Hristo Georgiev is currently working on different technology projects in Switzerland. He studied in AUBG between 2012 and 2016, when he was part of founding The Hub. During that time he also founded Centroida.ai – startup that 3 years later was sold to ScaleFocus. On this year’s edition of HackAUBG he is going to be one of the judges!
You are the founder of The Hub, which is a very important club for the students in AUBG. Can you tell us more about the history behind it all?
We founded The Hub back in 2015 and the original name was AUBG Spaces. The idea was that at that time in AUBG, Computer Science and Information Systems and all of the other technical disciplines were more interesting from their theoretical point of view. We wanted to enable students to be closer to the industry and to be exposed to companies in order to start their careers early on. So at that time there was a club for the Computer Science discipline. It was called “Computer Science Student Union” and we tried to join it, but it didn’t work out. So we decided to make a club of our own and to promote the ideas that we thought were useful. In retrospect it turned out that this was exactly what the student body needed. What I really like is that the people after us that carried the torch have continued the spirit as the way we envisioned the club back then. The President and the management of the club have succeeded in growing it. But yeah, it all started because we wanted to make computer science more exciting and practical. We also wanted to have more of a sense of a community, so I guess we have managed to do that.
Are you still part of The Hub?
Currently I’m more supporting the club financially and I do have contact with some of its members.
Do you think student organizations like The Hub are important? I think they are, because they help in forming skills that can be useful at a later point, such as – communication, organization, team work?
The idea behind forming student organizations is mostly popular in American Universities. But in the case of the American university in Bulgaria, I can say that the club is very professionally oriented. This means that the idea is not to be something like an entertainment, but to be focused on getting a head start in your career. When you start at university you have a certain perception of how things are in the industry and the world. So being part of such a club, can really open your eyes and widen your view of how things work, how the industry works, how computer science works and what kind of skills you need. It’s also very important to be able to build up relationships and meet people you like, because this really helps later on in life. I’m still trying to support the people in the club, because of the sense of the community. These types of student forms are really helpful.
Can you tell us more about HackAUBG? Are there any differences now compared to the time where the event was Hack Blagoevgrad?
Back then we had Startup Blagoevgrad and doing entrepreneurship and computer science as an academic discipline, were two different things. One of the things we wanted to do, appart of boosting the students careers, was to combine these two together. So back then it was science events and entrepreneurship events, but no intersection. But now I think what The HUB managed to do with HackAUBG is that they are basically combining computer science with entrepreneurship with all the skills and initiatives in between. This event brings together the business area and the technological part and for the future it will be good that academia and this kind of applied hands on approach are closer and closer and people are starting to find companies based on academic research or something that is more deep technology. This is really exciting.
And this is all happening in Blagoevgrad. What do you think of the city, because a lot of people are saying that it’s going to be the next IT hub of Bulgaria? It’s close to Macedonia, close to Greece, close to the capitol Sofia and it is surrounded by opportunities.
In comparison to bigger cities, one of the good things about Blagoevgrad is that if you want to do something with technology it’s really great because the town is small and the surroundings are beautiful. So you can really relax and focus on your projects or studying. It’s really a place with great potential. But not only because the universities are located there, but because of the surroundings that make Blagoevgrad really nice and quiet. Of course there are stronger points in Sofia, but people starting initiatives in smaller places are not at any disadvantage.
Can you tell us more about Centroida? The founding and the company. I think it was in 2016?
It was in the summer of 2015. I was in the US in San Francisco on the summer entrepreneurship program, funded by the America for Bulgaria foundation. We were learning more about the entrepreneurship culture in the US and this also exposed me to a lot of startups, a lot of founders and people doing various projects. We had as an exercise to start a company and I guess I kind of took it seriously. The thing we were doing didn’t bring anything but from the contacts that I made there I actually managed to get a bunch of quite interesting projects to work on and I made a promise to the people there: “Hey I have a team and we have everything, we can develop whatever you want”. I guess they really bought it, because when I got back to Bulgaria I shared this Idea with another friend of mine. So Gavril was “OK, that’s great! Let’s do it!”. So actually in parallel we started the club as well and the idea was that we’ll have both the club and the company running in parallel. So in the winter of 2015 we found out that there is a really symbiotic relationship between the club and the company and we can attract some of the students in the company and help them to jump start their career. So we connected them to the people in the US who gave us the projects and we actually started executing them. Pretty much this is how it all started. In 2016 when we were about to graduate, there was so much to do in day to day operations in keeping everybody up to date, running the projects etc. We were like a real company so we didn’t have the time to look for a job or anything. We had to decide: What do we do after graduation? Are we going to look for a job, or are we going to continue working on the projects? This is where the university stepped in and we talked to some of the professors asking for advice. They said to us that they have this place in Sofia and we can have it without paying rent. An offer we easily took and we moved to Sofia and opened an office. Actually we had an office in Blagoevgrad too – it was some kind of an old shop. So we moved to Sofia, but it wasn’t really a proper office. It was more like a classroom with tables and chairs, so we had to clean it up and make it into a proper office. It was in the middle of Studentski Grad and this is basically how it started and it was quite a ride. The first year and months were absolutely intense.
