Lilia Stoyanov: “To develop resilience, look at the big picture”

Fotis Georgiadis
Jan 14 · 8 min read

See the big picture — an obstacle is usually tiny if you look at it as part of the big picture. You lost a key client. Fine. It’s unpleasant and there are lessons learnt but will you survive having hundreds of clients in your portfolio? Of course, you will.


In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Lilia Stoyanov.


Lilia Stoyanov is a chief executive officer and angel investor at . A fintech and digital transformation expert, she is also a professor at Zigurat Business School and expert evaluator Horizon 2020 at the European Commission. Last but not least, she received the 2017 First Women Award and the 2018 Female Entrepreneur Award in the UK.

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’?

Finance was my first career choice as I love numbers. However, it was the world of business that was most attractive. Auditing someone’s financial statements is ok as a start but building a business from scratch is a completely different experience. Of course, the shift from a salaried employee to an entrepreneur didn’t happen overnight. It took about 10 years to progress from auditor at EY to GM & CFO at Skrill to Director PTP at Coca-Cola, and finally to become the CEO of my own business.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I was flying to Poland on a business trip. The sky was blue, I could still see the green grass below and it came to my mind ‘’ You are a senior executive and have it all but is that what you want?’’ Indeed, I had my glass office, but I was locked in it day after day spending my time on endless calls. My paycheck was there end of each month, but I had hardly any time at all. It was the moment when I decided that it was time for a major change. As a senior executive, I couldn’t leave just like that. It took more than a year to complete the project I was working on. Of course, it was tempting to accept a pay raise and stay, but I would regret that move all my life.

Staying with a decision is as important as making that decision. Constantly changing your mind leads to nowhere.

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

has an unique mission. Providing equal access to jobs and secure payment to everyone no matter their location, personal situation, gender, race or ability is the core of our business. Started as a Freelance Platform, now Transformify is an HR Suite comprising of HR Software, ATS, Freelance Platform, Diversity & Inclusion Solutions, Employer Branding, billing & payments. It was our clients who steered us in the right direction asking ‘’ You provide remote jobs, can you do something for moms who need to work from home?’’ or ‘’ A car accident left me in a wheelchair. There is no lift in the building and it’s impossible to commute to an office daily. Can you provide a design job? I am really good at it.’’ That’s how our HR Suite evolved over time.

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?

It’s my dad. A senior executive himself, he was always there when I needed advice. 2 years ago, we faced a major technological challenge. The situation looked helpless and I was about to give up, write off the losses and move on. On top of everything, at the time, I was in Seoul alone, miles away from my family. As usual, I had a Skype call with my dad telling him how helpless the situation was in my eyes. He just smiled and said ‘’ Try one more time, you’ll have better ideas tomorrow. If it doesn’t work, move on.’’ It was his smile that brought me back up to speed and saved Transformify.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

To me, resilience is about controlling your emotions in tough situations. More often than not, we act against our best interests being led by emotions. It may look helpless, but is it really so? Resilient people analyze data, speak with experts, calm down and make informed decisions. Expecting that everything will go smoothly all the time is unrealistic.

Another trait of resilient people is the ability to face the consequences of their decisions and take responsibility. No one is right all the time; it takes courage to accept the results and take appropriate action.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Elon Musk. Tesla was facing so many challenges at the beginning from cars that set on fire to road accidents to longer production cycle than expected, etc. It was the press, the investors, the society, literally everyone putting pressure on him and his team. A few years later, Tesla is among the most sold cars in the US. I hope that more companies will have management teams resilient enough to navigate the ship in turbulent times.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

When we started Transformify, everyone was telling us that it would be impossible to expand globally on a very tiny marketing budget. Still, we took the risk and bootstrapped the company. 4 years later, I can say that it is your strategy that is more important than several funding rounds. As an angel investor, I witnessed the collapse of a number of well-funded companies. It’s contra intuitive, but in reality, raising lots of money provides a dangerous level of comfort.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

When I sat my high school entry exam, I had good marks and was confident that I would be admitted. However, in the last moment, a new rule was introduced requiring equal number of boys and girls in each class. As a result, I didn’t make it, boys having moderate results did. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. Luckily, there was a second chance. The next year, I had the highest mark on Math knowing that good is not good enough.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

As a teenager, I practiced ballroom dancing. It takes hours of practice every day knowing that there are hundreds of competitors as ambitious as you are. Competing in sports builds resilience as you have to do your best no matter how good the competitors are. It’s easy to give up just knowing that the last year’s champions are dancing next to you and the judges will make a comparison straight away. Spot taught me to stayed focused and do my best no matter what.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

Stay focused — in business as well as in sport, it’s easy to get discouraged by looking at how advanced the competition is. Being focused on what you do best builds the much-needed resilience.

Control your thoughts — often we fail in our thoughts long before we fail for real. We give up. However, thoughts are completely under our control. It’s our choice to see the glass half-full or half -empty. If you believe that your product is not good enough, you will present it as such cutting your chances for success.

Control your emotions — feeling angry, tired or inexperienced is normal. Letting these emotions to drive your decisions is not. Get out, go to the gym, speak with an expert, whatever it is, it will help you to be back on track and make an informed decision and you are calm and sound.

See the big picture — an obstacle is usually tiny if you look at it as part of the big picture. You lost a key client. Fine. It’s unpleasant and there are lessons learnt but will you survive having hundreds of clients in your portfolio? Of course, you will.

Ask for help — it was among the hardest lessons for me. Initially, I was too proud to seek for help and admit that I can’t do it on my own. It took years to master this skill, but now, I pick up the phone immediately knowing that it saves time and effort to everyone. On top of that, my big problems are likely to be negligible in expert’s eyes.

You are a person of great 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. :-)

Affordable access to education and jobs. Being financially independent will help millions of people who are currently victims of the grey economy, of domestic abuse or modern-day slavery. Even though lots of enterprises point out to their diversity and inclusion initiatives, it is still common for candidates to be asked if they went to a public or private school, what the occupation of their parents was, etc. People need to be given a chance even if they are the first generation that went to college or the first generation that can lend a white color job.

As a member of the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition of the EU Commission, Transformify is dedicated to providing information about the skills the business needs and helping people in in need to master those skills even if they can’t afford formal education. There is a very interesting program in Peru jointly with ViaCodigo empowering the in conviction centers.

We are blessed that some 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, especially if we tag them :-)

Melinda Gates’s charitable work is remarkable. Many of the initiatives providing access to education or jobs to vulnerable people Transformify is engaged with will benefit from her expertise and support. Moreover, Microsoft is among the employers providing jobs to people on the autism spectrum which is also among our objectives.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

, @Transformify,

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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.

Fotis Georgiadis

Written by

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market

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.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade