Neil Patel

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Poland’s entrepreneurial landscape is not for the faint-hearted, but Maciej Zawadzinski’s journey is a testament to the power of resilience and innovation. Born at the tail end of Poland’s socialist era, Maciej experienced firsthand the seismic shift from socialism to capitalism, shaping his perspectives and aspirations.

His story is a remarkable blend of determination, technological prowess, and strategic foresight. In this exclusive interview, Maciej talks about his experiences building his company, facing rejections when trying to raise money for it, and eventually exiting. He has now transitioned to an investor’s role.

Maciej has now started a venture capital fund, Hard2beat, designed to provide early-stage funding to tech startups.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Resilience and adaptability are crucial for navigating Poland’s evolving entrepreneurial landscape.
  • Early hands-on experience with technology can lay a strong foundation for future entrepreneurial ventures.
  • Building a successful business often involves learning from initial failures and leveraging those lessons.
  • A hybrid model combining services and products can be a strategic advantage if managed well.
  • Direct founder involvement in sales is essential for driving significant business growth.
  • Securing investment may require finding investors who understand and value your unique business model.
  • Transitioning to an investor role allows successful entrepreneurs to mentor and support the next generation of startups.



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About Maciej Zawadzinski:

A serial entrepreneur and angel investor with a background in AdTech, MarTech and online privacy. Over the last 15 years, Maciej has built and scaled several enterprise SaaS and services companies, including Piwik PRO.

As the CEO of Piwik PRO, he grew the company from €0 to €10M ARR. He is currently focused on Hard2beat, an operator-backed fund that invests in entrepreneurs and brings deep expertise in scaling global B2B SaaS products and IT services companies.

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Connect with Maciej Zawadzinski:

Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:

Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So very exciting the conversation that we have in front of us. You know, very inspiring to you know a founder that has done it a couple of times you know and very successfully so with a really good exit. You know with a company that he almost bootstrapped. You know they raised almost like no money. And then they had an incredible you know exit especially being a place like Poland you know, very remarkable. So again, the building the scaling the financing early experiences before building a product company raising money and getting nose left and right also thinking about succession and removing yourself so that you can build. On the business versus building in the business and then also what he’s focusing right? now. It sounds like transitioning to the investor role but without further ado let’s welcome our guests today macia sawainsky welcome to the show. Thanks.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Um, yeah, thanks for having me.

Alejandro Cremades: So originally born in Poland give us a walkthrough memory lane. How was life growing up in Poland.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Um, um, it was goat. Um I’ve ah was born and the end of the socialist time in Poland so I experienced in my youth. The the the big transition from the. Socialism to to capitalists in Poland and and basically all the time very high globe. So so things has changed a lot even in my childhood. Um I I was born in Katavia which is a more like industrial town now. It’s. Transitions more to techn technology but it was used to known for coal mines and heavy industry et cetera back in the ah days when I was young whether I was very young. Um, and.

Maciej Zawadzinski: I moved to to broadswap to to study computer science but I did’t manageage to actually finish my studies because I I started my first startup which was from advertising network. It was actually the first block advertising network in. Holland back in the days when they said that like if you pay bloggers they will lose their independence and you will um you will actually hurt the industry and the people who who wants to publish for the just for the sake of like you know, telling the truth. And but it wasn’t the case it. It wasn’t hugely successful startup but I learned a ton of things that um, that actually helped me to build the successfuls that I did um afterwards.

Alejandro Cremades: So then let’s talk about the getting into computers. What got you into computers.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Yeah, so so I was self-taught and I was actually self-taught developer software developer as well. Um, also this was when I was in high school. So actually I I started with like um, installing my first linux when I was. I think thirteen years old or so um and then I like you know wanted to learn how to understand how it works and like you know why? it’s so complicated and so on. And 1 thing led to another to to me being a like 14 year or 15 fteen year old and buying books about like programming and learning to to program. So. I learned like you know from low level how the operating system works then learn programming and it was always my passion That’s why I went to to studies. But then it turned out that building actually the business is as as. Maybe even more exciting than actually like just just programming.

