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Female Founders: Tamara Slanova of DMarket On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Acknowledge your accomplishments and own your success. Despite the fact that the term “imposter syndrome” was first introduced in 1978, it is still so common for women to doubt their talent, skills and competence.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tamara Slanova, co-founder at DMarket.com and CFO at DMarket.com.

More than a decade in gaming, tech, and finance. She is an experienced international fintech CFO inspired by securing sustainable growth. Right now she is focused on building a new virtual world for billions of people.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

As a child, all I wanted to do was to be left alone in my room, read books and roam these fascinating worlds that I created in my imagination. My parents were a bit concerned with such a hermetic lifestyle of their weirdo daughter. They tried to encourage me to run/play/watch TV/ do whatever other kids do. So they put me into the ballroom dancing class, which was one of really few options available for girls in Ukraine as an extracurricular activity in the early 90s, and definitely the most common one. I wouldn’t settle for something common. Instead, I asked to take me to a karate class. It was Kyokushinkai, and I was the only girl there. Over the years of training, apart from learning self-improvement, endeavour, discipline and respect to others, I literally had to fight for inclusion, respect and equal treatment.

I learned how to fit in, to stand out and to stand up for myself, all at the same time.

And to give you more of a perspective of myself. I started a debate club in my high school and later on in other schools in my hometown, and in half a year our team won the national debate tournament and I was ranked as a top speaker.

Debates helped me to train my mind to be flexible and creative, and have 360 degree vision on any subject. It taught me to try to look at things from as many angles as possible, no matter how distant they may seem from my initial opinion, try to be as unbiased and open-minded as possible.

I have met Vlad Panchenko, my future ally and business partner in numerous ventures, while studying International Economics at the university. I worked as a project manager on a TV program about car racing that Vlad directed at that time. These were fun and exciting times, when I first became enchanted by Vlad’s unorthodox and strategic helicopter vision, and he was amazed how I could literally get him a helicopter for the shooting in 15 min. That was synergy in action from the first days we met.

After graduating from uni, I pursued a banking career for a while, but quite soon got together with Vlad again to start our first company. For more than a decade now I’ve been combining gaming with smart finance. I always thought that it would be something big with huge potential for growth. I’ve co-founded a few cash cows in the gaming industry, including skins.cash. Right now I dedicate myself to an LA-based startup called DMarket which I co-founded with Vlad in 2017. We raised $7.2 million from venture capital funding last year, and in the last three years we raised more than $26 million. Now we are building a metaverse together.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Entrepreneurship is an interesting story itself. Building a global metaverse with a complicated infrastructure, ecommerce in the virtual reality is like writing a fascinating science fiction book — every page is more and more exciting.

Other than that, I guess COVID is an interesting story many entrepreneurs will mention while talking about their path in business. As a founder you can predict many things, but it’s hard to predict a pandemic and the way you will deal with it as company leader. My story started at the beginning of the pandemic when most of our employees and their families got sick on different continents, the whole team, lead by myself and Vlad, were literally fighting for their lives — searching for hospitals, doctors, medications and useful advice, anything that could help — and all while still building a product!

It was a real disruption for us as founders as we faced unknown circumstances which are not described in any leadership book. But it made us stronger, it forced us realize the real values and reflect on what we are building.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Mistakes are a part of our history which we continue to create on a daily basis. We like to iterate different features fast and that alone can cause some unpredictable mistakes. For example, we successfully launched a metaverse for our partner NAVI, one of the world’s famous esports clubs. In this metaverse, NAVI fans can get unique NFTs by watching the club streams on Twitch. One of the first big streams was overcrowded with thousands of people wanting to get unique digital items. We didn’t expect such success, even though it’s funny to build something awesome and be ignorant to its possible success. Some features stopped working for an hour because of the number of people engaged simultaneously. It was a strategically important experience that helped us in building layers of technology to increase capacity 100x times in six months.

