'Surreal dream': Romanian startup makes Wall Street splash

Bucharest (AFP) –


Born in the small Bucharest apartment of a once aspiring writer, software firm UiPath has grown into a $40 billion tech star after becoming Romania's first Wall Street-listed company.

Although Romania is often described as the "Silicon Valley" of Eastern Europe and the start-up scene is flourishing, no home-grown company has established itself on the global scene quite like this.

The first listing on the New York Stock Exchange of a company of Romanian origin was the culmination of "a surreal dream", UiPath wrote on Twitter.

Posting a snapshot of the company's first employees, UiPath wrote: "It all started in an apartment in Bucharest, where 10 of us were crazy enough to believe they can change the future of work. Weird bunch, ha?"

UiPath's "robotic process automation", or RPA, software replaces human labour for repetitive tasks, from filling in forms to detecting Covid-19 cases from X-ray chest images in seconds.

Its software robots can even "send rich, professional-looking emails on our behalf", the company says.

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing people to work from home, UiPath touts its "software robots" as a solution, saying "there has never been a better time to implement automation to maintain business continuity".

"Since I was a kid, I didn't really like to do repetitive stuff, so I thought, 'It's great to have an assistant to help you'," UiPath founder and CEO Daniel Dines said at a conference last year.

"So, this was the idea of the robot for every person," Dines said.

Dines -- who declined an AFP interview request -- says having technology take care of repetitive tasks frees up people's time "to be creative".

The company made its stock market debut on April 21 with an initial public offering priced at $56 a share.

The shares closed 23 percent higher that day, at $69 apiece, and have continued to rise since then.

- 'Crazy idea' -

"We went global from day one," Dines, 49, said in a 2019 interview. "In five years we grew more than other companies did in 10 years."

UiPath now employs nearly 3,000 people around the globe and has some 8,000 companies as clients. It moved its headquarters to New York in 2017 but keeps an office in Bucharest.

"We put humility as the core tenet of our culture", Dines told media in 2019.

With an estimated worth of $7 billion, Dines has become Romania's richest businessman.

Born in Onesti -- a city in eastern Romania that experienced galloping industrial development under the former communist regime -- Dines dreamed of becoming a writer.

But he was among the thousands of young computer aces recruited by Silicon Valley in the early 2000s.

After working a few years at Microsoft in Seattle, he returned to Romania in 2005 with "the crazy idea" of becoming an entrepreneur.

Together with a Romanian friend, Marius Tirca, now UiPath's chief technical officer, Dines founded a software company called DeskOver, rebranding it 10 years later as UiPath.

In 2015, the company secured its first funding: 1.6 million euros ($1.9 million) from a London-based business incubator.

- European tech export -

UiPath provides RPA software to some of the biggest names in business and government, from McDonald's to Uber and NASA.

"UiPath is Europe's most successful tech export since Spotify", headlined The Economist last week, noting that the company had performed better on its stock market debut than the Swedish music streaming app.

Andrei Avadanei, founder of Romanian cybersecuriy start-up Bit Sentinel, described UiPath as "a model".

"From now on we have no excuse, we can't say that there's no successful big company starting from Romania or made by a Romanian," he told AFP.

"UiPath went through a unique experience," he said. "I hope that some of those who made UiPath will return to Romania with some capital for investments in new start-ups and other businesses."