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Luba Pashkovskaya of Verv: “Spend more time communicating with your direct subordinates”

Adequately assess the time frame in which decisions, even the most unpleasant ones, should be made. Often in a crisis, a solution based on incomplete information is better than no solution at all As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, I had the […]

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Adequately assess the time frame in which decisions, even the most unpleasant ones, should be made. Often in a crisis, a solution based on incomplete information is better than no solution at all


As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Luba Pashkovskaya, CEO of Verv.

Luba Pashkovskaya is CEO and co-founder of Verv.com, a global health and fitness company. Verv offers a comprehensive wellness app that is now ranked among the top mobile app publishers in the U.S. and Europe. Ms. Pashkovskaya is a Forbes European Top 50 Women in Tech honoree. Under her leadership, Verv has earned more app downloads than some of the world’s best-known fitness brands. Prior to co-founding Verv, Ms. Pashkovskaya served as head of the mobile division for software firm Viaden.


Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I’ve always wanted to work in technology, specifically innovation. After getting my Master’s Degree in Computer Science and Simulation, I started my career in tech where I gained experience in mobile app development, product management and marketing.

Ten years ago I had the opportunity to focus on developing mobile apps for the fitness industry. My job was to manage the process from market research and development to app launch and further product marketing. After that experience, I felt confident in running a mobile business and was inspired to start my own company.

When Verv was established, it was similar and yet very different, since I also became responsible for the entire business strategy, financing and brand marketing. At the same time, I was so passionate about promoting positive life changes in people’s lives through fitness apps that I decided to make it my personal mission and dedicate my life to it.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

So many mistakes seem funny now, but they were not funny when they happened. One that stands out was when we released our first product and were looking for ways to advertise it. We turned to a freelancing platform, where we paid someone thousands of dollars upfront but without a contract. We didn’t even have proper contact information and once the money was received, he vanished. When it all happened, we couldn’t get our heads around how gullible we’d been.

That situation taught me to take all agreements seriously, clearly define the expected deliverables, and always have legal protection.

Later, as our business evolved, we made plenty of other mistakes which always teach us new lessons. Still, we never forgot those first few thousands we lost, and how we managed to bounce back and learn from that experience.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of smart, successful and go-ahead people who are ready to share their experience. Thanks to them, I can clearly define my short-term goals and achieve them faster. As a mentor for women who want to start their career in technology as part of the “Woman in Tech Academy” project, I realized that having a mentor is a really great idea, no matter what level of business you own.

Whether you are a student, a startup owner, or the CEO of a 100-employee company, having a “senior” person who leads and inspires you can change your life. Also, you don’t necessarily need to pay them, since successful people are often willing to share their experiences to pay it forward.

I have this relationship with an old friend, a well-known Belarusian investor and business owner who is the CEO of a product-focused company. Our meetings help me to find new ideas and look at my business from a different point of view.

But the main support I get is from my loved ones: parents, partner and my children. Having family members who will always be there for you and support you no matter what is priceless and helps you overcome even very difficult times.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Verv’s mission is to help people maintain a healthier lifestyle.

The idea of immortality projects (described in Ernest Becker’s book called The Denial of Death) in which we create or become part of something that we feel will outlast our time on earth appeals to me a great deal. To me, Verv is like an immortality project, and every decision we make as a company should bring us closer to the fulfillment of our mission. It’s not always easy.

For example, we’ve had investors challenge metrics and suggest we add gimmicky tools to keep people on the app daily and/or longer. But, in reality, people workout no more often than two times a week on average. These gimmicks are not related to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but they do increase the amount of time people spend on the app. In fact, the more time a person spends on their mobile device, the less and worse they sleep, and, as a result, they don’t exercise as well, or they miss workouts altogether. This is counter to our mission.

