My Interview for Golden Romania - on Love of Progress

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The following was published by Mihnea Rasca in The Golden Romania. Read the full interview here.

After interacting about one hour with Alexandra, I can strongly state that the best is yet to come from her brilliant creative mind: every new project she launches is better than the previous! For the moment, facts are these: she knows how to nurture a community, to surround herself with intelligent people, to focus on important things in life and leave the unnecessary aside. I invite you to savor every word of hers, picturing the value she has already created for her markets and communities, and the immense potential which will soon be unlocked.

Name: Alexandra Cosma
Age: 27
Hometown: Oradea
Abroad since: 2009
Living in: Berlin, Germany
Current position & company: Project Management & Business Development @ CANDENA; Project Management & Communication @ PISA4U, Founder & Managing Director of House of Treasure.

TGR: Alexandra, where do I start? The complexity of your work leaves me speechless smiley You naming the three projects above - I can only imagine the diversity in your life...

AC: Well, there is more actually - I am preparing the launch of two new projects this year…

Oh, great, there is more... Seriously though, how do you find time and energy for everything?

I admit it’s challenging, but I’ve learned to be strategic and systematic about how I spend my time and to constantly question how necessary certain activities are towards accomplishing the goals and priorities set out. I’ve also given up television, news, much of social media and social outings that are not enriching. As for energy, I actually draw it from the sense of progress and enthusiasm that comes with my work. A steep learning curve is quite an addictive adrenaline boost.

How did you turn into this amazingly complex person and who do you have to thank for that?

I’ve had a solid Romanian education and inspiring parents, who are patient and understanding of my work schedule and commitments. After high-school, I moved to Vienna to pursue a Bachelor in International Business & Finance, and there I met an international community of entrepreneurs, creators and angel investors who inspired me and broadened by horizons. I also fell in love with non-fiction audiobooks and podcasts, which allowed me to soak up a ridiculous amount of knowledge, advice and wisdom. I’m grateful to the couple of mentors who showed me the insights of their profession and my friends who are ambitious over-achievers in their own right.

Which is the project you are proudest of so far?

I would choose PISA4U – the global program for teacher development. It aims to connect teachers with international colleagues, so that together they can exchange experiences and solve problems in their teaching environments. Educators who participate benefit from the support of dedicated mentors, renowned topic experts and quality teaching and learning resources, completely free of charge. More than 4000 teachers from almost 170 countries will be receiving mentorship and expert support for free, with the goal of solving problems within their community. I hold this project dear because I worked on concept design, raising sponsorship and creating awareness among teachers worldwide… And what’s even more amazing is that Romanian teachers are the largest nationality represented (10% - aka almost 400 teachers!) I think this really says something about the Romanian spirit.

It truly does - it’s nice to see they are willing to become better, despite our educational system not really acknowledging performance whatsoever. Have you planned this beforehand or was it a nice surprise for you?

I had not planned for it, but in retrospect I’m not surprised. I saw a lot of interest for the program coming from developing countries, where professional development opportunities are sparse. Given that Romanians have a good level of English competency and comparatively fast internet connections, the pre-requisites were there. On this foundation the passion and dedication of Romanian educators could really shine, and I’m very proud to see so many take action to drive improvement in education. It’s ingrained in our current culture to be skeptical of authorities, so I believe that empowering the individual to drive progress from the ground up is an immensely powerful catalyst for change.

What about House of Treasure? It sounds equally interesting…

It is a curated online store for premium jewelry which we launched last August in Romania. We’re planning to expand to the rest of Europe in the following months. We have a lovely team distributed between Oradea and Berlin, completely dedicated to the brand’s mission - promoting alternative female role models that forge their path with independence. Originally I had planned to operate this shop in Romania alone and catered the brand to represent the values and role models I believe Romanian women need to be exposed to: the courage to follow their ambitions despite the social and cultural expectations inherent in Romanian society.

