Don’t be afraid to make mistakes as they will make you stronger.
First of all, mistakes are part of our business experience — that’s absolutely normal.
Aspart of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dmitri Fedorchenko.
Dmitri Fedorchenko is the CEO and co-founder of Doft, an online shipping marketplace, founded with Sergey Zaturanov. Fedorchenko is a successful serial entrepreneur who helped his startups grow and get traction to become market leaders.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thanks for the invitation!
In the early 2000s, there was a rather difficult time in Belarus, which had not yet recovered after the collapse of the USSR. I moved from the regional city of Gomel to the capital in Minsk to study at the university. I entered BSUIR (Belarussian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics) to study programming, which I was very interested in. Starting from the 6th grade at school, I studied the Basic programming language and created my first programs with it — various text processors and algorithmic problems. At school, I was a multiple winner of Olympiads in computer science and programming. I’ve always found it interesting.
At the university, I received a Master of Science degree in information technology and software development and there I met my friend and current business partner Sergey Zaturanov
I started doing business with my friend and fellow student Sergey back in 2008 and since then we have worked together on several startups including software outsourcing, e-ticketing software, and mobile GPS navigation app.
Of course, not all classmates were able to maintain friendly relations after graduation. My business partner Sergey and I managed not only to remain friends but also to create a joint business. Today we are developing Doft — an on-demand digital freight matching marketplace, matching direct shippers and truck drivers.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
We were on vacation in Chicago back in 2015 visiting our friends from Minsk, who started their new small family-owned trucking business in Illinois. They were owner-operators and told us how difficult it was for them to find loads. The wife was a dispatcher, and the husband was a truck driver, they struggled every day to find loads for their truck. That’s when we came up with the idea to make a mobile application for searching loads to help small trucking businesses grow.
This was our “Aha Moment” when we realized that there is a big problem in freight transportation — it’s very time-consuming to find loads. We realized that we can offer a modern digital freight-matching solution for trucks so that you do not have to spend a whole day searching for loads. At that time, among the competitors were only old load boards, where brokers posted their loads. There was no uber-like app to find loads for trucks with a few clicks. This became a challenge for us. We decided this was our chance to do something meaningful.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Tough times happen regularly and are an integral part of an entrepreneur’s life. There are very few moments when you celebrate success. But No, I have never thought of giving up — this is generally the main rule of success in any business. I found inspiration in traveling, you know,- a change of scenery, contemplation of nature, and meditation.
Anyone who is engaged in business knows that the main problem of an aspiring entrepreneur is the money that is needed to start a business. In order to make a lot of money, you need a lot of money.
If you manage to find this starting money, then your chances of success are multiplied. I started by borrowing money on my responsibility. I believed that I could earn more quickly, but to prove it to others, I had to try very hard — and I could only prove it with my enthusiasm and determination.
A close circle helped me: parents, relatives, friends. I told my mom and dad about my ideas and explained how their money would be used and when I would pay back the debt. The process is lengthy and not always successful. It turned out to be much more difficult than it seemed at the very beginning of the journey, when I was still young and I had little experience. I was able to return borrowed money in ten years only, even though the amount was not large.
If we talk about drive-in general, then I was lucky to have natural motivation and curiosity. I have always believed in my ideas, I believed that it would work out. But I was ready to fail to start again. Of course, family support helped. At the start of the business, my parents and friends did not tell me that I would not succeed, but on the contrary, encouraged me — it helped a lot. When there was no money at all, my parents gave me money so that I could buy myself food or warm clothes.
I cannot say that the difficulties have changed now. Projects are growing in scale, more and more money is needed. Not a single entrepreneur has enough funds. You always dream of creating projects that are dozens of times larger. When we first started the business, it was hard to find the first $10,000 that someone is willing to give you to create a product. Now we can re-invest the earned money in business development, but the money is still not enough — it seems to me that this is normal.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Our business is doing great today. Perseverance and patience have directly influenced today’s success.
It seems to me that over the years of work, in addition to courage and resilience, Sergey and I have developed the ability to learn from our own and others’ mistakes, quickly draw conclusions, and move on. We made mistakes when hiring employees, choosing partners, and even choosing projects that we would like to work on. But we did our homework and now we do not make such mistakes.
In 2016–2017, we intensively looked for investors in Silicon Valley, but could not find interesting proposals from people with a good background and understanding of the rules of the new digital logistics industry. Therefore, we focused on bootstrapping — creating Doft from scratch, which I do not regret at all now. Now we are doing well, our Doft project is profitable and we no longer need investments, although additional capital can always be used for aggressive marketing.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We’re completely self-made, we are not venture-backed, nor Stanford graduates, but we managed to create a successful business. This sets us apart from 90% of the companies at our stage.
We have a unique experience and a path that others do not have — bootstrapping. We went the bootstrapping route because we wanted to maintain equity and control of Doft. We also don’t know much about fundraising and how to approach VCs. This is probably the main reason we wanted to build our business without investor money, and we wear bootstrapping as a badge of honor and are fired up to prove ourselves.
We focus on organic business development without attracting investment. I think this makes us very different from others.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
We once celebrated our 1000th registered user, we closed a big deal, so we popped a bottle of champagne and had fun. Then we found out that it was our internal testing and there was nothing to celebrate eventually. Don’t celebrate too early, save it for later.
The main mistake at a young age is the belief that everything will go according to plan. It’s funny and naïve at the same time. There is a lack of awareness of all the risks and pitfalls. Inexperience makes it easy to miscalculate time and money. For example, software development may take two years instead of two months. If such a delay is not included in the plan or future income and expenses are incorrectly calculated, it can be very frustrating. You have to take on additional obligations, borrow more external funds, and give up a share of the business.
