26 October 2015

Johann Stan: Mentors – The People who are your Reflection in the Future in a Given Area

This article originally appeared on

Let’s face it: we never miss a business event or a tech seminar and we chase the influencers from the startup and business ecosystem wherever they are going! But this time, the mentors have the floor!

Soon, the Disrupt Europe Year will come to an end (but we will Grow Global during the next year!) and EYIF wants to find out straight from our Euromentors who and what inspired them. And yes, we asked them for a lot of useful advice!

Our first article is dedicated to Johann Stan, Patent Examiner at European Patent Office. He has a PhD in Computer Science and he is passionate about innovation, research and development.

Tell us a successful story that influenced and impressed you.

Behind a successful story there is always an individual, who challenges his own limits and steps out of his comfort zone. I recently met Ovidiu Oltean, a public speaking coach in Romania. Ovidiu graduated computer science and worked in selling. Given his talent, he quickly became successful, however was not fulfilled. He was not passionate about his job. Therefore, he quit and decided to make an effort and identify what he really likes.

And the answer was public speaking. He quickly became a successful public speaking coach, who not only helps top Romanian managers and entrepreneurs, but is being invited to host the most important business events in the country as well. He explained me how he got the courage to give up a well-paid job with the help of a question that appears simple at first sight: “I asked myself what I would like to do

for the rest of my life for free if money and time were not an issue.”

“Every entrepreneur should ask himself this question before starting up a business: what is my passion? If you are not passionate about your business, you will give up when the first difficult moment arrives.”

Ovidiu’s story impressed me and I found it relevant to share because every entrepreneur should ask himself this question before starting up a business: what is my passion? If you are not passionate about your business, you will give up when the first difficult moment arrives. This story also teaches us that if you do not feel comfortable in a job, do not be afraid to quit and take some time to identify your passion. Just do it. Follow your guts feeling. Do not care about what others say.

How would you describe the role of a mentor?

We all want more from life. We want more money, we want a better job, we want a faster growing business, we want better relationships, better health etc. One can either try to achieve this on her own or

ask for help. Mentors are people who are your reflection in the future in a given area. This means, they have a story that inspires you and you feel that you can trust them.

Your agent at the bank is not your  mentor because he will give you recommendations that are good for the bank, not for you. A mentor will profoundly listen to you and inspire you through his own story. His only objective is to help you grow. He will not only recommend you a strategy to achieve a goal, he will also tell you how said strategy had already helped him achieve his own similar goal. A mentor is not just someone who learned a strategy, he is someone who actually had applied it successfully and is now ready to share it. Now, remember, you need to find a mentor who really inspires you. Otherwise you will not apply his recommendations or only part of them.

Three mistakes that you have made.

I decided to share three mistakes from the period I was doing my studies in Lyon. I think this is a very important period and my mistakes could be useful. During my studies, I did not take advantage of the multitude of clubs that were active on campus: innovation club, public speaking club etc. I of course still graduated with honors and found a job in one of the world’s most famous research institute, Bell Labs, however I had to push hard in my free time to learn some soft skills, such as leading a brainstorming session or making a convincing research talk that make people stand in line to talk to you after. It took me several years to learn such soft skills from books, seminars and looking back, it was a big mistake that I did not take advantage of the opportunity before.

The same applies to hard skills and I think this was my second mistake. I started reading blogs, reviews in my field rather late, when doing my MsC.

My third mistake that I would like to share was probably the fact that I was not confident enough that I could achieve anything. Often, at the first difficulty, I gave up and asked for a friend who already took that class to give me the solution. I was not resilient. This of course helped me get a good grade, but I did not understand some mechanisms and methods profoundly and had to learn them later and under high stress – at work you have maximum 1,2 days to learn something (at the expense of free weekends).

Did you ever have a mentor?

Yes, my former PhD supervisor, Pierre Maret, from Jean-Monnet University was also my mentor. He conducted my PhD by inspiring me and he always repeated that I could achieve anything (there are periods in a PhD where you just want to give up, forget it and start something different). He always listened to me and actually this was the biggest help I could get. Whenever there was a problem, he explained me how he solved a similar one when he was a PhD student. His stories inspired me and helped me push and finish with many international publications and many granted patents.

Thank you, Pierre!

5 tips for young entrepreneurs

My first tip is to network as much as possible. Your network is your net worth. We are the average of the five people we hang out most with; so better choose the best one. A good network will for example help you identify mentors or potential partners in a business. A good network also helps you test ideas. I am emphasizing this because usually most of our network is composed of people in the same field. Try to diversify. It you graduated say in computer science, try to bring artists, doctors, designers, musicians and architects into your network. Never miss a business event or seminar or TEDx conference, which gathers valuable people. These are the places where you can bring quality relationships into your life and business.

My second tip is more related to the startup itself. We have hundreds of ideas each week and any curious person can identify many problems that are not solved or not efficiently. Try to think big. Choose a problem that millions have and that is not yet solved efficiently. This is a key ingredient for scalability.

Another tip related to the startup is passion. If you are not passionate about the area, you will give up at the first big difficulty, say after a few rejections from investors. Do not start up in big data if you hate statistics. A good idea could be to test yourself before. Do a small project or prototype that is related to your big idea and see how you behave while doing it. When finished, look back and do an analysis: did time stop when I was working on it? Was I in a state of flow, wherein I was profoundly focusing on my project or it was easy to distract me? Was I happy while doing it? Such questions can help you identify if you are doing something you are passionate about or not.

My fourth tip is about innovation. Do not solve a problem with a solution that is not new or is only a minor modification. Disrupt the market. Be inventive. Inventive step in a technical solution is a key criteria for patentability and we all know how important patents can be for a successful exit.

My last tip is about the team. Work with people who are passionate, positive and resilient. People who have a passion for something are more self-confident and bring positive energy into the team. Standard interviews help little in identifying such people. Disrupt the recruiting process. Ask a candidate for a CTO position to write a story. Go on a trip with your top two candidates. Spend at least two days with them before bringing in. It takes longer but you will not be frustrated later. And neither will he, which is very bad for the startup.

About Johann Stan:

Author of patents, publications and prototypes in various scientific fields, such as information extraction and privacy preservation, Johann is interested in developing technology that improves people’s lives. He is an expert in natural language processing technologies, machine learning and knowledge management. Johann has developed methods to extract meaningful information from both unstructured content, such as tweets, and structured content, such as drug package inserts.