Meet Tatsiana Kerimova – CEO & Co-Founder of Orangesoft. Working across the company's strategy, development, sales, and marketing departments, she takes a hands-on approach with both her team and clients.
Tatsiana co-founded Orangesoft in 2011, pursuing her passion for apps and new technologies and being willing to help clients solve business problems with digital solutions. Today, Orangesoft helps big brands like Hamley’s and Adidas, as well as mobile-focused early-stage startups.
Q: What did you want to be when you were a child and how did you get to where you are today?
Tatsiana: When I was a child, I had no idea what a CEO meant. And if I had known about it, I would probably say that I’d like to become a CEO. When we’re speaking about the CEO’s job, it’s more about managing people and working on the company’s development. And I really liked managing people even when I was a child. For example, when I played with other kids, I tried to get them to play by the rules.
I clearly remember that I dreamed about becoming a radio presenter, and I had an excellent strategy. Since I was too young and couldn’t get a job, I decided that I needed to get my own radio station. I started recording tapes with my favorite songs and interviews with friends. Actually, it looked like a real radio station with ads, top songs, and interviews. Yeah, it wasn’t a real business, but still, it was about dedication and building proper strategies that could lead to desired results.
When it was time to choose what faculty to enter, I had no doubts and chose Business Management. Frankly speaking, the skills I got while working are more important and valuable than all that stuff I received while studying. Closing up, having an open and enquiring mind is one of the most important things for a CEO.
Q: How to become a CEO?
Tatsiana: I’m not just a CEO. I’m also a Co-Founder of Orangesoft. My way of becoming a CEO isn’t just an ordinary one. It’s more about building the business from the ground up than climbing up the corporate ladder.
Taking into account all my experience, becoming a CEO isn’t just about soft skills such as communication and networking. It requires a deep understanding of all the company’s processes, starting from CFO to developer roles. A unique mix of hard and soft skills will help you become a really great CEO and make your company stand out from the crowd.
Q: Tatsiana, what are the secrets to becoming a successful CEO? Who inspires you, and why?
Tatsiana: The main secret is that there are no secrets. There are three crucial things every CEO needs – relevant experience, open-mindedness, and dedication. There are no particular skills that could make you a CEO.
Speaking about inspiration, I can get it from the stories of both rising as well as failed startups. For example, I’ve recently read about Markus Villig, the Founder of Bolt, and I got inspired by his dedication and hard work.
But there are tons of other success stories to get inspired. For example, Starbucks’ success story. Starbucks went from just one local coffee bean store to an $80-billion company. I’ve attended the class led by Kevin Johnson, Starbucks CEO. I was both impressed and inspired by his attitude to employees.
There are hundreds of CEOs that can teach you something they can do better than others. Kevin Johnson can teach you how to win the loyalty of your employees, and Markus Villig can teach you how to work hard and how to come to the morning through all the shadows. The key thing is to learn from the best while being yourself. You cannot just use someone’s success story since every human and every company is unique.
Q: Many CEOs fall into the trap of being all over the place. What are the top activities a CEO should focus on to be the best leader the company needs?
Tatsiana: A CEO should focus on building short and long-term strategies with an emphasis on what to do tomorrow instead of what we should do today.
When speaking about traps, I’d like to point out two of them. Firstly, it’s important to delegate tasks, even the ones that seem too important. When the task isn’t about building strategies and company development, it can be delegated. If you can delegate, your team, as well as your company, will only win.
Secondly, it’s a hiring-and-firing issue. I’ve learned that you need to hire slow and fire fast. When hiring, you need to make sure that a candidate is a perfect fit for your company. But if you think that your employee is not the right fit for the position, it’s better to say goodbye right now. Human resources are our driving force. That’s why it’s of great importance to pay particular attention when hiring new employees.
Q: The COVID-19 Pandemic put the leadership skills of many to the test. What were some of the most difficult challenges that you faced as a CEO in the past year?
Tatsiana: We were more than ready to face lockdowns and remote work since we have offices and clients all over the world. So shifting to a remote office mode wasn’t too challenging for us. We’ve got everything ready for a work-from-home challenge like online meetings, online document storage, online workflows, etc.
At Orangesoft, remote work had no impact on the quality of work, but it influenced the relationships between employees. It was harder for new employees to onboard while there was no informal communication like coffee chatting, etc. And our so-called “old” employees started missing coffee breaks and personal contact. Everyone who wants to come to the office can come and enjoy office life.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought us new exciting projects since many companies were forced to adjust to the new normal. We helped lots of companies not only get a custom software solution but also grow and expand during the pandemic.
Q: What are some of the greatest mistakes you’ve noticed some business leaders made during these unprecedented times? What are the takeaways you gleaned from those mistakes?
Tatsiana: When the COVID evolved and started progressing, it became a real challenge for most companies. A vast majority of companies faced some difficulties based on fear and uncertainty, and they started a cycle of layoffs and furloughs. I think that was the biggest mistake. Later on, the companies realized that it was a big mistake but hiring back all the employees isn’t an easy thing.
Besides, massive layoffs affect the remaining employees as well. It can easily undermine the loyalty of your employees since they’ll know that they can be easily laid off in case of a crisis. You need to clearly assess all the risks and problems in the following case before laying off employees. And we took advantage of massive layoffs, hired the best specialists for Orangesoft, and built a really great team.
Q: What changes played the most critical role in enabling your business to survive/remain profitable, or maybe even thrive? What lessons did all this teach you?
Tatsiana: The COVID-19 has shown that a crisis management strategy isn’t less important than a business development one. With a proper crisis management strategy, any COVID-19 or other unpredictable stuff can severely affect the company.
While working on a crisis management plan, you need to find answers to top questions like:
- What to do when there is not enough money?
- What to do when there are fewer clients and projects?
- And other what if-questions
Thanks to our flexibility and agility, we’re able to adapt to new realities and understand what the market needs. During the pandemic, we started helping clients transform their offline businesses into online ones or power up businesses with an online mode to expand their services and continue their growth even when the global lockdown was around the corner.
Q: What is the #1 most pressing challenge you’re trying to solve in your business right now?
Tatsiana: We are currently working on finding new partners in the US. Under the COVID-19, it’s harder to plan a business trip or get on the plane right away. We’d like to become closer to our clients and provide better services.
Q: Normally, leaders are asked about their most useful qualities but let’s change things up a bit. What is the most useless skill you have learned at school or during your career?
Tatsiana: It’s probably handwriting. Nowadays we aren’t using a lot of pen and paper. We’re typing instead. And it seems that even typing will become useless soon thanks to AI and voice typing. The quality of text recognition is becoming better and better. So I think, soon we won’t type; we’ll do everything via voice typing since it’s more convenient than typing and can save tons of time.
When speaking more about business, building 5+ year-development strategies is a useless skill in the ever-changing business world. It doesn’t allow a company to adapt to new changes and new normals quickly. As COVID-19 showed, everything could be changed in a few days or even hours.
Q: Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make in 2021 for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult, and what were the positive impacts?
Tatsiana: In 2020-2021, we were forced to cancel all our business trips. This year, we weren’t able to visit our client in Spain and in the US. But we managed to overcome this situation and run a series of online meetings that helped both parties succeed – we were able to analyze all the client’s pains, and the client got a fully-functioning app meeting all the requirements. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that nearly all business processes can be easily transformed to online and remote.
This interview was originally published on VailantCEO