♪ [music] ♪ – [David Laroche] Hello, achiever. Today I am with a new guest, you will love him. He is Eugene Ciurana. He's with me to answer my questions about entrepreneurship. He has an amazing journey so follow this interview. Hi, Eugene. – [Eugene Ciurana] Hi. How are you, David? – I'm very glad to be here and I love your energy and how you think. So I'm glad to do this interview with you. – Thank you very much, thank you for having me. – Can you introduce yourself? – Yes. Well, my name is Eugene and I've been in this whole entrepreneurship game since very early on. I started my first company, which was not very successful, back in 1984 when I was like 16, 17 years old. And I've got some amazing successes and some extremely catastrophic failures, and everything in between. But it's been a really fun journey. In the last 30 years now, in the software industry, I have been working for the largest companies in the world. I was once the director for platform technologies for Walmart. And at the same time, I was involved with some very obscure startups. And also with another startup, it was really cool. But most recently, I was involved with a startup called Summly that as you know, my partner, a 17-year old Nick, came up with this fabulous idea of how to make an app that would give you the news, summarized, on the mend, 24 hours a day, wherever you are with your iPhone. So Nick came up with the idea for the product and created this company and he was kind enough to help me come up with the actual implementation of the technology and to coordinate all the different teams that did that. So it's been fun. From the largest to the smallest, I've had the chance to play with all kinds of technology and meet all kinds of people and get involved in all kinds of enterprises, so it's been great. – Yeah, great. I would love to know because you started your own company at the early age, and why and how did you overcome or break the…maybe the rules that you are too young? I don't know. – Well, basically I didn't know any better. I like computers. I was able to learn about computers, some programming and so on. When I finished high school, I was in a position where I knew how to program and I had a lot of interest in continuing on doing that. And basically, I was living in Mexico at that time, and I hooked up with a friend of mine. he's now one of my best friends, but at that time, some guy who was also into computers and so on, and we basically started building systems on demand for other people. And one thing led to another and we were doing low-level systems programming for about four years, where we were building software that controlled glass kilns or the giant ovens where you make glass for industrial control. And I was able to work for a large company that does petrochemical products over in Central Mexico. And there were all kinds of opportunities that came out of that. Like I said, I didn't know what I was doing in terms of business, but I was having a lot of fun and just helping people with their projects, and that's how I started. Just basically throw myself into the ground, and let's see what happens. – You are highly qualified in computing. So you are a specialist, right? – Well, I became a specialist later. Basically, I was learning as I was going along. At that time, you have to remember, this was 1983, '84. So the whole personal computer was… – I should not remember, I was not born. – That's right, you were not around yet. But anyway, at that time, personal computers were the rage and a lot of people didn't know what they were doing, including me. But I, you know, how they say, “Fake it until you make it.” So I started learning and I have to figure out what to do and I ended up attending one of the best universities in Mexico, and I got a degree in computer engineering because I liked it. But the first two, three years that I was working on this, I was learning on the job. I was figuring out things. I could just figure them out faster than other people and that's what made that period successful. It was successful enough that it helped paid for my university, so hey, good work. – That's great. And I would love to know because a lot of people prefer to stay as an employee, why did you decide to offer your service as an entrepreneur? – Well, It's a combination of lack of desire to have a very structured routine. I can do a very structured routine for just a few months out of the year and then I have to change. I have to be looking at something nice out of my windows. I have to be engaged with what I'm doing. What happens when you're working for someone else is their goals are not your goals. Sometimes your goals and the other party's goals align and this is great. And for a while, for example, especially… I literally only had three jobs in my life. The rest of the time, I've been where I've been a partner or something. So for example, when I was working at Walmart, it was great because I came in and we were doing engineering and we were doing… it was Walmart.com, where I was working. We had some amazing teams there. And I learned a lot. I only spent