A funny story is that we didn’t have internet. It was one of the university buildings, so the only internet was coming from the university. So they couldn’t give us any internet access and we had to ask one of the internet providers in Sofia to give us internet. Well, they said that they don’t have any access to that building. So it was something like a dead end.
But after that we decided to get the internet from a store nearby and ask the lady to give us access to her basement, so that the internet company can come and install internet in her basement. After that we actually pulled the cable next to our building and then up through the window – that’s how we started. In the meantime we used our cell phones for the internet and I paid a lot of money for it, because everyone was connected to my phone. This is when we found out how many people you can connect to a mobile device before it actually gives up.
Sounds like an adventure. But maybe the good thing about having a classroom as an office is that you already have desks, so…
Yeah, that was a good thing, because we didn’t have to buy tables. The chairs weren’t great, so we had to buy ones, but yeah, that’s pretty much it.
Despite all those challenges, you’re at this young age, founder of a successful startup. So how do you feel about the whole adventure with ScaleFocus buying Centroida?
Well, at that time I had already sold my share, so I wasn’t really part of the company, but up to that point it was quite a lot of fun. But I don’t think that founding a company at a young age is really so impressive. I think It was mostly because of the support we had. On side from the pretty strong alumni network from the university and on the other side from the university administration itself, which provided us this office. And from the third side, from pretty much everybody around us, even the students who in the beginning agreed to work for us with low salaries. So having all this support really empowered us to grow the company. Starting by yourself at this young age is pretty much impossible. So I’m thankful for all that happened. But the things that led to the sale to ScaleFocus was mostly because of the fact that we already had multiple successful projects that we did with companies associated with ScaleFocus, so they kind of liked us and maybe it was a natural move.
What did the American University give you as an engineer and developer? What did your education there give to your career at later points of your life?
I think the special thing about the American University in Bulgaria is that it really gives you a more general view of the world, because it’s a very international university. It kind of teaches you how to deal in an international environment and as an engineer I think it’s very crucial. If you want to work on big and complex things you have to be able to operate in a very international environment and a very competitive one. So these things really prepared me maybe not so much as an engineer, but more as a person. From an engineering perspective, you can learn a lot in university, but you have to put in the work mostly by yourself. Of course you have to work with other people, but it’s more like a personal initiative of how far and how deep you want to go on a certain subject. Also, at AUBG I met amazing people that I’m still in contact with even today. This is something that empowered me to push myself further into some subjects that made me a better engineer.
You’re going to be a judge on the hackathon. Is it going to be your first time?
Yes and no. I’ve been a judge to one other hackathon, I think Hack Vratsa. But I’m not a big fan of being a judge. In my life so far I was actually more a participant than a judge. But I want to support the club and engage myself with the community. I really want to enjoy myself and have a fun time supporting my club.
And what will you look for in the participants and their projects? What will be of leading importance to you?
For me it’s really important to see them applying critical thinking in their projects and development. I mean – do they really think about the right things that are important for the customers? I think it’s very important, whatever you’re working on, at the end of the day, that it’s really something well thought out. The customers should say “wow, I really needed that”. Critical thinking sounds really simple and a lot of people are led to believe that they actually have that. A lot of focus and attention is needed and first of all, in the beginning to ask yourself – “hey, why am I even doing this, how it’s going to change the world?”. Those are really important questions that will lead you to the right customer-centric orientation of your work. They should also be aware of the risks and of all the cases.
And what about if you see two products that are equally good? What will be the determination factor?
I think it’s the vision. A product that has very long-term thinking. Something that you can say, that it might not work today or it might not be great today, or that it will take another 5 years, but when it’s completed, it’s going to be really great. With the examples that we’re seeing today, there are a lot of companies that are 7, 8 years in the making before they explode to shape the world. Because if you work on difficult things or technologies, there are just a lot of aspects to figure out. A lot of right processes and this takes time. So if there are two companies, I’ll go with the one that has a strong vision of the future and it’s founding team is aware of how the world is going to be.
Can you give advice or maybe 3 major points for those who want to start their own company to have a great idea but they block themselves from going one step further?
Well, there’s plenty of advice on the internet.
But it’s not personal…
Well, everybody’s good at giving advice. But if I have to think of 3 things they are going to do. Before you even start, think of how this is going to affect your life and why you starting this. A lot of people start companies for the wrong reasons – they try to impress somebody, or they feel unaccomplished. Or they just want to make a lot of money. None of these reasons really make sense.
If you’re starting a company you should believe that whatever you build it’s going to impact other people’s lives. Fame and success are irrelevant. If you want to really build something, all the other things are going to come by themselves. You may think it’s glorious and cool, but it really is a life path that is really difficult and taxing on the person.
Second, there is the responsibility. A lot of people think “I’m going to be my own boss”. It’s the complete opposite of that. You’re dealing with tremendous responsibility and power. You’re dealing with your family, investors, your board, your customers, your employees. If you screw up, they all are going to be affected. This is why you have to be able to take responsibility for your actions.
Third, as I said – critical thinking. You have to have that and to think about what you are going to work on and what kind of people you need in order to succeed.
So, number one: Do you want to work on this? Number two: Are you ready to take the shot? To take the responsibility? Number three: Do you really think this is something that makes sense in a larger scale of things?