Exclusive Interview of Balázs Slezák of Wozify. Edited by Powered Magazine
Join us as we embark on an extraordinary exploration of Balazs Slezak's vision for a connected world, and discover how his relentless pursuit of technological excellence is shaping industries and transforming the way we live, work, and connect. In this exclusive interview with Powered Magazine, we have the privilege of delving into the mind of Balazs Slezak. From his early inspirations and career journey to his groundbreaking innovations and future aspirations, we uncover the insights and perspectives of a true technological pioneer.
Tell us about yourself and your business.
I've spent nearly ten years in the startup world, and my name is Balázs Slezák. If I were to be dramatic, I would say innovation runs in my bloodstream.
I have founded three tech startups and achieved a successful exit with one in 2018. Since then, I've been wearing two hats: one as the leader of my software development firm, Wozify, and the other as a startup mentor.
Both roles have recently taken a direction towards the space industry. As a mentor for the European Space Agency and the EU’s CASSINI Space Entrepreneurship Initiative, I find myself at the intersection of the space industry and the startup world.
My mentoring activities and my current venture, Wozify, are built upon the years of ups and downs, failures, and successes that I experienced as a startup founder.
What were your biggest challenges when starting your business (and how did you overcome them)?
Every business I've started has posed different challenges. For instance, fresh out of university, I founded an advertising agency despite knowing nothing about advertising or, to be honest, business in general. I had to learn everything on the fly. Although it generated revenue and allowed me to earn a modest living without getting a 9-to-5 job, this business was destined to fail. However, it transformed me into a generalist who is now confident across all areas of the business world, including sales, marketing, and finance.
With my very first startup, my co-founders and I fell into the most common trap inexperienced young entrepreneurs face: based on an idea, we started building something the world didn’t really need. We failed, but we learned our lesson: start with the market first and build a product second.
With Forma Eyewear (the 3D printed eyewear company that was later acquired), we needed to simultaneously develop high-quality materials, create a cloud-based software solution for fitting, and build a fashion brand, all on a very limited budget. The solution was to assemble a team with diverse skillsets where everyone was capable of wearing multiple hats.
With Wozify (my current business), the biggest challenge was standing out in the highly competitive market of software development. Our solution was specialisation (focusing on startups), and then, when we were dissatisfied with our growth, we decided to specialise even further (targeting space industry startups).
How have you handled success and failure over the course of your career?
Failure is inevitable. Except for a few outliers, the vast majority of entrepreneurs experience several failures before achieving success. These failures provide invaluable opportunities for personal and business growth and serve as building blocks for future success.
While failures can be painful and it's natural to grieve, the ability to bounce back every time is what ensures you're unstoppable. I believe that perseverance, combined with taking calculated risks, paves the way to overcome a series of failures and eventually achieve success. To paraphrase a popular movie quote, you either die a failure or you live long enough to see yourself become a success.
However, we mustn't forget survivorship bias. The stories we often see in the media focus on successful individuals who persevered, but they usually represent the exception, not the norm.
That's why taking calculated risks is crucial. It's important to always protect the downside and avoid taking risks so substantial that, if they materialise, they could put you out of commission for years.
As a leader, I find it beneficial to assume all responsibility for failures, losses, and setbacks and share credit with my team when we win. This fosters a positive culture and drives performance.
What strategies do you use to stay competitive in a changing market?
The world is changing so rapidly that it's unprecedented in human history. Continuous learning, both at the personal and organisational levels, is the only way to stay relevant.
Moreover, an abundance mindset is tremendously beneficial. Networking, getting to know, and eventually forming partnerships with competitors can create greater value for all market players involved. Business, in the vast majority of industries, is not a zero-sum game.
However, the most important factor remains delivering value to the customer. Being exceptional in the areas that customers deem most important secures a long-term competitive edge.
What motivations drive you to keep pushing forward in the face of adversity?
I have long-term goals and a vision for my own personal growth as well as that of my companies. Short-term adversities, setbacks, and failures can be painful, but in the grand scheme of things, they are just bumps in the road.
What motivates me most is creating value in everything I do, whether it's leading my team, mentoring startup founders, or teaching. And of course, I hope to capture a portion of that value that translates into financial success. I firmly believe that material wealth is always a side effect of making an impact on the world.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their chosen field?
This might seem counterintuitive, but for young individuals starting their careers, securing a job is often a better initial move than starting a business. If your ultimate goal is to launch a venture in a specific industry, first gain employment within that industry. Gaining real-world experience while being paid by your employer helps mitigate risks in your career strategy and simplifies the process of starting a business later.
As for navigating the startup world, my advice is straightforward: Begin with the market. Aim to solve a problem or fulfil an existing desire within the market. Make something people want. This is where the vast majority of startup attempts, including my first one, stumble.
What trends do you see emerging in your industry that are likely to shape its future growth and development?
Everyone is talking about AI now, and not enough people are talking about space. I strongly believe that we are at the advent of the golden age of space entrepreneurship. Working with Earth observation and satellite data to create value on Earth has enormous untapped potential. Space tourism, space manufacturing, and asteroid mining are all nascent industries that are bound to flourish. Right now, the space industry makes up a negligible fraction of global GDP, and everything indicates that an exponential boom can be expected.
What have been the most rewarding and difficult aspects of your chosen career or business path?
I love what I do, and there are so many rewarding experiences. For instance, speaking at conferences and conducting workshops and training for people who are genuinely interested is a joy. However, the best feeling always comes from the success of a client or mentee. When they reach an important milestone, for example, raising a round of venture capital, getting featured in a prestigious publication, or being acquired, it fills me with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Are there any skills or areas of expertise that you think are essential for success in your field?
Contrary to popular belief, being a jack-of-all-trades is extremely useful when founding a company, especially when combined with a willingness and ability to learn quickly. The best strategy is to be T-shaped, having deep knowledge and skills in a particular area along with the ability to collaborate across disciplines.
How has working remotely or online impacted your business or venture over the past year?
Wozify had been operating as a remote-first company with a geographically distributed team even before the first wave of COVID hit. We transitioned to a fully remote organisation then and have never looked back. This structure allows us access to a larger talent pool both nationally and internationally, and it affords our colleagues the flexibility to become digital nomads if they so choose; in fact, recently, one of our team members relocated to South America and continues to work from there. Additionally, it saves us a significant amount of commuting time. Of course, we understand that remote work isn't suitable for everyone, so we make this clear to candidates during our recruitment and selection process.
What tips would you like to offer to others who are in a similar position to you but looking to take their careers or businesses further?
Look beyond the obvious. Look for insufficiently solved problems. Niching down is almost always the best strategy in the beginning. Give value first; expect money second. Embrace change and try to anticipate its ramifications. Maintain a strong work-life balance. Pay attention to your health. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.