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“I always kept plugging away towards my goals till I climbed to the top”, Dasha Kroshkina of StudyFree and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Resilience and confidence along with open-mindedness were the core elements that helped me to beaver away. Since my earliest years, I was growing up being the smartest one, yet, the chubby and the clumsiest one as well. Whether I trained in judo, swimming, or skiing, I was the slowest one to show the progress at […]

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Resilience and confidence along with open-mindedness were the core elements that helped me to beaver away. Since my earliest years, I was growing up being the smartest one, yet, the chubby and the clumsiest one as well. Whether I trained in judo, swimming, or skiing, I was the slowest one to show the progress at the beginning. Nevertheless, I always kept plugging away towards my goals till I climbed to the top.


As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dasha Kroshkina, CEO&Founder of StudyFree.

The 27-year-old Dasha Kroshkina is a solo entrepreneur. Earlier, she won scholarships and grants that allowed her to study in Spain, China and the U.S. (Stanford University), without any costs. After completing her studies, she created StudyFree platform to help students from around the world to make their dreams of studying abroad come true, no matter what their financial situation. With its help, international students have already received scholarships and grants worth 4.3M dollars to study in the leading universities across the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

My story of self-development started in an ordinary family in a provincial town. My mother was a housewife, and my father worked as an engineer in a factory. We couldn’t even afford the English classes. However, I was 100% sure that one day I’ll leave our small town to conquer new heights.

I managed to enter one of the leading universities in Russia where I grew as a confident leader and contributor. There I managed to catch the first opportunity to go studying abroad in Spain. It was the turning point that changed my life dramatically. Next, I obtained a Master’s degree in China in a top business school. During that time, I won a CFA scholarship and a McKinsey Next Generation Women Leaders Award. I received an offer from Barclays Investment Bank and worked in Singapore for several months in sales and trading. I also won a grant for a short-term program in the United States, at Stanford University.

Then, I understood that only a few students know about international education opportunities. That’s why I decided to build my own business and channel my extensive experience to help thousands of students to realize their ambitions.

At the age of 27, I built StudyFree, an EdTech startup that connects students with education opportunities abroad. Our online platform has more than 100,000+ scholarship opportunities, and we’re already helping over 40,000 students from the US, India, Latin America and Eastern Europe to get over 4 million dollars in scholarships and grants.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The story is about hiring our first manager. At the beginning of our startup development, we published one of the packages of our services on Instagram. We explained the benefits of the product, price, and other relevant information. However, one of our followers thought it was a job position (not the product description) and replied: “Hey, can I apply to this?”. At first, we didn’t understand what’s going on as it wasn’t a job description. However, we decided to reverse the situation and offered this girl a job. Now, she has been working with us for almost 2 years within the client coverage department, and she is one of the best team members.

This funny situation taught me that it’s essential to be open to any opportunities because sometimes what you need can come from the most unexpected places.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I really like the quote, “The distance between dreams and reality is called discipline”. I believe that the only way to achieve your boldest dreams is your perseverance.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your leadership style? Can you share a story or an example of that?

“Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand is a book that left an indelible impression on me. I was born in Russia where people think that businesses are only about making money. This book proved to me that entrepreneurship is a journey where you can create, share your unique vision and make an impact, making our crowded world a better place to live in.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

the main aspect that makes my company stand out is our student-centric approach. Our mission is to connect people with opportunities to study abroad with scholarships and grants. We strive to create an ecosystem where students can receive help at every stage of their education journey, from the application process to relocation. Moreover, every employee at StudyFree has also accumulated international education experiences. We prove by our own example that every person can open the door of international opportunities.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

First of all, invest in yourself — when I was only starting my business journey, I poured my heart and soul into my company. However, it took so much energy that I felt exhausted both mentally and physically. It’s vital to find a way to slow down and take care of yourself. You’re the major resource of energy and inspiration.

Don’t be afraid of asking people for advice and be open to help. When you start, you never know everything. You’re surrounded by people who are willing to help and share their expertise with you. Use this incredible resource and don’t be shy to ask for advice.

