Vedrana Damjanovic

 Livingua's founding team: (from left) Ismail Abushamma, 22, Palestine, Victor Borsche, 22, Germany and Ahmed Hemeid, 22, Palestine
Livingua’s founding team: (from left) Ismail Abushamma, 22, Palestine, Victor Borsche, 22, Germany and Ahmed Hemeid, 22, Palestine

Instead of riding a bike or a mini scooter, a 10-year-old German boy was too busy figuring out how to sell a manual that makes a real scooter faster.

He developed strategic thinking pretty quickly. The idea was to deliver the product immediately, so that people would be more willing to buy it on eBay.

“I put in the description that if you find anyone selling it for the cheaper price, I would beat their price,” said the now a 6-foot-1 young man, excitedly, letting his nostalgia color his memories.

“I sold it for two bucks,” he laughed, raising his eyebrows as if he was surprised himself. “It wasn’t a lot, but at that age it was nice.”

He ended up selling more than two hundred copies of the manual.

Victor Borsche, once the little boy behind the scooter business, was born in Hamburg, Germany, but grew up in Rottach-Egern, a small town close to Munich. There was a lot to come for Victor, and a town of 5,000 people seemed too small for him.

I went to his office in Bryan Hall on the University of Florida’s campus to find out more about his business path. Expecting it to be a big, dark-colored office with wooden furniture and leather armchairs, I was quite surprised when I saw a pantry-size, light-colored office with yellow, modern and simple light-green chairs. Instead of a tidy and perfectly organized room with a big carpet in the middle, the room was full of book shelves, computers and all kinds of equipment.

Even though I knew Victor from the same school program from which we both came in the United States, United World College (UWC), I thought I should switch into a business mindset. I stuck my hand out, ready to shake his.

“Hello, Mr. Borsche.”  

“How about a hug?” he countered with a quick embrace and welcomed me into the office.

While he introduced me to his company’s co-founders, Ahmed Hemeid, 22, and Ismail Abushamma, 22, both from Palestine, I immediately noticed none of them was wearing a business suit and a tie. They were all in casual outfits with beige and blue polo T-shirts, jeans and brown shoes.

As his collaborators continued to work, Victor kindly gave me a nice tour of their working environment. Their office led to another room with a several tiny tables with computers, where graduate students and other student companies work cooperatively and share the space. There was no door connecting the two rooms, so it felt as a community and more of a team-spirit rather than divided business departments. The office also included a common kitchen with all kitchen fittings, lined up along one wall.

“Oh, would you like some coffee? We have all kinds,” Victor asked, as he kindly opened the door that led to a conference room for our interview.

Our conversation centered upon his two companies. He founded his first start-up company, “Eat-eez,” in senior year of college. He devised the idea during a finance internship he did in the German “E.ON” company, based in Sweden. The company is one of the world’s largest investor-owned electric utility service providers.

“That was horrible and extremely boring,” said Victor slightly shaking his head. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I felt like slaving away and just getting the hours done to get paid.”

One day, as his co-workers complained about how they didn’t have time to do grocery shopping after work, he immediately got a business idea.

“I thought,” Victor animatedly recalled, “Hey, let me think of the way to do this cheaper and offer it to UF students.”

Instead of taking on another internship, Victor developed this idea with his friend Ali Jamoos over the summer and launched his first company in the Fall 2014.

We started working on it over the summer and we were able to fully launch the company, with working website,” Victor explained. “Weekly deliveries were working fine, until the school obligations started to interfere too much and we didn’t have time for promotions. I learned so much from it that it helped me out with this company.”

One step leads to another. One company led to another. The University of Florida opened up its entrepreneur doors to the promising man. Right after graduating with degrees in business administration-management and psychology, he co-founded the second company “Livingua,” where he works a full-time job today with Ahmed and Ismail. The initial idea was to teach people different languages in an innovative way.

“Now, it’s a real time, on-demand, audio translation and transculturation by a native speaker who knows the language,” elaborated Victor in a serious, deep voice, slightly canned, as if he was recalling the company’s mission and vision for umpteenth time.

The app helps students save time and money, and help them make better choices while travelling.

“If you’re in a Chinese restaurant where nobody speaks English, and you can’t read the menu, you can call a local person from our app and he will order chicken with spices you want,” clarified Victor, as I laughed at “chicken with spices.”

Despite the support Victor receives from family and friends, starting the company was neither an easy decision to make nor had an easy execution. He faced a lot of uncertainties and challenges.

“Who knows if a company will succeed? Who knows if people will like you, if you decide to become a full time yoga teacher? Of course, it is hard to go against the ‘norm’ of finding a regular job. But if you don’t take the risk now, when will you?” said Victor, the intensity in his voice mirrored in his eyes.

Victor faced the usual senior pressures: job, salaries, future? He answered the questions with a path of his own.

Victor continued, “I am so happy I did what I did. I see so much potential in Livingua and I love working on it. I see people all around me hating their jobs now — some even asking me if they can join me now.”

        As Victor’s case proves, The University of Florida and Gainesville community both support entrepreneurship. Dr. David Whitney, the entrepreneur in residence at UF’s College of Engineering, backed the young team as they established “Livingua.”

