A story by Miruna Iliescu
Almost an year has passed since the beginning of the Aspire Mentorship 2020 program. When signing up to participate, I hesitated… mentor or mentee? I have experience in mentorship programs as both mentor and mentee and a part of me, passionate about education and growing people crave to integrate and apply all I have learned by now in order to inspire someone else. But, back then, the other hopelessly curious side pushed me to seek for a mentor, assuming they would help me grow at a higher speed.
On the 8th of March 2020 I was introduced to Raluca Bacinschi-Stratulat and the next day I already emailed her to introduce myself and to schedule a video call. After two canceled calls in March, we found ourselves e-meeting for the first time in … June.
I guess other Aspiers were already finishing their “grow and inspire” activities way before we started our first Zoom meeting. Honestly, after the lockdown in 2020, I missed networking events, meeting new people and especially making new friends. I was skeptical about building strong relationships through screens and cameras and chat messages. Who would bond by sending and receiving only partial signals of the non-verbal communication? Who would actually feel a connection with someone they never met or never talked to before?
Well, now I am a believer. Fast forward seven months after our first meeting, I reflect on the mentorship journey I had. Have you heard about the turning points in history, major events when decisions taken by important or regular people changed the course of humankind? Like when Christopher Columbus decided to go search for Asia or when Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web and decided to give for free the first browser. Well meeting Raluca Bacinschi-Stratulat was this kind of turning point in my life.
Raluca taught me to write a business plan, to deal with my team’s motivation, but most important… to take time to meditate and to prioritize my own wellbeing. We spoke about serious business plans, but also cloning gel for roots, hairdressers, yoga teachers, ikigai, funny songs, instagram filters, investors, and some other things that I rather keep them as a secret.
Raluca Bacinschi-Stratulat is the CEO of Izibac, a content-agnostic game-based learning app that offers a fun studying experience, greatly improving the knowledge retention rate (by 90%) and the user’s involvement (by 70%). The vision of the company is to offer a game-based learning experience, using the newest discoveries at the intersection of psychopedagogy and mobile gaming industry. The approach combines the focus on pupil’s learning UX with edutainment video lessons and a strong peer-to-peer learning community. They recently listed on Seedblink where they raised 103% of the target in less than 1 week.
What influenced you to start Izibac?
After embracing my teaching vocational path, I dedicated most of my time towards improving the whole learning experience for the pupils I was interacting with. From their feedback and results, I realized that what I was doing had a positive impact. And I wanted to go deeper down the rabbit hole. I think this is also where and when you realize you are actually pursuing your true vocation – when you have no concerns while consciously choosing to enter the rabbit hole.
I wanted to make my teaching methods available to all of Romania’s pupils. Because I spent most of my time working with high schoolers hearing them complain about the whole baccalaureate experience, I decided to start with it. Now, after hearing the feedback from more than 30000 users, we learned a lot, improved a lot and are ready to scale it to other exams, to other countries (we have obtained the European Seal of Excellence) and to other curricula as well.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
I would start with a question: What do you have that is unique and almost impossible to copy by someone else? Identify it. And if that special something happens to also be in your sphere of passions, go ALL the way in. If you want to succeed, you need focus, grit and patience. And keep an open heart to your body, needs and present moment.
What are your non-negotiables?
I enjoy negotiation. It brings opportunities for me to witness life from different points of view, it helps me grow. My sole non-negotiable would be having to grow when I have no more fuel left to grow out of. That is when I would naturally retreat and recharge.
What was the hardest decision you ever had to make?
The hardest one was to full-heartedly pursue my main passion – teaching. I had graduated from the architecture college and would have naturally started my career as an architect. Somehow, I managed to avoid getting stuck on that train and gave myself more time on the platform, to properly feel the decision I was about to make. All in all, when the dice were thrown, I accepted the results. Faced my fears of opening up to my parents, friends etc. and pursued my newly found objectives. It was and still is invigorating.
Can you tell me about a time when you almost gave up, how you felt about that, and what you did instead of giving up?
I almost gave up a few years ago while still having a corporate job. I used to crawl out of my bed and feel the torture of having to get ready for work. I now know what the first sign that I should leave the job is for me: being repeatedly late for it. And not for 10-15 minutes, but for more than 30-45, without feeling any remorse.
The key factor of not quitting back then was when I understood the role that period had in my life. I accepted that a corporate job can teach me many useful lessons of business and management. So instead of choosing to see it as a dreadful activity, I started relating to it from a different point of view – as a helping-me-grow one. And I also understood that every growth path depends on the label you choose to apply on it.
It was then when I stopped crawling out of bed in the mornings and could appreciate the taste of coffee at my office.
What is that one book that has influenced you the most?
I consider that in order for a book to properly influence your path, it must arrive at a junction-type-of-moment in your life. And the biggest impact a book can have is if it arrives a moment before the junction, with you not even knowing what lies ahead. And prepares you for it. And you end up thanking it many times during your lifetime. That is why my book would rarely impact someone else. Because the context has to be just right.
For me, that book was “The prophet” by Khalil Gibran. And the moment it arrived was before I got married.
“A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.” (Ancient Greek Proverb)
You graduated Aspire Professionals 2019. Why should people apply for an Aspire experience?
The answer is in the question. Because it will be more than a camp, classes, networking, amazing teachers, values etc. – it will be a real Experience. Exactly as in a game, you will gain enough XP to advance to a whole new level in your life.
What did you gain by being part of this community?
First of all, the feeling that I belong. That odd realisation that I have found my tribe. Inside Aspire, I gained enough comfort to start seeking discomfort. The roots have started growing even more. Also great friends, each one special in their own way, from the dark, sarcastic humor which I also enjoy, to the warm hugs of “everything will help you grow”. I’ve also found love inside this amazing community. Love for genuine, authentic conversations, love for opening up and speaking your mind, love for a positive impact in society.
What did you enjoy the most about the Aspire experience?
That I could let my freak flag fly. I had tiptoed around doing this for most of my teenage years, but never managed to fully open up to a group of people. Either to my best friend, to my family, to someone really close, but never a whole group. I managed to let my guard down and feel accepted. And it helped me leave it down for other groups or contexts as well. I love being vulnerable since that experience and it has started to show amazing results in my team as well.
Mic back to Miruna. In case it is not obvious by now, Raluca Bacinschi-Stratulat is by far the coolest mentor I ever had and I am forever grateful to the Aspire community for making this fortunate meeting possible. For everyone too busy or too undecided, I take full responsibility for this advice: Register for Aspire Mentorship 2021. You never know when you find a friend, an inspiration, a turning point in your life.