If you hear a “no”, regard it as a piece of advice. As you’re growing your business , catch every opportunity that comes your way: take risks and act on crazy ideas. Everyone who says that something is impossible can prevent you from realizing your boldest ambitions. So use your open mind, flexibility, and a burning desire to move forward and beaver away towards your goals.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

When I started to look for scholarship opportunities while still studying at the university (in Russia), I often heard, “It’s impossible to study abroad with a scholarship. What can international education give to you?”. When I started building my company, just every person tried to tell me that it’s impossible to build the product I had in mind. However, I never listened to advice that can make me doubt my power. I trusted only advice that reflects my inner voice.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Resilience and confidence along with open-mindedness were the core elements that helped me to beaver away. Since my earliest years, I was growing up being the smartest one, yet, the chubby and the clumsiest one as well. Whether I trained in judo, swimming, or skiing, I was the slowest one to show the progress at the beginning. Nevertheless, I always kept plugging away towards my goals till I climbed to the top.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a C-Suite executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what a C-Level executive does that is different from the responsibilities of other leaders?

When you become a C-Level executive, you’re responsible for the strategy and corporate culture. Your mission now is to create an environment where employees will build and grow the company together with C-level executives. What’s more, the level of responsibility is different. You’re responsible for every member of your team and for the whole company.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?

There’s no “work-life balance”. The stories about productivity, meditation, and mindfulness are told by the people who have already achieved success. The path from nothing to a billion-dollar business is always full of panic attacks and emotional breakdowns. That’s why when you start your business, listen to the people who are only developing their startups, not those who have already climbed the career ladder. You’ll understand that you’re not alone in this world.

What are the most common leadership mistakes you have seen C-Suite leaders make when they start leading a new team? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Firstly, C-suite leaders take responsibility for every action on themselves. However, they should teach the team to be responsible for their work, actions and results. It’s the only way to grow a mature team that will help you to grow the business.

Secondly, they often make a mistake of taking every person on board. To avoid this mistake, one should choose the people who share your work attitude and values.

Also, they hire top professionals too early or vice versa — stick to one team for too long. When your company grows, your values and culture change, thus, your team should grow and change too. That’s why you should prioritize when you can invite a top professional to develop your business or when you can help your team member to grow, turning into a more expertised specialist.

Lastly, negotiate all terms and conditions at the very beginning. You should state clear and acute terms, KPI, and expectations, because if you don’t create roles, you can face conflicts.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Your ability to quiet down for 2 minutes and share your thoughts after. Such an approach can influence different aspects of the business, from decision-making to strategy building.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading From the C-Suite”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Before I began leading from the C-suits, I was happy to hear that it’s vital to take care of yourself. We always hear during the flights, “Put the mask on yourself first and then on your child”. The same approach can be applied in business. You’re the major resource of energy and aspiration for your company. If you won’t take care of yourself, you can’t move forward.

Additional resources are also important. So prepare vitamins and courses with the coach. It will really help you to recharge the energy.

Nobody thinks that you will be perfect, that you will know everything. It’s okay to be vulnerable and not perfect.

Partnerships and co-founders are not about just skills, but also about the chance to divide the responsibility and stress. What’s more, they are the people who can argue the other side and help you say no. It can really save time, money and energy.

Every entrepreneur struggles. Don’t think that you’re a single person who encounters challenges.

In your opinion, what are a few ways that executives can help to create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?

There are several steps that can help to create a (fantastic) work culture. Firstly, set clear company goals and share them with your employees. So, they will have an understanding of where you’re going and how they can contribute.

Secondly, I also hold 1:1 meetings with all employees once every 3 months. It helps me to receive feedback, understand how to build work processes more efficiently and how to help employees grow within the team.

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. 🙂

As a person who overcame a lot of challenges while building the company, I’ll create the movement called “Let’s keep it real”. It will be a movement where people can freely share their feelings and emotions. They can tell how they struggle, what challenges they face, and how they overcome them. I’m sure it would be very helpful to every person who’s afraid of revealing their emotions. I think it will create less social pressure and people will be happy to know that they have someone to share their ups and downs with.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Readers can find me on:

Instagram: https://instagram.com/kroshkad?igshid=clzm8r856s2r

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dasha.kroshkina

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kroshkina_dasha?s=21

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/mwlite/in/daria-kroshkina

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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