Inspirational Women Leaders Of Tech: Daria Leshchenko of SupportYourApp On The Five Things You Need To Know In Order To Create A Very Successful Tech Company

An Interview With Doug Brown

Doug C. Brown
Nov 24, 2020 · 15 min read
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Grow smartly. Most modern startups end up exploding like bubbles since they prioritized growth over quality. It’s a downside of the tech industry: everything develops so fast that one has to grow fast to survive. But remember that at the end of the day your customers will stay with those who provide the best product for the best price. We still try to find our balance between growth and quality, but if the first one is highly desirable, the second one can not be compromised.

a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Daria Leshchenko.

Daria is a CEO and Partner at SupportYourApp — Support as a Service company that provides augmented customer support with a focus on the tech industry. Daria took charge of the company when she was 21. Within 10 years she turned it into a multinational business with over 600 people on the team and 120 clients from 28 countries. Daria also co-founded a spin-off startup Label Your Data that provides data validation for machine learning. Daria is a Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education alumna, a startup mentor and was included in Top 30 under 30 list by KyivPost.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

think the fact that I’ve always had a hand in business combined with my communication skills brought me to the industry I am in now. I started working in advertising when I was 17 and went through all kinds of sales and marketing imaginable. My language skills would bring me to the places where they were in high demand, including customer support where both communication and sales knowledge came in handy. I started as a consultant and very soon was promoted to the head of the customer service department. With the growing demand for customer support for tech companies, we decided to evolve our department into a separate company that I headed.

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

When you work directly with clients you inevitably gather a certain amount of interesting stories. Once I have been following up a client for four years. They had initially chosen our competition as their customer support provider and didn’t want to work with us. But I did not give up. I wrote to them, I congratulated them on the holidays and after 4 years of communicating like that they came to me themselves, asking whether we would provide them with our services. We surely were happy to do that for them.

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?

Despite my fluent English, I still had a couple funny language mistakes while covering the calls at customer support team. I was frustrated every time it happened, but later I learned that it could happen to anyone: it’s normal in the phone communication, especially cross-culturally.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I think the hardest times were the first couple of years. We started well but very soon we faced a lack of clients. Then we also started losing existing ones. We were stuck not knowing how to gain traction with the audience. It took us a rebranding and a bold marketing move to get things flipped. Of course, I had my moments of despair and wanted to give up. But I always thought: “Okay, just one more month. One more month and I’m done”. Months kept piling up and I kept going until we found a way out of the crisis. I think it’s important to always remember why you started something to have an internal drive to continue when things don’t go as planned.

None of us can 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?

I think I owe a lot to my business partner Peter Bondarevskyi. I was confident in my skills and desperate to prove myself. I needed a chance. Someone to believe in me. And Peter became that person.

When I was just a support consultant, he appointed me as interim head of the department while the company was looking for someone permanent. I have been entrusted with a team, given a carte blanche in actions and asked to provide results. I dared to fire and look for an entirely new entire team and rebuilt the department from scratch — pretty bold for a newly appointed 21-year-old. But it worked: I increased the department’s productivity, quality of service and saved the company money. After that, I was made a permanent head of customer support and later — CEO of SupportYourApp. All because Peter believed in me.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

‘Everything passes’ — this is, of course, an old and famous saying by King Solomon. Wherever I feel blue, I say it to myself to remind that good times are right ahead. It also helps me stay grounded during the good times and not to overreact even when something great is happening.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

Our mission is to make the first customer a forever customer. We take complete care of customer support at any company and let them focus on doing business.

I think that every growing company faces challenges of scaling: your idea works, you’re gaining customers but drowning in operational routine. Instead of focusing on what matters — the product, the development, the growth — you’re stuck with dealing with customers’ inquiries and fixing bugs.

We release growing businesses from the burden of operational tasks. We take care of customer support, possible refunds or returns, basic technical issues they may have. Moreover, we gather and analyze customer feedback that companies use to improve their products.

In case of large companies that have massive customer bases, it’s easy to lose the quality of customer service once you reach that size. We help enterprises maintain a human connection with their users and retain customers since the cost of acquisition is so much higher.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Taking into consideration the size of our operation, I think that the fact that we provide a personalized customer experience is truly distinguishing. A personal touch is not a nice bonus but an integral component of our services. Even while working with multiple requests simultaneously, we manage to make every customer feel valued.

