Alecsandra Ionita of Smart Experience has turned a new idea for the Romanian market into a business that has notched up five years of operational activity. She tells BR about overcoming client skepticism about the type of service her firm offers and its nationwide expansion strategy.
Alecsandra Ionita, wellbeing specialist at Smart Experience, chose a quote by English educationalist and writer Sir Ken Robinson, as her company’s motto: “Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement.” In 2010 she founded Smart Experience, a company that provides experiences like climbing, off-road trips, themed parties, paragliding and flights, wellbeing programs and creative workshops for both individual and corporate clients. “In the current economic climate, companies are choosing to differentiate more and more through the perks they offer their employees rather than through financial benefits. These include wellbeing programs, activities, a different work environment, an avant-garde or unconventional office design and fitness subscriptions,” Ionita tells BR.
She adds, “Companies have learned that their employees are the best brand ambassadors they can have. We wanted to persuade them to invest in customized programs for their employees to develop their skills, passions or just relax them and boost their creativity.” Since 2010, her team has tripled and its volume of work has increased steadily. “So we needed to develop rapidly. Because of the increasing demand from our corporate clients we decided to open new branches in three key Romanian cities: Cluj-Napoca, Timisoara and Iasi,” she says.
The most difficult moment her business has faced so far, according to Ionita, was when she started it, as it was very tough to make people believe in these kinds of gifts and services. “Our on-return moment was when we gained our first large customer who believed in us and bought several hundred gift packages for his partners for Christmas. It was hard then because we didn’t have the expertise and we faced a lot of challenges. But our experience in organizing events and working with professionals from large companies helped us to surmount them. In addition, the feedback was good and that gave us the courage to continue,” says the entrepreneur.
If she started another business she says she would plan better and try to learn from others’ experience in the field. “Unfortunately you can’t have your time again so I don’t often think about what I would have changed. Instead I prefer to learn from the past in order to apply it now or in the future,” she says.
As for the challenges her business faces, Ionita says that they come from two different directions: packages of activities and the wellbeing area. “People are not yet open enough to offer or get something intangible. There are still many who prefer clothes or a bottle of alcohol instead of a memorable gift.” But Ionita says there is also positive news: “The good thing is that fewer people now think like this, which is proven by the increasing number of individuals that contact us to offer unique and memorable gifts. In order to know exactly what they offer, we organize different events where they can test specific sensations,” adds Ionita.
Turning to the wellbeing business line, the entrepreneur says that the main challenge is that some companies think they can organize such programs in-house, without the external help of a specialized company. “They often find that those who deliver the programs don’t meet their expectations. They can be excellent professionals but often lack experience in working with companies’ ‘students’,” says Ionita.
In her opinion, this gap between expectations and implementation lessens the quality of the wellbeing program and creates the wrong perception that the whole program achieves little. “Our experience over the past few years in delivering such workshops shows that wellbeing programs significantly boost employees’ non-financial motivation and their transformation into ambassadors of the employer’s brand.”
As for the competition in the field, Ionita says that there are not many players. “In the last three-four years few companies that offer similar services have appeared on the market. Because the market we operate on is a special and niche one, with very small margins, some of these companies had to adjust their activity or even close,” says Ionita. “At present there are only two or three firms that offer activity packages and a few others on the wellbeing segment.”
The founder of Smart Experience says that what differentiates her firm from the rest is a wide portfolio of services and its experience in this field. “Being a niche and emerging sector, there is no market research to show its value and market share,” notes Ionita.
She adds that she intends to develop the portfolio of activities nationwide and to diversify the current wellbeing programs that the company offers.
- Established: 2010
- 2014 turnover: about EUR 150,000
- 2015 estimated turnover: about EUR 150,000
- Number of employees: three, and four full-time collaborators
- Initial investment: EUR 15,000
- Total estimated investment: EUR 40,000-50,000