It’s not like these values are not shared by any sophisticated European women, is it? I suppose you had all good reasons to serve the European market as a whole…

Of course. Romania was an excellent starting point, as our team learned so much about ecommerce, branding and sales, but we’re ready to move on and put our inventory & logistics skills to the test.

I suppose you are surrounded by amazing professionals helping you out implement all these projects...

Definitely! Candena has a fast-growing team distributed between Berlin, Prague and Vienna, with expertise in edtech, IT infrastructure and media. We’re experts in online collaboration so we actually work almost completely online with the exception of the didactic teams.

The House of Treasure team on our Romanian side is led by Bianca (marketing expert & blogger) and Raluca (law and business administration), while in Berlin we have PR expertise, IT, product development & curation and we tap into our investor’s network of fashion & art photographers for content creation.

Working with these people is an enriching experience. I do my best to provide structure and guidance for those who need it, but almost everyone is intrinsically motivated and self-managed. Redefining work structures and relationships allows us to excel under pressure.

With you always brainstorming, planning and bringing innovative ideas to life, do you still have time for yourself? How does a regular day look like for you?

I don’t have much spare time to be honest. I wake up around 7 am and try to meditate for 10 minutes (using an app called Calm). My morning ritual is taking 30 minutes at my makeup table getting ready, while either Face-timing with Raluca (House of Treasure) or listening to a podcast. I usually spend the first 2 hours of focused working time in my home office, then I switch locations to meet my team at the Factory Berlin – a community of innovators (with office space) which is our current work base. I usually try to break the working day by meeting someone interesting for lunch nearby. Then it’s back to work till around 7/8pm (unless there is a deadline that needs even more time). In the evening I’m at the gym, at some event or having dinner with friends. Often the work sessions run late into the night, but I’m doing my best to change this.

Alexandra, why is Berlin the center of your operations?

Berlin is the convergence point of talent, skill and venture capital within the European startup ecosystem. For example, I share the office building with companies like Soundcloud, Uber, Pinterest, Udacity, and their top talent is friendly and available to help you with some feedback and advice. It’s hard to beat this environment.

And what about the Romanian environment? What are your current feelings towards our country?

I am excited to see signals of progress hidden in-between stories of political controversies. I’d really love to spend more time in Romania and work with/invest in some of the promising startups coming from Cluj and Timisoara. I can see myself taking an active role in supporting entrepreneurship and growth within my home town of Oradea, but I doubt I would move back for good.

On the other hand, I'd like to see the Romanian media adopting sound journalist principles and shifting the conversation around political realities towards constructive fact-based discussions.

You are totally right, there are too few positive examples in this area unfortunately...

Imagine the cultural shift we’d experience if the evening news (and even internet “media”) would focus on their journalistic duty of uplifting and educating rather than selling stories and getting attention by stirring up fear and animosities.

Is there anything you used to have back home and you cannot find it abroad?

Local fruit and vegetables with a flavor – of course we have bio veggies here too, but it’s just not the same.

Please tell me something particular about Romania that you would usually say to a foreign friend.

I usually talk about the immense IT talent we have back home. Other times, friends get to sample some of the sausage, meat cuts and cheese I bring from Romania and they’re quite impressed to hear it comes from sheep my family own.

And for the ending, could you share your biggest dream?

I actively try not to glamorize the entrepreneur lifestyle – it’s a lot of work, discipline and daily failures, over the course of many years. However, once you work in the digital industry, impacting the life of millions is no longer that difficult. I simply want to be happy, doing great work that I’m proud of, with people who are world-class at what they do. In many respects I’m already living my dream, now I simply want to scale the impact of my work and develop more freedom and leisure time. And of course, if I can be a small part of anyone else’s journey towards achieving their dreams, I’m always happy to help.

Well, I can only hope you will inspire as many people as possible. I am so glad I have met you and I am extremely eager to find out about your future ideas! Thank you, Alexandra, for your prompt involvement with The Golden Romania!