A founder by nature, Gergo Vari first tasted entrepreneurship as a child selling fruit from his grandfather’s orchard. His journey through founding, funding, and exiting successful startups has taught him a valuable lesson: the hiring process is broken. And so is the way we look for jobs and develop our careers. That’s why he created Lensa, a start-up that offers a technological solution to the crisis of the career marketplace.
In 2001, Gergo funded and launched Profession, Hungary’s leading recruitment platform. In just 4 years, they reached an extraordinary market share of 75%. When SanomaMedia purchased the company in 2005, the transaction was the largest of its kind in Hungary up to that time. His passion for startups led him on to found and head e-Ventures, and later, in 2008, to the launch and sale of AffilateMedia, Network, and Replise. These ventures opened his eyes to the need for recruiting and human resources technology that puts people first. At Lensa, he is working every day to share the transformative potential of this vision with the world.
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Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Gergo Vari: I became an entrepreneur in the job/career space through necessity: when I first entered the job market in the 2000s after graduating with honors from a prestigious university, I found it impossible to get hired at my actual skill level. Rather than give up, I and several friends who were having the same struggles decided to start our own job board. I built that company and exited several years later for a historic sum. Ever since, I’ve devoted myself as an entrepreneur to creating products that move the whole job search industry forward.
Was there somebody in your life that inspired you to take that specific journey with your business?
Gergo Vari: Growing up in Hungary in the ‘80s, I spent my afternoons in an orchard with my two grandfathers. One of them was a master in chess and won international competitions. He and I would play the game together in the orchard, which my other grandfather owned. These days spent with my grandfathers taught me lessons in wit and strategy, but they also taught me about entrepreneurship and gave me the vision for my future career.
One grandfather used to take me along with him to pawn shops in search of silverware. He assembled full matching sets from them piece by piece. Once he had a full set, he would sell full collections back to the same pawn shops that he had bought them from for twice the money. I realized; single pieces of silverware were sold by the ounce, but a complete set was worth its weight in gold. Years later, when I built my first job board and now my current company Lensa, I never forgot my grandfather’s holistic approach to business. It showed me that just as one piece of cutlery isn’t worth as much as the whole collection, a single job is less important than the entire vision for one’s career.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. What’s the worst advice you received?
Gergo Vari: The worst advice I have ever received was simply: do not exit your company. I was told by various naysayers that it was a risky venture, that I would not be able to sell my company for its true value. Fortunately, I was able to read the writing on the wall and also follow my own strong instinct that the time was indeed right and that my naysayers were mistaken. When my company was subsequently acquired, the sum was the largest transaction of its kind in my country’s history at the time, Good thing I ignored that bad advice not to sell.
Has the pandemic and transitioning into mostly online shopping affected your company positively or negatively?
Gergo Vari: My company is a fully online business, so the transition to online shopping did not affect it. However, since we are a job board website when hiring was frozen and lockdowns were enforced at the start of the pandemic, the results hit us hard, but we took preventive action early and were able to weather the worst of the recession in a better position than our competitors. The silver lining: job openings have now reached historic highs, which is obviously very beneficial to my business. So we have rebounded in a big way and I feel very grateful for that.
When you think of your company, 5 years from now, what do you see?
Gergo Vari: I see a company that has revolutionized how people approach their careers. We are creating holistic products that cover the entire career cycle, from job search to landing one’s dream job and advancing to the top of one’s chosen field and company. Job openings will no longer be viewed by most people as one-off opportunities, but as stepping stones to fulfilling one’s long-term as well as short-term professional goals.
What do you consider are your strengths when dealing with staff workers, colleagues, senior management, and customers?
Gergo Vari: I lead by example. I hire talented people and then give them space as well as trust to accomplish our company goals. I reflect carefully on their strengths and am there to motivate and question them to help them perform their best, however, I always default to their expertise. This takes discipline, which I cultivate through my hobby, Shinkendo Japanese sword fighting.
What have you learned about personal branding that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
Gergo Vari: I have come to understand that people in the B2B space buy from people – that brands need human faces and evangelists to spread the word about them. Products do not “speak for themselves” – they have to be given a voice. The strategy behind that voice, which speaks through my personal brand, is the key to moving the company forward.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Gergo Vari: I like the Japanese saying: “if you want your sheep to behave, give them a wide pasture.” I allow my team space to execute on their agenda, and leave them plenty of space in the form of trust as well as support and resources. In short, I behave towards them as I would like them to behave towards me. That to me is the definition of leadership.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Gergo Vari: You don’t have to be the “category creator” or the one who conceives of and executes an idea from start to finish to be a true – and successful – entrepreneur. You just have to keep a sharp eye open for opportunities and be curious (as well as brave) about exploring unexpected or untrodden paths. And it’s just as valid to find a good idea that’s already out there and make it better than anyone has before. Excellence will never fail you.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Gergo Vari: I once read somewhere that “Careers are like chess. You have to be at least two moves ahead at all times.” There’s a lot of truth to this. When you are developing your business and your life well, you are following the same principles that make a good game of chess: being strategic, staying focused, keeping your options open, knowing your strengths, and always being ready to rise to the occasion and show what you’re made of when a situation gets sticky.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Gergo Vari for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Gergo Vari or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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