there three years, but during those three years, it was an amazing learning experience. It was a fantastic place to work and so on, until I reached a point, after three years where I realized, “Okay, I think I grew as fast as I was going to grow in here.” I went from being a senior developer to being the director of platform technologies worldwide in a space of three years. So it was amazing growth during that time. And when it was over, I could tell, “Okay, I topped off. There is nothing that I want to do here anymore. I want to try and do something else.” So that's basically how I relate to working for someone else is like as long as I'm growing and as long as the job is interesting, I'm going to be there. The moment it stops being interesting, I think it's my obligation to the company to say, “Hey, it's not working out because I'm not the guy that you need for solving this other problem.” So that's pretty much how I view it. Same with school, there were topics, when I was at the university, that didn't interest me and my grades reflect it. I barely passed. There were things I found fascinating and I have straight As for three years out of the four at the university, great grades. The things that didn't interest me, I barely passed. So I just focused my attention on the things that I find interesting and we do that and it's great. – I love that. – Yeah. – And you just said that you had good failures and great success, I would love to know what did you learn from your great failures? Maybe the top five mistakes you did and you will not do again. – Okay, the top five mistakes. Okay. – That you can think about. – Yeah, I think it's easy. Don't put all the eggs on the same basket. Never, never trust all your energy, everything into one thing because that thing may not work out. You should always have an alternative, right? – Okay. The B plan – The plan B and plan C and plan D. I'm talking to you right now, and I'm thinking, “What do I need to do tomorrow?” And we spoke off camera before, I have a trip to China I need to worry about, and there's other things happening just in case everything…keep yourself with options because you just never know. The second thing, another thing that I learned from this would be have a little stash of resources, whether it's money, servers, oranges to make juice when your friends show up, whatever you have. Just be ready. You never know when you're going to need extra resources. – So the key is to build extra resources. – Have the extra resources. Maybe it's savings, maybe you always save some money. Maybe it is find out ahead of time what's going to happen so you have two or three… – Batteries. – Yeah, batteries, exactly. Like I said, friends are coming and you know they like fruit, so hey, maybe have some oranges and some apples and some strawberries and you figure out, hey, when they show up, give them an option, and then you're ready, versus maybe you don't know, maybe you just bought strawberries and maybe one of your friends is allergic to strawberries, so you have an option, right? So at any scale, always leave yourself with some options. Don't paint yourself into a corner. – That's great. – The third one, and this was in a very dark period of my life. I think in 2002, I ended up having macaroni and cheese for Christmas dinner by myself. It was after the first dotcom implosion. And I had engaged working with a company that sold adult services, adult entertainment services, basically porn. So that didn't work out, it didn't work out so badly that I lost a business that I had set up. I had to lay-off all my employees. It was a very, very dark time and that taught me that whatever I do, I should never be in a business that I cannot tell my mother about. So after that one, I'll never do any crazy, adult, weird business. There are people who can work on that and do very well behind the scenes, in front of the scenes, not for me. So I think those are the three biggest lessons. Everything else is just stay on your feet and start working in whatever you need to do, and take care of business and keep moving forward. – Okay. Great, I love that. And in the opposite, what is maybe the top three lessons you would like to share… Let's imagine… I could ask that differently. So let's imagine that I have a machine to come back in the past. So I have the ability to help you to come back in the past and to help the younger Eugene to grow faster. So what do you want to say to you in the past to grow faster? – Wow. I would say… – You can think about it. – I need to think about that one. Okay, the first thing I would tell Eugene is take good care of your health, always. Because Eugene was pretty out of shape in the mid-'90s and he got sick. And it took a while for him to get back from that one. So I would say, “Hey, always stay healthy. Work out a little, go for a walk. Always try to burn some energy just doing something physical. Computers are great, but make sure you go outside and get some fresh air at least once a day, everyday and for at least 20, 30 minutes. Just clear your head.” That's going to keep you very healthy and that's going