“We gave it this name because this is how we imagined thing should be – simple, to be able to be solved in three steps”, says Florin Cornianu, who founded, together with Tudor Bastea, the company 123ContactForm in Timisoara in 2009. Now, their company has over a million clients. NASA, Yahoo and the Washington Fire Department, for instance, as well as American institutes and universities use online questionnaires or forms designed by them. “We have partnerships with big names, such as Sales Force or MailChimp. Almost all the forms you find online are made here, in Timisoara. Our intention is to grow by 70% this year, by entering new markets and consolidating our position in non-English countries”, say Florin and Tudor. And when they say it, the two have the propriety of terms. “There have been years when we grew by 100%”, says Cornianu, “and this time, we have the rigour and experience of an investment fund that supports us”, he explains.
LIKE IN THE MOVIES. Basically, with 123ContactForm we are talking about a true business model, an example like in the movies that you can, even should dream “Big”, as all the gurus and handbooks on Earth recommend. Because the two started like in a Hollywood script – they were university colleagues, they bit the dust, but they survived by reinventing themselves, they accepted a third party’s entrance into the business, a private investor, a former geek from Oradea, a current angel investor, and now they are experiencing their growing pains, once the million euro funds from Catalyst get into their account.
The story begins in 2002, when the two, students at the Polytechnic University, decide to start a company.
“I met Tudor in college. We both had technical knowledge and we thought we should do what we knew best, all sorts of online things. Websites, whatever we could do for local companies. After we struggled for about three months, with all sorts of papers and silly things, we found out about this online sales thing, which, you realise, was at the beginning in 2002. We changed the focus completely, we went with another company”,
he explains. As a fun fact, closing that first company they had started in 2002 cost them 1,000 euro, in 2010,
“although that company never issued any invoices!” “Well, lesson learned anyway,” Florin adds.
They found out, however, “randomly”, on an advertisement in the student campus, that someone needed a software. And, as they were talking to that person,
“we saw they sold that software on the Internet. And then our eyes opened. It was 2003. Selling online was unknown in Romania”, says Cornianu. The two got the idea and they started to sell “software on the Internet”, “once a week, for a price of 20 dollars each. But we were really happy… We got a text message every time an order had been placed and we were…” gesticulates Cornianu, miming mad enthusiasm.
Except enthusiasm is not food. And then, to support themselves, the two decide to take the road back and to get hired. They reach good positions in big IT companies in Timisoara, but the idea itself does not die. They make programmes on the side, which they sell online. In 2008, they say, the income they got from their salaries were the same as those from their business, so they ended their corporate career to go back to entrepreneurship. Except six months after “quitting” their safe jobs, their business failed completely. “Thank God it was the European Football Championship and we found solace in watching the games!” the founder of 123 comments, amused.
They decide to head towards the product that still had a pulse, you guessed it, to 123ContactForm and they start to polish it and then focus on selling it. Their efforts paid off. “Luck was on our side”, says Florin. In two years, they reach sales of 5,000 euro per month and 70,000 users all over the world. “We were an international product that worked all right. You want a contact? You do it with us, you take the code and put it on your website. You organise and event and you want to send the online registration form to 10,000 people, you create your form on our website. You sell stuff online – you integrate with PayPal. In one word, we are a tool that allows you to collect all sorts of data from the Internet, without the need of a programmer to build these forms for you”, the father describes his child.