Don’t feel like you always have to have all of the answers. Every situation is different and sometimes it is better to consult it with others, sometimes it is better to sleep on something. Give yourself a space to say: I don’t know yet, I will get back to you with it, but I am happy to hear your point of view.
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Piotr Sędzik.
Piotr Sędzik is the CEO and Co-founder of Applover, a full-stack digital agency, honored in 2019 by Deloitte as the “Rising Star” in the CEE region and ranked on 24th spot in the Fast 50 category in 2020. Piotr is a graduate of the Warsaw School of Economics.
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?
From an early age, I had the belief in the back of my head that I would like to build something of my own in the future, something for which I will be responsible and on which I will have an influence. It gave me the conviction that it would depend on my decisions which way my target project would develop. Besides, maybe immodestly, but I always had an inner knack for doing business somewhere. The first opportunity came quite an extortion because at the age of 7 I went on a school trip and on the very first day I spent all the money my parents gave me on candy, comics, and games. There were a few days left until the end of the trip, so I had to deal with it — I decided to sell hair gel to my classmates before each school disco. There were disco parties every day, the class was quite numerous, so I finally returned home with a large sum of money for a 7-year-old. In later years, when I was a teenager, I started a company that organized events for peers, then there were several unsuccessful startup projects, and finally, based on my experience in building products, my 3 friends and I decided that we would start a Full-Stack Digital Agency — and that’s how Applover was born. Today we operate for almost 5 years, we hire over 50 people and can be proud of over 180 developed projects — that is really something and it makes me highly satisfied with our work.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I don’t believe there was the “Aha Moment”, it was quite a natural process. We were working on a mobile app with other Co-Founders and wanted to develop more of them. We really enjoyed the development process and going from an idea to a ready digital product.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
As I mentioned earlier I had an inner knack for doing business from an early age, however, there is a lot to learn on the way of being an entrepreneur and leader. You have to develop your skills to manage your company and people. You have to inspire your team, trust them and make them trust you. Moreover, when you start a business at an early age it is important to make people believe in your idea and respect you as their leader, especially when they are older than you. And this is not an easy thing to do.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
I must admit that I am really grateful to my parents. I always could count on them, in every situation. It gave me a lot in the context of starting my own company because I had no fear that if I failed, what would happen next. I mean, there was fear, but it was smaller. Thanks to my parents, because I knew that even if I did not succeed and lose all my savings, they would help me and somehow I would get back on track. You can make more risky decisions thanks to this and you can be just more courageous when it comes to starting your own business.
Moreover, I would not start this business if it not been for my friends — people I trust the most and can rely on them in every aspect of my life. With other Co-Founders, we make a great team, compensate our skills and in my opinion, this allows us to thrive.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I believe that we are distinguished by the really unique energy that we have at our company and which we give to the client when they decide to cooperate with us. Moreover, we are very much involved in every project, we become part of the client’s team. We are always eager to advise, propose and together create the greatest possible value for the client’s organization. That is probably why we were recognized by ABSL or Deloitte.
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?
Openness to feedback from others — you are their leader but you need to improve your leadership skills and getting feedback is the best way to do so.
Courage to make mistakes — you have to be brave or you won’t take any risk and will not be able to become successful.
Humbleness — you understand that you are not the best at everything and you are able to trust other experts and delegate tasks to them. And do not be afraid to say that you do not know something it is better than pretending and shows your trust to someone.
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?
At the beginning of our journey, we received a lot of advice but non regarding the business model. We should be advised that we should focus on how to monetize our product, not on 5555 functions and being pixel perfect. It seemed to us that we have the best app in the world, so we will definitely earn something on it and there will be a million users and we will worry about it later and it was a mistake. I wish we knew this before, that you have to think through your business model and even a 90% perfect product can be more successful than a 100% perfect product can fail without the right business model.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
I believe that managers and leaders should:
- Provide and collect feedback — it is very important that the employee receives clear feedback based on respect, but also concrete and honesty. So that your team has the opportunity to convey their feelings and ideas themselves and not be afraid of it. Employees see more sometimes, they work in this company, so we should base their opinion on creating jobs.
- Communicate a clear setting of the goals of the organization — it must take into account the personal development of the employee so that this main goal is also achieved through the development of the staff.
- Provide clear company values - their determination is very important as it affects the daily work of people. As knowing that the main value in the company is, for example, being as professional as possible, they try to implement this value in their daily work and can improve accordingly.
- Communicate clear and easy-to-understand rules for teamwork and organization — again, you need to clearly define the rules of team play and make sure that everyone understands their duties and responsibilities.
