I find and empower the right people to make things happen. My biggest desire is to get all the right people in the right positions, and they’re the ones ultimately responsible for execution.”
Andrey Kudievskiy is the founder and CEO of Distillery, an international full-service software design and development company based in Los Angeles. He is tech-minded, business-focused, and always coming up with new ideas to make his own business – and others’ businesses – better. Within five years of starting his career in tech at the age of 19, Andrey had established his first company and played a key role in creating a successful cloud synchronization startup that was sold to a Fortune 500 company. A serial entrepreneur and talented developer in his own right, he is focused on enabling other entrepreneurs to build businesses and continuing Distillery’s expansion in the U.S. and international markets. Andrey is a member of the Forbes Technology Council, the Young Entrepreneur Council, the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, and ProVisors, and he serves as a mentor in Stubbs Alderton & Markiles’ Preccelerator® program. He was named by Inc. magazine as one of the “25 Inspiring Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2017.”
Andrey’s current company, Distillery, helps startups and enterprises to accelerate, scale, and thrive with services related to app and web development, product strategy, analytics, UX/UI design, security testing, and IoT. In 2017, Distillery was honored to be named to the Inc. 5000 and win several prestigious awards, including a Gold StevieⓇ International Business Award, a WebAward, a Gold San Francisco Design Award (DRIVEN x DESIGN), and designation as one of UpCity’s Top Software Developers in the US.
Where did the idea for Distillery come from?
I was lucky to find and learn from some excellent mentors and leaders in my first few jobs, and they – along with my father – gave me the confidence and drive to believe that I could found and run my own successful business. I am a software developer by training but a leader by nature, so I hoped I could bring those talents together to build a successful software development business. I started my first software development business, Rus Wizards, back in Russia. As we grew more successful, it seemed increasingly apparent that if we wanted to prosper as an international business, establishing a US-based presence and headquarters was going to be crucial. The first US-based incarnation of my business was WeezLabs, which is the business that has now morphed into Distillery. Throughout, my overall motivation has been to develop a strong team and a growing business that consistently delivers clients the benefit of our top talent, international perspective, and wide-ranging mobile app and software experience.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I almost always start at the gym. Tiring out my body keeps my mind and soul fresh. Then it’s time to work. As CEO, I spend much of my day focused on communication – answering questions and giving feedback – so I have a fairly structured approach to making the most of my time. I start by checking and responding to messages on Slack. Then I check email, starting at the top so I have the most recent information. I dedicate a half-hour each day to meeting with each of my high-touch local employees. The full LA team has a daily 10am huddle during which we gather – standing! – in a circle and take turns sharing good news, talking about priorities, and asking for any help we need. On Fridays, we have a longer “TGIF” meeting to talk about Distillery’s big picture and any cool new tech developments.
Lunch is often reserved for client meetings. After lunch, my time is mostly dedicated to emails, meetings, and non-time-sensitive work. Overall, I try to follow an anti-multitasking philosophy: if I start a task, I finish it, and I do my best to avoid being distracted. I usually work till about 5, and then it’s time to pick up my little girl from school and have dinner with my family. I admit I often work later in the evening, too, given that it’s uninterrupted working time.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I find and empower the right people to make things happen. My biggest desire is to get all the right people in the right positions, and they’re the ones ultimately responsible for execution. I love to provide the vision, but if there’s something that can be delegated to someone who does it better, that’s my ideal next hire. I find people I feel I can trust, give them responsibility, and then trust and support their decisions. Of course, I check in frequently to see how they’re doing and how I can help. But in my experience, bringing ideas to life is ultimately about being a leader that can bring the right people together and then inspire, empower, and support them.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Whether we like it or not, technology is slowly replacing humans in countless ways: self-driving cars, bots providing customer service, robots frying our burgers instead of humans. While it’s a bittersweet trend, it’s absolutely exciting. In the big picture, it’s nothing new, because it’s simply a continuation of the ongoing revolution and evolution that’s been happening for centuries. What’s most exciting is the tremendous acceleration that’s been taking place, with the incredible abundance of new technology that can replace human labor. Who knows: maybe in 50 years, there’ll be no need for software developers?
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Every Friday afternoon, I set aside a “sacred” hour on my calendar during which nobody’s allowed to disturb me. I turn off everything – no phone, no computer, no alerts of any sort – and get off the grid so that I’m free from distraction. For a full hour, I focus on strategic thinking – about how to make my company better, about the reasons we’re doing X or Y, or about our next big move and the steps involved in it. I take notes old-school style, using pen and paper. I often walk away with about 10 or 12 research or to-do items. It always leaves me feeling readier than ever to get back to work. That hour is one of the most important ways I help myself stay productive.
