George Roth was born in Cluj and was very lucky to be part of the first generation that graduated from a special high school for computers (Liceul de Informatică). He left Romania in 1991, and came to the US where he became one of the top revolutionaries companies in Silicon Valley, a unique place in the world, due to its amazing ecosystem. Since 20 years, he learned here that diversity, openness, courage and motivation are the keys of success.
Natalia Ghilascu: 20 years back you funded a software company that develops programs for investment companies, Recognos. What are the ups and downs of this amazing software and who are the most important investors you connected with in this journey?
George Roth: I studied computers and programming from the 9th grade. After the high school I continued to study Mathematics and Computer Science (it was called Informatics) at University Babes Bolyai in Cluj. After the University graduation I got my first job at the Territorial Computer Center in Cluj where I learned the real thing. It was an amazing environment, an oasis of normality combined with entrepreneurship and I worked with amazing people where I learned most of the things that I used later in the US.
In the US I realized that I had no problems working with the American programmers, I was at the same knowledge level with them, maybe with a broader view of Computer Science that they did. They were very specialized. At my first real programmer job in the US in Phoenix, Arizona, I learned about the Investment Industry and here I got the idea to create a company in Romania. I had no money; I mean no extra money. I had a decent salary which made me to be able to live a decent life and also to help my family that was still in Cluj.
I met Ken Rogers at a large Investment company where we were installing our software, who was a business person educated at UC Berkeley, Haas Business School. By coincidence, through Ken’s wife, we got introduced to an emerging investment company, named Fisher Investment. The company was named after the name of the founder, Ken Fisher who now is a very well known expert of the Stock Market and also a Billionaire in the Forbes list. They were struggling with a compliance problem.
They had a very interesting method to invest the people’s money (they were money managers), a method for which they couldn’t find in the US, a software that would generate their trades. The wife of Ken Fisher, Sherri Fisher called Ken and myself to ask us if we can create a software program that would verify the trades generated by some young brilliant traders. They needed to verify if they are compliant with the client contracts. Ken and myself realized that to verify these trades is as difficult as to generate them automatically.
We told this to Sherri, she went back to the other executives and told them what we wanted to do. The President of the company said that there is no way that this can be done. Sherri supported us, and with a help with an outsourcing company in Targu Mures that I met, we created this software. The name of the software was FARM. And this was the beginning.
This system became the trade generation system of this company, and even now this is the software that generates their trades. Meanwhile the company scaled up and now is a company that has 2000 employees and invests over 100 Billion USD in many countries in the world. Based on this success, we decided to create a company in Cluj; Recognos Romania was born in 2000, together with a former classmate from Liceul de Informatica, Romeo Macaria. In this way we built a team in Cluj that even today supports Fisher Investments (an other companies) with multiple systems that cover most of their software needs specially on the stock exchange transaction generation side. In this way we created a software company with a very good product based on trust from an emerging company and of course based on the talent of the developers in Romania.
Natalia Ghilascu: What were the most challenging efforts and struggles you made to a gold career in US?
George Roth: When you create a company, you basically give up to your private life. There are no weekends, no vacation when you disconnect from the business. Only in this way you can build something. But you have to expect daily challenges. The idea behind our company was to use the profit from the business with Fisher Investments and create a self-funded incubator. From inception we created multiple companies, most of them failed. The consulting part of Recognos continued to function providing outstanding services to Fisher Investments and some other US companies, so that Recognos continued to exist even if some startups that we created disappeared.
We learned on the hard way that the most difficult thing is to “bootstrap” a business, i.e. to use your own money, don’t use investors. Most of the American entrepreneurs know from the beginning not to invest their own money, look for investors. We didn’t understand this and starting new companies was extremely difficult. We found different partners for our startups who didn’t have the same motivation that we did. And this created a lot of problems. But we built a great team in Cluj, and because our employees we passed most of the hardships and adapted the company to go over all the challenges that we encountered.
