Ivan Gekht of Gehtsoft: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS
An Interview With Tyler Gallagher
Develop a shared vision and build your team around motivated individuals. Nothing drives your product better than a caring and committed team. Ensure that you fight together for a greater goal, not against one another. Our HR team reviews hundreds of applications to select a few who will truly fit into our culture.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ivan Gekht, CEO of Gehtsoft.
With years of experience in product development and business management behind him, Ivan is a technological visionary. Having adapted to the evolution of technology, he is well-versed in transforming enterprise systems, motivating teams, and pioneering customer engagement solutions. A respected leader in translating innovation into game-changing offerings, Ivan has led emerging star-ups, as well as expanded global midmarket and enterprise sales, with a proven track record of success.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve been with Gehtsoft since 2003 and operating as CEO since 2011. I’ve started my career in the gaming industry before switching to software development. Now I’m responsible for all day-to-day operations of all of our companies. I’m a certified Agile coach, a Six Sigma Black Belt and Professional Scrum Master III.
Gehtsoft, our primary operation, is a family business that is now led by me and my brother. Our core values are outcome-driven development, continuous iterative, incremental delivery, and technical excellence, driven by our adherence to Agile methodology. We have developed over a hundred innovative solutions for our customers since 1999.
We are also behind some exceptional products like pdfflow.io. It’s an SDK solution for pixel-perfect PDF generation from .Net code. Or fxcodebase.com — one of the largest and oldest automated trading communities in Forex.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
All of our product ideas are driven by the needs of our customers and end-users. E.g., a couple of years back, one of our customers was quoted over $ 30'000 to purchase a license for a PDF solution for their business. And it came with a hefty annual payment as well. The number was unacceptable, and it drove us to look into this space. We realized that there aren’t enough products for a reasonable price. We also discovered that most of the products were done “by developers” instead of “for developers.” That means that these solutions were awkward, complicated, and all in all subpar. With all our knowledge and experience in API development, we knew that we could do better. That is how pdfflow.io was born.
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?
We thrived through many challenges, including the 2008 financial crisis, but I think the COVID-19 pandemic went beyond everything. We work in an innovation space, one-of-a-kind solutions development for small and midsize businesses. And that area was affected hard. So a lot of companies were concerned with “how to survive?” And a lot of them weren’t ready to keep investing in their future.
For us, it was right in the middle of the pdfflow.io project. We faced uncertainty in our lives, volatile markets, and reduced investments into innovations. This time called for hard choices and bold decisions. We kept going. We innovated internally and focused on ourselves and our customers. That not only allowed us to survive, but it helped us get leaner, better, and much more agile.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Tides have undoubtedly turned for us in 2021. We’ve had exciting and innovative projects. We released Pdfflow.io in February. We added new team members and have had incredible support from our community.
I think the commitment to ourselves during 2020 brought a lot of momentum. Instead of hysterically changing directions during the volatile times, we invested in improving ourselves. We stepped out of our comfort zone, explored opportunities, and acted on them. And this approach is certainly paying off for us right now.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We know that to thrive in the crowded software space, developers must take a radically different approach that puts the customer at the center of the process. There are a few things in particular that help us succeed:
- Innovation: We thrive on complex projects that solve unique problems. With a vast diversity of tools, instruments, processes, and people, we can take on the type of projects that other businesses won’t succeed at. We produce tailored solutions that grow with our customers through rapidly changing business conditions.
- Insights: We get to know our customers’ business, not just the specs of each project. When they work with Gehtsoft, we go the extra mile to find out how this project fits into their short and long-term plans for success so that we can build a solution perfectly tailored to their company’s growth.
- Strategy: The heart of our development strategy is our customers’ long-term success. It’s common for software development companies and contractors to build solutions that start to lose their luster in just a couple of years. When those pain points become a problem, the developer is nowhere to be found because a long-term relationship was never part of the strategy. Our relationships with customers span over the years, and we are always there for them. Our longest relationship with a customer is 20 years now. I think the number speaks for itself.
