We recently interviewed Kris Nicolaou from Brain Box.
Can you tell us about your career path to becoming an entrepreneur?
One could say that the entrepreneurial spirit is embedded in my DNA. Both my parents were self-starters. My father, a second-generation master tailor, owned a successful franchise called Ben Berke Tailors before branching out and establishing his shop, Nikos Custom Tailor, in the prestigious Yorkville neighbourhood of Toronto, Canada. Meanwhile, my mother made her mark in real estate and various self-employed, self-marketing roles throughout my childhood.
Despite this, I initially struggled with the traditional education system, and for a time, I considered not pursuing post-secondary education. However, after taking a couple of years off following high school, I decided to apply for two design-related programs at Durham College. I was accepted into the Multimedia Design program, and this pivotal moment marked the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey.
Although the program was designed to be completed in three years, it took me four. I used my downtime effectively by managing a McDonald’s during the night shift on weekends and taking on freelance projects. During this period, I encountered a particular freelance project that would ultimately become the foundation of my startup.
Although I had no prior experience with 80% of the requirements, I enthusiastically promised to deliver the project’s needs in my eagerness to succeed. I took this as a challenge and relentlessly mastered the necessary skills. For almost three months, I worked from the moment I woke up until midnight every day.
While I may have initially underestimated the time investment required, this experience solidified my resourcefulness, risk-taking abilities, and passion for entrepreneurship. In the end, I earned around $5.00 an hour, and the invaluable experience ignited my desire to help companies grow and thrive.
This seemingly unremarkable freelance project laid the foundation for my entrepreneurial career. It is with great pride that I continue to build upon my parents’ legacy, using my innate drive, resourcefulness, and determination to make a significant impact in the business world.
What inspired you to start your current company, and what problem does it solve?
My entrepreneurial lineage led me on a journey encompassing several high-level roles in the industry, including designer, developer, project manager, account manager, and salesperson. I also ran a web design and development shop, greatly contributing to my professional growth. Throughout these endeavours, I had the opportunity to work with incredibly talented individuals.
However, I consistently observed a gap in company culture and the quality of work produced. This realization sparked the idea for Brain Box, a people-centric company dedicated to creating the best outcome possible and helping businesses grow organically.
Brain Box is an end-to-end product design and development company. In essence, we craft comprehensive online strategies for our clients, covering everything from branding to solution implementation. These are typically in the form of web applications, such as online banking platforms, insurance quoters, and process management systems. We aim to facilitate business growth through automation, providing a complete and holistic picture of their digital presence.
By focusing on web application development, enhancement, or redevelopment of marketing websites, and seamless integration with existing systems, we help clients automate their online business operations. Brain Box’s mission is to bridge the gap between people and technology, empowering companies to thrive in an ever-evolving digital landscape.
How did you identify your ideal customer profile? What steps did you take to validate your product or service with them?
We identified “scale-up” or “growth-stage” companies as our primary target. These organizations have already achieved a measure of success and stability. Their focus has shifted to refining operations, enhancing efficiency, and scaling the business to accommodate a growing customer base.
To validate our product or service offerings, our approach is rooted in the power of listening. Clients often approach us with a preconceived solution in mind, such as wanting to build a custom CRM. By engaging in in-depth discussions and asking questions that go beyond the surface level, we can uncover the original pain point that led the client to believe they needed that particular solution.
In many cases, clients are on the right track. However, by digging deeper, we can suggest even better solutions that solve their immediate problem and align with their long-term goals.
When we take the time to understand our client’s needs and show them we care, we earn their trust and become a reliable partner in their growth. This is how we build lasting relationships and deliver solutions that really make a difference.
These days, there’s a lot of talk about company culture. What type of culture are you building?
During an early 2019 talk with interactive media students, I was asked, “What should we look out for in a company when applying for jobs?” My response was simple: “No matter what company you work for, make sure you enjoy it [the work] and want to be part of that culture. If not, then move on.” This philosophy has guided our efforts in building the unique and nurturing culture at Brain Box.
Our company culture revolves around four key pillars: integrity, creativity, curiosity, and collaboration. We believe in being transparent with our clients from the outset, fostering honest and open partnerships that go beyond simply building online properties. At times, we may be honest to a fault, but we know that this approach leads to stronger, more genuine relationships.
Similarly, we extend this openness to our team members. We encourage them to ask questions and create an environment where they can explore the “why” before picking up their pencil. By guiding rather than dictating, we empower our team to take ownership of their work and hold themselves accountable to their word (and estimates.)
At Brain Box, we have cultivated a safe space for ideas, ensuring that everyone feels heard and valued regardless of their position within the company. We advocate the concept that the best ideas should always win, even if it means we choose an intern’s approach over the owner’s.
By prioritizing our client’s needs and fostering the four pillars of our company culture, we aim to create an environment where our team can thrive and deliver remarkable results for our clients.
Can you walk us through your company’s growth trajectory and success to date?
As with many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted our growth trajectory.
During that uncertain period, we adopted a conservative approach to ensure the stability and well-being of our team. Our foremost objective was to secure resources that would cover our employees’ salaries for up to a year if our clients paused their projects with us. This decision proved prudent, safeguarding our team’s livelihoods and ensuring the company had a strong foundation.
Since overcoming those challenges, we have doubled our team size and pivoted our business model to focus more on working with startups. In a way, we have come full circle, as my initial experience with startups has now become one of the main pillars of our business.
Our growth strategy focuses on people and quality as we look to the future. The exceptional work we deliver for our clients is a direct result of the happiness and success of our Brain Box team. We continuously strive to enhance our company culture and support our team members in their personal and professional lives. In turn, they dedicate themselves to being the best for themselves and Brain Box.
Our tactical approach involves continuing to work with great clients, streamlining our internal processes (by automating our operations without compromising on our client’s needs), and using sweat equity to accelerate startups and form winning teams. By focusing on these key aspects, we aim to create a lasting impact and drive success for Brain Box and our valued clients.
Most founders we chat with are looking for a junior, associate, or fullstack software engineer and some talented tech sales folks. Are you actively hiring? Who are your ideal candidates?
We are indeed actively hiring! As part of our ongoing commitment to enhancing our company culture and expanding our team, we recently hired a Human Resources Generalist. We are always on the lookout for honest and talented web developers, and exceptional client and people managers in the realm of project management. Our ideal candidates are individuals who align with our core values. We seek technically skilled professionals who demonstrate a genuine passion for their work and a dedication to delivering exceptional results. Further, we highly value self-starters and those with an entrepreneurial mindset, as they bring a unique drive and innovative thinking to our team. By assembling a diverse group of talented and like-minded individuals, we can further strengthen the Brain Box community and continue to drive success for our company and our clients.