Natalia Ghilascu: How is Cluj town and IT community in Romania related to Silicon Valley giants in technology?
George Roth: I personally don’t think that comparing Cluj to Silicon Valley it makes sense. SV is unique in the world, due to the amazing ecosystem. The parts of this ecosystem are amazing schools (Stanford, Berkeley, etc.), lots of money (the VC companies – that have hundreds of billions of dollars to invest) and the amazing network that links together the entrepreneurs. For example in 2018 , the Silicon Valley based Investment Firms invested 131 billion dollars. You cannot replicate this in Cluj, but in my opinion you don’t even want to. Cluj created and needs to develop further its own brand, with its own specific. Already the brand of Cluj is international and brings a lot of wealth to those who work in the IT industry and to the City.
Another big effect is that the emigration from Cluj of the young generation was reduced. Even people from other countries move to Cluj, finding here a great quality of life that can be compared at scale with the life of the IT workers in Western Europe. And Cluj offers also a much more affordable cost of living and something very special, that only if you don’t have it you can appreciate it: “SAFETY”. Specially if you have kids, seeing what is going on in the US, you can appreciate that your kids are very safe, there are no guns that can get in crazy people’s hands.
Natalia Ghilascu: What motivated and drove you to the Artificial Intelligence techniques and NLP?
George Roth: The research and the interest for new technologies was induced in me by the activity at the Territorial Computing Center in Cluj where I worked the first 10 years of my career. Here under the leadership of Dr. Vasile Peteanu we had an Operations Research seminar, where I learned about graphs, computational geometry, algorithms theory and other advanced domains. And these became my permanent interest. In the US, in 2008 I started to learn about Semantic Technology and NLP, which are part of what we call today AI. I was passionate about this and tried to apply it at Recognos in our startups.
At Recognos using the Semantic Technology we developed a data extraction platform from documents, where we extensively used NLP in special. We didn’t use Machine Learning, but we created some heuristics for self-developing systems that we used in the data extraction process. This data extraction platform was acquired by UiPath in 2018, together with the team.
And now, after I joined UiPath in 2018, I have the chance to work in this domain for one of the most successful Romanian born AI companies in the world.
Natalia Ghilascu: What are the lessons learned from major immigrant successful IT business minds from Silicon Valley?!
George Roth: I live in Silicon Valley for 20 years. I learned here that diversity, openness, courage and motivation are the keys of success. In Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are sharing continuously ideas. No matter how famous the people are, you have access to them. The sharing of ideas, continuous technology discussions are part of the daily life. In Silicon Valley we talk about “3 degrees of separation” not “6”, with three emails or phone calls you can reach everybody.
Of course this has also a downsize. Many of the very successful entrepreneurs don’t have a private life. They give up everything to build companies. Not all can recover from this status, and their private life is on the second plan and will suffer forever. The most successful entrepreneurs are those who can create a balance between the professional and private life, and I think this is the most difficult to achieve. The real entrepreneurs are very modest, they don’t show off their financial achievements. And they always share ideas and knowledge.
Most of the entrepreneurs are immigrants. I actually know very few companies that were created exclusively by American born entrepreneurs. I probably don’t know any in the tech world specially after the apparition of the Internet. Usually the founders are a mixture of cultures, of course there are exceptions also. Diversity generates innovation. The immigrants are “hungry” for success, don’t take anything from granted because most of them started from 0 compared to the American natives who have support from their families. It is a natural selection that takes place, you hear only about successes but there are many who will not make it as entrepreneurs but will end up living a normal decent life working for companies started by others.
Natalia Ghilascu: You have served as an Honorary Consul of Romania in San Francisco for almost 12 years after having a long experience as a business leader in the IT industry. What are you most proud of about the achievements that you have reached?!
George Roth: I became Honorary Consul of Romania the year when was Romania’s accession to the EU in 2007. I always believed that Romania needs to be part of the Global Society, so I was, I am and I will be forever a Globalist. This is probably because I lived by first 30 years of my life in a stupid isolationist society, craving to see other parts of the world and interact with other cultures. I am troubled by the new populist movements that I consider the 21st Century equivalent of the 20th Century fascist movement.