Alejandro Cremades: So obviously yeah I mean you went and studied computer science. But you dropped out So let’s talk about that You know like what was that process of you know you dropping out and getting started with that advertising network that day ended up not having the outcome that you had hoped for.

Maciej Zawadzinski: So um, I was always involved in too many things in that days. So I couldn’t focus just on the studies I was like organizing computer science courses conferences with some friends and so on and. It was actually I think a friend of mine called me with the idea and said like perhaps maybe maybe we do that and we developed the idea it wasn’t like advertising network in the the first let’s say iteration. But. We developed the idea over like multiple meetings and calls because we weren’t like he was from the city that I was born from kata it said but I was already living in broadmot where I studied and we actually started coding it I was coding he was doing some graphic design and marketing and we. We launched it after the ah the summer break and then it started like we started having clients. We started fundraising and so on. So um, it was so much time that I dedicated to that that I forgot even to go to the university and. Continue that and actually there was just theor there and in the computer science at least in Poland in these like first year courses you have and second year you have a lot of theory and I was like interested very much in the practice so that was something that was naturally I was driven to and so.

Maciej Zawadzinski: And I dedicated my entire time to that.

Alejandro Cremades: So then so then four days you know like what happened with the company because the same goes you either succeed or you learn in this case, it sounds like there was a massive lesson for you? yeah.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Yeah, so so so we we we got some traction. We got really nice like campaigns for like consumer brands from like you know, ah some smartphones. Some like other consumer products and blogs that we run we had like probably um, a couple hundred blocks in the network. So it was good. We had where like 15 in yeah I think in the peak we were almost twenty people in the component. Ah, we had an investor which ah was one of the big portals in Poland but it was time where the investor came and they they took the majority package. Um, if they they wanted to invest so pretty much. Um, after 2 years of running that. We. We hit some like um like the company wasn’t growing anymore. We had some we didn’t have the idea on how to to like you know, develop it further. Um, we wanted to like get more capital to experiment with with some additional channels and. And the techile the technology buildout. Ah but we basically didn’t get along with our majority shareholder which was this portal and um, we left the like it wasn’t like that. We just. Ah.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Said that we will no longer do it and leave but we they basically bought our shares ah from us at a like more or less nominal but we got some money to support ourselves for and start the next business but it wasn’t like an exit with it.

Maciej Zawadzinski: And we transitioned that to the team that was in this portal and and they run it for like I don’t know 2 three years and they basically incorporated it into their structures so it wasn’t existing after 2 2 or 4 years. The component was no longer existing as as a.

Alejandro Cremades: So what happened next first.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Separate identity. Um, so next I I found that a software development called clear code because we had this experience with building advertising technology for the for this network. Um, so I said okay, let’s do it for ars for money because we have some expertise and this actually worked that was a. Ah, good decision and we we started um like we we acquired some customers we we grew the team. This company is actually like quite nice accent that we did after several after after a decade of it. But what happens was interesting that. In clear code. We incubated several other ideas that we had including puwic pro which we will talk about which is probably probably the most successful I mean this is the most successful component that I’ve built so far but also others where we like Kanawa. Nast and advertising platform which we sold just the technology we didn’t even get to the traction but we had a client that was looking just for that. So we soldd them the technology. Um, we had a couple failed ideas as well. Um, so but it it what it showed is that. We kind of just do work for hire as a software developers and a company that specializes for developing technological for others. We’re always driven to to build um some products on our own or at least I was very driven to do that.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Um, and that that led to piwwick po which which actually initially was an open source project which I joined back in the days when I was like a part of this advertising network but over the years we’ve built a copyary version of that and. And build the whole component around it.