Once we had an inquiry from an older man who couldn’t install our client’s software. During the conversation, we realized that the version of his operational system is older than the software requires. Our agent went an extra mile, rolled back to the version of the software that fits the customer’s system and shared access with him. It was beyond his scope of responsibilities, but he stepped in the person’s shoes and decided to help out. We had a grateful customer who notified our client about the amazing service he had received. The client was very happy that we had provided exceptional service and made the customer feel special.

Also, no tasks and details are too small for us. We take the whole picture in, in order to truly see our clients’ customers and to be able to help them in the best and most efficient way possible.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re currently focusing on our in-house software development. We have our CRM-system and other software solutions that we created for our own needs but plan to sell as a separate product. Created by a company that knows ins and outs of customer support business from experience, this software will be truly customer-centric and will be a big help for the consultants who deal with requests every day. It will significantly decrease the workload of the team in managing routine tasks and let it focus on more interesting and challenging issues.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I don’t think that there is a status quo for women in tech anymore. I’ve been in business for over 10 years and the recent shifts are positive. Women changed the status quo and started making things happen. Do we still have a pay gap, underrepresentation in tech and fewer chances to get funding? Yes. But we shifted the status quo towards change.

There are still plenty of changes to make, and I don’t think anyone else will make them but us, women. Vocalizing our demands, concerns and dissatisfaction would be number one. No major change happened in silence. And for this we need platforms like tech events and media where women can finally get a voice.

Uniting, socializing and networking would be number two. Only by cooperating, we can provide sufficient mutual support. On my side I try to participate in mentorship events and programs for women, sharing my knowledge with future female executives.

But the big change comes when successful women help other women to succeed. Only by promoting one another and sharing opportunities rather than fighting over them, we can completely change the status quo and pass the point of no return.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

I think women more often have to prove to their business associates that they mean serious businesses while men get this perception by default.

I was lucky to be taken seriously by clients and partners but my authority was challenged when I was appointed head of the department for the first time. My team thought it could walk all over me and get away with doing nothing. I had to take immediate drastic actions that my subordinates thought I would not dare to take. But I did. I had to prove that I was a leader which sometimes means making unpopular decisions, taking responsibility for them and providing the results. I believe if I was a man, things would work out differently.

Another challenge women face more than men is invisibility. We have to work hard to be seen as an equal partner who deserves consideration and attention. When I’m at the conference and trying to pitch my services to a potential client, I have to fight for attention with men. I have to be more vocal, confident and persistent than men to be noticed and remembered. I think the upbringing of most women made us quieter and more shy than we want to be. These are good qualities, but they are not helpful in business. There is not much we can do about it except overcoming our fear of being rejected or judged. We need to not be afraid to raise our hand, turn the conversation towards ourselves or say “I’m still talking” when men try to interrupt us. Women have to show more courage and confidence than men to be seen.

What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?

I faced exactly the same issue. Back then I didn’t know that B2B sales take a long time to close: most of them take up to four months, and 18% take a year or more. So to those in B2B, I recommend arming themselves with persistence, patience and time.

Back then it seemed impossible to get a sales boost by applying traditional methods. So we ran out of common tools and decided to take an unconventional way. Our primary audience back then were startup founders and executives of growing tech companies. We decided to go on the platform where they were concentrated — ProductHunt. That’s a platform where new tech products get launched so people could test them and provide feedback directly to creators. It’s more suitable for apps, software solutions and services — in other words B2C products that are easy to try then and there. No one has ever launched customer support on ProductHunt before, but we did. We didn’t get as many upvotes as other products, but we got a lot of targeted exposure and got the first leads that we kept receiving for two more years.

So if you’re stuck and are trying to boost your growth, try to zoom out and turn the situation upside down. Don’t be afraid to try unconventional things — they tend to work.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?

I’ve been in charge of sales in my companies for years before I established a business development department one year ago. It was hard to delegate such an essential part of business to another team since I had my own vision of how things should be done. But if you want to scale your business, you’ve got to delegate. So I did everything possible to pass my knowledge and experience to the team and teach them a PRO approach to sales:

  • P for Preparation. At least 30% of the sales process is not about sales, it’s about research, analysis and personalization of the offer and approach to the client.
  • R is for Resources. I provide my team with all necessary resources both technical (cooperating tools, CRM system) and non-technical (sufficient time span, language training).
  • O is for Obstacles. We learn and share our methods of overcoming the most common obstacles salespeople face: no answer, no contact information, no leads.

In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

We’re an international B2B service provider, so we have a pretty wide range of target audiences. We specifically focus on tech-enhanced companies and startups so the best way to reach them is to visit specialized events and be present at the right platforms. But B2B business heavily depends on word of mouth and recommendations.

