Dmitry Malin is a co-founder and Chief Operations Officer of Novakid, an online English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) learning platform that is reinventing the way children all over the world aged between 4 to 12 years old learn English. He is in charge of building and managing a result-driven remote team based on five continents.
Where did the idea for Novakid come from?
Novakid’s story began five years ago. My good friend and partner, Max Azarov, and I wanted to build a voice-controlled device that anyone could use to practice language. We wanted something that could replace a language teacher. However, we felt this idea was too innovative and sounded like a “pill for immortality.”
After that, we went to an exhibition in Shanghai to search for clients. On the subway, we frequently saw giant billboards advertising, as we learned later, an online English school that was very popular in China. This was when we upgraded the idea of a “teacher box” to a digital platform based on the latest Edtech technologies to connect ESL kids from all over the world with native-speaking English teachers and adapt the curriculum to each child’s needs.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
When I’m not away on a business trip, my daily routine is the following: Around 8 am, I take my eldest son to school and spend time with my two-year-old daughter. My work calls start at 9 am. Depending on my mood, I usually work from home or a cafe nearby. From 3 pm to 6 pm, I make time for myself to go to the gym or sauna and organize any joint activities with my family. From 6 pm to 8 pm, I wrap up work meetings and discussions, and afterward, I stop working and spend the rest of the day with my loved ones.
I believe that productivity comes from good rest and sleep; focused and smartly scheduled tasks; and a balanced proportion of family time, me-time and work. Creating and following your daily routine is as important as elaborating and executing your company’s strategy. Spontaneity and dependence on emotions and mood can be effective only by chance. Good, rational planning has never let me down.
How do you bring ideas to life?
When I have an idea, I share it with my colleagues and friends. A common mistake that people make is to wait until they have a more fully fleshed out “plan” to go with their idea before sharing it. This means there are a lot of ideas that never get shared, and who knows how many lost opportunities that leads to?
Instead, I share an idea, analyze reactions, and collect feedback. Then, within our team, we will formulate a plan, distribute roles, and implement. Not every idea is perfect, but we figure it out together.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I am quite passionate about history, so I watch with interest to see how museums and historical institutions adopt new technologies to help deliver historical knowledge and visuals. I love seeing how these places make encounters with history fun and interactive. For example, digital projects often use QR codes to talk about a topic for several minutes. Now it seems that the future trend is about augmented reality and its appearance in the format of immersive experience and reconstructions in real-time on the phone screen. A simple example would be an app that you turn on in the street while visiting Paris – and your phone shows you what this street looked like in the 16th century.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
In my opinion, one of the superpowers I possess is the ability to ration my schedule and take time not only for work but also for my own physical and mental well-being. The ability to switch and think about certain things in a more relaxed and passive way ultimately adds strength to work and helps you look at business processes in a fresher and even more creative way.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t be afraid to try and make mistakes. When you come to a company or create your own business, pay attention to how internal processes are structured: avoid chaos, try to put things in order from the beginning.” Other than that, I wouldn’t say anything else to my younger self or interfere with my activities. If I had to go through all those mistakes and hard decisions again, I would do so with pleasure, as what I’ve been through has made me the businessman I am now.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I don’t think there is anything that almost nobody agrees with me about. It seems to me that every successful entrepreneur will come to the same truths that I am talking about from my own experience.
If I had to choose, though, I would say that my rule of not letting business bleed into personal time might be unpopular with some. There’s a mindset of “always hustling” that’s popular, but I don’t find it helpful for achieving lasting success.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I would recommend that anyone interested in their own development pump up their soft skills, learn non-aggressive communication, and develop emotional intelligence and empathy. I would also advise to never stop learning: any knowledge, especially in today’s digital-oriented world, becomes obsolete at lightning speed. To keep abreast of new trends, you need to keep up with professional development, read books, and take specialized courses. For example, recently, I’ve organized a workshop for Novakid’s employees on management skills and MVPs, and right now, I’m also working on a critical thinking workshop.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
My main strategy is to hire strong specialists and delegate work effectively. I also give the lion’s share of attention to the principal problems and tasks of the business: strategy execution, hiring the best people, motivating the team.
Effective delegation frees me to focus on the big picture. It also shows my team that I trust them to handle the details, so everyone is as invested in our success as I am.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Entrepreneurship is a never-ending school of life, and one of the most recent failures we had on our team had to do with recruiting.
I found out by experience that a responsible manager with a high level of local language proficiency can successfully manage a team of 40 people in another country, yet absolutely get lost when the team expands to 100-1000 employees.
This is the so-called pain of growth, which not every employee can overcome, so when offering a specialist a position with a high level of responsibility, it is essential to pretest his abilities on the new scale, rather than relying on smaller but successful results.
Moreover, I was an idealist at the beginning of my entrepreneurial career. My team and I worked hard to develop a perfect product that evaluates the team’s productivity for the recruitment process.
Instead of just launching an MVP to test the target audience’s interest, we built a really advanced product that unfortunately didn’t attract much interest when it was released to the market. So, we ended up having to completely change a lot of things.
Nevertheless, I learned this lesson: when Max Azarov and I started Novakid, we spent less than three months on the online teaching platform development. This was way faster than the product at our previous mutual venture. It was not at all because it was easier to create or less functional, of course, but simply because we understood that it’s better to get a workable model into the hands of the people so that we don’t waste time on features that don’t matter in the long run.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I have been thinking about implementing one idea for a long time, but I still don’t have time for it: maybe some readers will be infected by its implementation.
I think VR and AR reconstructions of historical buildings and places could become a new trend in sightseeing and educational processes. Visibility and verisimilitude will help to make interaction with history more lively, vivid, and memorable. The general idea isn’t brand new, as the first projects like this appeared 7-10 years ago.
However, with the current level of development that mobile hardware, 5G and positioning technologies have reached, this idea is closer to implementation than ever before. I think in bringing this idea to life, one can become a visionary, a pioneer, and an early adopter.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I’d say it’s always worth it to spend money on lifelong learning. I am a great fan of this approach. Therefore, it has definitely been on a non-fiction book or an educational course. The brain is a muscle that needs constant use, so I would recommend studying data analysis and foreign languages as a universal workout for the mind.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I use two apps to be more productive. The first one is Calendly. There, I schedule the most important meetings and tasks for the day. By the end of the week, it is pretty easy to analyze which things remained unsolved during the working days and what progress I have made. The other tool that I use is Agenda. This application is a text editor with markup. I use it to highlight key thoughts for my employees and subordinates that seem important to me.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Right now, I’m reading the “No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention” book by Erin Meyer and Reed Hastings. I’d be happy to recommend it to your community. Netflix is a shining example of a company with a great product and an inspiring corporate culture. So that’s definitely another opportunity to learn new things from the experience of others!
What is your favorite quote?
I was impressed by a book two years ago, it was written by the insightful and courageous author Yuval Harari: Homo Deus. This story demonstrates how a person is transformed from a modern look into a fully digital one, in general, into an entity that hardly qualifies as a person.
A quote I remember is, “Corporations, money, and nations are just figments of our imagination. We invented them for ourselves; why should we sacrifice our lives for them?”
- Reasonable, rational planning will never let you down.
- Don’t be afraid to try, and embrace making mistakes.
- The ability to divide your schedule between work and rest is an overlooked superpower.
- Entrepreneurship is a never-ending school of life, so learn to love the lessons it teaches you.
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.