Startup interview with Cosmin Ciobanu from Octonius: „Really inspired people are hard to find“

Veröffentlicht am 27. August 2013 in der Kategorie Gründung & Selbständigkeit von

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Existenzgründung: Vor- und Nachteile des FranchisingOctonius is an app designed to help people organize their tasks and their life. It brings together your files and helps you keep your workflow in line. Cosmin Ciobanu, the CEO and founder of Octonius, has kindly agreed to answer all of our questions about his startup. Tell us about yourself! Who are you?

Cosmin Ciobanu: I'm Cosmin, the CEO & Founder of Octonius, also known as Graf von Birthelm in some circles. I'm a UI&UX creator, and am passionate about productivity systems, GTDs, and cloud systems. As an entrepreneur I love to craft a product that will really benefit someone on a daily basis. My focus is on how we can improve our workflow and activities to save precious time. In my free time I hike in the mountains across Europe and practice traditional karate. Regarding the mountains and hiking, I love Freiburg im Breisgau. If you were a blog post, which 3 tags would you give yourself? :)

Cosmin Ciobanu: Social, cloud, collaboration. What was your inspiration and when did you actually decide to found your own company?

Cosmin Ciobanu: Half a year ago I was preparing for a family trip in the Duchy of Carinthia (southern Austria) while trying to keep my office workflow in line. I was struggling to stay organised and to prioritise. That’s when I realized that life is flowing smoothly, with all this noise and distractions and I can stay focused and organized using a different method.

Each day we work and shift focus from task to task, activity to activity with no consistent order. Our mind is not designed to focus 8h/day on work alone. You solve a task, then think about your coffee break, then work again, then see your friends Facebook photos from some trip and so on… We have to deal with that. And most of our time, we are on the go, prioritising stuff, reviewing things and creating tasks for us and for others - not necessarily writing or working or coding. That was the moment when I decided to start Octonius and to develop the most intelligent personal companion focused on productivity. Where did you work before and how did all founding members get together?

Cosmin Ciobanu: Octonius is founded by 4 people: me - Cosmin Ciobanu (Romanian), Chris H. Leeb (Austrian), Cristian Ivan (Romanian) and Lucian Campan (Romanian). Chris and I worked together on another startup and he is also our business angel. The development team - me, Cristian and Lucian - worked before on other projects for different clients. I worked previously at a German startup (Mountix) as a UI/UX designer and before that at FashionTV Austria. All of us have great startup experience. How do you set yourself apart from your competitors? What makes your company special?

Cosmin Ciobanu: We're a startup based in Palo Alto, CA and our mission is to create the world's most intelligent personal companion to enhance mobile productivity. There are a few productivity apps that just bring Dropbox, Google Drive and task management into one place, but keep the contents separate and distinct. That's easy. What sets us apart is that we do not build a productivity layer on top of these separate data stores, but we meld them and connect the dots. And we are working on something smart, we are trying to make a flawless workflow for the user.

Octonius will actually realise that some files from Dropbox, a Google drive document and perhaps some Evernote notes create together an “Entity” - a Project. It has to be that smart in order to really help you get things done. And on top of that, it has to understand that this Project involves not just me – but other collaborators too. The first step to achieve this vision is the new Codex Wall feature – a living, breathing feed of what's happening with your files and activities, with what we “fast actions” such as adding a task list to any file or setting reminders with one tap. What about your financial situation. How did that work out? Do/Did you have financial backup?

Cosmin Ciobanu: Octonius started without any funding. The only money invested is the money needed to found the company in California, and build out the infrastructure. All of us are now working 100% on Octonius as we are highly motivated by its mission. I strongly believe that you can do a great job if you have the right team, a team of craftsmen and believers, without any funding. You offer to test your app for free during the first 30 days. Afterwards users can choose whether they want to pay a monthly or an annual fee. What were your reasons for deciding on this business model? Has it paid off so far?

Cosmin Ciobanu is one of the founders of Octonius

Cosmin Ciobanu is one of the founders of Octonius

Cosmin Ciobanu: Our core value is to provide a great experience. In order to do that, we work hard. We're engineers and artists, craftsmen and inventors – and we believe the output has real economic value. So we can't just put it online for free. But we also believe in fair play. I don't want to charge users for a download without even testing the app. This is the first reason we went for the subscription idea. Second, we offer a cloud service, something that will keep improving, but which takes funds to do so. We need a constant stream of cash to keep it live and scalable, thereby continuing to deliver an amazing and scalable product. With the upcoming v.1.2 update we really offer great productivity value and we will also decrease the price.

So far we have just over 3000 users and some of them are starting to pay already - remember it's only 30-40 days from the launch. Not much, but that's ok because only after the next update will users really benefit from Octonius. Version 1.1 was just to test our scalability and we still consider it an extended BETA. Version.1.2 will make the transition from beta to official release. In addition, there's also the possibility to make in-app purchases.  Are they popular with users?

Cosmin Ciobanu: The in-app purchases are in fact the monthly and yearly subscriptions. Without that, the users can't use the app after the 30 day trial. Our users are already starting to pay and that is very rewarding for us. Back to the beginning: What are the biggest (business) mistakes you made?

Cosmin Ciobanu: Mistakes? Well, we are always learning and listening to users. One mistake I made was to focus too much on Evernote integration, though it is not the main feature of Octonius. We addressed that mistake now with v.1.2. We also put too much focus on some extraneous business activities, when in fact we needed to dedicate ourselves to the product, which we have now done – and it’s this passion and devotion you see realized in v 1.2. Now, let's focus on the positive aspects! In retrospect, what are the things you are particularly proud of?

Cosmin Ciobanu: I love how we always improve and add things to our initial Octonius vision. It gets better with each hack session. The fact that we got to 3k users in 1 month with no press coverage except user word of mouth - it's very exciting. Not to mention that the app looks great and will get better and better with each iteration. How much time passed from the initial idea to the completion of the first version of the app?

Cosmin Ciobanu: We started the development in January. So that's around 4 months. What piece of advice would you give other startups?

Cosmin Ciobanu: Build an “A” Team. You know you have it when the guys are really good at what they do and they get in the team without any pay check. That's a believer. You can't do anything if you don't have believers as founders. Executioners are all over the place. But really inspired people are hard to find. And these people often work at their best if they are founders, not employees. And the most important thing to keep the whole stuff going: Be on a mission that doesn't suck! Are there any things you still need? (like an employee, an investor, …)?

Cosmin Ciobanu: At this point we are open to investors for a seed round. Where do you see yourselves in a year?

Cosmin Ciobanu: Octonius will be in the iOS and Android market, with lots of users from all cloud files: Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive etc - aiming to improve the way we collaborate and get things done. It will be a MUST HAVE tool for every multi-cloud user. Is there a funny story or a peculiar incident regarding your company you'd like to share with us?

Cosmin Ciobanu: When we created our movie - teaser - we said: We have no actors. No wait, we have friends! Let's gather them. Short question – short answer: Are you planning a business exit strategy? Yes? No?

Cosmin Ciobanu: Not at this point. If you could choose any guest for a business lunch, no matter if real or fictional, alive or dead, who would it be? What would you like to talk about?

Cosmin Ciobanu: Jonathan Ive @ Apple. I would love to talk with him about user experience and about delivering a great experience through design.

Wer das Interview lieber auf Deutsch lesen möchte, findet auf der zweiten Seite die Übersetzung.

(Bild: © Pakhnyushchyy -

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