As an Honorary Consul I have the chance to meet amazing diplomats, and together with the other Honorary Consuls of Romania in the US we can remain independent politically and help to spread the word about Romania. I think that my main achievement is that together with the Romanian Diaspora we spread the word about Romania in our communities increasing continuously the prestige, independent of what the Romanian politics does in Romania. I have a huge respect for the Romanian Diplomatic Corp, they are doing an amazing job. I am talking specially about the new generation of diplomats . not the politically appointed ones.
Natalia Ghilascu: The Romanian American Business Network, which was found by you in the last couple of years has gathered has over 500 members. In terms of networking and promotion of business activities, what are the most important and memorable projects?
George Roth: In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Romanian American Business Network was found by some Romanian entrepreneurs in the 1990s. When the Internet crisis happened in 2000, the organization disappeared. Seeing the desire of many Romanians in the Bay Area to have a platform for business networking I restarted the RABN. It is nothing formal about it, but we use it maintain the connection between all the people interested in the Romanian business relationships. I tried to keep the group very clean, not to allow politics or spamming and I think that I succeeded most of the time. The main achievement is that we have almost 600 members, and that many of them found business connections or help for their business or event their private problems in the community. Anybody can join, the address is www.meetup.com/rabn-sv Most of the Romanians from Bay Area who look for some business connections know that this is the place where they will get it.
Natalia Ghilascu: As an active partner and member of Re-Patriot Program, which strives to connect Romanian-American investors and startups, what can Romanian diaspora bring to the table?!
George Roth: I found out about „Repatriot” a few years ago; I think that is an amazing idea, especially because of the exodus of the young population from Romania. „Repatriot” was started by some very successful business people in Romania, and there main idea is to help effectively those who want to return. They started a movement that is developing continuously, and they can showcase successes of families and newly created businesses by them after their return to Romania. In this process, the Diaspora in all the countries where Romanians live, has a very important role.
I found multiple examples where Romanians in the US connected with similar businesses in Romania and invested money there. There are other examples when Romanians come to the US to open businesses here and here the Romanian Diaspora can help a lot. The “Business and Human Bridge” between Romanian and US is bi-directional, and I hope that when the Romanian political situation will normalize, this movement will develop even more. The dream is to create something similar with Ireland, where after many Irish left, they returned now and had a major contribution in the development of their family birthplace country.
Natalia Ghilascu: How interested are the business leaders in the US having a Romanian heritage to connect with one another and invest in Romania or any diaspora community initiatives?
George Roth: When you talk with most business people with Romanian roots, they want to return and invest there. At the same time, those who know less about the realities of Romania, are very skeptical to do it. The normalization of the Romanian political system together with the increase in the bi-lateral relationship between the US and Romania will have a beneficial effect and will produce more and more investments in Romania. More and more Romanian companies will launch in the global market from the US with the substantial help of the Romanian Diaspora. The future Romanian Governments will need to do more for the Diaspora and replace the slapstick involvement with a real one. Unfortunately, I noticed that the Romanian Governments start to do stuff only before elections, and do mostly shallow actions and avoids to try to solve the real problems.
Natalia Ghilascu: What legacy do you manage to create and would you like to leave behind in the business world community?!
George Roth: Everybody in the Diaspora who is involved in the Romanian Community and maintains a close relationship with Romania will make the current distance between Romania and the US shrink. Now when the travel is unrestricted, the Romanian Diaspora Community will become more and more an integral part of the Romanian life with direct contribution to the future of Romania. Every member of the Romanian Diaspora should create small or big connections with the Country of birth and the history will show is the Irish phenomenon will be replicated in Romania. The political power of the Romanian Diaspora is enormous, and I am convinced that will seriously positively influence the future development of Romania.