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“To develop Grit, track your successes”, With Phil Laboon, Zach Boyette & Irina Papuc

Track your successes. It’s amazing how quickly you adapt to new situations — and sometimes that means forgetting how hard it was to get where you are today. Beyond just writing out your goals, make sure you’re aware of when and how you complete them — and celebrate those successes.


Track your successes. It’s amazing how quickly you adapt to new situations — and sometimes that means forgetting how hard it was to get where you are today. Beyond just writing out your goals, make sure you’re aware of when and how you complete them — and celebrate those successes.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Irina Papuc and Zach Boyette are the co-founders of GalacticFed, a fully remote, 130+ staff digital marketing agency that services some of Silicon Valley’s hottest tech startups. An academically trained physicist and anthropologist, Irina has visited over 40 countries in the past 5 years while scaling up her agency with co-founder Zach Boyette. Zach is an ex-Google employee and software engineer who has also fully embraced working remotely; he has lived in various countries across Europe, Asia, and Latin America over the last few years.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path.

IRINA: It was a mix of a series of fortuitous events, and a lot of random chance! The better part of my early 20s were spent trying to avoid ‘real jobs.’ I was after adventure, and knew I couldn’t find it working in an office. So I bought a one-way ticket to Taiwan, where I taught English for a year, eventually saving up enough money to travel overland from Thailand to Romania for another year after that. When I finally did come back to the US, I started researching online work opportunities, and came across SEO/marketing as a very digital-nomad friendly field.

Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

IRINA: As many other agency founders can tell you, agencies live and die by referrals, especially in the beginning. When we launched GalacticFed, the single hardest obstacle to overcome was building up a steady stream of quality referrals and introductions. The more you expand your clientele base, and leave a trail of satisfied customers, the larger your referral pool grows. But it takes time to build this, and you have to truly believe that you have something of value to offer, to get through those initial hard times when the phone doesn’t ring. 🙂

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

IRINA: Knowing that what we have to offer is valuable. The case studies were clear early on, and speaking with other link-builders and PPC leaders, we knew that our service was both cost-competitive and high-quality. I think this sheer belief got me through the difficult early start. We made it a point, very early on, to build a network of staff and train them in growth marketing. That was a part of the company from day 1. Surrounding yourself with a team, from day 1, was crucial as we motivated each other to push forward.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

IRINA: I wouldn’t say Grit turned things around on it own. It was really a combination of luck and perseverance that landed GalacticFed on the doorstep of several hot Bay Area-based tech startups that signed us on pretty early on, and which cast a wider net of word to mouth over the two years we’ve been in operation. Never underestimate your partnerships! I see every single client I work with as a long-term (meaning, for life) partner in growth.

So, how are things going today? 🙂

IRINA: 2018 has been a killer year. GalacticFed grew 1000% in revenue, eclipsing the previous year by a long shot. I often joke with my co-founder, Zach, that it’s like bacterial growth. Two leads, then four, than sixteen, then 32, etc. You get the idea. You reach a certain tipping point where your referral pool is wide enough to generate more business every day. And to get there, you have to put on your blinkers and stare straight ahead and operate, at times, on faith in the value you have to offer a business.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

Take the first step. Grit is really about taking action. And impactful action is really just a series of micro-actions we take everyday, and building micro-actions every day are just habits. Inertia is a real thing, and forcing yourself to take action and stop delaying items on your to-do list, however small, makes a difference.

Rise above the noise of the day to day. In the early stage of building the agency, I would set aside 20 min a day, every day, just for brainstorming how to grow the business. Sounds small and a no brainer, but it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture as you focus so much on day to day operations, especially early on.

Maintain a poor mindset. You might see quick financial returns early on, and it’s easy to tone down frugal habits and adopt loose habits with your money.

Track your successes. It’s amazing how quickly you adapt to new situations — and sometimes that means forgetting how hard it was to get where you are today. Beyond just writing out your goals, make sure you’re aware of when and how you complete them — and celebrate those successes.

Complacency is death. In the startup world, growth is the norm — if you aren’t constantly evolving, somebody will outcompete you, and defeat you. A big part of grit is never being satisfied with the status quo.

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 you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?

ZACH: fresh out of college, working for Procter & Gamble, I went on a business trip to Europe with a high-ranking Director at the company, who took me under his wing. He encouraged me to chase my passions, and not follow the easy safe route. We spoke for hours about entrepreneurship, and what it means to leave a lasting impact on the world. This has blossomed into a strong mentorship, and I still communicate with him every month — he was there to champion me when I quit P&G to work for Google, and all the career steps I’ve taken since then. A simple “I believe in you” is a wonderful catalyst.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

IRINA: Success in our case was very much a team success. We were able to provide work opportunities for over 130 people overseas, and train hundreds more (in anticipation of future growth). That’s only the beginning, though. In 2019 we will roll out an initiative to help combat cyber bullying in American high schools. In the future, I hope to use our marketing to help solve more social problems like that.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

ZACH: as Irina mentioned, we’re very excited about our 2019 initiative for youth reputation management. Given the ubiquity of the internet, it’s too easy nowadays for a young person to make a mistake that haunts them for years, with bad articles and social media results posted all over the web. We want to help young people learn how to control their own digital narrative. This is a service many companies offer to celebrities for a high rate, but we believe it should be available to a wider audience.

What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?

IRINA: Set up formal, anonymous feedback channels for the very beginning. This encourages employees to give their most honest feedback, as well as vent their concerns, and, as you begin to address their concerns, leads to a healthier company atmosphere.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

ZACH: I grew up on a mountain in Tennessee. The only career paths recommended to ambitious kids in my town were: doctor or lawyer. Maybe dentist. There was a whole world of life options out there that I never knew about because nobody around me did them. I’ll never forget my freshman year at Vanderbilt, hearing how all the kids from New York and California had parents in tech, banking, private equity, and all sorts of jobs I had never heard of. Luckily I fell into the tech world on my own, but if I hadn’t had such supportive peers I might still be lost in my career.

Every kid deserves to know what professional options are available to them. I know so many people dissatisfied with their careers because they cemented to something early on because it sounded ok, or because their parents told them to. I would love to build an internet-based program that better equips teachers and parents to explore the professional world with their children.

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

IRINA: I came across this quote in a high school textbook and have stuck with it over the years. It’s from Abraham Lincoln and here’s how it goes: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” This quote basically sums up how I seek to approach business, or any personal aspiration. Sometimes it’s so gratifying to make a quick decision, or seek a quick resolution. Devote the time and detailed, guarded work that your dreams truly deserve. Sometimes, you really do only have one shot.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find and connect with us on Linkedin: 
 Irina: https://www.linkedin.com/in/irinapapuc/
 Zach: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zachboyette

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

Thank you for having us!

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