to give you energy to do other things. – I love that. – What would be another thing? Save more money. That's very important. – How much? In percentage, in proportion. – It's very hard to tell. Basically I think there were periods again where young Eugene was successful and he was just splurging and living like a king and then that all went away. Then it came back. It took a while for that guy to find the balance. So I would just say, “Hey look, don't save a lot. But one day, you may end up eating macaroni and cheese for dinner for Christmas, you don't want to do that. It's very painful. So save some money.” That would be very good for that guy. And I think the third thing would be as much as you love learning, there is always a little bit more, there's always one more thing that you can learn, there's always an extra thing that you can find interesting. Don't focus all your attention on computers and the programming and the things that you have because while you're a specialist in these things, you may also find inspiration in other areas, in other disciplines. So keep your eyes open. Spend more times at museums. And I love going to museums. San Francisco has fantastic museums and I love going. I make the time of it, at least once a month, to go somewhere where we can find, you know, like for example, there's some impressionist exhibit at the de Young Museum here in San Francisco. So I would love to… I'm counting the hours until I can go and check it out. Old Eugene would just focus on learning all these things about computers and really obscure technological gotchas and hacks and so on. It's like, “Spend some time learning something else.” In the long run, it's going to help you do other things that you don't realize that you're going to need. – Wow. There is a lot of wisdom in your answers. I love that. I would like to be able to do that. And I would like to focus on your first one, to stay healthy, to be authentic. Sometimes for me, it's hard to manage my time between… For example, in this trip, it's harder than the other time in the year because the rest of my time in France, I can manage my schedule more easily. But in this case, I have only few days in the country and I want to use this time the best I can. So I have the tendency, in the few days. to sleep less, do no sports, and just focus to work. And from today, I started to have some head…how do you say? – Headache? – Yes, and to be a little bit sick. So how do you do to keep in mind that it's very important to focus on your health? – Well, I'm in the same situation, or I was in the same situation as you actually. I'm a little overweight. I'm a lot overweight right now, compared to my normal weight. And it was because over the last 12 months or so, I went through a lot of changes after we sold this last company. It was a very successful sale and lots of meeting. It was great. But at the same time, I had to start changing my lifestyle. I was living in Russia. In fact, legally, I still live in Russia, it's a long story how that happened, but I'm going back and forth between Russia and San Francisco. As we mentioned off camera, I have a kid. I have a two-year-old kid. And it's extremely complicated to sort out family life, and then work and business that I have to take care of here in the Bay area, and going back and forth and having a home in Russia and a home here and going back and forth. So it became very unhealthy. And I caught myself realizing, “Hey, I'm enjoying my meals a lot because the rest of the time, everything is very stressful. So the first thing I had to figure out is identify where the problem is. Now that I identified it, I immediately started changing things. Changed what I eat, add more sports. Just yesterday, I went back, I used to be a professional kickboxer. And just yesterday, I went back to the gym and I lasted the whole hour and I ended up sparring for a little while, a couple of rounds with some friends. And I was dead when I left the gym but I feel great now. All the aches and pains that I had went away because all of a sudden, the blood was flowing again. And I have every intention of going back to the gym this week and just start getting back that balance. In your case, when you're having all these things, just try to identify what is it that is causing that imbalance in what you're doing. Once you're crystal clear about it and address the problem. It's like, do you need to make more time for exercising or do you need to change your diet or do you need to do a little bit of both? Do you need more sleep? Just figure out what it is that is affecting it, what's causing the headache or what's causing the extra weight or whatever, and start addressing it. And you will immediately get that…you can internalize it. Then you start consciously not doing the things that you would normally do. Like for example, I have fresh fruit or I could have a big slice of cherry pie. Today, I bought fresh fruit at the market, right? Because now I'm conscious, that cherry pie looked really good, but that's not going to help me get to where I need to be physically. So just being crystal