In B2B reputation is your most precious asset that you monetize every time someone recommends you to a friend or a colleague. Businesses are very cautious in choosing their service providers, they don’t like frequent changes and try to select someone they can trust and partner with for a long time. That’s when the experiences of other businesses play a key role. We’ve been referred by our current or past clients numerous times and noticed that referrals work best in a small well-connected market. E.g. in Israel, a lot of our business comes from personal recommendations that are highly valued there.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

Absolutely!

Omnichannel support is a must. It allows one to track the full history of the user’s inquiry and approach it with all the necessary background information. Customers don’t stick to one channel of communication anymore, and the ability to serve customers wherever it is convenient for them is a defining characteristic in providing the best CX.

Invest in your customer service team’s professional skills and mental health.

Knowledgeable consultants are #1 priority for customers who reach out for help. Make sure that your consultants are well-aware of the product and can handle tasks fast and efficiently.

From my own experience, I can tell that customer support job requires an immense amount of emotional labor. Provide your team with comfortable working conditions, guidance and manager’s support. If you want your customers to receive service full of empathy and understanding, make sure your team is emotionally positive.

Automate and optimize. Technology greatly increased the level of customer service, however, customers’ expectations grew as well. Try to leverage tech tools to save everyone’s time and optimize your available resources.

Here are a few examples of how to do it:

  • Save your team’s time spent on personal calls by providing online chats on the site: handling text communication is easier and cheaper.
  • Frequently updating your FAQ section will decrease the number of basic requests.
  • Launching chatbots in messengers or sites will speed up the processing time of the tickets.

As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

Nowadays most businesses compete in the industry of customer experience, not product quality per se. Investing in CX, customer support including, is probably the most effective strategy to reduce churn for B2C.

B2B is a whole different story. Our approach lies in personalized communication with a client and active relationship building. I always apply a personal touch to any dialogue with a client to make them feel valued and appreciated.

B2B heavily relies on the personal relationship between the client and your team. Personalized communication largely contributes to it. Even though I’m not directly dealing with sales anymore, I still get involved in negotiations with the biggest clients. This personal involvement of the top management creates a strong feeling of accountability within the company.

If you have a high employee turnover, it may affect your churn since leaving team members may take some of your clients with them. So pay extra attention while hiring customer relationship managers. It’s a long but logical chain of consequences: a refined hiring process will bring loyal employees who will not leave with a chunk of your client base, hence your churn will be lower.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

People are the most valuable resource. It’s easy to forget that behind all the innovations and progress there are people who make it possible. Talent attrition should be as important for companies as customer attrition. There is a stereotype that call centers aren’t the best companies to work for since they don’t invest in their teams. Well, I dedicated 10 years of my life to break this stereotype and create a comfortable environment for my people. Today, I have team members who have been with us for three, five and seven years. It’s priceless.

Don’t be afraid to try new things or unusual solutions. Tech is an industry where impossible things happen only because someone still asks a “What if?” question and tries something new. The only reason my company still exists today is because once we did something nobody tried before: launched a service on the platform for software startups.

Don’t inflate your business — focus. We, as many other tech-related companies, were able to grow because we found an unsatisfied demand in a particular niche of tech. To succeed, one must crystallize a unique value proposition and find what particular demand it satisfies. If you sell your product or solution to everyone at once, you’ll drown in competition.

Grow smartly. Most modern startups end up exploding like bubbles since they prioritized growth over quality. It’s a downside of the tech industry: everything develops so fast that one has to grow fast to survive. But remember that at the end of the day your customers will stay with those who provide the best product for the best price. We still try to find our balance between growth and quality, but if the first one is highly desirable, the second one can not be compromised.

Having a great product isn’t a guarantee of success. Many founders, especially with a tech background, dive so deep into polishing the products, that they forget about the rest of the key steps: marketing, sales, customer service, and operational processes. It’s good to have diverse people on the team who understand different sides of the business. I had my co-founder who helped me with the technical part while I could focus on sales, marketing and our services.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

If I could inspire a movement that would benefit the most people, it would be related to environment protection. But for now instead of inspiration, I try to take actions and implement an environment-friendly policy in my company. Step by step we can make a change.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders 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 :-)

Anthony Hopkins. I admire him both as an actor and as a composer.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Doug C. Brown

Written by

Sales Revenue Growth Expert | CEO and Business Consultant at Business Success Factors | Author

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Doug C. Brown

Written by

Sales Revenue Growth Expert | CEO and Business Consultant at Business Success Factors | Author

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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