Octav Druta is one of the founders of Talentbuddy, a company on a mission to simplify the complex process of learning to build web applications.
In 2011, over 350 companies applied for Growlab’s first accelerator program in Vancouver, Canada. Ultimately, five were selected and Talentbuddy — a company founded by Octav, Vlad Berteanu and Andrei Soare — was one of them. The members of the founding team have degrees in computer science and engineering, and experience building software that serves hundreds of millions of customers at companies like Google and Nokia. They’re passionate about learning and helping other people bring their ideas to reality through programming.
The team moved from Romania to Vancouver in the Summer of 2011 and became part of Growlab’s first cohort of companies.
Q&A With Talentbuddy CEO Octav Druta
What are you focused on right now?
Unlike other learning experiences that involve learning programming concepts by passively watching videos, we’re focused on helping people learn to solve complex problems by applying their knowledge in a highly interactive environment.
Watching videos, doing small “repeat-after-me” exercises and expecting to be a good programmer is like watching videos explaining road signs, doing a few quizzes, and expecting to be a good driver. People accumulate many hours of watching videos and jumping through the hoops of coding tutorials, and when they’re confronted with writing a piece of working software from scratch, they’re completely clueless as to where to start.
Learning experiences that focus on the practical side of transforming ideas into working software applications are sorely lacking, and “learning by doing” is an approach that runs deeply in our DNA. That’s why we’ve set out to create a highly interactive learning experience that helps people learn to build modern applications from scratch.
Feedback is instantly delivered in their console. They overcome barriers by asking for help from our developers and they learn the best practices from documented solutions written by professionals.
When did Talentbuddy start to feel validated?
We see validation as a fluid concept. We started to see the first signs of validation after releasing Talentbuddy Practice, which started as a platform to practice for tech interviews at companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter.
We built this interactive learning platform after noticing that over 70% of the people who go through technical interviews fail. We observed this while helping Twitter, HubSpot, Oracle, Ooyala, oDesk and other companies screen over 15,000 engineers with Talentguide, one of our products.
Over time, Talentbuddy became a place where tens of thousands of programmers come to enjoy problem solving in their free time, perfect their knowledge of algorithms and data structures, or learn a new programming language through problem solving. The product is also used as a teaching resource in Computer Science classes in universities across the world.
With the help of the Internet, we had the pleasure of working with ambitious students from around the world. Many went on to build their own products, offer stronger client experiences as freelancers, or get better jobs. This was another level of validation for us.
As we’re building new learning experiences (like Talentbuddy Workshops) we hope to help more people than we’ve been able to in the past. Hopefully, this will be a new level of validation for us.
How did being part of GrowLab (now HIGHLINE) affect your startup journey?
Meeting our investors was one of the biggest benefits we got from the accelerator. They offered the financial, intellectual and social support we needed to establish and grow our business in Canada.
How would you describe Talentbuddy’s culture?
The attributes of our culture emerge from our values. We value friendliness, speed, resourcefulness, simplicity, quirkiness, mindfulness and creativity. Our values emerge in almost everything we do, from the way we interact with our customers, to how we design and execute our products.
Building a business comes with ups and downs. How do you bounce back or motivate yourself in tough times?
It depends on what causes low motivation in that specific situation. Competence, autonomy, and relatedness are three critical variables that influence one’s level of motivation.
If I need to solve a problem and I don’t know how, that’s clearly a competence issue. These kind of issues can be solved in two ways: you either acquire the right level of competence yourself or you delegate the responsibility of solving the problem to someone else. I often try to acquire the right level of competence by seeking new information. Experimenting, reading or talking to relevant people are three good ways of doing that.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received is related to positioning a product. A positioning strategy is often fuelled solely by the entrepreneur’s perception of how the market is segmented. The problem is that there’s often a huge gap between how a customer perceives the market segmentation versus how the entrepreneur perceives it. This happens because the entrepreneur and the customer have different levels of knowledge about the options available in a market, and therefore different ways of “seeing” the market”.
The advice I’ve gotten is to always be mindful of the customer’s perception before creating a positioning strategy.
What advice can you give other entrepreneurs?
Make sure you’re using forcing functions properly.
Follow Octav on Twitter: @octavdruta