- Not be afraid to give up responsibility to their employees — people want to act, are just as ambitious as the founders or C-level, and are very eagerly involved in topics they feel they have an influence on. They also feel appreciated in this way, which in my opinion is essential to improve the company’s work culture.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
I would advise them to be transparent in their actions and clearly draw the direction their business should follow. Don’t be afraid to say that you do not know something — of course, you can get to know everything but there is no need for this, you are surrounded by experts you can trust.
Moreover, just show others that you know what you are doing, that you are in control, and are able to solve any potential problems.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
IT market is highly competitive. People do not look for a job, they want to fulfill themselves, do cool, valuable things, and need to see that they have someone to do them with. When you are able to communicate with them transparently but also show them your idea that is when you can win their trust.
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 so many of them that it’s hard to choose — from the wrong arrangement of priorities, division of tasks, lack of emphasis on the business model. But one of the most common and crucial ones is that the founders often want to do everything by themselves, they are 100% decision-making, do not allow others to act, and do not do it because they are freaks. However, without another perspective, they care so much that they think they have to do everything or take part in everything — they do not focus on what is important to the business. And proper task delegation and sharing responsibility allow you to scale your business in a much smarter way.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
Every business is dynamic, so if you want to develop and grow your business, you cannot avoid mistakes or tough situations. But you have to remember that they pass and that you should drive conclusions from every mistake to operate smarter and grow your company. Moreover, an employee just does not have this pressure and does not feel the responsibility for all of the employed people at your company.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
I feel like this on average 5 times a week and other 5 times a week I don’t feel like that — business is a roller coaster. When you finish one project, you open another, and so on. You care about each of them just as much, because you give your best to what you do. Business, especially now, is unpredictable and dynamic. You have 5 new business opportunities every day and you may lose 5 every day.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
As mentioned above, it is a constant fluctuation of your highs and lows. But with the right team, your lows may not be so hurtful.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
I did not have such a situation, but in my opinion, you have to learn how to live with the company and your business. You cannot be there 24/7 with your thoughts, work out the healthy boundaries and system that works best for you — that allows you to rest when you can and work when needed. Moreover, when you show that to your team you build a healthy relationship with your employees and teach them this when you are available and when you are not. When I started it, I was 24/7 on Slack, it was really exhausting, but with time I learned to limit it and sort it out somehow. What is more important, it brought us much better results than when I was personally dealing with every little topic and project at the company.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Set the boundary between work and personal life. I know that is much more difficult now, when most of us work remotely from our homes but still, remember about the healthy balance between these areas.
- Make sure that everyone in your team knows what they are responsible for. They know their area of responsibility and know what decisions they can make on their own without consulting anyone — show them that you trust them.
- As a Founder or CEO just focus on priorities — do not take care of everything and do not pay attention to anything that can be done without you by experts you hired. Delegation of responsibilities is the key.
- Learn how to relax and let go of stress — when you are stressed as a leader your team can feel it. Your decision-making is much poorer and you are less creative, so just find your way to relax, find yourself a hobby, like mine running.
- Don’t feel like you always have to have all of the answers. Every situation is different and sometimes it is better to consult it with others, sometimes it is better to sleep on something. Give yourself a space to say: I don’t know yet, I will get back to you with it, but I am happy to hear your point of view.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Consistent pursuit of the goal and a clear path that you want to follow is crucial in my opinion. Only thanks to this foundation, you are immune to turbulence because you know which way you are going all the time, no matter if you pull you to the side or you turn over. The features of such people are determination, dynamism, self-confidence, trust in others, and good organization of time and resources.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
I believe that all your life experiences can teach you that. But for me running helped me build my resiliency. You have to be persistent, focused, and even if you had a bad day, a weaker condition, you just run and by small steps achieve your main goal. You never start with a marathon, you start by 3, 5, 10 kilometers.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
I am always looking for a solution and when it is really difficult to find the best one, you should not be stuck in it and addicted to it. You just need to find out how to get out of it and whether it is possible. I am lucky enough to run my business with my friends and we can brainstorm together. With 4 people it is always easier to stay positive, jokes and humor are just our everyday routine and this helps us stay positive.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
With a positive attitude even in a tough situation, you are able to show your clients and team that you are highly motivated to find the best possible solution. That you are not giving up — that also drives your team and clients to work harder with you and come up with the best idea at the moment.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” ― Winston S. Churchill
In my opinion, you should learn from your mistakes and failures, and go on with your work. Only thanks to it, you can develop and finally succeed. Our first business failed, but we have learned a lot and now we can say that Applover is on its way to being a really successful company.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!