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Dare to Scale Workshop: Viktor Bilyanski on Organization and Culture

by Irina Encheva

The 8th and last workshop of Dare to Scale 2019 took place on December 10 and was run by Viktor Bilyanski, co-founder and CTO of Scalefocus who is also a partner of the program. The topic was Organization and Culture and was a fitting end to the group sessions of the pilot class. Viktor shared his entrepreneurial journey that includes growing a company from 5 to almost 1000 current employees and the keys to sustaining a motivated workforce.

I’d like to note why we asked Viktor to lead this session. Over the past year, we got to know Viktor and Scalefocus better through our partnership on the growth program. We invited Viktor, along with his colleagues Metodi Amov (Head of New Business) and Krassimir Kostadinov (CDO) to participate in Dare to Scale’s selection process in the spring. What struck our team was, even though Scalefocus is almost a 1000-people company, there was nothing too corporate or bureaucratic that often goes in the demeanor of employees of such large companies. On the contrary, our team was nicely surprised to see in each of the three a very startup-like and informal attitude that perfectly fit the Endeavor network mentality. We kept inviting them back to help us with interviews and mentorships for Endeavor’s main program as well. Naturally, we wanted to learn more on how this casual atmosphere is sustained as the company has grown so fast in the past few years and decided that Dare to Scalers can only benefit as well from such an interaction.

An important topic during the workshop was company culture. Viktor shared that it should be a founder’s main goal initially to actively participate in recruitment and hire very carefully the first managers and employees as they will define the culture of the company. In his view, this is the least expensive way to find the right and best people for your organization – when you as a founder own the hiring process. Viktor spent a considerable amount of effort and time on hiring and headhunting for key positions in Scalefocus during the first 2 years of the company’s founding and looking back said it was one of the most effective ways in which he spent his energy and time.

Referring to Netflix’s culture that is defined by who is hired and who is fired, Viktor believes that founders have to learn early on when and how to let go of someone who does not perform well enough or fit in the culture. He shared that this is one of the most difficult decisions he faces as a leader. If you hire or keep a wrong person, this gets multiplied by x100 down the organization. If you do not have consistently high standards for your employees, your culture becomes tolerant towards average performers and this inevitably leads to poor business results. He shared that the mentality of most of Silicon Valley leaders is to be looked up to in this way – they are very quick with taking such difficult decisions and this is because they know the high price the company would pay if they keep a non-performer.

Viktor shared that in terms of people management, attracting strong talent is the easier part. The difficulty for him is to retain a high-performer in the company. If you hire a less-capable manager or have burdensome processes and rules, you can easily demotivate the top performers. In this way, fitting each person into the right position for her is key to a successful organizational structure and keeping everyone motivated.

Viktor stressed the need to have a solid employer brand both within the company and outside. Every employee should know the mission, vision and principles of the firm and each one is the organization’s ambassador to the outside world. If you want to hire A-players, you need to ensure your current employees are the right fit so that they can convey directly and indirectly what it is like to work in your company.

The advice to Dare to Scalers that Viktor gave was that attitude and mentality are more important to business success than some hard skills. He urged the entrepreneurs to hire intelligent and positive leaders that will persistently inspire the rest of the organization to outperform the goals.

Thanks to Viktor for the candid and practical advice on this last workshop of the program. Thanks also to Sofia Tech Park for hosting us. Tomorrow is the final event for the Dare to Scale class – Demo Day, during which the entrepreneurs will present their companies in front of a jury and later deservingly network over a cocktail with many of Endeavor’s mentors, workshop speakers, partners, and friends who contributed to the success of the 2019 pilot program. Stay tuned to find out the best presenter of Demo Day!