It’s those over 600 projects for 250+ clients. It’s a big pile of pizzas, Red Bull and Coke cans devoured during the sleepless nights before the deadlines. It’s the weeks of Monty Python and South Park episodes watched together. It’s made of sleepy Monday Morning Meetings and engaging Pink Fridays. And the Grapefruit history is still written everyday by a handful of people who just won’t give up, because they love what they do, and they love the people they work with.
Everybody knows what it happens after a Big Bang… but few have any clues about how simple can be to start a Big Bang. Read on for a small piece of history, from the Before Grapefruit era.
I started working full time in the 12th grade, when I was only 17. It was a great experience, being the youngest member of the team and a cartoonist for the hippest radio station in town (yeah, that’s sort of a unique job in the world, which unfortunately put me first on the let-go list when the funds of the radio station ran out). Then I moved on to a more serious job—cartoonist and designer for one of the largest media trusts in Romania at that time—the Monitorul network. I was still the youngest team member, and even now former colleagues call me The Kid when I meet them. It was a fun, reckless but hardworking period of my life. I was studying medicine from 7AM to 4PM everyday, then went to work, sometimes until 2AM. It was work hard, play hard, and I learned incredible new things from my colleagues Jup, Melel and Cip, and designed my first website in 1996 using (anyone old enough to remember?) Netscape 3.0 Composer Gold.
In the years that followed the Revolution that threw out Ceaușescu and the communist regime, entrepreneurship was practically an unknown word (or used pejoratively to describe snake-oil sellers and con artists who created businesses and got rich overnight by shady means, then disappear). I had no idea I wanted to be an entrepreneur, it just happened. While I was part of a fun & awesome team, I grew tired of disagreeing with the network bosses (as a young, stubborn and strongly opinionated artist). I didn’t want to be an entrepreneur, I didn’t want to have a company, I knew nothing about registering a company or dealing with accountants—I just wanted to get rid of bosses who didn’t understand or appreciate my ideas.
Few people know about the first versions of what was to later become Grapefruit. My first endeavor, called Grapefruit Design Group, was a group of talented freelancers (about 20 designers, cartoonists, writers and photographers) and try to sell their work abroad through Internet. It was 1997, I was only 20, and only managed to sell two cartoons before the thing went dead. What I failed to learn is that there’s an essential process I forgot to include in my plan. It was the process called Sales. That was the reason why the second attempt failed, too—which was a grandiose plan to create the first virtual international advertising agency in the world, with a Romanian me as CEO, a Russian as account director, a Kiwi as copywriter and some other nationalities as art directors. We had a great naive time making plans and waiting for clients to discover us, which never happened. For a few more months after that, I tried a less innovative business model, which was a small local agency created with a fellow designer. We had clients (yay), we started making money, but the whole thing fell apart when it came to splitting equity.
At that time, I had no idea I’d already failed three times, and this cluelessness made me want to try again. I took a summer job with a small but great design agency in Raleigh (North Carolina), and this made me realize what kind of thing (I wasn’t even able to see it as a company) I wanted to create.
For four months, I worked for 10 hours per day in my new job, then got back at home to conspire with two of my friends a new dream—the fourth reincarnation of the citrus artistic group.
I had known Stefan from the 6th grade, when we met at the National Maths Olympics. We didn’t drink alcohol back then, but spent the whole night before the grand finale playing Monopoly, which ruined our performance in the maths contest. However, that was our first night “working” shoulder-to-shoulder in a long row among the last 15 years. We met again in the following years (this time as contestants in the National Chemistry Olympics), where we added to those sleepless nights, as teenage geeks trying to charm geek chicks with our ideas about catalysts and isotopes. And later on, we kept on bumping into each other at parties in the University of Medicine campus.
We kept that while I worked in US, through emails & instant messages, and—although we never started with this thought—the idea of doing something together became more and more appealing. It was the reason why I gave up a very attractive job offer in US, and decide to fly back to Iasi, Romania.
I landed back on November 11, 1999. Without any respect for the jet lag, I called them to meet me. Even now, I remember the window table in the McDonalds’ next to the railway station, where we sketched our plans for world domination. I went to sleep exhausted and excited, and the next day I moved my computer, big CRT monitor and chair to Stefan’s one-bedroom apartment. Laur was already there, sticking “The Matrix” posters on the wall.
It was November 13, 1999 and that was our Big Bang, although most people would see it as eating cheeseburgers and moving around furniture and computers.
It’s November 13, 2014 and Stefan is probably somewhere on a flight between Bucharest and London, doing what he does best: branding. Laur is in Doha (Qatar), making sure that Al-Jazeera’s news are well produced and at the same time complaining about the cost of alcohol in Qatar.
But there’s a new army of superheroes, which I now call family who make sure Grapefruit rides the wave and kicks ass like in the old times. They fight the evil, design great apps & experiences, eat less pizza and more awesome cakes (baked by Andreea), develop smart tech and dream with their eyes open. It’s them who keep the passion and great work spanned from our little Big Bang, and it’s them who already started writing the next 15 years of history.
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