Mikita Mikado di PandaDoc

Episodio 020 del Caffè del Fondatore

Sono Jeroen di Salesflare e questo è il Caffè Fondatore.

Ogni due settimane prendo un caffè con un fondatore diverso. Discutiamo della vita, delle passioni, degli apprendimenti, ... in una chiacchierata intima, conoscendo la persona che sta dietro l'azienda.

Per questo ventesimo episodio, parlo con Mikita Mikado, fondatore di PandaDoc, una delle soluzioni leader per le proposte e i preventivi dei venditori.

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 soli quattro anni, Mikita ha costruito un'azienda di circa 160 dipendenti incentrata sull'apprendimento, sull'impatto e sul divertimento.

Parliamo di come cresce la cultura che rende PandaDoc speciale, del perché passa la maggior parte del suo tempo a comunicare e strategizzare e del suo hobby preferito, il surf.

Benvenuti al Caffè del Fondatore.


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

Mikita: Ciao Jeroen. Felice di essere qui.

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: Si tratta principalmente di una cosa in cui si progettano i documenti o di una cosa più legata alle firme o ai flussi di lavoro o di tutto questo in modo molto orizzontale?

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: Sì, le vendite sono il nostro obiettivo.

Jeroen: Ok. Questo è dovuto al fatto che lei stesso è stato un venditore prima o da dove è venuto fuori questo?

Mikita: Beh, l'idea potremmo dire che è nata da un dolore interno. Ho dovuto vendere. Molti anni fa, io e il mio cofondatore gestivamo una società di software e costruivamo software per altri. Dovevamo fare molte proposte di vendita e trovavamo il processo estremamente noioso, e volevamo costruire qualcosa che risolvesse questo problema interno.

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.

Oggi PandaDoc aiuta quasi 10.000 team di vendita a essere centrati sul cliente e a essere più efficienti ed efficaci.

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: E lei è bielorusso, giusto?

Mikita: That’s correct, yeah.

Jeroen: Lei è cresciuto in Bielorussia e ha studiato ingegneria del software. Che cosa ha fatto esattamente dopo? Ha lavorato prima di creare un'azienda di software con il suo co-fondatore o è stata la prima cosa che ha fatto dopo l'università?

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.

Beh, forse non gli incontri occasionali. Quello l'ho saltato, ma per la maggior parte mi sono tenuto occupato.

Jeroen: È stato prima o dopo aver studiato informatica o ingegneria o durante lo stesso?

Mikita: Mentre.

Jeroen: Mentre, ok.

Mikita: Sì.

Jeroen: Una mano per girare gli hamburger e l'altra per la codifica.

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: Sì. Sei andato negli Stati Uniti con la tua famiglia o sei andato da solo?

Mikita: Ero solo io.

Jeroen: Era solo lei.

Mikita: Sì.

Jeroen: Qual è stata l'opportunità che l'ha spinta ad andare negli Stati Uniti senza la sua famiglia, studiando a distanza?

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.

Sì, volevo fare qualcosa di significativo nella mia vita. Volevo avere una vita decente, una vita decente per la mia famiglia. Così ho fatto le valigie e mi sono trasferito negli Stati Uniti.

Jeroen: Forte. Hai fatto qualcosa tra gli studi e questa startup con il tuo co-fondatore?

Mikita: Sì, avevo un negozio di web design. Quando sono arrivato negli Stati Uniti, ho fatto tutti i tipi di lavori a caso, ma ho iniziato con la creazione di un sito web e con l'attività di SEO su quel sito, guidando, riducendo il traffico, le richieste di informazioni su Craigslist per il web design. L'ho trasformato in una piccola impresa.

Avevo un dipendente e me stesso, oltre ad alcune persone che avevo assunto dalla Bielorussia. Il mio co-fondatore era uno di loro, e prima di allora eravamo amici ai tempi dell'università. Quello è stato il nostro primo viaggio. Abbiamo costruito siti web insieme.

Jeroen: Ok. Poi sei passato in qualche modo alla costruzione di software.

