Emmy Gengler

Founder of Softjourn

Emmy Gengler has over 35 years of experience in the software engineering industry. In 2001, she founded Softjourn, a software development company with offices in California, Ukraine & Poland. As CEO of Softjourn, she is passionate about what software can do, how it can bring ideas to life, and getting it done in a way that clients can launch new services and see results.

Since Russia first invaded in 2014, Emmy has been very active in her support for Ukraine, including donating & helping to send an ambulance and other types of gear to soldiers on the frontline.

In the last year, Softjourn has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Ukrainian defenders and organizations. In 2022, Emmy was featured by TechCrunch, Yahoo! Finance, Euronews, and many other publications for her strong support of Ukraine’s tech sector.

Emmy is also an advocate for female leadership in the tech industry, and she employs many women in high-level management positions at Softjourn. She was featured last year in an article published by WomenLoveTech about the unique role women currently have in Ukraine’s tech sector.

Where did the idea for Softjourn come from?

Back when I was in business school in the early ’90s, I read Edward Yourdon’s “The Decline and Fall of the American Programmer.” In this book, Yourdon wrote about the rise we would see in tech companies hiring more globally for IT talent. Having been a developer for 8 years prior to going to business school, and working later abroad, his idea intrigued me.

Around this time, I was working on some projects with IBM which exposed me to innovative tools that could help virtual teams work better across continents. These tools were just emerging and becoming more available, and I could really see their potential for connecting global IT talent.

For years, I allowed this idea to percolate while I ran an IT consulting firm in Ukraine. In 2001, I started Softjourn, and a few years later, I launched Softjourn’s R&D Center in Western Ukraine, since I was familiar with the culture, work style, and tech community there.

Now Softjourn has a large R&D presence in Ukraine, and we have continued to grow both in people and business in spite of Russia’s war.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

To make a day productive, I keep a tight reign on my available time. On average, this amounts to me spending about a quarter of my work day focusing on strategic planning, another quarter working with existing clients, about 10% of my time goes to performing administrative tasks, and the remaining 40% of my time is spent managing new business opportunities.

Properly delegating my time is a constant battle, so I always consider whether I am the best person to complete a certain task.

How do you bring ideas to life?

The idea of bringing ideas to life is very relevant, because the mantra for our company is, “People have infinite ideas, Softjourn gives them life!”.

The mission of our company is to work with entrepreneurs, map out their current service, and help them create and build a solution that addresses the issues they are trying to solve. On a personal level, I am passionate about what software can do and love seeing how it can bring clients’ ideas to life.

What’s one trend that excites you?

AI is a trend that I’m excited about because it can be used in so many innovative ways. I’m especially fascinated by the exploration and growth of AI in the industries Softjourn specializes in – Ticketing and Fintech.

Already we’ve seen AI change the Ticketing Industry from sales predictions and ticket pricing to chatbots and fan engagement

As for the Fintech industry, it is clear AI will be a powerful tool for financial institutions to create scalable platforms for data analytics, giving users a more secure and satisfying experience.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Persistence is key…The ability of an entrepreneur to remain focused and solution-oriented in spite of what might become roadblocks is what makes businesses more likely to succeed. This means showing up again and again (and again) until you make it.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell my younger self “Don’t doubt yourself!” Additionally, I’d advise myself, and other young entrepreneurs, that you do not need to have a lot of experience before you put yourself out there.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I’ve found that remote work is actually more efficient and effective in many ways than working in the office. I’ve been working remotely and have encouraged my employees to work remotely and flexibly far before the pandemic, and I know it can work really well. While Softjourn does provide options for employees to work from our offices or co-working spaces, it is not compulsory.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I am very judicious with my time, so to this day, I put in my calendar what I plan to spend my time on. I’ll even write a strategy of how I will actually utilize my time. This way, I can look back on my calendar and quickly review where I should have spent more time or delegated a task.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

While businesses should do regular lead generation through various channels to continually grow, I’ve found the best way to grow a business is through how you provide your services. I’ve seen firsthand that keeping clients happy is one of the best ways to drive growth.

At Softjourn, we know the importance of doing “one more thing” to bring additional value to our clients, whether it be assisting them in designing a new service or identifying and solving an issue they have.

Plus, client referrals and continued partnerships built on great services and trust is one of the best B2B marketing strategies you can have!

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

While this isn’t a failure, Russia’s war in Ukraine was certainly a big challenge for our company as many of our workers and one of our offices is located in Western Ukraine. We had concerns about our employees, about whether our clients would continue to commit their support during difficult times, and if we could keep our office powered during blackouts.

Due to our pre-established contingency plan (including a backup generator and Starlink), our dedicated and reliable workers, and the long-term trust we’d built with our clients, we managed to overcome these issues and actually grow our business while supporting our employees and providing great tech solutions to our clients.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I recommend for businesses in the Fintech industry consider taking on the underserved, and less flashy regions of the industry. Before investing your time and efforts in a business idea, find a piece of the industry that is not oversaturated with top players; this way, you can set yourself up for success and come ahead of the competition. In 2023, some business ideas to consider are P2P lending, crowdsourcing apps, or building a payment gateway.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I spent about $100 on a Twitter ad to thank everyone who is still working with Ukraine. The outpouring of support I received in return was tremendous and heartwarming!

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

While there are many services I utilize for productivity, I am most interested in data, so for me, Microsoft Power BI (data visualization software) is essential. I love the flexibility in having dashboards, the ease of reporting, and the overall build.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

For people in or wanting to go into leadership, I suggest reading, “It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy”.

Almost every leader has experienced that moment: when you arrive at a new organization or department, and immediately recognize (from your outsider’s perspective) that the current culture needs to change. To meaningfully change workplace culture, you must overcome precedented behaviors and put a stop to the standard excuse of “this is just the way things have always been done”.

This book gives great examples of how best to lead, which includes getting people involved, gaining valuable input from those already doing the job, and “getting down in the trenches” and working directly with the team.

What is your favorite quote?

I hope it’s okay if I share two of my favorite quotes, both from leaders I admire deeply. First, Malcolm X, “There is no better teacher than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.”
The other is from Martin Luther King Jr., “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Key Learnings:

  • Softjourn has a large R&D presence in Ukraine, and we have continued to grow both in people and business in spite of Russia’s war.
  • The ability of an entrepreneur to remain focused and solution-oriented is what helps businesses succeed.
  • AI will be a powerful tool for financial institutions and ticketing platforms.
  • Our company value “do one more thing” has been a key way we’ve gained the trust of clients and have grown our business.
  • The best leadership comes from “getting down in the trenches” and working directly with the team you manage.