Why you should not be scared to say, “I don’t know”, with Donata Kalnenaite of Termageddon & Mitch Russo

Don’t be scared to say, “I don’t know”. I think that as entrepreneurs, we want to show others that we are experts in our industries. The fact that you don’t know the answer to a question does not mean that you’re not an expert, it just means that you are human. For those of us […]

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Don’t be scared to say, “I don’t know”. I think that as entrepreneurs, we want to show others that we are experts in our industries. The fact that you don’t know the answer to a question does not mean that you’re not an expert, it just means that you are human. For those of us in industries that are constantly evolving and changing, it’s impossible to know everything that is going on at any given time. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s much better to say “I don’t know, let me look this up and get back to you” than to say the wrong thing and then look really bad. I guess overall, my advice is that it’s ok to be human and have to look things up.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Donata Kalnenaite, a privacy and technology attorney, a Certified Information Privacy Professional and the President of Termageddon. Termageddon generates Privacy Policies and Donata is the engineer behind the policy questionnaires and text. In her free time, she enjoys beekeeping and walks with her two dogs and her fiancée.

Thank you so much for joining us! 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?

Sure! My name is Donata Kalnenaite and I’m a generation zero immigrant from Lithuania. I came to the US when I was 12 to live with my parents. Up to the age of 12, I was raised by my grandparents in Lithuania. I was always into books, studying and learning so, after I finished high school, I went to college in Chicago and got my bachelor’s in psychology. After that, I completed my J.D. at The John Marshall Law School. Fun fact: I was 22 when I graduated law school (I graduated on 6/21 and my birthday is on 6/24). While in law school, I worked at a software development firm as the Chief Operating Officer and that’s where I really fell in love with technology. After that company was acquired, I started my own firm where I helped other software and web development agencies with their contracts.

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?

I think that everyone has gone through hard times in one shape or another. My mother died when I was in my teens, I was diagnosed with a chronic pain condition for which I need to get surgery every two years, my father committed suicide a few years ago and I don’t get to see my family as much as I’d like to since they all live in Lithuania.

I have considered giving up dozens of times. I think it’s absolutely natural for people to want to give up and I don’t think that considering it is something that’s shameful. I’ve always been the type of person who somehow survives through it all. I’m not sure where I got it from but it does help.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

I really wish that there was an “Aha Moment” but that’s not the case. While I was in private practice, I would write Privacy Policies and Terms of Service for my clients all of the time. I found that part of my job pretty repetitive, as I’d have to ask clients the same questions such as “what information do you collect”, “what do you do with this information”, and “who do you share it with”. My fiancée was working at a web design agency that he founded and he’d have clients ask him all of the time whether they needed a Privacy Policy for their website and where they could get one. A lot of his clients could not afford an attorney so they were stuck trying to figure it out on their own. We talked about these issues one evening over dinner and, eventually, we got to the conclusion that there needs to be an affordable Privacy Policy solution out there that also pays agencies for referrals and that’s how Termageddon was created. I do wish that it was more of a light bulb moment but it took us some time to get to this conclusion.

having a dark sense of humor always helps me keep moving through the hard times.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

We’re popping champagne bottles every evening and chilling on our private yachts! Just kidding!

Things are going really well though — we are generating a lot of policies, have great partners and make wonderful connections with industry leaders. It’s still a lot of hard work though and I truly hope that I never reach the day when there’s nothing left to do. A lot of people think that they’ll just start a business, put up a website and customers will be flowing in by the thousands. In reality though, that’s not the case. You have to work hard every day, constantly innovate and be ready for the endless stream of challenges that you will have to deal with. I believe that all of the challenges that I have worked through thus far have helped me deal with stressful situations better and solve problems faster. I can now say “I’ve seen a lot worse than this” and it helps me recover from hard times easier and better than before. Sometimes, I can even laugh off problems that others would brood over for weeks and it helps me move on and move forward.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

We started Termageddon a few years ago before GDPR was passed. It was a back-burner project for a while as my fiancée was running a software development firm in Chicago and I was working in private practice. I decided to get a corporate job and worked for a year at a marketing company in compliance. The funny part was that this marketing company sent junk mail, which is something that I’ve been unsubscribed from for years. Well, I spent about a year in the land of cognitive dissonance and, finally, woke up to it and was like “what am I doing here?” My job there was extremely frustrating, did not align with my values whatsoever and was just the wrong place for me. So I quit and went full time at Termageddon and have never looked back. Obviously, I’m not judging anyone who works in that industry, but it was just not the right place for me.

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

From a technical perspective, our company stands out because we automatically update our clients’ Privacy Policies whenever the laws change. This means that our clients do not have to keep track of all of the privacy bills, laws and cases and can actually focus on their business.

From a more personal perspective, we are human. A lot of compliance companies believe that they have to wear the proverbial three-piece suit at all times. We’re ok letting loose, having fun and having in-depth conversations with our customers about everything from privacy laws to our chicken situation.

We do a lot of videos and podcast interviews. There have been a few times where we our husky (Loki) will howl mid-video because she wants attention and that’s totally ok. I think that’s one piece of advice that I would give to company owners, that it’s fine to be human. By being human, we can actually connect with our customers and partners much better and, this way, people are not nervous to talk to us or ask us questions.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

In our company, I do a lot. I keep track of privacy laws and cases relevant to our policies, I write and re-write our policies and questionnaires, I manage our operations, work with customers and partners and do a lot of our marketing. I’m definitely no stranger to the 14-hour day work schedule. However, one thing that has helped me a lot is alternating between tasks that I find tedious and tasks that I love doing. For example, let’s say that I have to reconcile our accounting, rewrite a paragraph in the Privacy Policy to comply with a new law and apply to be a speaker at an event. I’ll start my day out by reconciling the accounting because I find that task not so exciting. Then I will “reward” myself by rewriting the Privacy Policy because it’s something that I love doing and actually look forward to (I know this sounds weird). That way, I’m not dreading the boring tasks since they enable me to get to the fun tasks and I am more efficient that way. I have a lot of to do lists but I like to plan my day as to what tasks I will complete as well. While some days, there’s no way to get around the drudgery, adding some fun tasks always makes it better for me.

