Focus on providing value and solving problems, not your competition. Instead of trying to copy or follow your competitors, listen to your customers first. They have your key for growth and creating a better product.
Slow and steady wins the race. Explosive growth can only happen with VC investment or external funding. Go slow and finance your own business — you will have more room for experimenting and growth.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dmytro Okunyev.
Dmytro Okunyev is the CEO and founder of Chanty, a SaaS application for team communication and collaboration. Before founding Chanty, Dmytro founded four design agencies and initially had no plans for a career in SaaS.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I got into the SaaS industry by accident. Initially, I had a few design agencies which I managed, but I struggled with finding a way to communicate with everyone. I tried Slack and a bunch of other apps and none of them really fit the bill. Eventually, I decided to build my own app for internal communication and once I realized that it had some potential, I released it to a group of beta testers. Three years later, and we have over 10,000 customers using Chanty every day to communicate with their team.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
The hardest part was getting people to believe in my idea, even internally. I wanted to launch an app in a market with one huge company (Slack) dominating everyone, which is why no one believed we could make it, not even with the best product or marketing. I expected outsiders to lack trust but I did not expect my own team to doubt the idea of our success. As we started getting the first feedback and first paid customers, things got a little bit easier.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The fact that our beta testers spoke so highly of the product and that everyone who used the app said that the user experience was phenomenal. Everyone was skeptical about our success until they actually gave the app a try.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
While this is not such a nice thing to say, the coronavirus pandemic was one of the best things that happened to our business. We were doing well before March 2020, but when the pandemic struck, we got hundreds of new teams in one month and we’re constantly growing as more companies go remote. We currently have over 10,000 active customers and great plans for the future.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake was probably trying to be a CEO and CMO myself — I made so many beginner errors. I sent out an email to our first users, but I didn’t realize I accidentally sent out a test version where I asked my wife “Hey hunny, what do you think of this one? See you at home later, I’m bringing dinner.” I also accidentally posted on the company account thinking it was my own. This happened several times and I realized it just might be better to delegate marketing activities so I can stop embarrassing myself.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The fact that we are fully bootstrapped and that we continued working on our product even when we had no paying customers. We believed in our product and pushed through even when things seemed hopeless — and it paid off.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Don’t do anything that you don’t believe in 100%. When things get tough, you’ll have a hard time pushing through with something you don’t fully believe in. With belief and dedication comes success. Nothing can be as motivating as your own belief in what you do.
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?
My wife is the one who helped me the most in the very beginning. I knew I had the people and the know-how to create a SaaS application but I didn’t believe in myself enough to keep myself going. At one point, she sat down and asked me what I thought would happen with the app five years down the line. I knew it would succeed and she convinced me to continue working hard on it.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We’ve given away many accounts for free to non-profits and companies that struggle. When the pandemic struck, we gave a 50% discount for all new teams to help them cope with the transition. Internally, we made a major push for hiring people who are fresh out of university to help them kickstart their careers.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Here they are.
- You need to delegate/outsource things you’re not good at. I initially wanted to be a CMO, CTO and CFO all at once until I realized how bad I am at each of these and that it would be far better to stick to what I know well. That way, I save both time and money.
- Remote is always better. Initially, I wanted everyone to work from the office but over time, I realized that remote work allows me to hire the best talent possible since I don’t have to worry about the location any more.
- Focus on providing value and solving problems, not your competition. Instead of trying to copy or follow your competitors, listen to your customers first. They have your key for growth and creating a better product.
- Slow and steady wins the race. Explosive growth can only happen with VC investment or external funding. Go slow and finance your own business — you will have more room for experimenting and growth.
- Always get a mentor if you’re trying something new. Going into unknown territory is much easier when you have someone experienced to give you advice and guidance.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to start a movement where we push for more companies to go remote. Not only is it safer in recent months, but it also decreases pollution, saves more money for everyone and makes employees more productive.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!