Mikita: Sì, abbiamo iniziato con i siti web, poi abbiamo costruito una serie di estensioni per diversi sistemi di gestione dei contenuti web. Le abbiamo messe online e abbiamo iniziato a venderle. Grazie a queste estensioni, abbiamo anche ottenuto clienti per personalizzare, modificare queste estensioni, fare cose più complesse.

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: Il vostro co-fondatore ha ancora sede in Bielorussia?

Mikita: No, si è spostato.

Jeroen: Si è trasferito?

Mikita: Si è trasferito negli Stati Uniti. Circa due anni e mezzo o tre anni fa. Ora dirige il nostro ufficio in Florida.

Jeroen: Ok. Sembra che lei sia sempre stato appassionato di startup. Cos'è che ti ha interessato così tanto?

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

Jeroen: It’s the building.

Mikita: Sì. Mi piace il processo, mettere insieme le cose, farle partire, vederle riuscire o fallire. Mi piace.

Jeroen: Qualche aspetto specifico? Si tratta di più azienda, più prodotto, più marchio o di tutte queste cose?

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: Giusto. Qual è esattamente la vostra ambizione con PandaDoc in questo momento?

Mikita: Ci sono tre cose a cui io e il mio co-fondatore teniamo molto.

Il primo è che vogliamo imparare e progredire e migliorare quello che facciamo. Il secondo è che vogliamo avere un impatto, e quando abbiamo iniziato l'attività, l'impatto che volevamo avere era quello di avere circa 1.000 aziende che utilizzavano il nostro prodotto. Sembrava una cosa molto, molto bella. Poi è cambiato. È diventato 10.000. Poi è cambiato. Sono diventate 100.000. Poi è cambiato di nuovo.

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: Come si combinano le metriche finanziarie e?

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: Credo proprio di sì. Credo proprio di sì.

Jeroen: Con l'apprendimento?

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: Sì. Quali sono alcuni dei modi in cui vi assicurate di divertirvi?

Mikita: Quali sono i modi in cui ci assicuriamo di divertirci?

Jeroen: Cosa significa nell'azienda? Significa mettere un biliardino o qualcosa del genere?

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: Un tavolo da ping pong?

Mikita: Sì. Abbiamo un tavolo da ping pong, per essere completamente trasparenti.

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: So cosa intendi.

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: Forte.

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: proprietà.

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.

È venuto il nostro vicepresidente del marketing, quindi c'era un piccolo gruppo che lo faceva. Il fine settimana precedente o due fine settimana prima, abbiamo fatto un barbecue. Questo tipo di cose si fanno. Molte aziende lo fanno e lo facciamo anche noi.

Jeroen: Tornando alle cose serie, che cosa fa ogni giorno?

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’?

Ma ora diventa molto più tangibile. Lavoro sulla strategia. Faccio molta pianificazione. Cerco di assicurarmi che la strategia sia solida, di sottoporla a stress, di ricevere feedback e così via.

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: Ok, tu fai strategia.

Mikita: Sì.

Jeroen: Ok.

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: Con tutte queste cose, cos'è che ti fa andare avanti esattamente? Cos'è che ti dà energia?

Mikita: Cosa mi dà energia?

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

Mikita: I don’t know, actually.

Jeroen: Ok.

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: Ha moglie e figli?

Mikita: Sì, ho una moglie e due figli.

Jeroen: Come riesce a mantenere l'equilibrio? Lavora molto a casa o va soprattutto in ufficio? Che tipo di orari fate?

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: Come si fa a mantenere la mente lucida?

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: Un bel, come dire?

Mikita: Allenamento.

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

Mikita: È un allenamento.

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: Caldo?

Mikita: It’s so warm.

Jeroen: Sì.

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: Legge libri?

Mikita: Sì, ma ascolto molto di più. Ascolto molti più libri in questo periodo.

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: Ultima domanda, se dovessi ricominciare da capo con PandaDoc, cosa avresti fatto di diverso?

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: Sì, più orientato ai compiti, meno alle persone.

Mikita: Esattamente. E questa è una cosa che cambierei, la proporzione. Lo cambierei.

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

Mikita: Il piacere è mio!


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Jeroen Corthout