When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, one era ended and another one began in Central and Eastern Europe. Where the older, established generation was generally taken aback by this change, the younger generation saw opportunity. From the shadows of state-controlled everything, young entrepreneurs chased ideas and created entire industries from nothing. Julita Radev was a college student in Bulgaria at the time and was one of those who created something from nothing.
Dennis Hodges: “Dream. Believe. Do.” is really a way of looking at life and one’s life. I'm sitting here today with Yulita Radev. Yulita, nice to have you here.
Yulita Radev: Thank you.
DH: Tell us a little bit about yourself, if you would, please.
YR: Okay. I'm Bulgarian. I'm born and lived for many years here. Some years, I lived abroad. I’ve worked in advertising in the last twenty years for a company called McCann-Erickson. And I'm 40 something.
DH: [Laughs] Close enough!
YR: And I'm married. I have two children. And I'm of the generation, as we call it, the generation of change, which have spanned part of that line: in one, society; and another part of that line, in another one, economical.
DH: Right. Because you were here when the wall came down effectively, right?
YR: Yes. I was in my twenties.
DH: You were a young adult, sure. As I recall, there's a dream that you had around this time. Would you please tell us about your dream?
YR: I can’t say, from a famous speaker, “I have a dream.” At that time, I was a young person in the university studying Literature and Linguistics, and History and Theory of Culture. And I was reading a lot of textbooks in what I was studying. But this was exactly the time when the Berlin Wall fell and the first textbooks and books from the States were coming to the University library.
DH: You didn’t have access to them before?
YR: Yes. Now we were having a lot of access. Accidentally, I pop up books about advertising and one book by Peter Mayer -- which was at that time, the Creative Director of BBDO -- about life in advertising. And actually, it started like that. If you are young, if you want to have a lot of fun, to make a lot of money, drive expensive cars and wear expensive clothes, join the advertising. And I said, “That sounds interesting.”
DH: That was in the book?
YR: This was the first line on the book. And I was at that time twenty-two, and I said, “That sounds exciting! I want to have a lot of fun and all of the other stuff.” And let’s find out what is advertising. So, I started to read about it. Read textbooks and learn it. Then I said, “Okay, that's very good to do.” But the thing is that there was no advertising.
DH: There was no industry in Bulgaria at that time?
YR: No industry.
YR: There were no billboards. No advertising on media. And so, this is how I started. I’ve tried to build an industry -- with a number of partners -- to build an agency, to start building brands, putting billboards, buying advertising time and space.
DH: So the book was the catalyst to this? It helped inspire you, but what made you believe that you could do this?
YR: What made me believe? I think the age. When you're twenty something, you believe. It doesn’t matter what, you believe. Everything looks very easy, very accessible. Life in front of you, and you are not afraid; you don’t have fear. And the other thing is the time, because everything was changing, everything was the hope, times, society, relations, economical, political, social, families -- everything was collapsing. And something new was coming. And the people who were driving the new were the young people -- the people in their twenties with a lot of ideas, zero experience -- but believing that they can do it. They can change their country. They can build a new world – reinvent the world.
So I think that this combination of factors made us absolutely believing in whatever we did. I did this in the advertising, but a lot of my friends were completely in different fields, and they were the same believers, and they did it the same way. Because to be the right place at the right time, I would say that this is the secret. And in each time, there is the right place and the right people. The thing is that you have to have the instinct -- what you want, what is your time and what you can do. And so, this is how I did it.
DH: So what were some of the obstacles you encountered? There were no ads, so there were no billboards, no advertising on television at the time, so what kind of obstacles did you run into when you tried to build the business?
YR: We had a lot of obstacles, like we didn’t have the knowledge. We didn’t have the experience. We didn’t have anybody before us from which we have to learn. No best practices to benchmark.
DH: How did you gain the knowledge?
YR: But these obstacles were in the same time, as in life, an obstacle is also an advantage, because this makes you believe that you create the hot water. So, you do things which nobody did before. And I had a number of cases when I was young, I was thinking for weeks about something -- how to do, at that time, a media plan for television. And I was doing all these sophisticated way of expressing a media plan. Could you imagine my surprise where I spent weeks on that? And after a couple of months, being so proud with the thing I invented, I found out the same thing that we're using in McCann-Erickson for ages. [Laughs] But I was very proud of it. I just think, “That's my invention now.”
But at that time when you don't have the information, you challenge yourself. And sometimes it's very easy to get it, and that makes you, in a way, lazy, less ambitious and less believing because you have the feeling that somebody already did it. Why do you have to put the effort? When you don't know that, when you're young and when you're in that time, just do it and believe that you are unique.
DH: You just make it happen. What lessons have you learned along the way? What lesson did your dream teach you?
YR: I would say there are many, many lessons you learn. The major lesson at that time is that you have to love, like and enjoy what you are doing. And you don't do it as a business. You don't do it believing that this will make you be a big business. No, you do it because you enjoy it. And I would say that this will bring you or make you rich or be a big business. No. You do it because you are enjoying. And I would say that this is the major lesson of a human being – you have to enjoy them.
And because probably people, which never had the economical thinking behind the things we were doing, because we came out from a society where economics practically didn’t exist, so there were no goals that you have to grow the business or you have to make profits and things like that. No, you have to do a good commercial; a creative thing. You have to enjoy it. You have to make the best communication. We were working with adjectives and not with numbers. And I would say this is the fundamental thing which I learned at that time -- the world is much better if people who work use adjectives than numbers.
DH: I like that. That's a great thought. What advice would you give to somebody who’s trying to pursue their dream? Any thoughts?
YR: Even if they don't think it's a dream… sometimes it's very easy to define that as a dream, when the time pass and you look back and they say, “Okay, I had this dream.” At that time, if you ask me, I wouldn’t say that this was a dream. Probably, I would say that my dream is to have a very fancy high heel shoes. That would be more defined at that time for me as a dream. But whatever you think, or whatever you feel is nice and funny and enjoyable, do it. So, it can turn out to be your greatest dream. I'm not Gandhi. I'm not Martin Luther King. These people can define dreams even before they exist. For all the other people, that's not so easy. Whatever you want, do it. It can turn into a dream.
DH: Yulita, thank you so much for your time. Thanks for your time with me today.
YR: It’s a pleasure. Thank you.
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