Meet Iulian Danciu, a successful product manager from Romania with over 14 years experience in this field. Thanks to his passionate contribution to the product management communities worldwide, he’s aiming to shape the next generation of product managers.
Hi Iulian, nice to meet you! Firstly, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Iulian Danciu (Julian – for my English-speaking peers 🙂 ), and I am currently living in Bucharest, Romania. My work revolves around building world-class products & leading (product) teams. Apart from my regular 9-5 job, I’ve been doing a bit of freelancing over the past years, mainly focused on product consultancy and mentoring.
Be obsessed with deep-diving as much as possible, the real gold is usually buried under a couple of layers of dirt.
Tell us about your educational background and how your career path has changed over the years.
My educational background is in computer science, algorithms, coding and databases. I started my career 14 years ago as an IT assistant at one of the local universities. The job was focused on maintaining hardware, building networks and dealing with any IT-related incidents that would arise. My first movement was towards working with people and blending tech, becoming one of the senior technical support engineers for IBM/Lenovo. The next step added business context. I joined HP which provided the required flexibility to learn, experiment and grow.
This is where I tapped into working with people from a leadership position, earning my first team lead role. Over the next years, I switched to various roles within HP blending team-leading and people management with business intelligence, big data, analytics, project management and program management.
At this stage, it was clear that the next shift had to be towards Product Management, as it offered the missing components I desired. I made the switch to Product Leadership 3 years ago, by building and leading my first Product vertical within the company I was working for.
In my current role, I lead the Product Team at inboxAds, a US company that aims to disrupt the email monetization ecosystem. I am also an active member of Product Management communities, sharing, teaching and coaching others.
You have mostly worked in full-time employment.When did you actually decide that you wanted to become a freelancer and be your own boss? And why?
I started freelancing a very long time ago with my brother & a friend by offering basic IT services to small business owners, such as cafes, restaurants, workshops, and so on. After a while, each of us went our separate ways and we shut down the small business.
When I was doing Product Consultancy on behalf of my employer, I realized two important things: first, that there is a great potential for growing my Product skills by being exposed to various people, cultures & organizations and second, I can use this opportunity to build up more revenue while learning and experimenting.
Since that moment, my freelancing activities have always been complementary to my 9-5 job. This offers a safety net in place for along with a stable revenue, too.
What challenges did you face at the beginning of your freelance career?
Finding and signing the first contracts. There are plenty of resources available online & all of them talk about how difficult it is to get started with freelancing. Most of them offer tips on how to secure your first contract.
There are many platforms you can use, and this is usually confusing for people just starting – which one should they try out? Depending on what kind of freelancing services you offer, one platform might be better than the other. Some are focused on bigger projects, while others on smaller gigs.
In your opinion, what is the most important skill required for freelance work, and why?
Being able to properly market & sell yourself. It’s the same as if you are searching for a new job. You need to polish that profile, use the right words and attract business. Remember, YOU are the product.
How are you planning to find new clients that are interested in your services?
Through dedicated platforms that assist freelancers in matching with the best projects available.
On top of that, word-of-mouth referral remains one of the most powerful advertising methods. I grow and maintain a strong network of people using my LinkedIn profile. Being a part of active Product Management communities helps create healthy relationships and sometimes deals are posted there, too.
What kind of services do you provide and what kind of projects do you enjoy most doing?
Over the past year, I have been focused on offering Product Management consultancy and coaching people. The coaching part is mostly aimed at existing product managers that struggle with a specific step in their career plan, aiming for the next move in Product Leadership or sometimes people looking to make a career shift.
What are your top tips on product management? And generally, for freelancers?
The first thing that comes to mind is this: “Remember, you are not the customer.” A basic recommendation you might say, but I’ve seen this issue occurring so many times with Product managers during their first 3 years. Be obsessed with deep-diving as much as possible, the real gold is usually buried under a couple of layers of dirt.
For freelancers, building and maintaining a clear portfolio of proven success helps a lot. When companies decide to reach out to freelance product managers, they’re already making a trade-off. You can help them understand that you are the right person if you have a strong portfolio that matches exactly what they’re looking for. Ideally, you want to have proven success (with metrics highlighting it!) with a similar product, across the same industry. If your portfolio does not cover something similar, try to relate with previous experiences as much as possible.
Name 3 tools (apps, equipment, software) that you can’t live without. What makes them so great?
A laptop, bluetooth headset and Google Suite. These 3 are the key ingredients that enable me to work remotely from anywhere. The laptop is required for most of the work, it’s easy to move around and gets the job done for most of the product management tasks. The BT headset is a must for quality video conferences and calls. Google Suite – my favorite. The most complete toolbox available for free on the market – meetings, calendar, documents repository, slides, integration with just about anything. Easy sharing with other people via a link.
How is the freelance market in Romania right now? How has the pandemic affected it? Do you have any particular tips for people considering freelancing in Romania?
I am not particularly connected with the local freelance market. The main advantage of freelancing is getting a chance to work with people and companies across the globe. I’ve been discussing with people in my network about freelancing during the pandemic and they haven’t seen any impact whatsoever.
If there is anything positive to mention from the last year – it’s definitely the way remote working has been accelerated for most of the companies. Their mindset is much more flexible, and it was a test that was successfully passed by everyone in the IT sector. This will stand the test of time and we are already seeing transitions across the workforce: companies are switching to full-remote or hybrid setups.
My recommendation to anyone considering freelancing – if you were waiting for the right time, it is now.
What is your #1 tip for aspiring freelancers?
Freelancing can be a gift and a curse at the same time. Get in touch with experienced freelancers, join communities focused on freelancing work. Ask questions (lots of them) to understand what to realistically expect. (Yes, there are pros and cons to freelancing).
From my experience, all freelancers are extremely happy to have a call and share precious information they wish they had when they started. This is extremely valuable, as it allows you to learn without making the same mistakes yourself.
Freestyle! Is there anything you would like to tell our readers?
You can reach out to me using my LinkedIn Profile for any Product Management-related topic. I am happy to have a chat over interesting products anytime.
Iulian Danciu is a Product Leader that builds teams & world-class products. With over 14 years of experience and working across multiple industries, Iulian brought to market over 20 successful products, reaching more than 100+ million users. He enjoys building teams, coaching people and uses technology to build a better world for everyone through the products he brings to life. He’s shaping the next generation of Product Managers by actively contributing to the product management communities worldwide.
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