clear about that you need to do about yourself and your goals and what you're trying to achieve and then everything just kind of lines up with it. – I love that. So your second advice was…just to remember, save money, right? – Yeah. – And the third one was… Do you remember? – The third one is never enter a business or any activity that you cannot tell your mother about. – Oh, yeah, which was great. – Your mother has to be proud of what you're doing. So whatever it is, whether your mom is alive or not, whoever your closest person is, you have to be able to be proud to tell them, “I'm doing this and it's great.” And there are people who can be in any industry and be happy about that. I realize I don't need that industry, that was not for me. – Yeah, it's great. You are a businessman and an entrepreneur so you are doing a lot of things. And like you said, you have to manage your family time, health time, business time. And you have some goals and projects. And a lot of people ask me how to manage his own… I don't know the word in English. When you can't wait something.. Do you know this word? You can't wait because you want to have everything now, and if you don't have now, you are… – Frustrated? – Frustrated? [French] Impatience? – Impatient. – Yes. It's the same word? – Yeah. – Okay. So did you have this feeling? – All the time. – Okay. And how do you manage that to have some gratitude about what you have and not focusing on what you don't have? – Remember when I mentioned earlier about not painting yourself into a corner, not having only one thing? That's how I manage it. Since there isn't only one thing that I'm focused on at any one time, there's two or three things that are happening in parallel. There is like my regular job, the things I have to do no matter what. There is the conferences, I do a lot of public speaking. I advice occasionally, people who want to do technology startups or whatever. It's not my job, it's not something that I do for money or whatever. It's just something that people come to me for advice and I help them. Since I have all these things happening in parallel, that helps me balance out professionally what's happening so I don't get that impatience, like “It has to happen now, it has to happen now.” There is no single activity that makes me focus on that one thing to the point where I am extremely anxious about making it happen. For example. I'm going to talk about another startup I did where an acquisition was imminent. We were going to have an exit through an acquisition. But nothing is serious, nothing is real until you have the contract signed and the check in the bank. Until then, everything is…it can happen, it cannot happen. You don't know until you actually have the money in the bank. So if the only source of work and the only source of focus that we had was acquisition, then everyone would be extremely anxious. My partners and me, we would be just tearing our hair out. I have no hair now but… So what happened was we already had planned, if this acquisition doesn't happen, then let's get another round of funding and let's open a new office in Kiev. This was when I was back in Russia. Whatever it takes so that if the acquisition doesn't happen, then we have this plan B, we go on plan B and then we continue forward. And there's a lot less stress because we're always busy weighing our options and we also have a second alternative. If you put all your energy into the one thing that you want to make happen, that's when you get impatient because there's nothing else happening around you. So you want to see it happen and you put a lot more energy and sometimes, you put good energy; sometimes you put bad energy. You start feeling frustrated because you cannot control what the other people are doing, you can only control what you're doing and how you feel. But you can't control what other people are doing. Since you cannot control those third parties, you don't know if their investors backed out. You don't know anything about what's happening on their side. So that makes you impatient if you are just trying to make one outcome happen and not having something else. So the way you balance that out is by just having multiple things to do. Family, the same thing. We're flying back to Moscow a few weeks ago, and we said, “Hey, we can go straight back to Moscow or we can stop in Paris for a couple of days, what do you guys want to do?” “Stop in Paris.” Okay. So we stopped in Paris for a day, played tourists and enjoyed ourselves and everything, everyone rested. And when we got on the plane to get back to Moscow, everyone was much happier. Toddler, he's two years old, he was great. He was having a good time. He was smiling the whole time instead of having a 13-hour flight and then airport, and then another four hours to Moscow. He would be dead, he would be miserable. So there's another option. Always leave yourself an out, always have a plan B or a plan C, and then that helps you keep perspective and keep your feet on the ground. – Okay. I love that. And the last question. I was very impressed. – Thank you. I don't know what you