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How can you create an IT company with childlike enthusiasm?

"In the last few years, in every company I have been to, I have worked directly with the CEO; I have been his right hand. Initially, I was happy that I was learning new things, but there came the point when I stopped learning and said to myself, "I have to change something." Until one day, I said to myself, "If you're as smart as you think you are, make your own company and see what it's like to be the CEO." - shared our co-founder and CEO, Blagovesta, in her interview for the Club Z media.

The whole interview you can read at clubz.bg/interview (in Bulgarian). Read some of the highlights in this blog post. 

"Because it's one thing to be clever, it's another to make the decisions, be responsible, and look at the big picture. You can propose an idea, and the CEO could say, "No, you can't do that." So you ask, why not. Well, because there are a thousand other things you must consider. Now I see what this role brings. If we fail and give up in a year - anything can happen - then I'll say, 'Clearly I'm not that clever,' and I'll be happier working for someone else."

After coming to this conclusion more than three years ago, Blagovesta Pugyova replaced the 40-hour workweek with an 80-hour one. That is, she went into business.

The sphere of activity became clearer the moment Blaga found a trusted partner in Andrei Nonchev. He is a programmer with more than 15 years of experience and a volunteer of the "Give a Book" foundation, an initiative that Blaga started as a Facebook group in 2010 and subsequently turned into a foundation through which volunteers contribute to the integration into society of children deprived of parental care. 

In the summer of 2018, the two founded Childish.

A business with a cause from the start

Despite that they form a great team, Blaga and Andrei fit together as partners for another reason. Through their business, they wanted to not only be able to support themselves but also to provide financial stability for "Give a Book." Their shared vision is formally elevated in the company's ownership - 41% belongs to the foundation.

"We want to find a way to help the foundation - part of the profits goes to the foundation with the idea that at some point it will reach a budget that can sustain it, says Blaga. The idea is not to make some pennies because we can do that if we work somewhere and everyone donates part of their salary to it. We want to achieve a large scale so that the foundation is independent."

In the eleven years it has existed, Give a Book has attracted over 5,000 volunteers who give their time and friendship to girls and boys in nearly 20 homes in Sofia and other cities. As the initiator of the project, Blaga has been featured in Darik Radio's "40 under 40" selection (2014) and Forbes magazine's "30 under 30" (2016). 

Like most Bulgarian IT companies, Childish started as an outsourcing contractor. Some clients come to them on the recommendation of organizations that have already used the company's services; others reach them through intermediary agencies. 

Blaga's visibility and contacts in the NGO sector have played their part in Childish's development. Among the company's first clients was the children's education platform Knigovishte. As a result, Childish's developers crafted a platform that is now used by thousands of children and continue to build on it with new modules and a mobile app.

Philosophy and challenges

Currently, Blaga and Andrei prefer to reinvest their profits in business development. This allows them to hire more people, take on larger projects to run in parallel, and find a market for their software products. The logic they follow is simple: the more sustainable the business is, the more sustainable "Give a Book"'s operations will be.

Childish's first own software product is now a reality. Fabrico is a software that digitises all the maintenance processes in manufacturing plants, helping technicians, machine operators and managers in industrial plants to synchronise the production and maintenance of machines, organising their servicing and repair work efficiently.

Some of the largest technology companies in the world offer similar software, but it is often out of pocket for small and medium-sized businesses, Blaga says, adding that with Fabrico, the user takes centre stage in the workflow. 

"The team is already working with several clients and building on it based on their feedback. Interest and feedback have been good, although the corona pandemic has forced many to tighten their belts and invest cautiously. Anti-epidemic measures have also limited opportunities for physical meetings with potential customers and product presentations on-site.  

Challenges of this type do not bother Blaga. She believes in the product's potential so much that while the team has been working on it for the past year, she has not taken a salary in the hope that the investment will pay off."

"I don't think anybody will tell you it was easy when they started a business. My mother, who has a feed warehouse in a small town, also had a hard time. I remember when my mum and dad built their first warehouse, they had exactly £1,000 left over to stock up and the warehouse was huge. So they bought eight bags of one item and eight bags of the other and staggered them so the warehouse didn't look empty. It counted time, effort, and constant reinvestment-that is, you don't buy a car with the money you make, as many people do, but you put it back into the business so you can buy more bags and grow that way. I've seen a lot of other people who haven't had it easy. Someone with a brilliant idea and a lot of luck might have been faster, but those are few. These are the unicorns (startups with a market cap of over $1 billion - ed.) we see on the news, but they delude us into thinking it's easy to be an entrepreneur. It's a lot harder than I thought before I started."
 

Childish work but serious

On the busiest days, Blaga sometimes tells her husband that she's at the edge of her strength and will soon start looking at job ads. A few hours later, however, she regains her sober judgment about the big picture of her life and gets to work with even more enthusiasm. After all, the company is called Childish. Blaga and her partner chose this name because they admire children's inherent courage, curiosity, and creativity and value these qualities in themselves and their employees.

"Good results occur when people are motivated and disciplined enough in their work. To ensure that we are people who do things effectively while also possessing the kindness and purity of children and the joy and excitement of the great cause we work for, I filter the candidates we consider. Anyone who doesn't fit those requirements isn't desired here. We are children."

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