I know that sometimes even the “fun” tasks can make you tired and burned out. However, it’s always best to remember why you’re doing what you do. For example, I want everyone to be able understand their privacy rights and, keeping that in mind while I’m reconciling our accounts helps.

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?

Definitely my fiancée, Hans Skillrud. We started the company together so he’s been through all of the stages with me, from the initial raise to helping me with new feature updates to being our sales and marketing guru. He’s helped me get over impostor syndrome, cheered me on through every presentation and podcast and has been with me through the tough days as well as the days where it seems like everything is going right. I know that some people are nervous to work with their spouse, but I really could not have done it without him.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

Currently, we have a little over 1,000 users. We started actively working on Termageddon approximately four months ago so we have gained a lot of traction in those few months. The three main steps that we have taken to build our community are:

(1) Speaking on podcasts. We have had enormous success sharing our knowledge on privacy on podcasts. While our appearances are not paid, it has really helped us with brand recognition.

(2) Facebook advertising. A lot of our subscribers come from our ads. While we run some “serious” adds about the importance of Privacy Policies for businesses, we also have some awesome fun ads that perform really well.

(3) Events. We go to a lot of web agency events. Not only does this give us a chance to get out of the house and meet some wonderful people, we find that a lot of web agencies are interested in privacy solutions.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.

We made quite a few mistakes when we first started. Here are my recommendations for others who want to start an app or a SAAS:

(1) Make sure that you pick the right development team. When we first started, we worked with a development team that had very little experience in SAAS but assured us that they had the knowledge and experience necessary to do a good job. Fast-forward and we have paid for the app twice over because of the mistakes they made. Fortunately, we are now working with a development firm that we trust and they have fixed all of the previous mistakes and implemented some awesome new features. You should vet development teams very carefully because mistakes like this can really cost you. There will always be firms that come in with an enticing low bid and you should ask yourself what working with an experienced team can really cost you in terms of budget and time. This was really the biggest mistake that we made when we first started.

(2) Know your competition and why customers should come to you instead of them. A lot of SAAS and other companies will say “our product is so much better than our competition’s.” Honestly, that’s not compelling enough for customers to make the switch to you. Yes, we all believe that we have created the best thing since sliced bread. However, if you are offering a few new features, that’s not going to make a difference to most customers. The pain of switching providers is great in any industry and customers will not do it unless you have a very compelling reason for them to do so. In our space, we do not have a lot of competitors but we spent most of our time strategizing on how we will gain a competitive edge. For example, we work with directly with web development agencies and created our SAAS from the start to be agency friendly. This helped us gain a competitive advantage much more than the quality of our policies (which is obviously great). Know your product and know every move that your competitors make. Constantly improve on your messaging and offers, otherwise, you’ll lose sales to more established companies.

(3) Know your management style and establish super clear expectations for your staff. When you first start your business, your initial employees will be special to you. After all, they’re joining your company for the promise of the future and believe enough in you and your vision to take a lower salary than they could get at an established company. This trust and belief can establish an emotional connection, thereby making it difficult to fire someone for not performing to your expectations or requirements. That’s why we set specific requirements for our staff, such as the number of calls they need to make per day if they’re in sales, the amount of revenue they need to generate, etc. These requirements made sure that we are not biased towards any single person and that everyone is on the same playing field. It also made it easier for us to let go of people who were not performing. After all, in a startup, there’s really no time or money to waste.

(4) Have an internal roadmap of where you want your company to be in the next one to five years. This is advice that I have to take as well as my roadmap keeps on changing but having a clear vision of where you want to be will help you plan for the future. For example, we plan out our feature releases, development sprints and huge project so this helps me keep organized and excited for the future. I know that some companies make these roadmaps public so that’s something that you may want to consider as well, especially if you have customers asking you frequently about when new features or add-ons will be released.

(5) Don’t be scared to say, “I don’t know”. I think that as entrepreneurs, we want to show others that we are experts in our industries. The fact that you don’t know the answer to a question does not mean that you’re not an expert, it just means that you are human. For those of us in industries that are constantly evolving and changing, it’s impossible to know everything that is going on at any given time. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s much better to say “I don’t know, let me look this up and get back to you” than to say the wrong thing and then look really bad. I guess overall, my advice is that it’s ok to be human and have to look things up.

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 think that I have two different ideas for movements — one from a work perspective and one from a more personal perspective. If you are asking about a work perspective, I would want people to band together and help legislators create privacy laws that:

· Provide real privacy rights to consumers;

· Provide a good way to enforce those rights with actual penalties that have an effect on large corporations and their leadership; and

· Are not gutted by industry lobbyists.

I believe that this would truly help consumers be safe online, prevent data breaches and prevent the indiscriminate sharing and sale of personal information.

From a more personal note, I’d love to see groups that encourage others to take on beekeeping. I am a new beekeeper myself and I have found it very difficult to find a mentor and to find resources that provide clear answers about what to do and when. Beekeeping is my favorite hobby and I think others should have a chance to experience it as well. I think that this is definitely a field where more information and tutorials are needed.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

· Twitter (personal): @donataskillrud

· Twitter (business): @termageddon

· Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/donata-kalnenaite/

· Facebook (business page): https://www.facebook.com/termageddon/

· Instagram (business): @termageddon

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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