were going to say, but thank you. – Yeah, I was very impressed because you took, you gave me a lot of time at the beginning of our conversation in the plane. And you can use this time to do a lot of things: sleep, focus on your goal, vision, work. How do you choose between all the opportunities and all what life can ask you or give you. For example, how do you choose to take time with me, or with other ones, and yes… Do you understand my question? How do you know when you have to stay focused on the things you are doing and when do you have the time to try other things? – Well, let's talk about your case, very simple. So we sat down and the first thing I noticed, you're friendly. That was great. I hate when I get on a plane and I sit next to someone who is all grumpy. Can't do that. Can't deal with that. Of course, I can be grumpy and you just ignore them. But you were friendly, so great. And then you showed me your website, your videos, and you started telling me what you were doing, and it's like, “Wow.” This is what's happening in my head. I'm listening to this and I'm watching your videos and you're telling me your story and I found it very inspiring. It's like, “Hey, you're growing your business. You want to inspire other people to do stuff.” That's very engaging. That's fun. So I learned a lot just by talking to you. I was engaged, I was having fun. There were things that you told me that I didn't know about. And that kept me interested. When we started talking about, “Hey, let's sit down for a chat, ” like we're having right now, it's like, “Wow, that's very humbling. Thank you, yeah. I'd love to do it because it's fun,” and I'm learning all kinds of things even as we're sitting here and doing your whole production set up is great. I'm just thinking about all these things, “This is interesting and it's good.” Sometimes, the same way as I met you, that's how I met Nick, the guy who did Summly. Never in my wildest dreams would I have dreamed that I would partner with a 16-year-old to make a company that made news around the world. And we did and so it was great. Why? Because it was interesting, it was engaging. At that time, I was working for a very large venture fund in the Ukraine, and I put that job on hold to go and work with Nick because what Nick was doing was more interesting. Remember what I said, you grow so much in one place and then, hey, there's something else that I can learn somewhere else. So that's how I engaged with Nick. The energy, again, goes to the things that are interesting and that are going to help me grow somehow. And that's how you and I ended up here. If you remember, too, when we were on the plane, there was a point where I said, “Okay, dude. It's great chatting with you, but I'm going to watch TV. Don't be offended.” I just grabbed my TV and I started watching and then I fell asleep. I told you. I tried to be polite. I said, “Okay, I need time for myself.” – It was great and you did well. – Thank you. And I think that's also very important. I have the same conversations with my fiancé or even with my kid. I tell them, “Hey, now it's time to do X. Now you have my full attention.” And by the same token, if I'm busy, it's like, “Hey, you guys, go play somewhere else. Go to the beach or something. Just leave me alone because I have to focus on something else.” – And how do you know when it's the time to do these X? – Because I need to do it. If I need to do it, I'll tell them. – Okay, you feel that it's the right time to do it. – Correct. – So you feel that and you listen to that? – Yeah. And I just tell them, “Hey, now I need time for myself. I need to make my calls,” whatever it is. And they are the same way. My fiancé comes and says, “Hey, I need you to do X, Y, Z. Or I need to do X, Y, Z, can you help me with blah?” Sure, of course. And we figure it out. – So to sum up what you are saying, you are open about what you don't know because you don't know what you don't know, right? – Right. – And you can't imagine that with someone you don't know or you speak to people and there's a reason opportunities is made for you, right? And then you listen to yourself when it's the time to do other things. – Correct. – Okay. – In your case, I was listening to you. I found it interesting and here we are. We're still talking and I hope that we will continue to talk for many years because what you're doing is very interesting. It's very inspiring. – Great. I love this interview. So thank you very much. – Thank you very much, David. It was a pleasure being with you. – How other people can maybe follow you? Do you have something online, Twitter, LinkedIn, a website? – Yeah. The best way to find out what I'm up to is the website is Ciurana, C-I-U-R-A-N-A-dot-eu. That's the easiest way to find me online. And there you will find if I'm doing a conference somewhere, if I publish something, if I have rant against something. I have a Tumblr site somewhere, hooked up from there, so that's the best way to get a hold of me online. – Great. Thank you very much. – Thank you, David. .♪ [music] ♪
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