10 Lessons after 13 Years of Being CEO

Mar 26, 2024
6 min read
10 Lessons after 13 Years of Being CEO
Roman Gaponov
Roman Gaponov
Co-Founder & CEO

This year, on October 13, Django Stars celebrated its 13 years. And frankly speaking, for a tech company founded in the year of the Global Financial crisis, by two programmers without any business management experience, it’s kind of a big date. Back then, we had no business strategy, no idea how to sell our services, deliver, or hire people.

In 13 years, we’ve seen a lot. It made us stronger and, hopefully, smarter. We’ve gained experience at 120+ projects in various domains, from fintech and travel to healthtech and edtech. At the same time, our expertise has been verified by clients worldwide (though, the U.S., the U.K., and Switzerland are our top destinations).

Being mature means knowing how to allocate resources and how to drive processes efficiently. That’s what resulted in obtaining ISO certification last year and what helps us to always deliver. What, in its turn, according to Clutch, made us Top Python & Django Developer and Top Software Developer in Ukraine and in Eastern Europe.

As much as our company measures its success with the success of its clients, I measure my success with the company’s. These years taught me a lot, and what are birthdays for if not for self-reflection and evaluation? Below, I’ve listed ten lessons I’ve learned in 13 years of being CEO, which are the best reflection of what we’ve become.

Lesson 1. Learn to say “no”.

As unobvious as it may seem, it became our ground rule. See, I honestly believe that the company should not dive into product development only for the purpose of money. We want to make successful products that will bring value to users. Having deep expertise, we may know better what the product will benefit from. And it requires a gut to doubt a clients’ vision.

Thus, we constantly challenge the clients’ ideas, explain why the product will not succeed and suggest more efficient solutions. Result? Clients value our straightforwardness, and those who don’t are simply not our type. So we learned to say “no” and let the client go when our points of view didn’t match.

As said before, we measure our success with the client’s one and strive to develop products that will skyrocket.

Lesson 2. Rely on long-term cooperation.

When the company was small and young, we used to make a lot of mistakes. But the thing we did right was investing in relations with our clients meeting them halfway. We learned to appreciate not the short-term success of the cooperation but to invest in long-term mutually beneficial and prosperous relations. We even took financial risks when it was vital for the project stage. As a result, some of our partnerships have been continuing for over eight years now.

Lesson 3. Distinguish what the client needs from what the one wants.

This one I learned firsthand. It means constantly evaluating whether the clients’ requests will be beneficial for them. As these are different things often; and the client may not even see it. It’s necessary to focus on solutions that’ll make their product soar. And if it’s evident that the requested solution is total crap, we talk about it and offer more elegant alternatives. Because it’s us, who have expertise in developing products, and clients came to us to get it.

Lesson 4. Keep the balance between the clients and employees.

As much as the clients are important for your business, employees are too. Since they are the ones that can do fantastic things if they’re interested in their project. Thus, we developed a team rotation system to keep engineers curious about the project.

The well-organized knowledge transfer process backs this to ensure that the project will not be affected. I believe that supporting engineers’ creativity and continuous skills enhancement is what results in effective solutions.”

Lesson 5. Invest in your employees.

The truth behind this rule is that you cannot build rocket science products with a mediocre workforce. How to attract exceptional team players? Nurture them. If you invest in your employees, boost their growth, stimulate their creativity, and care about them, they will pay you back with loyalty and support. When we invite interns and educate them, most probably, they will stay with us. That’s how we nurture our team members.

Another ground rule here is to value employees’ contributions, as they are the people on whom the end result depends.

Lesson 6. Transparency is a must.

If you decide to build up strong relationships, then transparency is the tool for doing it. When the clients know every little thing about what’s going on, they trust you. So being completely honest with a client, no matter how painful it can be, is the ground for your continuous cooperation.

Lesson 7. Processes are vital.

Without established processes, there’s no chance for growth. Processes help to scale and grow business. They are the basis for a company’s rapid growth because you can’t grow if your inner mechanism does not work correctly.

We spent several years setting every part of the development process. But now it pays off. We can more accurately estimate the resources required for product development. It brings more clarity to the development process and makes us more predictable for clients.

Lesson 8. Not to overcomplicate things.

As much as we simplify the work with established processes, we strive for simplicity in the solutions we develop. I believe that simplicity is the key. Our motto is “if it’s already been invented, re-use it.” Or simply put, “do not reinvent the wheel.” We stick to efficient and elegant solutions.

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10 Lessons after 13 Years of Being CEO 1

Lesson 9. Pay back.

Pay back to the community in which you’ve grown. If you succeed in business, you should pay it back by contributing to the ecosystem that nurtured your growth. Thus, our engineers constantly share their expertise with the tech community at DjangoCons. In addition, we contribute to the Django Girls initiative, support Python Foundation, and Django Project.

Lesson 10. Stick to your principles.

Here I speak about the inner strength and nerve to always follow the principles you’ve once chosen. Since sometimes, it takes effort to be consistent in your decisions, especially when the personal and professional matters bleed into each other. On the other hand, it’s vital to go with your gut, as it can lead you to the most incredible and unexpected results. Though these two points may seem contradictory, I see here beautiful codependency: if you stay with your principles and always choose what you believe in, then your inner voice will lead you to the right path.

These are the lessons I’ve learned from my 13-year experience. There’re a lot more, but I think these ten are what made us who we are today. And what will be the ground for our growth in the next 13 years. See you there.

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