Mikita Mikado von PandaDoc

Gr├╝nderkaffee Folge 020

Ich bin Jeroen von Salesflare und das ist Founder Coffee.

Alle zwei Wochen trinke ich einen Kaffee mit einem anderen Gr├╝nder. Wir sprechen ├╝ber das Leben, die Leidenschaften, das Gelernte, ... in einem intimen Gespr├Ąch und lernen die Person hinter dem Unternehmen kennen.

In dieser zwanzigsten Folge spreche ich mit Mikita Mikado, dem Gr├╝nder von PandaDoc, einer der f├╝hrenden L├Âsungen f├╝r Angebote und Kostenvoranschl├Ąge f├╝r Vertriebsmitarbeiter.

Mikita pursued the American Dream and moved from Belarus to the US to start a company. At first he flipped burgers, worked in moving, in cleaning, … He took every job he could get. Then he started a web design business, got into extensions for content management systems, and then into documents solutions for sales people.

In nur vier Jahren baute Mikita ein Unternehmen mit rund 160 Mitarbeitern auf, das sich auf Lernen, Wirkung und Spa├č konzentriert.

Wir sprechen dar├╝ber, wie er die Kultur entwickelt, die PandaDoc so besonders macht, warum er die meiste Zeit damit verbringt, zu kommunizieren und Strategien zu entwickeln, und ├╝ber sein Lieblingshobby, das Surfen.

Willkommen bei Founder Coffee.


M├Âchten Sie lieber zuh├Âren? Sie finden diese Folge auf:


Jeroen: Hi Mikita. It’s great to have you on Founder Coffee.

Mikita: Hallo Jeroen. Ich freue mich, hier zu sein.

Jeroen: You’re the Founder of PandaDoc. For those of us who are not so much into documents and things, what does PandaDoc exactly do?

Mikita: PandaDoc helps to make sales customer-centric with beautiful digital proposals, contracts, signatures, payments, and workflows around those documents. That’s what we do.

Jeroen: Geht es haupts├Ąchlich darum, Dokumente zu entwerfen, oder geht es mehr um die Unterschriften oder die Arbeitsabl├Ąufe, oder geht es um all das auf eine sehr horizontale Weise?

Mikita: All of that in a very horizontal way. We basically plug into your CRM system, allow you to build a library of templated collaterals – be that proposals, contracts or quotes. Then your sales team can save tremendous amount of time generating those documents, delivering those documents to the end customers, collaborating with the customers, and negotiating the deals. Then finally, enabling the end client to sign on the dotted line.

Jeroen: Yeah, yeah. It’s the whole document process. But all around sales, if I hear it well.

Mikita: Ja, der Verkauf ist unser Schwerpunkt.

Jeroen: Okay. Kommt das daher, dass Sie fr├╝her selbst Verk├Ąufer waren, oder woher kommt das genau?

Mikita: Nun, die Idee, so k├Ânnte man sagen, wurde aus dem inneren Schmerz geboren. Ich musste ja verkaufen. Vor vielen Jahren leiteten mein Mitgr├╝nder und ich ein Softwareunternehmen und entwickelten Software f├╝r andere. Wir mussten viele Verkaufsvorschl├Ąge machen, und wir fanden den Prozess extrem m├╝hsam, und wir wollten etwas entwickeln, das dieses interne Problem l├Âsen w├╝rde.

We built a product, not PandaDoc, had a decent success with that product, and the product aimed at just small web design agencies, helping them to do proposal automation. Then we discovered that there are a lot more documents involved in the sales process, and a lot of the clients that purchase that product used it for more than proposals – for contracts, for SOWs, for invoices, and yada, yada.

Yeah, that’s the story behind PandaDoc. I’m going to say four and a half years ago, maybe even five years ago, we came up with the idea, a horizontal, all-in-one, quote-to-cash software. We launched it about three and a half years ago.

Heute unterst├╝tzt PandaDoc fast 10.000 Vertriebsteams dabei, kundenorientiert, effizienter und effektiver zu sein.

Jeroen: Yeah. You’re saying you had a software business with your co-founder. Is your background in software?

Mikita: Yeah. I’m a software engineer by trade.

Jeroen: Und Sie kommen aus Wei├črussland, richtig?

Mikita: That’s correct, yeah.

Jeroen: Du bist in Wei├črussland aufgewachsen und hast Softwaretechnik studiert. Was genau hast du danach gemacht? Hattest du irgendwelche Jobs, bevor du das Softwareunternehmen mit deinem Mitgr├╝nder gegr├╝ndet hast, oder war das das erste, was du nach dem Studium gemacht hast?

