Gather single-minded professionals. These pros should be more experienced in their fields than the leaders themselves.
Be ready to pivot. Current goals can change, and it’s OK.
Engage the team in making tactical and strategic decisions alike.
As part of my series “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Max Yarchevsky, CEO and founder of Boxmode. Boxmode is an award-winning free website builder with users across 190 countries. Before Boxmode, Max co-created and served as the CTO of Depositphotos, one of the world’s most successful stock photography-sharing platforms with millions of users globally. In 2012, Depositphotos was recognized as one of the fastest-growing photobanks in the world. Later, Max joined Ning, a platform for creating social networking websites that’s been on the global scene for 16 years, as the COO and CEO.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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?
Thank you for having me. Well, I guess the fact that I got my first PC at age three paints a pretty clear picture. 🙂 I never graduated from university but have always been a great fan of technology. This passion led me to co-create and be the CTO of Depositphotos. It’s a globally renowned photo stock platform. Later, I became the CEO of Ning, a global platform for crafting social networking websites.
Today, I’m the CEO and founder of website builder Boxmode operating across over 190 countries. People keep asking me why I decided to launch yet another website builder. The thing is this market has been growing for the past 10–15 years and is not slowing down.
Besides, almost all the products currently available in this niche are outdated. I know this from experience. I’ve used various website builders for marketing activities when I needed to do something fast. They all lacked functionality. Nothing is surprising about that, though. Most website builders are tailored to meet the specific needs of users from a particular niche — and nothing beyond that. This made me toy with the idea of creating my own website builder.
One of my biggest wins on this path has been to become the CTO and later CEO of Ning. Its product has functionality like that of website builders, albeit less cutting-edge than the modern market requires. But, Ning has active users whom you can ask questions about the product and the necessary expertise in promoting website builders.
Eventually, I got the idea of what a perfect website builder should look like. Boxmode was born in 2017 when we wrote the first line of code. Back then, it was a pet project of mine. We had neither a budget nor high-level professionals to power it. It wasn’t until early 2020 that we launched the MVP..
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
There are so many things that can demotivate a website builder founder. One of them, and arguably the most important one, is that the market has a high entry threshold. You need a considerable investment not only before but also after launching the product.
Money’s necessary for starting a company that can afford to grow as a startup and not a classic business. Classic businesses have to break even almost immediately. Meanwhile, startups in this field are unlikely to reach the break-even point any sooner than five years into operating, even if you start monetizing from the word go.
Being a startup gives you the freedom not to play by the market rules. Current market players undercut pricing significantly. But if you follow their suit, you’ll fail to provide more valuable offerings that are more expensive to develop. Then, the product is unlikely to grow the way you expect.
As a startup, you have the advantage of offering cool things for free or much cheaper and quickly growing your customer base. That’s what we’re doing at Boxmode now.
That said, attracting an investor for Boxmode was the hardest thing I had to do. Many investors I approached said no to putting money into such a long-term project. So, I know how tough this can be. What helped me was sticking to these tips:
- Keep going.
- Be in the know of what’s going on in the market.
- Keep looking for investors actively investing in your industry.
- Define and improve key metrics, which your target investors factor in when making investment decisions. These can be retention, the number of active users, brand awareness and so on.
- Create a pitch deck and update it regularly.
- Look around and incorporate the best practices from other companies into your business.
- Know that one day your efforts will pay off.
No matter how hard things have been, I’ve never wanted to give up. I believe in the idea behind Boxmode too much. Another thing that keeps me going is my team. Assembling my team took me three years, and I’m proud of every one of them. Every time, we manage to find professionals who are better than their predecessors.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Let me tell you about our biggest mistake instead. 🙂 It was our decision to develop a customizable website builder. Our first users knew what they wanted to do while testing the prototype. But they couldn’t choose which tool to use. The selection of instruments was too big.
Long story short, the project’s first version was not viable at all. We had to remake the interface and simplify the UX to satisfy users with no technical or designer skills. These users account for the biggest part of the market.
What have we learned? Do your research before doing anything else. Don’t use average market data. Interview real users. Find those customers who you want to work with and get real-life feedback from them.
How many customers do you need to interview before getting the full picture? No one knows for sure. From my experience, interviewing three to five users is usually enough. The trick is to be certain they are your target audience.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are simply cooler. Kidding. We are creating a website builder from scratch using cutting-edge technology. This technology is out of reach for our competitors. Why? It emerged after their products launched. They have too much technological debt and are too “bulky” to keep up with these advancements. The only way for them to compete is to start new products compatible with today’s users’ tech expectations.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Learn new things as often as you can. “Burning out” usually means being tired of doing routine things and having no substantial results. The easiest way to get substantial results is to do something new. This can be learning about and implementing new approaches, frameworks, and technologies.
I learn from news resources and specialized blogs. For me, it’s about reading the news and trying to figure out the ins and outs of what catches my attention. Unlike other people, I don’t have any particular interest in courses. They usually offer something that someone has already figured out before me. They lack the novelty that news resources and blogs have to offer.