Alejandro Cremades: So then talk to us because I mean it ended up being your biggest a success late you know pewwe. So what ended up being the business model of pewwick. How are you guys making money.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Um, so it’s a um, pretty much Sas license fee for using the product based on the usage that so the amount of data that you are processing. with with pw broad the platform is like it’s a privacy-friendly alternative to Google Analytics it has some extra capabilities that may not be found in avavert other analytics platforms. But. Basically over the years it become an choice for enterprises especially data sensitive industries but nowadays pretty much any other industry as well. Um, to. Replace Adobe Analytics or Google analytics which are 2 other leaders and in the space.

Alejandro Cremades: So obviously you know like this was really venturing into the product a based type of sphere you know, very very different from like the service-based you know whether it was the advertising network or the software development you know services that you were providing. What was that transition like first.

Maciej Zawadzinski: So it was um, at first difficult because as a compound that was always like um service base especially with clear code where we had majority of the company was developers because you are basically selling development hours. Um, um, and. What we the the early mistake that we did is we thought that okay um, the component should be mainly driven by I t and r and d the product not the business site so we had probably like. 70% of people technical doing product and only 30 % doing everything else marketing sales et cetera which was an early mistake because we should at least have an equal effort on that even if if not more at some point. Um, but. You know we had technological background we knew techlogia it. It helped us to create great product. Ah but it cost us to have ah some years before we hit really traction where where our growth like um, got to this like. Ah, 70% or 60% year -over year year earlier is we we didn’t have that that much growth but we could afford it because we had the software development where we were making profit and basically we were eating up this profit to build the product and the technology for the.

Maciej Zawadzinski: for for piwwick co um, which gave us a lot of buffer and we we could bootstrap for for ah years we we rise on that like two million um usd of the outside investment. And we did it only after we had all over the 1000000 of you annual were queuing revenue so till then we were basically spending our own monday and time on on bootstrapping it.

Alejandro Cremades: So so then in this case I know that they too with a pe week. You guys say raise some money I mean you ended ended up racing about 2000000 or so but I know that the racing money was not easy. You know there was a lot of rejection.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Um, is it.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Yeah, so so that the rejection was mainly driven by that software that this services side of the business. So we basically had a um, ah clear code which is software development component and a subsidaryary which was the the product component that could be with withdraw and. There was a lot of rejection from the Vc funds because they wanted on the investing product and we said okay you can invest into the product but then the discussion was okay, but you cannot walk. And have your software development on the side because we want you to focus half the percent on the product and that was difficult because this company was already like making profit had like 70 engineers on board or so. So it wasn’t like okay we will close it and basically write it to zero because it was too valuableluable for us and um on the other side this was too much to move to the product business. We couldn’t absorb at Kiwwick Pro like 70 people being like ah at that time probably like 20 or of. 15 to 20 people of staff so it was it was difficult from that standpoint. We ultimately found a venture like not a classical venture capital fund but like an evergreen fund that invest their own money without like even investment term.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Um, and they actually found what’s interesting. They found an advantage in that that they will invest in the holding with two components and basically the services business will be the hatch if the product fails and what happened at the very end which is. Ah, ah, just it confirmed exactly what their tesses was we sold the um services business clear code exactly like almost exactly for the valuation where they were coming into the company. So Basically they returned the Capital. We returned the capital from the say of the services business and the product business which was much more valuableable several times more was just the profit pure profit from the investment.

Alejandro Cremades: I mean you guys grid to 12000000 arr which is a really a spectacular you know, given the amount of money that you guys had raised to me. It could be even viewed as a a bootstrapping because obviously you know like do the the.

Maciej Zawadzinski: And.