Mikita: I had all kinds of jobs. I had jobs when I was a kid. I used to wash cars, and I used to sell berries on the farmer’s market. Then I used to do work in construction, and sell whatever I can sell, be that Pogs. I don’t know if you remember those or Nintendo cartridges or mobile cell phones. You name it.

Then I got this really good opportunity to go to the US. I took it, had about $400 in my backpack, and I flew to Honolulu, Hawaii. There, I had all kinds of random jobs. I had been bartending. I worked at the airport flipping burgers, at a café. I did moving. I did cleaning. Like, you name it. All kinds of labor jobs you can do out of Craigslist, I probably did them all.

Na ja, vielleicht keine zuf├Ąlligen Begegnungen. Die habe ich ausgelassen, aber zum gr├Â├čten Teil habe ich mich besch├Ąftigt.

Jeroen: War das vor oder nach Ihrem Informatik- oder Ingenieurstudium oder w├Ąhrenddessen?

Mikita: W├Ąhrend.

Jeroen: W├Ąhrend, okay.

Mikita: Ja.

Jeroen: Mit einer Hand Burger braten und mit der anderen programmieren.

Mikita: It’s funny, but that actually what it was. During the day, I was flipping burgers. During the night, I was trying to catch up on school back in Belarus because while in the US, I had to transfer to study remotely, so that I get a degree. Plus additionally, in Belarus, if you don’t go to school, you go to military for a couple years, and it’s very different. For the most part, you just shuffle snow there, so I figured I better get that degree.

Jeroen: Ja. Bist du zusammen mit deiner Familie in die USA gegangen oder warst du allein?

Mikita: Das war nur ich.

Jeroen: Das warst nur du.

Mikita: Ja.

Jeroen: Was genau war dann die Gelegenheit, die Sie dazu gebracht hat, ohne Ihre Familie in die USA zu gehen, um dort ein Fernstudium zu absolvieren?

Mikita: I mean, the average salary in Belarus was something like $300 or $400 a month. It’s not that much, as you can imagine. So I wanted to be able to build, I always wanted to have and run a business. I thought that, I don’t know why, but probably the American dream is very well-marketed, so I really thought America is the best place to do that.

Ja, ich wollte etwas Sinnvolles in meinem Leben tun. Ich wollte ein anst├Ąndiges Leben haben, ein anst├Ąndiges Leben f├╝r meine Familie. Also habe ich meinen Koffer gepackt und bin in die USA gezogen.

Jeroen: Cool. Hast du zwischen dem Studium und diesem Startup irgendetwas mit deinem Mitgr├╝nder gemacht?

Mikita: Ja. Ich hatte ein Webdesign-Gesch├Ąft. Als ich gerade in die USA kam, habe ich alle m├Âglichen Jobs gemacht, aber ich habe damit angefangen, eine Website einzurichten und etwas SEO auf dieser Website zu machen, den Traffic zu steigern, abzunehmen und einige Anfragen f├╝r Craigslist ├╝ber Webdesign zu bekommen. Daraus habe ich ein kleines Unternehmen gemacht.

Ich hatte einen Mitarbeiter und mich selbst, und ich hatte auch ein paar Leute, die ich aus Wei├črussland unter Vertrag nahm. Mein Mitbegr├╝nder war einer von ihnen, und wir waren schon vorher an der Universit├Ąt befreundet. Das war eigentlich unsere erste Reise. Wir haben zusammen Websites gebaut.

Jeroen: Okay. Dann sind Sie irgendwie dazu ├╝bergegangen, Software zu entwickeln.

Mikita: Ja, wir haben mit Websites angefangen, dann haben wir eine Reihe von Erweiterungen f├╝r verschiedene Web-Content-Management-Systeme entwickelt. Wir haben sie online gestellt und angefangen, sie zu verkaufen. Durch diese Erweiterungen bekamen wir auch Kunden, die diese Erweiterungen anpassten, modifizierten und komplexere Dinge machten.

At some point, I decided to pack my things, and go back to Belarus to be able to hire people, and build a software business – which is what I did. I want to say that was 2007 when we started that company. We grew it to like 30 employees. Then Quote Roller, which is the proposal product, and PandaDoc came around. That’s another story.

Jeroen: Sitzt Ihr Mitbegr├╝nder immer noch in Belarus?

Mikita: Nein, er hat sich bewegt.

Jeroen: Er ist umgezogen?

Mikita: Er ist in die USA gezogen. Vor etwa zweieinhalb oder drei Jahren. Jetzt leitet er unser B├╝ro in Florida.

