20 September 2017

Talk-SHow #5: The oldest startup founder in Poland


What drives a man in his early seventies, with dozens of professional achievements and a large business experience, to develop a new IT startup? Waldemar Birk nearly 3 years ago took this challenge. Together with Robert Strzelecki, they founded TenderHut, which in 2019 is expected to enter the Warsaw Stock Exchange. SoftwareHut, a subsidiary company in the TenderHut Group, is one of the top developing IT companies in Poland


In 2016, when TenderHut, after just 9 months of activity, received the honorable mention in the Deloitte Technology Fast 50, which gathers the top developing technological enterprises in Central and Eastern Europe, Waldemar, along with his associates, arrived at the ceremony. His company ranked 13th in the category concerning Polish companies. A quick glance at the ceremony allowed him to notice an interesting fact.What I reminisce with great amusement, was the moment of receiving the award. What struck me the most, was the age difference between me and the rest of the awarded representatives.There was an age gap of approximately 30 years between us. It was from that day, when my associates started calling me the oldest startup founder in Poland –explains Waldemar

Currently, there is a trend for creating startups. However the term itself is being often misused. Opening a coffee shop or a bakery with hand made products is not enough to become a successful businessman or businesswoman and attain the privilege of participating in international summits. Both the business venture and its creator need to meet a certain set of requirements, which allow to enter this exclusive group. What is essential in business? Can a person, having nearly 70 years, call himself a startup founder? We will try to answer this questions with Waldemar Birk – CEO of the TenderHut Capital Group.

Who is the oldest startup founder in Poland? Waldemar Birk, half Pole, half Dane, born in Kazakhstan. He implemented several large IT projects, both in Poland and Denmark. Besides his technical education, he also acquired a doctor engineer degree at the Warsaw Technical University. In 1976, when his education was finished, he moved to Denmark, where he work as a programmer, analytic, project manager and marketing executive.

His co-workers often refer to him as the ,,Renaissance man’’. He is interested in nearly everything. Despite of his age, he is full of energy, I know very little people with such creativity and commitment –says Robert Strzelecki, Vice-president of TenderHut. Besides working for large business companies and implementing IT projects worth millions of euro – ie. a customs system in Denmark, or the Polish tax system – Poltax, Waldemar always dedicated himself to minor hobbyist ventures. He popularizes the old Polish tradition of breeding capons. He participated in several cooking TV shows hosted by master chefs and healthy lifestyle promotors, such as  Maryla Musidłowskia, Robert Trzópka, Katarzyna Bosacka, Maciej Nowicki, Karol Okrasa. He also bred maine coon cats (reaching the amount of 20 cats in his household). Waldemar was involved in promoting information concerning the dra Bach essence, used for changing animal behavior. He even ran an online shop with animal cosmetics.  He is an experienced scuba diver (owns a two stars certificate given by the CMAS organization). He used to play golf, handicap 20. In high school, despite his short stature, Waldemar was a basketball player. The surrounding environment influences every human being. Therefore it is worth mentioning, that Waldemar’s classmate was Aleksander Wolszczan – the well-known Polish astronomer. Waldemar Birk is full of energy and interesting ideas for living. His creativity is what his co-workers admire the most. His competition, for the same reason, does not share the same admiration.

What kind of business do startups perform? – This is a hard question. An innovative business consists of several components, but what I think is essential, is the scalability, which means the capacity to transferring our services or products to other markets, such as China, South America or the USA –explains Waldemar. Therefore a wonderful, just around the corner coffee shop, ran by passionate executives, cannot be called a startup. It is an interesting company for sure, but not a start-up –adds Waldemar.

Is an innovative idea the most important element of a startup? – Definitely not! An idea is not a business. I know a lot of people, who had terrific ideas, which in the end were not implemented. Business is more than a mere idea, it is the determination in bringing it into life – explains Waldemar Birk. J. K. Rowlling, the author of Harry Potter or Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds, certainly didn’t lack determination. Both had different life experiences, but what characterized them was the desire do create and the persistence in taking action. Their careers also started relatively late.

The idea about TenderHut was conceived, when I was almost 70 years old, reminisces Waldemar. The concept seemed interesting. I knew where to sell our services. I had extensive experience in doing business and decided to act. There is no such thing as a perfect age for opening a company. You just have to be confident in your own capabilities, never give up and try. It is important to have an idea but what is more essential is to have knowledge on how to implement the idea in a particular environment, where we operate. And of course you need to act – says Waldemar.

What other elements are essential in the path towards success? – A person needs to remember about his family, because in the long run, you cannot live in harmony without their support. I remember, while I was living in Denmark, I participated in a training regarding time management, held by a company named TimeManager (some may recall the company by their calendars designed for businessman). The whole day of the course was dedicated to family. The ability to manage time and not wasting it is an important skill –he adds.

A good sense of humor is also an important thing. None of my colleagues ever told me, that they were not satisfied with my work. At least they were so decent, not to tell me that – said with humor the oldest startup founder in Poland.

We admire the brilliant careers of Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Richard Branson. One can say, that their life is an ongoing series of success. This is only an illusion. It is true, that today they are being perceived as successful businessman, but behind each and every one of those characters, lies determination and confidence in their own skills. The path to success isn’t straight, it has many curves –Says Waldemar. In my opinion, another aspect, which increases the probability of achieving success is professionalism. In our ongoing pursuit to achieve success, we should stand out from others. It is important to learn every day, observe the current trends and listen to good advice. However we should always act in accordance with our intuition –adds Waldemar.

How do you describe professionalism? – It is a sum of several components, such as experience, knowledge of a particular subject and most of all passion for what you do. You can probably be a good craftsman, know your profession, but when you devote yourself to it, you advance to the next level. All the people, which I consider professional businessmen, are passionate about their work. My passion is creating, therefore despite my age, I decided to take this challenge and start my own business – adds Waldemar Birk.

What is the secret behind your personal success?  – I keep a positive attitude towards new ideas, I try to avoid negative thinking. Also, by nature, I am a hard worker – says Waldemar Birk, president of TenderHut.

What encouraged you to start a company at this age? – I always worked for somebody. I had my own ventures, which were more of a hobby, but they were never competitive towards my supervisors. I never owned an IT company capable of implementing large projects. My colleagues and associates often asked: ,,Waldemar, you have such a broad experience, why don’t you start your own business’’? In 2015, the right moment finally came. The SMT Group, where I previously worked, changed their business profile, which was participating in government tender procedures and implementing large IT projects. They decided to focus on business travel. This was not my area of interest. I liked what I did before and I was good at it. At this point in life me and my family were financially secured.This aspect encouraged me to make this decision.

How do you get along with younger startup workers? – Excellent. I’m still young on the inside. I try to keep up with my co-workers when it comes to physical activity, as well as technical knowledge. When It comes to diversity in undertaken challenges, I think I’m still miles ahead of them– adds Waldemar. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. I play badminton and football. I like scuba diving. The age gap is never an issue, when it comes to communicating with younger people. I keep an open mind for their ideas, I support them in achieving their goals. In conflict situations, I try to find compromise, provide guidance and assistance.  My coworkers know, that I am a person, who you can normally talk with. Instead of just giving tasks for others to do, I actively participate in the working process. I try to give an example. I also have confidence in the skills of my colleagues– says Waldemar.

Alicja Szymkiewicz
PR IR Manager

Experienced Corporate Communication Manager in fields of IR, PR and marketing. A philosopher, PR person and IR person by profession. Privately enthusiastic diver, mum for a son and young Labrador, and happy wife for one husband.