Understanding your ultimate goal helps the whole company to act in harmony and not be distracted by unnecessary or insignificant things. I truly believe that without this focus on our mission, Verv would not have been able to become a market leader with 80 million global users.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

The year 2020 has shocked everyone and continues to surprise. For the first 6 months, we tried to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic without significant losses, and now Belarus, where the Verv headquarters is located, has become the center of political clashes. There are mass protests against election fraud and violence against civilians in the streets, the Internet was completely disabled for 3 days, and we have also witnessed an unprecedented information war. People lose their sense of security and actual security in the blink of an eye. There is little to no confidence in the future.

In both cases, with COVID-19 and the current situation in our country, we are not dealing with business issues, but with an external threat that directly affects the motivation, productivity and mood of employees. My task in such circumstances is helping people to get back the ground: their health, safety and security. It’s impossible to talk about work or business without these basic things. When COVID started, our first priority was to ensure the safety of our employees, and we achieved this by moving everyone to remote work. Then we worked on the team’s motivation using different methods, and they also showed good results.

In the current political situation, we also put the safety of Verv employees first: we help those who are ready to leave the country to move, and organize maximum assistance for those who remain. Our employees receive the psychological, legal, or any other assistance that they may need.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I never thought about giving up. It is important to note that the problems we face in 2020 are not directly related to business. The pandemic has brought us millions of new clients who used to work out in gyms or with personal trainers, but then found themselves in lockdown. The current political events in Belarus have sharply demoralized our employees, and sometimes physically prevented them from working due to issues with the Internet. But it was at this time that the Verv team came together as never before. We don’t oblige anyone to work these days or demand 100% efficiency, but many employees say that working helps them calm down and distract from the horror that is happening around.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Critical time is the time when you need to regroup and quickly abandon the old decisions, processes and plans, if necessary. Therefore, the leader is required to be flexible: quickly recognize what is happening, give it an adequate assessment and respond accordingly. Often during critical periods people respond to severe stress by denying the problem. The leader can never afford such behavior, but must remain cool and be the first to correctly recognize and evaluate what is happening and lead the entire team.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

The next step after determining the new correct course is of course to motivate the team. Because the team is the one who will have to implement this new course.

The following things help me motivate and encourage the team in a difficult situation:

– personal example of the manager. I try never to give any reason to doubt my confidence that everything will be alright. To do this, I carefully monitor my condition, giving myself the right time to rest and recover. If something completely unsettles me, I think it’s better to recover in the most effective way possible than “sawing wood with a blunt saw”.

– spend more time communicating with your direct subordinates (i.e. company managers). Managers need extra support, as they bear a double responsibility in difficult times: they need not only to be flexible, to work harder in times of crisis, but also to inspire their employees. More face-to-face meetings or video calls allow you to provide personal help and support that might not be needed in such large numbers at normal times.

– hold more open meetings with the team, discussing what is happening and how it affects the company’s work and business in general. Our company has long practiced Q&A, where employees can ask any questions anonymously, and then CEOs and managers answer these questions in the presence of the entire team. This practice perfectly helps to establish a better understanding in the team, and in times of crisis is necessary to relieve extra stress. During the start of the pandemic, we had a lot of questions about job retention and remote work. Now in the current political situation, people are concerned about the company’s position, including employees who may be detained or suffer due to participation in rallies, issues of temporary relocation and global transfer of business to another safer region. After these discussions, I get a lot of positive feedback from the team. We used to hold these meetings once a month, now we plan to do them at least once every two weeks.

– of course, our HR Department is actively working to make employees feel that they are being taken care of and appreciated in difficult times. We’ve done everything from sending healthy care packages and personalized compliments written on sweet treats to organizing online parties and game nights during lockdown.

– in the current situation in Belarus, we have also organized psychological assistance for all employees who want to use it. It is fully paid for by the company. We have no illusions that they can quickly overcome this in the short-term and we try to help as much as possible.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

I don’t have as much experience here as I assume other businesses who were directly affected by the events of 2020. The global pandemic actually helped us acquire a lot of new customers, and the situation in Belarus does not directly affect our sales, as we are an international company. And provided that our services work smoothly, we do not experience instant difficulties in business.