Jeroen: Okay. Es scheint, als h├Ątten Sie sich schon immer f├╝r die Gr├╝ndung von Start-ups interessiert. Was hat dich daran so sehr interessiert?

Mikita: I don’t know. I just like building. I loved Legos when I was a kid.

Jeroen: It’s the building.

Mikita: Ja. Ich mag den Prozess, Dinge zusammenzustellen, sie auf den Weg zu bringen und zu sehen, ob sie erfolgreich sind oder nicht. Ich genie├če das irgendwie.

Jeroen: Gibt es bestimmte Dinge? Ist es mehr Unternehmen, mehr Produkt, mehr Marke oder ist es einfach alles zusammen?

Mikita: All of them, yeah. I wouldn’t say there’s one that I love the most. I like them all.

Jeroen: If you see yourself building these things, are there any other startups or founders that you’re looking up to that you’re like, “Wow. The things they built are just amazing. I wish we would be more like that?”

Mikita: I mean, I look up to a lot of people and a lot of companies. I try to learn as much as possible from them. If you think of any well-known SaaS brand, there’s going to be a story of a lot of work and a lot of struggle behind them. It’s really, really hard. Yeah, there are a lot of people and a lot of companies that I look up to and I admire.

Jeroen: Richtig. Was genau ist Ihr Ziel mit PandaDoc im Moment?

Mikita: Es gibt drei Dinge, die meinem Mitbegr├╝nder und mir sehr am Herzen liegen.

Erstens: Wir wollen lernen und uns weiterentwickeln und unsere Arbeit verbessern. Zweitens wollen wir etwas bewirken, und als wir das Unternehmen gr├╝ndeten, wollten wir erreichen, dass 1.000 Unternehmen unser Produkt nutzen. Das klang sehr, sehr cool. Dann hat es sich ge├Ąndert. Es wurden 10.000. Dann ├Ąnderte es sich. Es wurden 100.000. Dann ├Ąnderte es sich wieder.

It was like, okay, so making our customers successful is really cool. It’s amazing. It’s a hell of an impact, but how about we look around. Dude, people are building careers at PandaDoc.

We’re having a blast, they’re having a blast. We’re all learning. We all are making an impact. The impact that the business started to make on people’s lives, on their careers is also huge. The internal impact aspect of it added, is quite amazing.

If I can help someone to build a career, hell yeah, that’s awesome. The impact is a very big part of the ‘why we are doing what we’re doing’.

Then finally, we want to have fun. As long as we’re learning, as long as we’re making an impact, and we’re having fun, we’re good. Those are the key values and they say that values aren’t goals, and I would agree with that, but for me, they are so close together that it’s very, very hard to separate.

Yeah, I want PandaDoc to be a successful business. I want PandaDoc to be a place where people are learning, where we are making an impact on the world, on the community we’re in, and then I want to have fun while all of that is happening. I want the same for our clients as well. I want them to have fun while they’re using our product.

Jeroen: Yeah. Now, I saw that you’re well on the investment track right now. How, because nowhere in these values or goals, I heard about financial goals, while probably for the parties you took on board, this is the most important metric? How do you combine these things?

Mikita: Wie kombiniere ich Finanzkennzahlen und?

Jeroen: The fact that their goals are different from yours. Goals align with impact somehow, but it doesn’t align with fun, and it doesn’t so much align with learning.

Mikita: Ich glaube schon. Ich denke, das tut es tats├Ąchlich.

Jeroen: Mit Lernen?

Mikita: Yeah. With both actually – having fun and learning. It’s impossible to build a successful software business if you’re not having fun. What we do is highly cognitive work. You can’t perform highly cognitive tasks out of fear or be bored to death, and innovate.

It is just that those things don’t work together. It’s not how our brain works. Yeah, I think actually they do go hand in hand.

Now, in terms of the impact, most definitely this is aligned with financial results; as long as our customers are happy. Well, first, actually, as long as your employees are happy, then your customers are going to be happy. Your customers are happy, you’re going to do well. So it’s all connected. It’s all intertwined.

Jeroen: Ja. Auf welche Weise sorgt ihr daf├╝r, dass ihr Spa├č habt?

Mikita: Wie k├Ânnen wir sicherstellen, dass wir Spa├č haben?

Jeroen: Was bedeutet das f├╝r das Unternehmen? Ist das das Aufstellen eines Kickertisches oder so?

Mikita: [laughs] A foosball table…

Jeroen: Today I read on The Intercom Blog that they don’t put a foosball table because work is serious, and you shouldn’t put foosball tables because that’s not serious.

Mikita: I see. We don’t have one in San Francisco. We might have one in Belarus. We do have a ping pong table though.

