The Access to Markets and Finance (#A2MF) team sat down with Hristo at an infoDev conference in Chisinau, Moldova this past November.
“This was my dream since probably 15 or 16 years," Hristo said, "but the economic situation in Bulgaria was very difficult, so I was forced to work for someone to raise money. But I feel I can give something unique to the users, and it was very difficult to find the proper persons with whom to make this happen. If you are alone you can work on small projects, but if you want to make big projects and good things you must work in a team.
"So that was the main idea, to make things that I like and that people will like," he continued. "If you like the thing you are doing, you have the chance to make really great products.”
4Friends Studio has successfully launched a series of learning games and applications for mobile phones, iPods, and iPads, aimed at children of all ages. These products include 4Friends’ flagship game, Me & Bee.
Despite 4Friends' experience, team, and world-class products, Hristo struggles to secure operating capital from revenue customers, financial institutions, or investors.
“Local banks are not an option for now,” Hristo said. “Most of them don’t understand what we are trying to do. In Bulgaria, the bank system is very conservative, [and] I cannot afford to make collateral on my house.”
Hristo is also hesitant to dispense equity in 4Friends, for fear of losing creative control of the company. He says, “I talked to some business angels in Bulgaria, but the main problem is that the angels are willing to pay you some money, but most of them want full control over the products you make. We don’t want someone to dictate what we do because we have our own ideas.”
4Friends has relied upon support from Bulgaria’s ARC Fund, which has “virtually incubated” the young company, even though the company is located more than 450km away.
“We mainly received mentorship and guidance on how to start, what we can do, how to make contacts with other companies, what other companies doing, mainly we receive information," Hristo said. "You know, we live in the information age now, so information is the most valuable thing. When I need access to some information, I just call ARC fund and I have it. This is a well developed communication channel.”
“As I saw here in these two days," he went on, "infoDev can help by establishing contacts with some entrepreneurs in other countries so we can probably exchange some expertise and cross finance. I will use my expertise to work with someone who needs it, and he will give his expertise to me and make some money between us.”
The infoDev A2MF team is developing a co-incubation strategy which will link incubator managers throughout the global network. Through these connections, entrepreneurs like Hristo will be further empowered to locate partners, customers, and investors to increase their businesses' commercial viability and create sustainable growth.