Interview: NNG president David Wiernik

Incubators

From the Budapest Business Journal print edition: NNG is the archetypal Hungarian startup success story of a GPS solutions provider becoming the undisputed global leader in personal and automotive navigation services. BBJ spoke with company president David Wiernik about avenues the company can still explore, NNG’s insistence on having a Hungarian base, as well as his recent accolade for advancing bilateral relations between Hungary and Israel.

BBJ: You have just been awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of Hungary. What’s the story behind this recognition?
Wiernik: I am deeply honored by the decoration and I take it as a clear message that we need to keep doing what we have been doing. We will need to continue promoting cooperation between Hungary and Israel, to spread the stories of successful startups, and to bring best practices that can be duplicated directly and are almost a guarantee of success.

Hungary’s government seems to be only just coming to terms with the whole startup phenomenon. What are your impressions about central drives to support such initiatives?
I speak to a lot of officials and what I see is that they really do care. I don’t want to get into politics, but what I see as the main effort is to make Hungary a power nation in the field of startups and that is by no means a far-fetched idea. There is a lot of talent here. For instance, math education is, in my opinion, the best in the world. Engineering is also excellent and people are very smart. What Hungary lacks is marketing abilities and the necessary communication skills. This is where Israeli experience comes in handy, since similar models can be duplicated in Hungary and can serve as the basis for success.

For a startup founded today in Hungary, would you advise building yourself up locally or going straight to other countries where the startup culture is more established, taking the route most internationally known Hungarian startups have followed?
If you have the necessary talent, I would advise you stay in Hungary. In other countries you immediately have intense competition to deal with, there are different mentalities and cultures you have to understand, whereas here you’re at home. The other important aspect is not to have your eye on an exit from the start, even though many do, since that’s the formula for failure. You have to think with vision, think for the future; eventually the money will come.

Where does the money come from? Can a startup go to a bank seeking financing given the state of the financial sector?
A startup is a dream, requiring predominantly talent above all else. A startup doesn’t take a lot of investment because it doesn’t need infrastructure like an oil company, for instance, that calls for extensive spending. I think there is an understating of this now and financing is accessible.

How is the 2013 business year turning out for NNG?
Better than expected, we are well over our revenue target. Over the past years, we’ve doubled the company and by 2018, we are going to triple it. We currently employ more than 500 people but there will be another 100 to 200 coming over the next few years. We are examining the opportunity to establish a new development center, also in Hungary. Since we are facing a competitive environment in Budapest in terms of recruitment, we will also be setting up new offices in other cities in the countryside.

What are the main directions of technological advances that you are exploring?
We first made the leap in 2008 when we went from personal navigation devices to the automotive market because we believed that the market would dry out thanks to the availability of free navigation apps. The major players had different goals in this segment. Google only wants you to use its search engine and will give you a whole load of applications for free. Apple only wants to sell its hardware and doesn’t care about software. In contrast, carmakers have to provide quality to their customers in all areas, which is why we became the market leader in preinstalled navigation. Besides proven navigation solutions, we introduced a new standard: low cost and ultra low cost navigation to the automotive industry.

There is already hardware in production that will be on the roads in 2014 with our new, revolutionary NavFusion feature. This allows people to link their smartphones with their cars’ navigation device to form a complete infotainment system, also enabling seamless map-updates. For the next revolution after that we plan to develop cars’ infotainment systems to accommodate all the different connection methods coming from all the different manufacturers that they said couldn’t be done. We did it, and this too will be out in months.

Which companies does NNG compete with today?
We are the only one on the market that offers these services to the manufactures with full customization and flexibility depending on customer demand. After we started, manufacturers started coming to us. Most of the old competition disappeared, folded or got bought out. We currently control 26% of key markets in line fit navigation, and 65% of the key territories’ aftermarket segment for navigation devices. We are aiming to increase that to 40% and 80%, respectively in the coming years.”

David Wiernik was educated in engineering, economics, psychology, and business administration. Among his many business pursuits, he worked as a senior airline captain, yacht skipper and scuba diving instructor.

Wiernik is also the co-founder and president of NNG and Honorary Consul of Hungary in Tel-Aviv. For his activity he was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of Hungary on November 18. Wiernik was recognized for his successful work increasing the Hungarian-Israeli economic and diplomatic relationship, supporting the Embassy of Hungary in Tel-Aviv, and outstanding performance in promoting a positive image of Hungary.

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