Lilia Stoyanov, CEO of Transformify

Photo of Lilia Stoyanov

Lilia Stoyanov is a chief executive officer and angel investor at Transformify. A fintech and digital transformation expert, she is also a professor at Zigurat Business School and expert evaluator Horizon 2020 at the European Commission. She received the 2013 Coca-Cola Enterprises Finance Excellence Award, the 2017 First Women Award and the 2018 Female Entrepreneur Enterprise Award in the UK.

Founded in 2015, Transformify global recruitment platform empowers diversity recruitment and financial inclusion. It focuses on providing job opportunities and access to the financial system to people in need while helping employers to source top talent and run their CSR ( corporate social responsibility) programs. Transformify expanded to 150+ countries in just 3 years and added a number of brands to its portfolio, including:

Refugees and economic migrants are provided with an access to remote work and a secure payment linked to a prepaid card even if they don’t have a bank account.
#RebuildLives ranks in Top25 solutions for refugees and economic migrants.

Market Entry Pack for Startups
To enter and validate new markets on a tight budget, startups receive a comprehensive pack of services including sourcing freelancers, billing/self-billing, money transfers and coworking office with no long-term commitment. This cuts the cost by 80% on average versus the traditional approach.

Service Optimizer
Ranking in Top 10 Fintech Innovations in the UK, ServiceOptimizer is a marketplace matching highly-skilled experts and consultants with the employers worldwide looking for people with their specific skill sets. Billing / self-billing, payment guarantee and payment transfers worldwide are included in the package.

What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Transformify Logo

With a background in management, finance and consulting and a number of “C” level jobs under my belt, it was a logical step to start a business of my own. I witnessed highly-skilled people losing their jobs as a result of business transformation and process automation and this inspired me to develop a global recruitment platform to bridge the digital skills gap and talent scarecity in some parts of the world.

What is your definition of entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship is the ability to learn from your mistakes quickly and remain calm when it appears that all odds are against you and you will never be able to make it work. During the early days, there were times when I thought that it was better to close the business and get a steady job. It;s the persistence and the vision that kept me going and now I am really happy that I didn’t give up.

How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?

The idea was first shared during my Corporate Strategy class at Oxford SBS and the feedback was very positive. All my classmates were people with managerial experience coming from all over the world and their feedback was extremely valuable. After I heard it, I had the confidence to develop Transformify.

What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?

Vision, persistence and the ability to ”let it go” when needed.

The first year was hard and I would have failed had I lost the vision of the product and the value it would add to the users. Sometimes the situation was looking so helpless that it was only the persistence that kept me going…and the ability to ”let it go” and switch off from time to time as it were the intensity and tiredness that made the situation to look helpless. These were not real problems most of the time.

What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?

The freedom to decide on strategy and execution one doesn’t necessarily have as an employee.

What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?

Sir Richard Branson and Virgin and it is not because Transformify was backed by Virgin Startup in the early days. It is the endless enthusiasm to start new businesses and develop strong brands that deserve everyone’s admiration.

If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?

His marketing and branding strategies as they are key for the success of Virgin and are vital for the success of Transformify as well.

What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?

Ironically, these were hiring mistakes. People’s enthusiasm is contagious and a ”must have” for building a strong team but sometimes it is not enough to compensate the lack of skills and experience. In such cases, it is best to fire fast although the person is fantastic and a real pleasure to work with.

How have you funded your ideas?

I am an Angel Investor and funded Transformify myself. We received a very small VirginStartup loan in the early days but it was not the money but the access to Virgin’s network and our brilliant mentor, Chris Boyd, who added value.

Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?

We received a number of awards and each of them added trust and credibility. I received the 2017 First Women Award and the 2018 Female Entrepreneur Enterprise Award. Two of our brands, Service Optimizer and #RebuildLives are ranked in Top10 Fintech Innovations and Top 25 solutions for refugees and migrants respectively.

What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?

Being part of the Oxford ecosystem is fantastic due to the vast network of Oxford University that helps a lot.

If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?

Depending on their needs, I would recommend Transformify Market Entry pack if they are looking to hire or for an office, DIT if they want to establish partnerships abroad or Innovate UK if they are looking for grants. VirginStartup is the answer for small startup loans.

Any last words of advice?

I would advise to never underestimate the value of building a network. Business is done by people with people and quite often, it is the personal touch that can help you to close a deal.