing and does it make sense. Then, you start to think what it would be if you do something different at some moment. But I know that I am following my path. I have no doubt.
Aren’t you worried when you realize that there are too many people who make money when going through the forbidden way in Bulgaria?
Ivaylo: To be honest, I prefer not to pay attention to them because our job is on a bigger scale – much more significant, besides the Bulgarian market. I don’t want to compare with people here and don’t work according to the rules. We are looking for good examples on an international level. It may sound strange but we are not materialists, for whom it is essential to present yourself with a car, house or a luxury thing. Money has always been for us а means, not an end. Our goal is to make something meaningful.
In thе last more than ten years, my own goal is to invest capital in the Bulgarian economy, which comes abroad, and I could say that Vankata and I have been reached higher in this since we work together.
Capital came abroad and spent here. We create job positions with a good standard here, in Bulgaria, with business which is not selling goods in the country, some scheme. Because in Bulgaria, many people think they succeed, they make a lot of money from lottery tickets; they take money from the poor people! We do the opposite – we take money from foreign companies, money that is spent here, money which come in Bulgaria. A tiny part of the people realizes that companies like ours are the ones who make the economy alive.
While we are talking, we see through the big windows of your office constructions next to grey panel buildings — the usual frowning faces. But you seem like you don’t want to leave the country.
Ivan: I don’t watch TV, I don’t need things which distract me. If we let our brains be manipulated, we will become the losing side.
The miracle of the 21st century is that you can live in Bulgaria and stamp your sing worldwide. You can compete on the international stage with international companies, and that is great because you can test your potential on a much bigger scale.
How could you explain to this young man, who is starting his way, that there is a sense to use the money as a means, not an end?
Ivan: I don’t think you can explain that. Every person has to reach the level where he could realize that by himself. The business starts with one aim – to earn, there is no doubt. But many people rethink their dreams when they form the game and see the whole scale of one activity. Most people are thinking: You do business – buy from here, sell there. This is very easy. But it would help if you stimulated the people indeed, to create an environment for progress. You don’t have to mess with them. You need to work together – HR, marketing, sales, development, etc. The activity is so big that your understanding of so many things changes. When time passes, there are many impressions, opinions, and people realize that success comes with an enormous amount of acts and decisions taken.
If you have to show it as an algorithm – what is equal to success? What is the derivative of it?
Ivaylo: Many people say that success is a derivative of work. Unfortunately, not always more work means more success, but it helps! First: to succeed, you need to be stubborn. Second: you don’t have to work with one aim – money. If you work the right way, money will come. Your aim has to be to create. To produce something. And you have to realize that it won’t be easy. If you expect that something will happen fast, the sad thru is that it won’t happen nor fast, nor easy. So, patience and constancy – that is the success – nothing more. Getting here took 12-13 years for us (if we don’t count the hobby period).
Everyone makes everything feel like something special. Success is a feeling.
Ivan: Yes, the success includes the collaboration with the colleagues in the workplace, with the family at home, how much free time you have, etc. What does it mean to have many material privileges? There are people out there who are lying that they don’t receive a salary to buy luxury cars. Is such a person happy? Don’t he realize that he will pay the price for each tear of the people who starve, who don’t have what to eat, whatever they have worked hard enough?
You work with huge proven companies where rules are applied. Don’t you dream of being out there – with them?
Ivan: I have my theory – I have lived abroad, and I have never felt at home there. A place with misunderstandings and imperfections could give many possibilities, not only problems. In Bulgaria, facts like the lack of statehood allow one to act without a considerable investment- nor financial, nor at work, to have a significant result. For us, it doesn’t seem complicated to do business in Bulgaria because we communicate mainly with foreign partners. We realize that we live in a utopic environment, taking in mind all the issues in Bulgaria.
Is this romantic idea the reason you are involved in charity?
Ivan: We had a fascinating conversation in our first office. A conversation which I remember till today. We talked about how we want to get involved in charity, and we will do it at the first possible moment because it is one of our common sides. The money isn’t a focus for us. We have this childish desire to make something good with money earned by us. Sometimes it is just a naive curiosity about what can we do.
You are crazy!
Ivaylo: Our dealing with the money is pathetically at all.
Ivan: Due to our curiosity, literally every lev we earn goes for some idea to see what will happen.
And what happens?
So, the first thing we made was a charity foundation years ago. It is founded in Stara Zagora because the lady who was our partner already had a similar activity there. We have many projects for kids in need, disabled people and people with serious diagnoses. After that, we created a free IT academy in Plovdiv. The aim was to open the doors of the IT industry for as many people as possible. Our industry is a hope for better life quality for many people in Bulgaria. Even more – it is one of the few where you can build a career, grow and be rewarded for your efforts and knowledge. In the last few years, the foundations and the IT academy are funded by us. We didn’t have financial or marketing privileges from that. But when you go to sleep and know that somebody makes something for society – you sleep a little bit better. Even if this somebody is you and the thing you are doing isn’t so huge. Still – you sleep better.
Ivaylo: I want to tell you about football. The stadium in a small town in South Bulgaria was reconstructed in a European project. I go there often, and also my son plays football. Once I met the coach of the children’s team, and he told me: I am done with it, it doesn’t work, I can’t find enough money. So I am bеgging some people with local businesses to give me some money, so it is possible to have football in our town. For our children.” I got despondent – brand new stadium, children coming with a desire to play and no chance for that because of the adults. Then I told him that we would help if we can, it is for our children. He couldn’t believe me.
He told me: “I am going to rich people and tell them: Let’s help the team, this is a chance for your children, for your neighbourhoods’ children to sport” and they tell me back: “You are crazy! I won’t go to a holiday in Dubay, you want money from me!”. So then we became a sponsor of the child team. Every time I go there, I speak with the couch. Some people are asking him why do we do that, what is our benefit? It is hard to believe that the most significant benefit is to see children in the stadium, to give them something that will last long.”
Ivan: In addition – the biggest basketball amateur League is called “BGO Software Basketball League”. One thousand people are playing in 30 towns. And here is the paradox – the academy in Plovdiv, with a minimum investment, has over 1000 people per year. 100 or 200 of them start working. That is the biggest bonus to be in Bulgaria – if you want to help – it is elementary and cheap. If you’re going to leave a sign, this is maybe the most accessible place where you can do that. You only need to want it.
And not to stow a sign.
Ivan: Yes, not to stow it. I believe that everything is written somewhere and call it “karma points”, but we don’t do it for that.
How do you see yourself after ten years?
Ivan: What should I tell you? It depends on our emotions. We are trying to make long-term plans, but there are daily challenges. The fact that one organization is big doesn’t make it less fragile, and wherever your company is now, you should never forget that today you are here, tomorrow you are gone. So you should be a little bit humbly because the success could be temporary. It is crucial to live with this idea in mind, and that helps you act carefully and not make too ambitious plans.