What advice would you give your younger self?
It’s a simple one – don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Just like every other self-made entrepreneur, I can be a bit presumptuous, and I used to think that I knew how to do everything myself and didn’t need any advice. As I’ve learned over the years, I couldn’t have been any more wrong. I now operate my business by making sure I’m listening to the best advice I can find. This year, I put together an advisory board for my company, and every meeting we have generates a sizable to-do list of me. The members of Distillery’s advisory board are all experts in their fields, and I’m confident they’re all much smarter than I am. When you surround yourself with a group of highly intelligent people you trust, miracles can happen. There’s no shame in asking for help and advice!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
In general, I believe that giving kids money isn’t necessarily a good thing. Once kids are old enough to be given money, they should be expected to do some amount of work for it. The work doesn’t have to be difficult, but the intent is that they learn that it’s not about entitlement, but rather about earning. When I was a kid growing up in Russia, I had to work for my money. I was never handed any sizable amount of rubles without having worked for it – not even for a present, or for lunch money. Here in the US, I find that this isn’t the most popular opinion. It’s likely that, because I grew up in Russia, I’m more mindful of the difference in opinion.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I find a way to clear my head. No matter how overloaded with work I feel during a given week, I set aside an hour or two where I’m not doing any work at all. I close my laptop and put my phone in airplane mode. And I just give myself time and permission to think. It sounds so simple, but in the end it really helps me to think more strategically. It helps me be more engaged and ready when I am back working.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We’ve maintained a laser focus on what we do well and what remains at the core of our business: software engineering excellence. As Distillery grows, we’ve expanded into different markets and service offerings. Whatever changes we’ve made, we’ve always kept a strong focus on and commitment to our core value prop. That’s helped us tremendously to grow our business year over year.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I didn’t maintain a proper balance between sales and execution capacity. Back in 2015, I was focused on increasing my team’s execution power by hiring preemptively. I simply hoped sales would catch up. The problem was that I hadn’t paid the same attention to building a strong sales organization in my company, and that was a huge mistake. We ended up with more employees on payroll than our revenue could support, and that led to painful layoffs. In addition, I was overly optimistic in projecting sales for a new product that we were pushing to the market.
What I learned – and the advice I’d give to fellow entrepreneurs – is to keep an eye on the balance between how much your team can sell and how much they can deliver. It’s easier to build up your delivery capacity once you have an influx of sales than the other way around. We’ve now adapted our sales processes and staffing mix to make sure that we can maintain that balance. We now focus on sales being slightly head of delivery, and not vice versa.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I always thought it would be great to build a mobile app called the “Could List” – a guilt-free to-do list. To-do lists are great for helping us hold ourselves accountable, but they can also make us feel guilty. If I could, I’d love to have a Could List app on my phone.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
We bought a dollhouse for our daughter! It’s impossible to describe what it feels like to see the non-stop joy in her eyes as she plays with it for hours on end. Since it’s utterly impossible to put a price tag on a child’s happiness, that would have to be it.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Distillery’s team uses both Slack and G Suite to collaborate more effectively. Slack lets us communicate efficiently about questions and issues in real time. It also helps us make sure we don’t unproductively clog each other’s inboxes. In G Suite, we use Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, and Google Sheets to easily plan, share, and collaborate. Sometimes, I’ll even have sessions with team members where we’re working together live on a document. That way, we can draft and review at the same time!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. In fact, I ask that every single Distillery employee – whether they’re a UX designer, a developer, a marketing assistant, or whatever – read the book. It gives them a strong understanding of the language and methodology we use to drive our projects.
What is your favorite quote?
“No pain, no gain.” I even tried to buy the nopainnogain.com domain, but the price tag was too steep.
- Create communication protocols that help your team regularly validate priorities and ask for (and receive!) the help they need.
- Don’t micromanage. Instead, find people you trust, and inspire, empower, and support them.
- No matter how overloaded you feel with work, find a way to clear your head. If you can put the work aside for an hour or two, you’ll come back thinking more clearly and readier to engage.
- Maintain the right balance between sales and execution capacity, keeping sales slightly ahead of execution.
- Read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries to gain a strong understanding of effective development processes.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.