A lesson to learn: you need to fail to stand up stronger and reach success.

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 about that?

In DMarket we are working with people that bring us to another level. One of them is the founder of Electronic Arts, Trip Hawkins, an independent board member and adviser at DMarket. His experience, network and the outstanding mindset is an amazing opportunity to learn a lot. And not forgetting my co-founder Vlad Panchenko, a visionary who helps me to achieve success. We have been through good and bad times together, building a few successful companies. Right now we are building a new virtual world for billions of people.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

This statistic is very sad. The number is even less when it comes to female founders in the gaming industry, and still less when it comes to companies founded by women from Eastern Europe. I will not go into details why the status quo is so grave, this is still on the table

My first big gaming conference came as a blow. The female representation of those working in the industry was very scarce. Yet this was a decade ago and many things have changed since then. People have stopped ignoring this elephant in the room, but still lots of issues are yet to be addressed.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

From the very beginning, when we started our first company more than 10 years ago, me and Vlad, we built it on the principles of integrity, coherence and inclusion. We succeeded in creating this unique inclusive culture where everyone belongs, voices are heard and ideas can thrive.

The mindset of global society is changing, the corporate policy worldwide is changing, people are learning not to repeat others’ mistakes.

I think that technologies are changing our perception of ourselves and others. As an advocate of the metaverse I truly believe in a community free from stereotypes and bias.

I believe in 10 years you might not even ask me those questions because there will be no questions on this matter.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

I will not go through the list of traits and attributes that make women great leaders. Over the past decades there has been numerous research and scientific studies that consistently show how and why women are excellent leaders and performers, and how companies, the economy and society as a whole can benefit from their wisdom. This is not a sentiment, this is a data driven fact. And I am happy when certain state and private initiatives result in quotas for female representation across industries and boards.

Answering your questions: one of the biggest reasons to become a woman founder is creating a safe and thriving environment for other women.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

One of the myths: the product you’ll create will be a twin to the one you’ve created in your head or even on paper ten years ago.

As a founder, you would like to see the product that you build, your baby, exactly like an image existing in your head and your mind. Forget about it — you should be ready to accept that your product will come to this earth piece by piece and not all pieces will be attractive enough. Just accept everything — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

Your career choice, whether founder or employee, should be defined by your passion. I believe perseverance will help you convert this passion into a successful and accomplished work path.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Flap away the predefined and assumed gender roles that do not correspond to who you really are. Find your passion and follow it.
  2. Take the challenges and biases that are holding you back, and use them strategically as an advantage, turning them to work in your favour.
  3. Acknowledge your accomplishments and own your success. Despite the fact that the term “imposter syndrome” was first introduced in 1978, it is still so common for women to doubt their talent, skills and competence.
  4. Be curious and adventurous. You need to foster an inquisitive mind, think outside of your domain. This will help you to make non-trivial decisions.
  5. And last but not least -stay positive. As an entrepreneur, you’ll fall a lot but also you’ll enjoy your moment of fame. Just keep going.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

At DMarket we are building a metaverse for at least 2.7 billion people. We are creating an ecosystem with no boundaries where everyone belongs, creativity is appreciated, voices are heard and ideas can thrive.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would like to name the movement that inspires me :) I would like to use this chance to give credit to such organisations as Women in Games and RaiseTheGame that are improving equality, diversity and inclusion in the gaming industry. Their efforts and initiatives are truly bringing good to a great amount of people.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I have such a long list of amazing people that I admire and whom I would love to have lunch with, that I am afraid it will keep me full for another hundred years.

I’ll probably say Katie Haun, for a zillion reasons. She’s the first female GP at Andreessen Horowitz, former federal prosecutor, teaches at Stanford Business School and is a board member of Coinbase, to name a few. I think she is an amazing and unconventional person with such a diverse and exciting career span. Just one meaningful conversation with people like Katie can provide you with a lifetime of insights.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

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Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.