Exhaustion, loneliness, depression, disorientation, stress, doubt. If you judge this book by its cover, you would think this is an introduction to the new season of Lost or a manual of how to settle your tax on your cryptocurrency earnings in Poland. It might come as a shock but this is actually a story of the first thirty-year-old featured on Forbes’ richest Polish people list. This is a story of dedication, determination, sacrifice and hard work. This is a story of success that never comes from nothing. This is a story about Codewise, the second fastest growing company in Europe and the man behind it all – Robert Gryn.
If you check the rob.gryn Instagram profile, you will find a handsome, well-built thirty-year-old with an intense look in his eyes and a smile from a Colgate ad. He skis, snorkels, skydives, lifts weights, travels. I could go on and on but long story short he enjoys life and enjoys the success he obtained. Typical American dream. Though, don’t be fooled by his fluent English, perfect accent and current location – Santa Monica, California, USA. This guy comes from Poland and together with his company Codewide, he is ready to conquer the American market.
Chapter 1: Gusto – we don’t support this player
Robert was 12 years old when he first showed his skills as an entrepreneur, who doesn’t hold back. With a credit card he “borrowed” from his mom, he bought a bunch of domains and started to deal them online. He also played around with Photoshop, did simple graphic design and put PCs together. At the age of 13 he earned his first money from a logo design. Back then the virtual world knew him as Gusto. He reached such a high level in the popular shooter game Counter-Strike, that on Polish servers his name was put on a cheater blacklist. That’s when he adopted a tactic he now uses in business – if there is a chance you can succeed, go for it and don’t be afraid to take risks; stay away from schemes and do what you believe in. As Steve Jobs once said that even if what you do now might not have a great purpose in the future, using your experience from the past will help you connect the dots.
“I used to be a semi-pro gamer (Counter-strike) and I also played a lot of strategy games. I feel this experience has been vital to my success, as I gamify everything I do. Money is comparable to the high score or a resource/tool that you can use to grow further.“
Chapter 2: Forex, gambling and corporate leash
At the age of 17 Robert moves to England to study, first at the University of Surrey, then at the University of St. Andrews. He still plays but not Counter Strike. His battlefield is now the Forex virtual trading. With a thousand Euro that he borrowed from his dad, he enters the market. He quickly multiplies his money and reaches 4.000 Euro. Bitten by the gambling bug, he soon loses all his money and moves to online poker. In the third year of his business and marketing studies, he realises that entrepreneurship is something more than just taking risks and listening to your gut. Only when combined with experience and learning it brings you success. After a failed attempt to import and distribute mp3 players, he returns to Poland. He ends up in Warsaw, working as a translator for the national TV station and then moves to Orange. He lasts two days in that global corporations. That’s when he realises that motivation and independence are much more important in driving people to work than money. What matters is the ability to affect a company’s actions and a feeling that you are a part of something bigger. This realization will become the foundation for his business and the non-corporate work culture in Codewise.
Only by trying out many different ways, you can be sure that one of them leads to success and work satisfaction. It’s important to keep on track. Eventually, you will find the right course. Even the owner of Nike, Phil Knight, didn’t know where he was going when he stated with journey with sports footwear, he just kept moving forward.
“Failure is part of the game. The winners grow with failure; the losers get crushed by failure. That’s what distinguishes real entrepreneurs from regular folk.”
Chapter 3: Chasing the Internet elephant
Convinced by his friend, Robert moves to Prague. That’s where the start-up Elephant Orchestra of Jan Bart – Czech Internet visionary and back then the owner of the most online domains in the world – has its place. His company offers advertising on unused domains or misspelt domains. Gryn joins the team as an intern, though he leaves as the second in command. It’s there, where he learns everything about online marketing and entertains a thought of starting his own business. In 2011 he launches WeSave, a start-up aggregating online shopping portals popular at the time. Now he knows that you can make REAL money on the Internet. Affiliate marketing becomes a gambling substitute for him, and so he loses himself in work, which becomes his addiction.
„Success is only attainable once you fully accept that you alone stand in your way to doing everything you want. Where the wantrepreneur only sees problems the veteran entrepreneur only sees solutions and opportunities. They have the vision of success and failures they’ve learnt from.”
Chapter 4: Codewise – play bravely and don’t be afraid of the risk
Soon, on the entrepreneur’s way stand Szymon Niemczura, Rafał Janicki and Bartłomiej Dawidow – founders of Codewise with whom he creates a partnership. It’s not long until the income from Gryn’s affiliate work become enough to finance the Krakow start-up. Their flagship products are ZeroPark (a platform where advertisers can buy pop-up ads traffic) and Voluum (an online traffic monitoring tool that allows analysing and optimising marketing operations). Both of those products came from ideas that Gryn developed when working in Prague.
Codewise is starting to do better and its revenue is growing. The co-founders, however, are no longer getting along. Gryn and Dawidow make a hostile takeover of the company and buy out the two other owners in order to take full control of the company and freely manage its direction. One of them is supposed to be in charge of the vision and development strategy, the other is responsible for the technological aspect. The company spreads its wings and grows month after month. However, stress, exhaustion and burnout are starting give signs of themselves. Both guys are considering leaving the company. Dawidow is the first one to make that move. Gryn, though taken by surprise, doesn’t want to give up. He decides to run the company on his own. Despite all the suffering, he didn’t give up and it’s moments like this that really reveal your true abilities.
„Success is about moving forward, even when you don’t really know which way forward is. Uncertainty is part of the game, those that endure it prevail.”
Chapter 5: How to catch a unicorn and get to the top richest Poles list by the age of 30.
Robert suffers from insomnia. He visits a psychiatrist, psychologist, abuses alcohol. Though he still keeps moving forward, doesn’t give up. The level of stress is unthinkable. Another plot twist makes him want to fight for the company once again. In January 2014 Gryn asks a couple of American banks to value Codewise. It all looks splendid. He received a nine digit valuation. His company could become the first Polish unicorn – a company that makes over one billion dollars (yes, a billion) and could stand next to such prestigious start-up as Slack, Dropbox and Spotify. Gryn clenches his teeth once again and implements a new tactic. He refers to it as “do or die”. He is not afraid to take risks, invest in new offices, present the company at exclusive conferences – all to grab investors’ attention and gain new outlets. This tactic brings great results. In 2017 he makes it to the list of 100 richest people in Poland. He is the first thirty-year old who achieved his success purely from his hard work.
„I don’t consider the whole Forbes thing as some sort of personal achievement. But I do feel it was an important occurrence for all the young Polish entrepreneurs, who like me, needed to see that it was possible to build a valuable start-up in Poland. For me, it was all a game and you can’t treat a game too seriously — I just happened to be playing this one pretty well.”
Chapter 6: Chasing inspiration
Codewise is doing well. In 2017 his business was ranked as the second fastest growing company in Europe. And the most interesting is that he still only uses his own finances and not outside investors. Recently he moved to California because he wanted to step outside his comfort zone, get inspired, be surprised. Once again he breaks moulds and proves that you can manage a company of this scale while living abroad, travelling, having a YouTube channel and motivating others to grow and find their way. How does he manage that? By constantly moving forward, getting up after every failure and believing that the only obstacle on the way to success is himself.
Robert Gryn has a more straight forward way to describe it – #Lecimy!
“My biggest success is that when I wake up on Monday morning, I can’t wait to get to work. If that ever stops it will be a time for change. I’m not interested in wasting my time and life doing work that doesn’t fulfil me.”
Robert is a living proof that with determination and stubbornness you can achieve the “American Dream” living anywhere in the world.
Thanks for reading! It means the absolute world to me.