The right mindset can lead entrepreneurs to amazing places – like an accelerator program in the Italian Alps, even a space of joy and thankfulness in the midst of startup struggles.
What starts as a funny way of saying thank you can become a serious app when you’ve opened yourself to embracing life a little bit differently than others. Just ask Zornitsa Tomova, who realized after graduating college that she had to create her own rules to seize opportunities.
Mircea and Zori, Co-founders of ZenQ
Zornista’s love-what-you-do attitude has since turned into ZenQ, a mobile app for showing friends the appreciation that they deserve. It’s “just another of those weird things,” which is why it’s so delightful. Zornista tells us more about her bootstrapping journey and the value of forming… unusual habits:
What’s your company about? What do you do? Who are your customers?
ZenQ is “ze way to say thank you,” a mobile app for people interested in staying positive and living a happy life – to express their gratitude and appreciation of others in a fun and magically easy way. It’s available for both iOS and Android.
What’s the greatest thing about your company/website? Why is it better than the competition?
ZenQ makes it super easy to express your appreciation of the awesome people in your life. Imagine browsing through them and pointing out their best qualities in just a tap (smart, creative, fun, etc.) You can also go deeper if someone really made your day and leave them a “thank you” message. What’s also interesting – over time, the appreciations you receive from your friends build a unique profile of yourself. There you can see your key strengths and moments of awesomeness through their eyes.
How’d you come up with the name for your company?
I’ve been using “ZenQ” as a funny way to say thank you to my friends for years. It popped up on one sticky note immediately when we started working on the idea. “ZenQ – ze way to say thank you.”
What was your first computer? How old were you when you first got on the world wide web?
My mother’s business laptop. I remember playing Heroes of Might and Magic on it before I got to have a desktop computer with “running internet.” That was when I was 18, just graduating high school.
What time do you usually start work each day? How many hours a day do you usually work?
11:30am. I am not too much of a morning person. I work anything between 4 and 13 hours a day, usually around 10 hours.
When’s the last time you went on vacation and where did you go?
Last weekend. We went to a beautiful mountain lake in Northern Romania, called Colibita. Amazing place.
What’s the very first thing you do at work every day?
Open Facebook. Five minutes later, I review what I managed to do yesterday. Then list my tasks for the day in my favorite small notepad. This gives me focus and a way of tracking my progress through the day, which is super important for me to get stuff done.
When do your best ideas come to you? In bed in the morning? During dinner? On your third beer?
Many of them come during my daily dose of walking (around 2 hours). But the majority come from googling images, checking out new apps, reading books and articles. I get tons of ideas by relating what others have done to what’s currently in my mind.
How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?
The startup got its first kicks in Startup Weekend Cluj, Romania, where we won second place in March 2014. At that time, we were a typical huge Startup Weekend team of 7 people. Half a year later, it’s 5 of us – 2 business and 3 super cool technical guys.
A lot of people have big ideas. What gave you the confidence to actually go after yours?
Two people. And a book. I met Shira Abel, an Israeli entrepreneur, who told me that I will never have more experience and there will never be a better time to do a startup than now. Then I bumped into another Israeli entrepreneur in a Starbucks coffee, who over a couple of weeks helped me overcome my fears and become most of what I am now. Finally, when I read Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich,” everything fell into place. I learned there’s nothing in this world that you cannot do when you have a strong desire for it. So I developed one.
Remember the early days of starting up? Describe the struggles you went through.
Those days are still here! Actually, I started my first company right after graduating from Warwick University. At that time, I had zero practical experience and was used to excelling within rules that someone else was setting for me. My biggest challenge was to learn to create my own rules. How to make decisions in the huge sea of opportunities. From where to get customers. How to organize myself on a daily basis. What is an invoice. How to choose a lawyer. An accountant. How to know I did a great job when there’s no one to give me an A. Stuff like that.
How do you handle frustration? What has been your biggest professional frustration?
I breathe deeply. I go walking and listen to music if I can. My biggest frustrations so far have been related to conflicts, misunderstandings, and the difficulties of making decisions with cofounders. Startups are not a happy, carefree environment all the time. It is hard moments that make your team strong or break it. You want to make sure it’s the first and it’s not easy.
How do you picture your company in 5 years?
I imagine our product will be used by hundreds of millions of people around the world. As a positive mirror, where they will be getting all the love and appreciation each of them deserves.
Who or what inspires YOU? Role models? Quotes? Running? Video games? Snack food?
I get inspired by music, books and TED talks mostly. I am a big fan of Jim Morrison (Doors), John Lennon (Beatles), Napoleon Hill, Yoda… I also have a favorite quote that gets me super energized and ready to break down anything: “You’re an amazing person. You can do anything. And I love you.”
How’d you fund this venture? VC? Self-funding? Crowdfunded? Where’d you get the money, man?
We’ve bootstrapped so far. The business part of our team has been part of the TechPeaks People Accelerator. It’s a great pre-acceleration program in the Alps, in beautiful Trento, Italy. You get to spend 4 months there working on your idea together with a bunch of awesome people from all over the world, meeting mentors from the US and not worrying about money. At the end, there’s also a chance to win a 50K EUR grant and setup your business in Italy. We highly recommend the program to anyone, applications open soon at www.techpeaks.eu.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
Start looking for funding as soon as you can.
What other advice do you have for other entrepreneurs struggling to get started?
Set yourself a challenge to do 1 weird thing per day for a month. Go in the lake in the park. Sit down on a busy sidewalk. Pick up all the litter you see as you walk in the street. Hug random people. Take a random train and see where it gets you. Whatever comes to mind. Get yourself in the habit of doing weird stuff, without caring what people will think and where they will lead you. Learn to get out of the ordinary. To fail. To just do. Then a startup is just another of those weird things.
What would you do if you had a year off and $500,000 to spend (on something other than work)?
A startup: That’s not work, it’s fun.
Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur? If not, what’ll make you feel successful?
Yes, I do. Success is about mindset. The money and fame are there to convince the others you are successful. It all starts inside of you. I feel successful because I have learned how to learn and to love.
Top 5 mobile apps you’re in love with and why?
Facebook because it’s useful. Viber for free calls and cool stickers. Dasher for the random funny gifs. Hanx Writer for the great old typewriter feel for creative writing. Vine for procrastination, and for getting a sense of what the world at large is like and interested in sharing.
What is your music streaming player of choice, and what are you listening to right now?
8tracks. Listening to RadioHead right now – Packt Like Sardines in a Tin Box.
Number 1 country you’ve always wanted to visit but haven’t yet? (And why that country?)
Chile. I am pretty curious about a country that’s all mountains and sea. And it’s Latin America, always wanted to go there.
Three people (other than you) we should follow on Twitter and why?
- @MirceaVadan – my cofounder – he posts interesting things about startups.
- @NirEyal – if you want to build habit-forming products.
- @startitsmart – if you want to know what’s happening in the Bulgarian startup ecosystem.