On a Thursday spring morning, Balázs Horváth appeared on the other end of our video call. He just came back from a morning gym routine, drinking a smoothie and sporting a t-shirt with the EIT Digital Alumni logo on it, a proud smile across his face.
“You are interviewing me for my startup experience. I do have some companies, but none of them is startups,” he said. “If I were doing this many startups, it would swallow my life and become a toxic unhealthy relationship. I would rather enjoy what I am doing. I will just share my stories - some of them are also failures.”
A modest start
Simply put, Balázs grew up in modest circumstances. At a very young age, he moved out of his family home and worked at a construction company next to his high school.
At the age of 19, he entered Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest to pursue his Bachelor’s. Since then, he has become a web development freelancer, delivering cheap and good projects. “Every friend in my network knew what I was doing, and I was really good at it,” Balázs said.
He thus founded a web development company and worked as its sole employee for one and a half years. “I went to a web development class at the university, and asked if anyone would like to do real-life projects.”
Through such approaches, he eventually brought four employees into his company. While his workmates loved programming, he found himself good at communication. Would that suggest he would take on something more?
During that time, Balázs acquired a huge project, leading his team to strive for on-time delivery. The payment, however, did not arrive on time. After paying all his employees, he had nothing left for himself and had to accept a one-month “mono-diet”: bread with butter and sugar as toppings. “One night, I was super hungry, but I only had a big can of sugar left. So I was eating pure sugar with a spoon,’ he vividly recounted.
IT x entrepreneurship
Balázs had learnt about IT through his years in web development, and it was time for him to brush some entrepreneurship strokes on his canvas.
Like many of us in the community, he joined the EIT Digital Master programme. Sitting in the entrepreneurship class at Aalto University, he was listening to the teacher listing all the mistakes a startup can make. “I found that one of my companies can tick all the mistakes!” he admitted. He then fleshed out the theory taught in class by tapping on his own experience.
It has never been a shame for him to talk about his failures. “I found that Europeans are ashamed to mention their failures, worrying that people who failed in the past are incapable of doing things,” he said. But in the US, investors would not be likely to invest in founders who do not have experience failing.
“Others’ success can teach you, but also mislead you. You can be successful only by being in the right place at the right time. Failures, on the other hand, can always give you something to learn from,” said Balázs.
During his time at Aalto, he joined the “really fantastic” Aalto Ventures programme, where each team in the class had to make pitches on topics such as marketing and cash flow every other week.
“Our team worked really hard, often until 2 am before the pitches,” he recalled. In the end, his team won the course competition, and the company founded by their idea still exists today!
The idea was to sell a fish called Särki. Originally, the fish could not be sold if being hunted in the summer because no one wanted to bring the bony and mud-taste fish onto their dinner table. The hunted Särki thus often became waste. However, Balázs and his team, a group of hard-core cooking hobbyists, discovered that the bones became crispy under high-temperature cooking, and winter-hunted Särki tasted fresh.
All the friends he invited to taste Särki agreed it was delicious. On Ravintolapäivä, a Finnish holiday during which anyone can set up food stands for free, Balázs and his team brought their cooked Särki meals to the public and sold them for around 800 euros. Hooray!
If you never try, you will never know.
(Some years later, Balázs coached at a DigiEduHack event at Aalto)
“Who drinks what?”
Several years later, Balázs was enjoying his ice-cream evening “routine” with his friend Ákos, whom he met at EIT Digital coaching sessions in Budapest, Helsinki and Lisbon. “I like coaching students and enjoying life in different nice cities with ice-cream,” Balázs explained. “Then why don’t you make a living from this?” Ákos asked.
This idea was realised with two other EIT Digital alumni, Krishna Iyer Easwaran and Alessandro Tomasi. Sitting down to ideate their company name, they struggled for half a day. Then, Ákos’ wife popped into the room and asked “ki mit iszik? (who drinks what in Hungarian)”. Bingo, even the non-Hungarian-speaking co-founders found the name funny. They thus grabbed the name “Kimitisik” for the company.
Balázs has confidence in the team and believes that “finding the right team is the core issue to succeed in the market“. With Kimitisik, they have carried out projects with many clients, such as Google Japan and MIT. They also train their clients’ employees to become trainers. Looking ahead, Balázs hopes that Kimitisik can leverage its global impact by developing the regional market and stimulating innovation within big corporations.
“I want to help others create impact,” said Balázs. “I can relate to many young people who have passion but are limited by their background or lack of capital.” To do this, he has been lending his support through entrepreneurship coaching via Kimitisik.
“A successful entrepreneur is someone who is passionate about solving an issue, and doing it in a sustainable way,” encouraged Balázs. “But everyone can be a semi-entrepreneur, as long as they are solving a challenge and aiming for better solutions, no matter what the job title is.”
Giving back to the Alumni community
“I also want to give back to the new members in this community,” Balázs said. “I like the Alumni community. I met many people when I was studying, and they changed my view of the world.”
As a traveller who has been to over 30 countries in the past years, Balázs said with a glow in his eyes, “I want to share a mentality with community members: taking risks, networking with people and having friends globally.”
“The value of this alumni network is huge. We are a group of people that all have double degrees. Imagine in a few years, many of us will be decision-makers in different fields all over the world, with a lasting friendship that connects us all,” Balázs said.
So what’s next for this serial entrepreneur? Once the COVID-19 pandemic mitigates and the Canadian border reopens, he will move to Canada to set up offices for his companies in North America, boosting the scaling-up in that market. “But I will travel back for our Annual Meetings!” Balázs said.
Looking forward to seeing you there, Balázs!
(Balázs has never missed any EIT Digital Alumni Annual Meetings)
A side note:
If you are an EIT Digital alumnus who would like to share your domain knowledge or experience, you may drop Balázs a Facebook message or send him an email. He and the Kimitisik team welcome Alumni members, regardless of your domain or geo-location, to join their projects and practice teaching with future talents.
Besides, if you are on your way to entrepreneurship and feel confused as it supposes to be, Balázs would be glad to have a chat with you, trying to share some light along your way ahead.
Author: Jiayao Yu
Edit: Gaffar Rampage