My personal tactic for delivering hard and bad news is to be direct, honest and not to delay the news. I like the rule of “eating a frog in the morning” (that is, doing unpleasant things as quickly as possible), thereby freeing your day/week from these additional concerns.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

I thrive making plans, and sometimes I tend to focus on the future, not the present.

In the event of any crisis, I try to give myself time to recover in order to accurately assess the situation objectively. However, there are issues that need to be resolved urgently: 1) what to do right now 2) how much time there is to make a global/big decision.

For example, when the situation with coronavirus began to develop sharply in our country, the answers to the questions were one — urgently transfer the office to remote work (and we did it in one day) and two — monitor the situation for a few weeks or a month to understand how high the risk to health is and how remote work affects performance. After a few weeks, with much more complete information, we realized that the efficiency of work does not fall, and we can work remotely as much as we want. By the way, we continue to do this until now and do not plan to return to the old format of work.

In more complex situations, such as the current situation in Belarus, when the decisions to be made are much more difficult and complex, I try to outline the possible scenarios and have at least a rough plan for each of the scenarios. When urgent measures are taken, there is time to collect information and understand what criteria are important for making global decisions. As a rule, there is also time for reflection. This all helps reduce the degree of uncertainty. And when one of the scenarios begins to develop, we will be fully ready to act.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

There are no problems in life that cannot be solved as long as life itself exists. It is important to keep yourself in the right state and to replenish your energy. With that, almost everything can be solved.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

The most common thing I see is that some people take too long to make a decision. In the situation with coronavirus, some startups, such as the travel industry, could not recognize the obvious fact for several months that for the next six months at least, people will not travel in the same volume as it was before.

Another mistake that is also common is a distortion in the understanding of reality that occurs at the expense of the psychological protection of our brain. For example, in the situation with Belarus, some businesses did not react to what was happening for a week, pretending that it simply did not exist. But this is absolutely not the case.

Another point that is particularly important: leaders do not pay enough attention to employees, without changing the format and regularity of communication. Employees at this time are tormented by questions that concern them, and because of a lack of information, they come up with the worst scenarios for themselves. And this has an even more negative impact on their work.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

During turbulence, we pay special attention to everything related to analytics and predictors of the future for our marketing. So, in our company, most of the success depends on the accuracy of LTV (Loan-to-value) and ARPU (Average revenue per user) forecasts for incoming new users. If we know that the future is uncertain, we try to assess the risks as accurately as possible, and strategically increase the allowable ROI for the entire business, because we know that the reality in the future can make its own adjustments. In other words, if we are not sure that users will be able to pay the same amount for fitness services next year because of the coronavirus, we change our marketing strategies to more conservative and non-risky ones, to make sure that the company will not be at a loss. This certainly adds to the complexity especially if the company wants to continue growing. Here, focusing on business intelligence tools and investing in them will always be a good strategy.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

Number one is to monitor your physical and mental state. Only in a good resource state can you lead a company or business normally.

Pay as much attention as possible to the company’s employees and managers and their level of motivation.

In critical situations, do not try to solve all the problems at once, but clearly distinguish which issues should be addressed immediately, and which can wait and require more time, information, and possibly the participation of third parties.

Adequately assess the time frame in which decisions, even the most unpleasant ones, should be made. Often in a crisis, a solution based on incomplete information is better than no solution at all

Reduce stress and uncertainty for yourself by working through the main possible scenarios, from pessimistic to optimistic.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”

This Irish proverb seems even more relevant during COVID times. Let’s always remember to find a silver lining, even in times like these. Instead of being “forced” to stay home, we “get” to stay home. It’s a time to be present and appreciate the simple moments and things.

How can our readers further follow your work?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/liubovpashkovskaya

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LubaPa1707

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/verv

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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