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Roxana Bitoleanu, Co-Founder of Taraba Virtuală, on Common Entrepreneurial Mistakes & Helpful Books

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Roxana Bitoleanu is the co-founder of Taraba Virtuală (‘Virtual Stall’), a Romanian farm to fork app – it enables local farmers to sell and deliver their products directly to clients.

A few years ago, Roxana had some personal health problems: she ended up in the hospital after eating food that made her sick. That’s when the idea behind Taraba Virtuală was born, an app that shortens the distribution chain by gathering local farmers and helping them deliver natural products fast and straight to the consumer.

She founded the platform together with Vlad Retca and, last year, they’ve won the national phase of Chivas Venture, a competition that funds social entrepreneurs.

Taraba Virtuală currently has 20,000 users who can order from 130 producers who ship in their proximity.

Keep on reading and you’ll learn what books had an impact on her, how she organizes her reading, and what she thinks is a common mistake made by entrepreneurs.

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

I must say that choosing a favorite is quite difficult. But if I have to choose only one non-business book I would pick Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, as a symbolic journey to the unknown, deep down, just like our personal search for meaning, for our inner driver.

A business book I would definitely choose is the biography of Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance, because of Elon’s strong, even extreme ambition to radically change the world, which I find very inspiring.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell us about it?

Just a few days ago when I finished reading Mind Hacking, an open source book, which made me think of me thinking. As funny as it sounds, the questions are profound and the mind games are quite challenging. The book helped me understand more about focus (why our mind wanders around).

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What books had the biggest impact on you? Perhaps changed the way you see things or dramatically changed your career path.

I believe every book I have ever read has changed the way I think, the way I see the world. My mother always told me that I should be happy if out of a book if one sentence has helped me at a point in my life. Or maybe this was her own way to encourage me to read more in a time when I was so against it, having an imposed book list from school, I can’t really tell. But it stayed strong with me up until today, that every book has its own lessons along the lines.

To mention a few:

  • The Mom Test, on how to ask proper questions about your ideas
  • The Alchemist, because we shouldn’t look for happiness further than ourselves.
  • 1984, the future we are living today envisioned way back.
  • Man’s Search for Meaning, a story about resilience in the most extreme way possible.
  • Shoe Dog, because we, entrepreneurs, can identify with the story behind Nike and the mistakes that eventually led to the creation of the brand.
  • The Power of Now, as time is a limited resource and we should spend it as wonderfully as possible.

What five books would you recommend to young people interested in your career path & why?

I would definitely start my list with The Mom Test because there is no resource on how to ask questions without being too eager or too revealing. I think this skill should be trained, be it an entrepreneur or not. Then I would follow up with books related to knowing thy self, and leadership, such as The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Into the Magic Shop, Emotional Intelligence or Mind Hacking, mentioned before. I have reached the conclusion you have to master your self and know your personal mission before attempting to lead other people to success. Being an entrepreneur is not an easy task, so you must be prepared.

We’re interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How do you make time for reading? How often do you read? What format do you prefer?

I read whenever I find some time, quiet time for myself or during commute times. Recently, I discovered audiobooks as I have a subscription to Scribd, heaven for book lovers. But I prefer any format, I think each has its own charm and usability. Usually, I try to find at least half an hour to read every day and you’ll always find me with a book carrying it around.

Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

I note down in a separate notebook what resonated with me or find it important to remember. I keep coming back to the notes so I can reinforce the lessons that book brought into my mind. Especially when listening to audiobooks, I note down.

How do you choose what books to read next? Do you prioritize books recommended by certain people?

I organize my reading list in an agile way, thinking in terms of backlog and sprints, using Trello, Goodreads, and Scribd as tools. I keep adding to the backlog books I would like to read and then I try to keep my number of parallel readings limited. When I finish a book, I review the backlog and re-prioritize it based on short and medium-term goals. I do prioritize books recommended by my mentor or industry leaders.

What book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

I am currently re-reading The Lean Startup, to refresh certain aspects of this kind of mindset for current and future projects.

What was the biggest challenge when you started collaborating with several producers/farmers?

Looking back, the biggest challenge was dealing with my own expectations and not putting myself under pressure.

What do you think is the most common mistake when founding a project?

I think sometimes it’s hard to control our eagerness to jump straight to the development of the product instead of stepping back for a while to ask questions and put in place good documentation about the idea, the needs, who are the customers, why they should be our customers. Testing and failing early is important, debunking your own myths and assumptions. But most of all, I believe that listening to and accepting feedback from the customers is important for any product’s success, as the feedback might not be as imagined.

What are the downsides of running a side project? How do you manage to stay efficient?

I don’t think about it as a downside, just the opposite as a blessing. I have accelerated my learning in ways I couldn’t have reached any other way.

I try to live in the present moment and enjoy every lesson and take every challenge one step at a time.

Links where you can follow Roxana Bitoleanu or find out more about her projects:

All books mentioned by Roxana in our interview:

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