Jeroen: Ein Tischtennistisch?

Mikita: Ja. Wir haben einen Tischtennistisch, um ganz transparent zu sein.

First of all, I think for work to be fun for anyone, it’s important to own what you do. It’s important to have a stake at whatever is that piece of work you’re involved in. It’s important to understand the vision, the mission and the goals. It’s important to understand the direction of the company. If you’re all in and you get it, then it’s a lot more fun than to just do the job, if you know what I mean.

Jeroen: Ich wei├č, was Sie meinen.

Mikita: I don’t know why I’m doing it. I don’t know what’s the purpose of it, what’s the point of it. I was told to do it, and I’m paid, so I’m doing the job. Yeah. When things are not like that, when things are mission-driven, vision-driven, when you truly care, it is a lot more fun, and when you own what you’re working on, when you’re completely bought into the stuff you do.

Jeroen: Cool.

Mikita: I don’t want to pretend we’re doing an amazing job on that front. But we try to be there. Like I try to basically enable others at PandaDoc to own their part of PandaDoc. That’s number one.

Jeroen: Eigentum.

Mikita: Yeah, ownership. Number two is the ability to travel, ability to interact with other cultures. I mean, half of our business, half of our people are in Belarus, and the other half is in the US, and we try to blend people together, blend the offices, blend the functions within the business. It’s not easy, and it requires a lot of work from each employee, but it’s different, and we try to be different.

We try to mix and match cultures, and there’s a travel budget. There’s an education budget. There’s a budget for everyone to have fun. So whenever we’re doing really well, we travel somewhere together, and that kind of stuff.

Yeah, then finally, just regular, I guess, startup-y ways of having fun. We do have parties. I think a lot of people at PandaDoc are friends, so we go to shows together. There’s this weekend, a couple of folks from Belarus visited. We went surfing.

Unser Vizepr├Ąsident f├╝r Marketing kam, also hatten wir eine kleine Gruppe, die das tat. Am Wochenende davor oder zwei Wochenenden davor haben wir ein Barbecue veranstaltet. Solche Sachen macht man. Viele Unternehmen machen das, und wir tun das auch.

Jeroen: Zur├╝ck zu den ernsten Dingen, was machen Sie t├Ąglich?

Mikita: What is it that I do on the daily basis? At this point, I communicate. Really, that’s what I do on a daily basis. Yeah, I mean, there are 160 people at PandaDoc, right. When we were at 30, I would answer this question, “Oh, I do some things on product.” Or like, “This.” Or, “That.” Or, “Blah, blah, blah.” But I don’t really do anything anymore.

All I do is talk. That is actually my most important job right now, to communicate the vision, the goals, the mission, what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and just repeat it over, and over, and over, and over.

Then I work with the executive team and the rest of the company on strategy of the company. Again, a couple of years back, this was very vague, and it’s like what do you mean ‘strategy’? What do you mean you ‘work on strategy’?

Aber jetzt wird es viel konkreter. Ich arbeite an der Strategie. Ich mache eine Menge Planung. Ich versuche sicherzustellen, dass die Strategie solide ist, setze sie unter Stress, hole mir Feedback dazu und so weiter.

Yeah, then finally, of course, external relationships – be that with investors or analysts or other CEOs or we’ll also stop there. Oh, and partners, yeah. That’s a big one.

Jeroen: Yeah. You’re mentioned that strategy became much more tangible now. What does that mean?

Mikita: It’s like I actually devote a lot of time to it, and I do it. Yeah. That’s what it means.

Jeroen: Okay. Sie machen Strategie.

Mikita: Ja.

Jeroen: Okay.

Mikita: It’s like basically I would probably build 10 presentations a quarter on all kinds of different topics. There’s a master presentation for the company’s existence. Then it changes over time a little bit, gets tweaked, and it needs to be messaged, and blah, blah, blah. Then out of it, there is a yearly plan, and that gets tweaked, and that gets messaged. Then, there’s a quarterly plan, and that gets tweaked, and that gets messaged. So on, so forth.

Jeroen: Was genau treibt Sie bei all diesen Dingen an? Was ist es, das Ihnen Energie gibt?

Mikita: Was gibt mir Energie?

Jeroen: Yeah. You’re doing all these things for years now. How do you keep going?

Mikita: I don’t know, actually.

Jeroen: Okay.

Mikita: I don’t know. I wouldn’t be able to answer precisely what gives me energy. I think I’m a normal human being, so winning definitely helps to release the right hormones, and keep me excited, and motivated towards inventing something, coming up with some kind of ideas. Or I really like finishing projects, however they come out, before that successful or unsuccessful. I just like getting things done. Interacting with people, that also makes you a lot happier. Yeah. Those things help you move forward, and of course, my family is a huge support.