Alejandro Cremades: Kind of exit that you guys got you know which was reported for over fifty Million Euros you know is really a spectacular. So I think that you know for this you know one thing that is an interesting do is and and and you did this not not only with piwweekck but then also with cannery which was another. Ah, you know business that you incubated under you know, clear call I guess the yeah the the what did you learn around to building a team around you so that you could remove yourself and and really have that succession going. But more importantly, allowing yourself for. Being able to build not in the business and be under the weeds but more on top of the business. You know where you’re able to push strategy.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Yeah, so that that was particularly difficult for me because I’m very hands-on so I was always very close to the product and very close to the sales and and developing the company I was never that um I I even had a lot of. Problems in the beginning with delegation. So I was always like okay I will do it I will do it faster better etc. So with that like mindset and over the years of course I learned the litigation and running like in that. Peak we had more than 200 people because it was services part and piwwick product that was ah while I was running at the same time but um, it it was hard to to remove myself from the business. Um I started by just it was done mainly with internal promotions. Of the people who were almost from the very beginning in the compound and they proved themselves in several other roles over the years and they we basically were increasing the sea level suite in nature of the compound and then removing myself. As ah as a Ceo to to more supervisory role but it took like you know in each case in clear code and in inivic poet took almost 2 years this this whole process. But on the other end I had the feeling that.

Maciej Zawadzinski: The the team is delivering more.. The team is like taking over my responsibilities and it was done gradually and um I had this like feel okay that I’m still a bit in the control over the process and when I felt that they are actually doing better job than I am. Then I was okay I let it go and the funny the story of that is that? Um, Ah, when we were spinning off that to compound Cliff code and piwi 12 Actually when we ah. I Totally we removed myself from clear code because we are preparing it and for the say the management team was already in place the moment I focused on them pwwick pro and did nothing more at clear code. Ah but only Pwwi pro started doing better but also clear code started doing better. So It showed that Ma that. Like know keeping the focus of the team was super super super important. Um and and and and it drove the results in in in both of the businesses.

Alejandro Cremades: So what was like going through the acquisition of pewwick because I mean that acquisition was incredible outcome. So so what was that like give make it make us insiders in here.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Yeah, yes, and so so so that was like actually very long thought because we had 2 failed transactions. So one failed transaction was early in 2022 when the yeah the war broke out in new ukraine so we had an for in private equity funds with offer actually that was a pick of valuation so we had ah an offer that was almost like as good or better than the one that we solved a company for almost two years later um with with company almost. Twice as as big. Um, so it shows like what was the disconnetic between the valuations today and at at the peak of the end of 2021 more or less but we basically were after the due deliance. No word flax.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Some things to like you know solve but nothing that would ah ah derail the transaction and we learned that okay because of the economic environment and Dr. political environment. This fund is basically putting on hold all the transactions in Central Europe so that we were devastated a bit by by that and we we whooped and we thought okay we will start the the organized process because that offer we got from the network and from the market. So we we like it was good. That’s why we were processing it. But we we didn’t have the process after it failed we into the end of 2022 we started the process and we it was probably the worst timing to start pitching to private equity funds. Ah. Um, because we had all the good matrix and we had like not too much interest. There was interest but nothing was progressing till term sheet or term sheet that we would accept because that’s the upper thing. So. Um, it took us several months to to get to the offer that was acceptable for shareholders and me and we started the digital regions every 2023 and um, it went well again, we negotiated the.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Ti and we were over the setting up meeting at the notarway and the investment committee of this fund that was they said that this will be just formality. But actually the investment committee at the last like finish line said. Okay, we we will not do the transaction for no apparent reason we didn’t we never got to the real reason. So um, so that was another time where we had like. Another private equity fund that that’s pulled off the that’s pulled for out from the transaction and then the third transaction was actually we had like 2 competing offers that were very good. Um and we choose the one that we knew it was actually so that. The party that that bought biwi 4 is cookie information that is owned by ki capital so with the financing of capital and the the cookie information was actually our client at clear code back in the days. So we knew them. We had their relationships with them like for many many years we never thought that they would be a buyer because they we didn’t think that they have the capacity to that. But with the support of the private equity that is in in their capital. They said like it’s perfect scenario. It’s also privacy product.

