Mentors and Mentees
"I am very inspired by the success of others."
Ágnes Patonai had seen a living entrepreneur before she graduated from college, since her father had a well-established enterprise dealing with low-voltage. However, as she was fascinated by quality management, after graduating, she thought she wanted to work for a company dealing with introduction and development of quality management systems. However, she quickly realized that being an employee was not invented for her, so after a couple of attempts she established her own, and since then successful, company.
Before becoming an entrepreneur, you tried one or two companies as employee. Why didn't you accept being an employee?
First, I worked for a multinational company where I was a trainee before. I could only stay there for eight months. There were several reasons why I left them so quickly. On the one hand, my salary was very, very low, even lower than my scholarship. On the other hand, I did not like the fact that if I had a job or not, I had to complete my working time. In addition, they couldn't give me enough tasks for a long time, so I felt myself useless and superfluous. Thirdly, my then boss did not allow me to deal with quality management. However, that's why I joined the company. At the same time, he wanted to make me marketer at a company having no officially any marketing activity. So, as a marketing assistant having a diploma and three language knowledge, I updated mailing lists and stamped newsletters. In addition, I joined the company in Autumn, the winter was coming soon, so I arrived in the morning in the dark, and I left in the evening also in the dark. During the day I was sitting at a firewall facing desk.
While I was working there, I was thinking about how to spend my time usefully. I was looking for additional tasks in order to improve myself on: writing articles for various quality blogs, assisting consultants with background work. I didn't want just to sit by waiting for someone to tell me what to do. This attitude has already pointed to the direction of a business: if you have work, you are working intensively, and if you have not, you may go to the beach.
After that, did you start a business right away or did you try somewhere else?
I did both at once. I joined a Hungarian-owned consulting company as subcontractor. When I wanted to found an enterprise, my dad proposed to buy the business of his retired partner. This is how we became a family business with a clear distinction between activities and incomes. By the way, the company has been still living and operating, and now only deals with consulting.
A lot of young start-up entrepreneurs have a lot of trouble with getting customers. You started your business at a young age, and you needed clients. Wasn't it difficult to get customers?
I mentioned that after a multinational firm I continued my career at a Hungarian consulting company. The company and its manager had a good reputation in the business, so it was easy to get a client. At first it was not my job. Initially, I was the consultant assistant of an experienced colleague helping him in jobs being got by him or by our boss. These tasks obviously increased my professional self-confidence, which later helped me to acquire clients. Otherwise it was an expectation for young people to get customers. I accepted this, I was looking for a costumer segment and I started working on this subject. I wrote letters, made telephone conversations and continued negotiations. There were many setbacks, most of the meetings did not turn into business, but in some cases I managed to get the client which was very inspiring.
Why did you finally decide to start your own business?
There were payment problems at my workplace, for example I only received my commission for more than half a year after my assignment, even though I knew the client had already paid. It was difficult to handle this situation, that is why it was the best solution to exclude the third party from myself and the client. We left each in a very civilized manner, I have received orders from them even for a long time.
How did it feel to be suddenly alone in the business world?
I did not experience this dramatically. I was happy not depending on others so I could do more for myself. I really enjoyed it. I lived the corporate existence as liberation.
As an entrepreneur, what qualities of yours do you consider important?
The first are the initiative skills. The other, that in many situations I do not see the difficulty or the problem but the opportunity. Perseverance is very important to me. Just recently, I read a quote on one of my clients' Facebook page: "You will not achieve your goals if you start with something, but only if you stick to it" (Attila Gaszt, GIA Form Kft.). I completely agree. Entrepreneurs come to us with a lot of ideas, but the point is not whether the idea is really good, but what and how much people are willing to do for converting the idea into reality.
You have already participated in the previous SEED Foundation mentoring program and you are also a mentor in the Personal Entrepreneurship Mentoring Program as well. What motivates you to support others in their business in addition to your otherwise not a few own works?
I am very inspired by the success of others. I am a kind of person not being jealous of someone who is successful, moreover I am pleased to see that there are people who do their jobs with the same enthusiasm and determination. If I can add anything to their success, it is extremely motivating for me. It gives me enthusiasm.
In the previous SEED Foundation mentoring program, I had two mentees. One of them moved to London shortly after the start of the program and decided not to create their own architectural office there, but to become employee in an already existing one. During our conversations I also considered as a result that he felt himself more secure as an employee than as an entrepreneur.
The other mentee I had at that time, started a paper business together with a partner, but after a short while she was left alone because her partner became pregnant and went to give birth. She continued the business on a hobby level and made very nice handmade papers. I was delighted to be part of this tradition and value preservation venture.
Have you already a mentee in the Personal Entrepreneurship Mentoring Program?
Yes, I am honoured to have been chosen as a mentor of the daughter of Uncle Gyuri Szabó, grass man in Bükk, heading their company. I have been following Uncle Gyuri's activity for a long time, I have been drinking his tea, that is why I was delighted with the meeting. Three more came after. Although I was only planning a mentoring process for myself, I now feel that I would be happy to work with all four applicants in some form. As two prospective mentees are engaged in activities similar to mine, I can even imagine working together with them.