• Brandminds 2020

Laurențiu-Victor Bălașa (founder of Underline): On developing a mobile app for book-lovers

Laurențiu-Victor Bălașa is a successful serial entrepreneur. He co-founded 8 companies and exited 3 of them when he successfully sold them to investors.

He co-founded T-Me Studios, one of the biggest Android mobile publishers in the world with more than 700 million users.

Laurentiu-Victor Balasa on the stage at DIGITALIUM

Laurențiu is now building Underline, the mobile app for book-lovers.

The first social note-taking app for books, Underline helps people extract notes from physical, digital and audiobooks, and then share those book notes with friends and followers. It’s a great way to remember more from each book you read and share your knowledge with other learners.

This year, the company raised Euro475000 in funding from Early Game Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm investing in startups that jumpstart new industries in the emerging markets of Europe.

I was curious to know more about Laurențiu’s experience developing Underline so I’ve asked him a few questions.

Find his answers below.

1. Underline, your mobile app has been on the market for a little over a year. The application was released in March and already has more than 1k organic downloads. Tell us the story of Underline.

Last summer, in ’18, I was reading a brilliant book: ‘Measure What Matters’ by John Doerr. I realized there’s so much knowledge there I’d love to see implemented in my own companies, so I started writing down ideas inside the Google Keep app, the place I would usually go to to take notes.

I was taking photos of book pages, adding them to the book note, and then manually adding the text next to them. The note soon became very long and super complicated to follow. The entire process was just very annoying. On top of that, after I was done, a friend messaged me, and I wanted to share my note with him. Imagine that. It was just impossible.

When I see a problem, I usually look for a solution out there. My first thought was that there should be an app to help folks with this specific case of book note-taking.

Most of the problems you encounter in your day-to-day life have some sort of solution offered by some company. So I started looking. But there was no app I could find which focused on this problem.

At first, it seemed like a crazy thing to build, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense this should exist.

It’s just a very big problem for book readers.

Underline app founder Laurentiu-Victor Balasa @laurentiuvictor: Once you hit critical mass, if you've got a good market fit, the product starts to move on its own. Click To Tweet

2. Name 3 challenges that your team had to overcome while developing Underline.

hand-click Thinking long-term. Underline will be an open platform for book lovers. This sort of thing needs time to scale.

hand-click Convincing the team/investors/partners to think long-term. We all need to be patient.

hand-click Raising money.

3. Build it and they will come. True or false?

Very rarely true.

You need to market yourself, especially if you’re building something new or solving a problem that has never been solved.

You need to explain to people why your solution is better and how it will help them get the job done easier/faster/etc.

Take our case. There are substitute solutions that kinda solve the problem of book note-taking: Evernote, Google Keep, Google Sheets, etc.

But we’re the first to address this problem exclusively, so obviously, our offering is way easier/faster. We need to show people that. We need to market ourselves to reach critical mass. Once you hit critical mass, if you’ve got a good market fit, the product starts to move on its own. But there’s always a certain degree of push that needs to exist.

4. You are a successful serial entrepreneur. What is your advice for mobile app developers starting out?

Don’t do it. Don’t start a mobile company. It’s a pretty red ocean. Do something else.

Look to solve new problems. New markets generate new problems. Look towards new markets.

Mobile has been around for a looong time now. There’s a lot of new markets/niches being created every year. I’m doing a mobile platform because I’ve been lucky enough to start when the market was new.

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