Silviu is 33, an entrepreneur, father and nature enthusiast. He lives in Bucharest, but Transylvania is his playground. Silviu and I go way back. We were even desk mates at some point in high-school. Ever since I know him, he’s been the kind of guy you liked to hang out with, open, with stories to tell. Time has come that I tell his story.
Tell me who you are, Silviu. So let’s start with … what did you want to be as a grown up? Did the wish come true?
As I grew up, I was fascinated by the fantastic books of Jules Verne. He described a world of exploration, full of mystery and adventure. They left such a strong and lasting impression that only late in my 20’s I understood. I found a journal that I filled out when I was 10 years old and it’s there was this question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. I answered “a sailor”. The wish didn’t become true but I’d say I am not very far from it.
So you studied …
International Affairs at the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest.
And what are you doing now?
Now I’m a founder and guide at Martin Adventures.
How do you spend your free time? Hobbies, guilty pleasures.
I am mostly outside, in nature, running or cycling. When I am not doing that, I am playing in the park with my son, Tudor. I also like to read news and opinions about current stuff going on in the world. Lately I started studying on Coursera on a more constant, daily basis.
I found a journal that I filled out when I was 10 years old and it’s there was this question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. I answered “a sailor”.
Pretty sporty. You often participate in marathons, triathlons … How did you come to love sports so much?
Similar to every kid that grew up in Romania in the 90’s, I spent a lot of time outside, being active, playing football or basketball. We never had the many distractions such as cartoons, movies, video games, so available nowadays. So we had to be creative. I think this is how practicing a sport became a normality. I started being more involved while I was finishing university. At the time I picked up kick-boxing for fun. After a while it became more painful that fun and I ended up bruised and unable to walk for a couple of days. So I began running. Shortly after that I took up triathlons and I haven’t stopped since. Now I do trail running, ultra marathons, mountain biking, road cycling.
And why do you participate, why not keep it for yourself?
Competitions are fun because they give me a clearer objective to train for. I’m more focused; I have a plan, a structure for the coming year. I usually go with my friends and family and at that point it becomes more of an experience than a competition.
How is sports perceived in the Romanian society? Have you noticed a change in the perspective in the last years, since you started taking it seriously?
It has changed a lot in the past ten years. People are now sportier, they take part in the growing number of competitions, they are more conscious about what they eat and about health in general. Of course, I can’t say if this is relevant to our whole population or just to bigger urban centers, and especially Bucharest.
You took sports to the next level with Martin Adventures. Tell me a bit about this project. What is Martin Adventures? How did you come up with the idea? Why have you seen it as a business opportunity?
As I was closing down Enovate, one of my previous projects, a leadership development and consultancy company, I was looking for new stuff to do. I was already taking part in competitions, practicing quite a lot of sport and since I always wanted to be an explorer (laughs), I just needed to summon all my courage and jump in. I started Martin Adventures in 2012 and I must admit that, back then, I never had a real strategic analysis to see if there’s a market or not. It just seemed that there weren’t enough adventure tourists visiting Romania and I wanted to change that.
How difficult was to lift this project off the ground? What were or are the biggest challenges?
Like in any new startup, beginnings can be tough. There’s just so much stuff you don’t know and some more stuff that you don’t know that you don’t know. My biggest current challenge is overcoming the lack of awareness when it comes to the cycling and trekking opportunities here in Romania. The people who come here are just amazed about the wild nature, the authentic people and the breathtaking scenery. We just need more of them!
You have been an entrepreneur for nine years now. How did you come to do this particular thing?
I don’t think it was an objective in itself for me to be an entrepreneur. At one point it just became the way I could manifest my dreams and aspirations. Since I was a kid I loved doing stuff by myself and coming up with all sorts of ideas and contraptions that I would test on my friends. I remember this one experience when I was around 10 years old. I invited some of my friends over and I designed for them some kind of an adventure course around the neighbourhood. It was a lot of fun to build and they had a blast. On the other hand, my parents were both entrepreneurs and when I grew up I just saw that this is a possibility. It didn’t seem strange that at one point I would do the same.
How was your debut?
My dad had a couple of small shops in Constanta and we used to go to supply them together. I remember that one day I wanted to try to sell a crate of Pepsi on the corner of my street. I stayed outside in the warm hot summer heat for half a day but I actually didn’t manage to sell anything. Tough start. Years later, when I was 25 I started Enovate, together with Laura, my girlfriend back then. Enovate was a leadership development & consultancy company. It was as tough as my previous experience. But instead of half of day it lasted eight months of cold calling and sales meetings until we had our first client. After that it was all good for the next five years or so. It was so good that actually we weren’t learning the important stuff you learn when the tough get going.
How did the entrepreneurship landscape change in Romania in the years you’ve been doing it?
It has matured for sure, if you consider both the quantity and quality of the local businesses. On one hand, younger people are considering opening a business even when they are in high school. I heard of some of them already being successful at that age. We even have our very own local Entrepreneurship Academy. On the other hand, Romanian business that have some history behind them, have managed to attract investors, to grow and even to go international.
Given the politics and other faulty aspects, it is no secret the Romanian diaspora in ever increasing. You had your share of travelling, have you ever thought about leaving Romania and starting somewhere else? Why haven’t you?
Indeed, Romania has one of the largest Diasporas in Europe and it’s mainly because of the small wages and the tough life most of the people have here. I was lucky enough to be part of a family that hasn’t had financial difficulties and that supported me all the way through university and even as I was starting with my first business. I wasn’t financially motivated to leave the country to find a better life. I had the chance to stay here and try to make a better life for me and my family. I sometimes wonder how it would have been to live in another country for a short time and I’m still not excluding this option yet. I’m certain that I don’t want to move for good in another country. I just love this place with all the good, the bad and the ugly it has.
If you were to raise awareness on one topic, can be anything at all from the decreasing ozone layer to ethnic discrimination or historical buildings being left to crumble, what would this topic be and why?
You got me thinking on this one. There’s a lot of bad stuff going on in the world that I’d like to fix. I’d have to go with something apparently small but that we can all do each day and improve our lives. I’m talking about living healthy. You know, if you’d ask people, they’d say they want to live long, to see their family growing up and growing old. Well, it’s the stuff you do now in your 20’s – 30’s that helps you have a long and healthy life. I would encourage people to eat healthy, to do sports, to be active, to take care of both their mental health and physical health.
In the past, it was more about me, my dreams, my own way. Now everything is directed outwards: how can I have an impact in other people’s lives? What can I do to leave a mark?
What matters to you, Silviu? Professionally? Personally? How did you come to this and how have your priorities changed since, let’s say, 10 years ago?
I feel that I have come to a point in life when I can understand my past, my present and I know where I want to go. Although I think I kept a good chunk of my old self, I am more wise, more experienced. That changed my perspective. In the past, it was more about me, my dreams, my own way. Now everything is directed outwards: how can I have an impact in other people’s lives? What can I do to leave a mark?
What’s the 30 days challenge and why do you do it?
It started as a personal challenge to give up sugar for 30 days, some one and a half years ago. I’ve always been a fan of trying stuff just for the sake of trying, tweaking and hacking my everyday life to find out what works or not. I then continued with cold showers, waking up early, doing meditation and who knows what I’ll do next? Since I started blogging about it, other people have joined my challenges and it’s now becoming more of a community of people that want to test themselves and improve their lives.
If you’d have one wish, what would that be?
Just one wish? Really?
One superhero power?
Flying, for sure!