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 have a long list of people who made me who I am today. These are my team members, business partners, and basically everyone who I have the luck to share my personal and professional life with. I don’t want to share their names, though.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
A vision of how to achieve its clearly defined goals powers a good company. i In a great company, all team members know the company’s goals and vision. But most importantly, they know what every one of them can do to achieve these goals faster.
MSQRD, a video filter app Facebook acquired in 2016, is an excellent example of a great company. They are a perfect team of people who decided to create an amazing product. If you have watched Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, you probably remember Sam Waterston’s line: ”You know what, kiddo? In the old days of about 10minutes ago, we did the news well. You know how? We just decided to.” That works for MSQRD, too. They defined goals, hit them, and aimed higher, all this thanks to their ability to work in sync as a team and the decision to create something great.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
I can think of four vital things business leaders should do:
- Understand where and why they lead the company, whose needs it has to meet.
- Gather single-minded professionals. These pros should be more experienced in their fields than the leaders themselves.
- Be ready to pivot. Current goals can change, and it’s OK.
- Engage the team in making tactical and strategic decisions alike.
These are basic things that influence all the subsequent decisions and their outcomes. If business leaders stick to these rules, it’s hard to mess up.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Being a purpose-driven business is a necessary thing. But I would suggest that only financially stable companies should become purpose-driven.
Until then, the priority should be to build their core product to the best of their ability. This way, they’ll serve humanity with something they are best at.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
First of all, if your company breaks even, boasts clear unit economics, and only then stops growing, you should consider yourself a lucky person. You’ve done a great job! It also means you have more time to focus on a new thing.
This new thing can be pivoting or launching an entirely new business. It is a great way to rise like a phoenix. Any business person usually has more than one business idea to work with. As a rule, the idea behind your current company isn’t the first and only business idea you ever had. Quite possibly, you have other things in various other industries to try out, and that’s what you should do.
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?
We are not living in a 100% apocalyptic scenario. It’s a tough time for some industries and a time of unprecedented growth for other ones. If your business belongs to the first category, my advice is to switch to something new. Don’t be afraid to pivot. You have a close-knit team of professionals who helped you build your previous business. And you’ve got your business experience, too. So, I say you should benefit from this window of great opportunities the sooner, the better.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
There are millions of opinions on what is essential when running a business. If you listen to them all, you’ll realize that everything is important.
But what we usually underestimate is how hard it is to find the right people for your team. It’s much more difficult than finding a skilled professional. The right people are interested in living and growing with your company rather than simply completing their tasks.
You should always keep that in mind.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience, what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
There are dozens of big and little things that help businesses boost conversion at the top of the sales funnel. Among them are brand awareness and user recommendations. The product being cutting edge or beautifully designed helps the matter, too.
But your biggest conversion goal should be to convert first-time users into loyal users. Loyal users recommend your product to their friends and can become your brand ambassadors. That’s the conversion you should focus on, and here’s where your product comes into play. It should meet the needs of your target audience better than any other product in this niche. That’s the secret sauce.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Everyone uses the same set of tools to create a trusted and beloved brand. These include acquisition, retention, PR, and SMM. There is no need to reinvent the wheel here. Every step has been studied, explained and taken thousands of times.
But before you communicate with your audience, you should understand it perfectly well. It’s insufficient to define social and demographic groups your users belong to. Nor is it enough to know their general needs. What you should do is to talk to people who’ve used and liked or disliked your product directly. Ask them what they find useful and what irritates them. It’s no less important to use the knowledge you get to adjust your positioning. It would help if you also used it to tweak your communication and product strategy.
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
Let me start with the following: Every company approaches core business elements differently. Customer experience is one of these key elements. This means that every business has its unique approach to creating a Wow! customer experience.
That said, I’d like to emphasize that it’s impossible to ensure the best customer experience for everyone. There’s always going to be someone not quite happy with what you are offering. Your goal here is to satisfy the majority of your target customers.
Choose your target audience and offer the best solution for their biggest pain. Here’s your recipe.
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
Social media are a great tool for almost any business today. For example, Boxmode has a growing number of followers on LinkedIn and Facebook. We invest a lot of resources to build even stronger communities there.
But it’s worth keeping in mind that reputational risk exists. And it’s not something you can brush off. It’s attached to everything you and your team do whether you’re posting something on social media or answering your user’s questions.
Having an anti-crisis PR strategy is a good way of managing this matter. But even if you don’t have one, never do anything in panic. Weigh your options and then act.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
There are two most common mistakes CEOs and founders can make. The first one is saying no to pivoting. The second one is building a product based exclusively on the founder’s vision. Most companies lack the resources to conduct comprehensive surveys of their target customers. They have even fewer resources to analyze gathered data and define their ideal customer profile. In most cases, business leaders base their decisions on their gut feelings.
The only way to avoid these mistakes is to find at least several people among your acquaintances who would be interested in your product. Talk about your product as much as you can, get feedback, and don’t be afraid to adjust your product accordingly.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. 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 like this question 🙂 If I could start a movement, I would push for the freedom of online speech. The thing is that the Internet is being actively censored today. Look at major social media platforms and media outlets. Any platform suitable for the interaction of many people is heavily moderated. Content is being removed because of the risk of potential lawsuits. Should it be like this?
How can our readers further follow you online?
I would be glad to connect with your readers on LinkedIn.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!