Jeroen: Sie haben eine Frau und Kinder?

Mikita: Ja, ich habe eine Frau und zwei Kinder.

Jeroen: Wie halten Sie das alles unter einen Hut? Arbeiten Sie viel zu Hause oder gehen Sie meistens ins B├╝ro? Wie viele Stunden arbeiten Sie?

Mikita: I mostly go to the office. I don’t really have a set schedule, but if I’m not working before nine, then I don’t know, something is going on. I don’t really have a set schedule. Sometimes I take a flight in the middle of the week or try to work outside of the office just to basically reset my brain.

My job is not about putting a lot of hours in. It’s not how I believe I can be effective. My job is about making the right decisions, and that requires a clear mind that’s not triggered by anxiety or that’s not tired or fearing or whatever negative emotion that we might have because of that.

Jeroen: Wie schaffen Sie es, einen klaren Kopf zu behalten?

Mikita: Oh, there’s a ton of stuff I do. Ta, ta, ta, ta, I meditate. I like to do morning runs. I surf. Surfing is amazing, and surfing in California, where I am, means surfing in the cold water. There is something about the cold water – be that cold showers or surfing on the West Coast in Central California, it refreshes you. It recharges you, and gives you that calm. Surfing gives me calm. What else?

Jeroen: Ein ziemlicher, wie soll ich sagen?

Mikita: Workout.

Jeroen: Yeah, it’s quite a big workout.

Mikita: Es ist ein Training.

Jeroen: I think surfing is cold in most places, at least as far as I know. Like if we go surfing in Spain or so, it’s pretty cold. If you go to, I think Bali, perhaps could be warm. I don’t know.

Mikita: Yeah, dude, I lived in Hawaii, and there it’s beautiful.

Jeroen: Warm?

Mikita: It’s so warm.

Jeroen: Ja.

Mikita: It’s really nice.

Jeroen: Is that where you mostly like to spend your time when you’re not working? Family and sports or surfing?

Mikita: Yeah. Family and sports. Honestly, if I can live in the forest for my vacation, for like a month, I would totally do that with my family, and surfboard or something. Something like that. I’d be really happy.

Jeroen: Yeah. That’s also what you do, if you wouldn’t work on PandaDoc, would it be that or would it be having another company?

Mikita: I don’t know. I really don’t know. Honestly, I thought about it, but I don’t know if I get bored, like if I will get bored really fast, but I’ll be sure to try. I mean, it’s just kind of like seeing the difference because the pace of life in Silicon Valley and the pace of a startup is very high. It’s intense, right? Yeah, sometimes you get to really wanting a break or a little bit of time to relax. The past five days, totally served that purpose. It was enough. Yeah, I don’t know if I can do a lot more than five days.

Jeroen: Liest du B├╝cher?

Mikita: Das tue ich, aber ich h├Âre viel mehr zu. Heutzutage h├Âre ich viel mehr B├╝cher.

Jeroen: What’s the latest good book you’ve listened to and why did you choose to listen to it?

Mikita: The latest one I’ve listened is called Quiet Leadership. It’s a good book, and it’s about management, but based on the theory of management based on neuroscience. That was a really interesting book.

Then prior to that, I listened to Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, very good book, extremely useful to executives. Actually, it’s extremely recommended for anyone as it is on how to have uncomfortable conversations that are hugely important to have.

Prior to that, I read a book about the CIA. Doesn’t matter what it’s called. Then prior to that, Five Dysfunctions of a Team, amazing book. I recommend it to everyone. Yeah, that’s the kind of stuff that I’ve listened to recently.

Jeroen: Letzte Frage: Wenn Sie mit PandaDoc noch einmal von vorne anfangen w├╝rden, was w├╝rden Sie anders machen?

Mikita: Oh man, a ton of things. I’ve done so many things wrong. I think the biggest thing I would change is that I would focus on people more. That’s definitely the case. I’m not necessarily the most, oh, it’s going to be hard, it’s a terrible thing to admit, but I’m very analytical. I’m not super empathetic.

Jeroen: Ja, mehr aufgabenorientiert, weniger menschenbezogen.

Mikita: Ganz genau. Und das ist etwas, das ich ├Ąndern w├╝rde, das Verh├Ąltnis. Ich w├╝rde das ├Ąndern.

Jeroen: Yeah. Cool, well, that’s all I have for today, Mikita. Thank you for being on Founder Coffee.

Mikita: Mit Vergn├╝gen!


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