Maciej Zawadzinski: We want to make that offer they actually like make an offer because they learned that our transaction failed and we we we mentioned that to them not because we were looking to find the buyer but because they because we’re acquainted with them. So after many years of business relations. So we actually sold the component of the party that um, we never like reached out to Ivan with the with the offer and it shows like that sometimes the offer may come from an unexpected. Site in the deal.

Alejandro Cremades: So so what was it like when finally the deal is inked. You know what? what was that like for you I mean was it. They.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Ah I was exhausted because we had we were almost two years of the transaction because of this like first offer that came from the market then you we group? will you start the process that it like you know drag for months because it was the really bad.

Alejandro Cremades: Yeah.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Timing when it comes that nobody wanted to do transactions at at the end of 202022. So um, I was quite exhausted but at the same time I was a bit relieved that I can now focus on the things that I have planned for myself. So. Um, after I sold clear code a couple years earlier I started angel investing and working with early stage entrepreneur entrepreneurs helping them a bit of like um using my experience as an entrepreneur in their like way of growing the business. And I really enjoyed that and I wanted to do it. Let’s say full time. Um, and so my plan was to start a venture capital fund that that I’m working right now on um and the moment I I closed the transaction I I had basically like two months of like getting a bit of rest et etc and um, actually I I started the fundraising for the Vc fund early 2024 um, and with 2 2 partner and I felt um. Ah, life again because it’s like building something from scratch again and I felt that I um like my history with clear code biwick pro that’s like and and also the advertising network which was like I had no overbreak in between that was like 15 years

Maciej Zawadzinski: And now I’m doing something completely from scratch that I’ve chosen to do and yeah, it’s it’s it’s great. Great time.

Alejandro Cremades: So so then it sounds like now you’re going to the other side of the table and more on the investment side I mean what? what does the future hold for you.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Um, we’ll see what the future has for me. But I think I given that in Poland we don’t have many Vc funds run by entrepreneurs. Um I think we have a very interesting value proposition to the startups. Ah. That’s that this is the 1 thing and the second I I learned a lot on my transactions and I know like how certain things are I’m comfortable for entrepreneurs and how things could be better and still beneficial for before the both sides. So I hope to introduce some. Some new quality for this early stage investments as well as I think we will have quite a lot of success of attracting the the need the founders to the fund that is run by by by serial entrepreneur.

Alejandro Cremades: So Let’s say I put you into a time machine and I bring you back in time I bring you back to the time that you were you know,? let’s say dropping out of school to start the advertising network. Let’s say right on your way out from that class. You know you’re pulling the backpack. And behind your back and saying okay, it’s time for me to say goodbye to to this environment and to go out it on my own. Let’s say you’re right there you know, ah in the entry of the of the classroom you know, right? when you’re getting out for the last time out of the classroom and you’re able to stop that younger self and you’re able to have a sit down.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Are in.

Alejandro Cremades: And you can give that younger self one piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now.

Maciej Zawadzinski: I Think ah the one big piece of advice that I could that would make a lot of impact for me is that founders needs to do sales of their product by themselves.

Maciej Zawadzinski: I did the mistake in the first business that I wasn’t like I thought that as a technology founder I can focus on the technologies I will hire somebody to do sales and marketing for me and that was a huge mistake of course and. I repeated it only to certain extent in in some some other occasions. But every time I got back to like almost full time doing sales. The company was Growinga awake the fastest in the history. No matter. What was the base. From which we were starting. So I think faers let sales is super important and I would convince myself that you need to focus on that and it’s great that you know tech technology because you have a better grip of like what’s happening and what you are offering but that’s not the most. Ah, important in the business that you will be valued.

Alejandro Cremades: So for the people that are listening that will love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Ah, find me on Linkedin I think that’s the the best way to connect. Also you can just type in my surnames abajisky dot com where there’s links and contact information and some some inform on on my Android investments.

Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing. Well ma I have to say thank you so much for taking the time you know to be with us today. It has been ah, an absolute honor to have you here on the dealmaker show. So thank you so much.

Maciej Zawadzinski: Um, yeah, thanks for having me great.


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