“He mainly gave us strategic advice and most importantly, honest feedback. If he didn’t like something, he would give us very harsh feedback, but if he liked it, he gave us praise,” added Victor. “Since none of us have much experience with large Fortune 500 corporations, his insight focused mainly on that.”

Though I concluded my interview with Victor and invited the other two co-founders in, Victor remained in the conference room. The banter exchanged amongst the members of the trio revealed an implicit companionship and trust.

“Having a holistic team that ranges from finance, to business management and to engineering allowed us to multi-task and do parallel working in a really nice way,” said Ahmed, matter-of-fact and pleased. “Our work is coherent so far.”

As I was taking pictures later on, they sat around one table and discussed business matters. I didn’t pay attention to what they were saying because I was distracted by their interaction, how they complemented each other’s thoughts, and how they interjected when they had ideas.

“I love this working environment,” added Ismail, while stressing both the importance of stimulation and the feeling of empowerment after creating something new. “I’ve always wanted to be my boss and a person who comes with the vision and mission, and who executes the actions.”

As we finished the interview and left the room, Ahmed continued to joke and asked me about the story.

“And make sure to include, ‘it’s the three single men’ who founded the company,” slowing the pace and raising his voice with the word “single.”

Apart from their common sense of humor and interest in business, what also united the three young men was their UWC background. They all continue to share the values they brought from this multicultural school.

As a fellow UWC student, I can say that we all carry these values throughout our lives. It gives a great cultural variety. Though UWC accepts students from all over the world, only about 120 students receive admittance, giving us a sense of community. The richness of differences manifests while sharing a space with peers from various cultural, ethnic, religious and personal backgrounds. We’re all in this together: we share responsibility for all the school challenges of studying in a foreign language, and we excel together.

“Describing the UWC experience is trying to describe something as abstract as love,” Victor conveyed. “For me, the biggest lesson I learned was that friendship and the connections we build with people matter the most in life. Regardless of where people are from and what kind of background they have, they can end up being your best friends.”

Despite having such a life-changing experience in UWC Mahindra in India, it was still difficult for Victor to adjust to a new world when he moved to Florida. The size of UF overwhelmed him, and he went through a great cultural shock. I nodded at this part, remembering my own experience.

“Coming from a small UWC community, I was thrown into this giant place and it made me grow up a lot faster,” said Victor, after reflecting about how UF has changed him and pausing a few times. “Definitely, the beginning was difficult and I was struggling a lot.”

Despite same initial snags while adjusting, he is very appreciative of the opportunity he’s been given as a UWC Scholar and Honors Bright Future student at UF. “Having our UWC scholarship enables us to do whatever we want, whenever we want. There is nothing we have to worry about financially, and we can enjoy Florida with its awesome beaches, lakes and springs,” said Victor.

Whether in Germany, India, or Florida, Victor tailored his educational path toward his passion for business.

“I like to build things from scratch and see them as they grow,” emphasized Victor, leaning forward on the table and nonchalantly taking a sip of coffee.

Victor garners success whenever he goes. Ever humble, when asked about success, he glosses over academic achievements (dual degree, good GPA, Cicerones and Gator Innovators), and focuses instead on his human relationships and college friends.

“Doesn’t matter how much he has on his plate at the moment or how much he has accomplished, you’ll hardly ever hear him talk about his diligent work,” said Naida Vikalo, his close UWC friend in a separate interview. “It’s a rarity for people with fast-paced lifestyles like his own, and we always tease him for being too modest, even though we all think very highly of it.”

Victor gave a heavy, thoughtful sigh while remembering the most valuable UF takeaways.

“There are a l-o-o-o-t of memories,” said Victor with three o’s in ‘lot,’ pausing after each word. “I am happy and thankful I had the time for all that.”

“When we decide on a destination to travel as a group together, we’re all picturing ourselves by the main monuments and tourist attractions. Meanwhile, Victor already figured out what’s the best coffee shop in the given city, made sure the house is in a unique local neighborhood and is there an event with traditional music going on by any chance,” added Naida eagerly.

“We blame this precision on his German roots,” she joked.

        Business completely changed Victor’s life. As a student, his schedule would change from day to day. As a businessman, Victor now has a set, daily routine. He gets up at 8:30 a.m., heads to the office by 9:30 a.m. and works there until 8 p.m. or as long as there is work to finish.

Both the company and its staff are young. After passing major business milestones, such as finishing a lengthy application for Chile, the team members make time for leisure. In fact, they recently took a one-night trip to Daytona Beach.

“I think it is very important to keep the life balance,” said Victor. “There are so many uncertainties and work that you have to do, and that if you don’t find the time to rest, you’re going to quit after three months.”

We ended up our interview on a positive note, just as we started. He did not know what would happen with neither his manual on scooters, nor with his first and second companies. Victor nonetheless dared to try. He advises seniors who are facing the same life dilemma he had a few months ago not to worry too much and to make it an enjoyable year.

“Even though you will face a lot of uncertainties and it is going to be rough, especially at the beginning when you start something, it’s going to be worth it at some point,” Victor conveyed. “If you keep pushing, you’ll make it through the rough times.”