- Execution: Our focus on efficiency allows us to deliver the first production-ready build in an average of just three sprints, swiftly delivering tangible value for our customers’ organization. One of the best examples of our approach is a quick compliance project we developed a few years back. You know that financial regulations can change quickly, and if companies can’t promptly pivot to stay compliant, they can face fines or simply get booted from the industry. When the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) decided to impose strict new rules on trading, our client’s trading system was about to become obsolete. Within three months, we were able to overhaul their entire system to execute trades as demanded by the new CFTC rules. Out of more than 100 foreign exchange companies operating before the rule change, only our client and a handful of competitors successfully implemented the sweeping system-wide change quickly enough to stay in business.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I believe most “burn outs” happen when you get stuck in a rut. Work on products that solve real problems for real people. When you feel the response of the community, it helps to see the bigger picture and get out of the boring routine.
Work with people you enjoy working with. Remember that you cannot do everything yourself in one day. A little change today is better than a significant change in a month (or, more realistically — never).
Enjoy your life, no matter what is going on around you. And commit to your health — physical and mental.
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?
Many people helped me along the way, so it’s impossible to choose just one. I can undoubtedly say that my family is my primary source of inspiration and confidence in everything I do. My parents, my brother, who’s my business partner, my wife, and my son — all of them helped me to become the person I am, the man I am, and the leader I am today.
I think you can always learn something. That’s why every person you interact with along your way is important. Keep your eyes and your mind open. Ask questions and truly listen to answers.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
A million customers worldwide enjoy our products for the Forex. Of these millions, there are two particular categories. We value them more because they are the hardest to engage. They are tools developers and service providers. There are only 50,000 of them, and we earned each of them the hard way.
You cannot entice them into using the product. Advertising, SEO, virus marketing… Nothing succeeds. Instead, you should create an exceptional product for them. Then engage them through an outstanding community. It’s the first secret of community management. You strive to help people to solve real problems. Don’t sell your product. Help your audience.
The second step is all about openness and inclusion. People hesitate to admit they need help. The entry barrier of an established community may hinder people from joining the community. So, take care of newbies and help them find their way into the community. Problem solutions, step-by-step instructions help a lot. An accessible option to ask a question and a quick response time frequently becomes a game-changer.
The third step is about retention. The key to retention is to demonstrate to the audience that their opinion matters. It is not enough to merely ask them, “what do you think?”. The community feedback should drive the product development. So people will have confirmation that you listen to them. Make the feedback loop short. We speak of weeks at worst. The good news is that cloud technologies and Agile help us make a turnaround as short as a few days. Being that fast, you not only retain your users, you’ll gain a competitive edge. We call it “business agility.”
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
We always try to employ the best tools for the job. Monetization is not the essence of the product — helping your customers is. Monetization should support the primary goal. For pdfflow.io, we employ two different monetization models. One is a low subscription-based annual fee. The second is a one-time integration and development offer if the customer needs one. That allows us to deliver a pixel-perfect pdf document for a customer for less than $2,000 in the first year. Even if you use a free solution, just in development costs, it can be upwards of $6,000 for the same document.
On fxcodebase.com, we sell advertising, but we carefully choose partners. We do not want just random targeted ads. We want to advertise companies and products that truly resonate with our audience. We also provide different services, like custom development, upon request.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Develop a shared vision and build your team around motivated individuals. Nothing drives your product better than a caring and committed team. Ensure that you fight together for a greater goal, not against one another. Our HR team reviews hundreds of applications to select a few who will truly fit into our culture.
- Make proof of concepts often. When innovating, you need to make educated guesses. But even with the best analysts and marketing specialists, it is still a hypothesis. Verify your ideas through early delivery to your end-users. We keep our teams on a two-week release schedule when we are actively developing a product.
- Be ready to adjust. 2 out of 3 successful start-ups have to adapt and change their initial business plans. Keep an open mind and truly listen to your audience’s feedback.
- Employ Agile funding. One of the best and most significant changes we implemented in 2019–2020 was Agile funding. It helps us to manage the risks more effectively and facilitate innovation. With Agile funding, you can be more flexible and ready to adapt to volatile markets.
- Truly care about your end-user. We worked with some of the hardest-to-sell audiences. And the only marketing that works is caring. Don’t try to sell; help your users. And they will do the selling for you.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. :-)
2020 showed how important it is to be healthy, both physically and mentally. Many people realized that learning to keep our bodies and minds in a good place is essential. While lacking in quality, the abundance of information is one of the key reasons it is hard.
I’d love to see a world where all kids and adults know how to make better choices for their health.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!