Ellie Cachette is an American Technology executive, activist and author who was listed in 2012 as one of the Top 6 Women in Tech to Follow. She is a published contributor to Forbes, Huffington Post and has received numerous awards for her accomplishments in business and charity work for public health.
I had the chance to meet her during a meetup organized by Startup Grind Cluj-Napoca during which she shared with us some interesting insight and inspiring advice about fundraising, start-ups and business. The part that caught my attention the most though, was her opinion about Cluj-Napoca and Romanians in general. At the end of the event I approached her and asked her to give me an interview. She accepted gladly. This is how this article came about.
Hello Ellie, you have a very impressive career. What did you dream to become as a child? And how much of that turned to reality?
My initial dream was to be a professional tennis player. For whatever reason at the earliest of age that is what I wanted to do. I was discouraged (I think) partially because when I was growing up there weren’t really “famous” women athletes. After that I decided I would save the world and be an epidemiologist helping prevent large illnesses and epidemics.
”It’s possible to do as many things as you’d like as long as you are honest about how much time you have”
Being a successful businesswoman and an activist – that must be difficult and time consuming. How does one manage to do both?
I think it’s possible to do as many things as you’d like as long as you are honest about how much time you have. For me, I’ve always been more drawn to intellectual fulfillment or contributing to greater causes than say, one particular romantic relationship.
My schedule is highly managed and I use “blocks” of time as efficiently as possible. If I have several meetings I will make an entire day ONLY meetings. Other days reserved for tech or whatever is needed for deep thinking will make sure time is blocked off for such. A lot of effort goes into my schedule to make the best use of it so I think for anyone balancing priorities has to be even better at balancing time.
Just to give you an example: I don’t believe in commuting. I don’t believe in spending 1 hour on the train each day. You waste so much time. You cannot relax, you cannot think, you cannot code. It’s sunk cost. I got an offer to work for the campaign of a potential presidential candidate last year. The office I had to work in was 45 minutes away. It was really tempting and a great opportunity but I just said no, because I can’t afford to waste 25% of my day commuting. It’s my time and just can’t do it.
“At 22 I was already working full time as a Project Manager and moving to Romania – a country I didn’t know where to find on a map”
When was the first time you heard about Romania? Why did you decide to move to Europe?
2007 was the first time I heard the word “Romania” and it was while I was in a job interview and my (Romanian) boss told me they might send me to their office in Romania. “We will send you to ROH-MANIA!” proclaimed the Romanian executive who would soon become my boss and lifetime mentor.
At 22 years old most of my friends were still wrapping up college, but here I was working full time as a technical software project manager specializing in managing large global tech teams and considering working for a group of individuals mostly coming from a country I had never heard.
Up until that point I had never left the U.S and if they had asked me to point Romania out on a map I wouldn’t have gotten the job. I considering my current workplace boredom and I figured why not, I accepted the job offer and googled “Where is Romania?”
“Romania is a perfect spot to build a start-up”
Weeks later I was at the company headquarters in Cluj-Napoca, Romania teaching project management to our development managers and coordinating hundreds of deployment schedules to be in sync with our main American clients. To be honest it was one of the most fun jobs I ever had.
Now that I got to know the European market, I think that Romania is a perfect spot to build a start-up. You are on the same time zone as Europe. You wake up before everyone else. You can outsource additionally to Russia or China or any other country and you are also part of the EU.
I’ve always enjoyed being in Europe and wanting to live in Europe. About a year ago I made the decision to move here and spent a lot of care deciding where. Eventually I decided on the Netherlands. But I have always thought Europe was a great and emerging place, which you could read more about here.
You travelled back and forth to Cluj-Napoca in the last 10 years. Did you notice any changes related to business and people over the years?
When I arrived in 2007 I found Romania dirty, with lots of pollution, confusion over the onboarding of the European Union and the Lei (RON) seemed to fluctuate value on a daily basis. I felt like a dumb cliché American most of the time, not sure how to open doors or understand a word of the language.
The cars were tiny and I couldn’t figure out why everyone smoked and ham was seemingly put on every piece of food I could find. Still, the engineers in the company I worked for were extremely talented — the best I had ever worked with at the time.
So much has changed in the last decade, everything about Cluj. The obviously is about the building and companies and overall growth but what has changed the most I feel is that Cluj is really making itself something to be proud of. There is this additional layer of culture being born and it’s fantastic.
“Last year 10% of the students in the starting class of engineering at Stanford were Romanians. This is crazy!”
What is your opinion about Transylvania and Romanians?
Transylvania is such a unique place filled with culture and beauty. My opinion of Transylvania is that it’s beautiful with some of the best food in the world. I think Romanians are clever and deeply passionate people. Even recently Romania was ranked in a European startup report to be a #1 country of educated and skilled workers prime for startup growth.
Did you know that out of all the students who apply to Stanford University from the entire word, only 5% are accepted: 5% of the entire world! Last year 10% of the students in the starting class of engineering at Stanford were Romanians. This is crazy, the country is this thin! This shows that the education and the country spirit are here.
“Work hard, have the proper mindset and have courage. Nothing is hard unless you think it’s hard”
What advice would you give to a Romanian who wants to build a startup?
My advice to anyone building a startup, particularly Romanians, would be to understand technical diligence and how to prepare for raising capital more than your product even. There are always pivots and things going on, but the company should remain stable to survive. There’s plenty of information online about the topic like here.
Be prepared to work hard, have the proper mindset and have courage. Nothing is hard unless you think it’s hard. You have an amazing entrepreneurial spirit. I think Romania and Europe as a whole has a lot of successes coming up and all the markets filled with potential. I’m excited to have always been part of the European communities and now even more so connected to the next phases of growth.