The development of your business never goes as you planned — it is always unpredictable. The work is based on planning, tolerances, and probabilities. The less experience you have, the more likely you are to make a mistake. Entrepreneurs have to face unpredictability almost every day.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
I once was offered to create a side project with our partners to help our main project grow. Do not be distracted by side projects that supposedly should help your main project. In fact, it is not necessary, because it is a waste of time and energy.
When we just started working on the development of Doft, we were offered by influential people in trucking in the USA to join a new project, which is somehow related to ours, but still not the main one. We spent several months discussing the terms, assigning roles, and a few more months developing the software itself. As a result, after 6–8 months, when everything was ready on our side, we realized that marketing this new product would take almost all of our time. We tried to find a solution with our partners, but it turned out that no one can devote the right amount of their time to it. As a result, we just closed this project. It was a waste of time and money — an obvious mistake and loss for the main project.
Don’t let the word “side” trick you. Whatever it is, a side project or a side hustle will take up a significant share of your time and energy. It will be part of your story. It could make or break you. Give the decision the consideration it deserves. My definition of a side project is a venture of any kind, which is separate from your main line of work. It’s anything that changes how you spend your time or adds another line to your bio.
For every side project that has gone amazingly well, there are countless others that caused nothing but a distraction. Think twice before giving it a shot.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
This is trait number one. Many entrepreneurs face a lot of setbacks and mistakes along the way, especially at the beginning. This can happen every month, every week, or every hour. Everyone has it differently. When something doesn’t work, you have to start over. Sometimes even a successful businessman loses everything. This should not be the reason for stopping.
My dad told me that failure is a stepping stone to success and I agree.
It is important to insist on your own, despite all the setbacks and obstacles on the way. A successful entrepreneur knows that rejection is not a sign of stopping, but of continuing to move on and achieving what you want with even more effort.
Start looking at setbacks and obstacles as experiences and stepping stones to victory. Remember, if it were easy, everyone would be successful. The problem is normal. The ability to insist on one’s own, despite the circumstances, is one of the most valuable qualities for an entrepreneur.
Usually, this trait is forgotten. It is assumed by default. All successful people are committed to lighting fire in their eyes. With this passion, they infect people around them and therefore become leaders. Most entrepreneurs believe they are changing the world for the better. It is this faith that helps them stay on top in the most difficult times. Passion is based on some kind of mission, it is an internal motor that helps you move forward.
You need to be driven by a clear sense of purpose and passion. Usually, passion comes from two sources: it is a passion for the subject matter of your business or a passion for the game of building a business itself.
Why is passion needed? Simply because you will probably have to work very hard, very hard, for little money and with no guarantee that it will work out at all. So you need intrinsic motivation, not related to money.
The focus is a beacon or a “north star” that you always see in front of you. How does a person without a focus or a goal understand where to move in life? He rushes from side to side, achieves something, but cannot say exactly what he is striving for. What does he want to come to? Setting goals correctly and focusing on them is what sets successful people apart from hundreds of others.
Take time to look at your business from the outside and catch the moment when you start to lose focus. The key advice here is to be simpler.
Focus on making one great product instead of 10 good ones. Set yourself the goal of developing an innovative e-commerce project in one area, instead of trying to work tolerably across multiple niches.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Slow down your time. Remember when you were children how long time dragged on because every day you learned something new…. Travel is a cheat code for slowing downtime, just like in childhood. The time lasts longer and you will learn a lot. Learn, study something new and thus develop and gain time. And the time gained will help your prosperity and will help you not “burn out”.
The more time you have, the more you can do. To save time, it is important for you to maintain a balance between work and recreation. You need to be able to turn off your computer and other gadgets in time, be with friends or family, go for a walk, go to the gym, or go on vacation. In a healthy body, there is a healthy mind, as we say.
Therefore, a short recommendation is to save your time and try to do more.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
At a certain stage, founders do not want to scale when they already need to and continue to do everything themselves and with their own hands. You need to be able to recognize the moment when it’s time to hire.
Founders are used to doing everything. That’s what it’s like in the beginning. When the team grows it’s often hard to let go. The excuses are never-ending — “Nobody can do it as well as I can”, the most common of them. But if you hold onto everything, you won’t ever be able to scale.
There comes a time when a founder needs to shift from doing to mentoring. In practice, this means giving people direction and feedback, not doing their job for them. It also means understanding and accepting, that things won’t be done in exactly the way you used to do them yourself. It’s a challenge at first, but when you finally do let go you’ll feel great. Your team won’t let you down, and you’ll have more freedom.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
I’d say it is TTM — time to market — the amount of time it takes to create a product or service and launch it. It always seems that it will be faster, but it turns out to be 10 times longer. Don’t underestimate time — it’s the most important and crucial thing in a company’s success. It is important to launch MVP (minimum viable product) as early as possible. Your product may be incredibly innovative, but to truly achieve your desired result it is vital that you beat your competition to the market.
In our practice, 80% of new products miss the launch date and it is definitely something to think about. We always have an enormous opportunity to increase sales and profitability by improving time to market. It’s all about the right product, the right place, and the right time.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Start business as early as possible, wait for nothing and no one. Don’t wait for the right moment that will never come.
- My recommendation would be to start your business as early as possible. Yes, it’s an optimistic scenario, but an achievable one, even if it takes you two or three tries to build a successful enterprise. The bottom line is, the more time you can spend as an entrepreneur, the better long-term returns you’re going to see.
- The younger you are, the better you’re going to be able to tolerate the risk associated with starting a new business. You’ll have fewer responsibilities such as kids or mortgage, fewer commitments, and much more time to recover from any losses you face. Therefore, starting a business as early as possible mitigates your potential losses.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes as they will make you stronger.
- First of all, mistakes are part of our business experience — that’s absolutely normal.
Let’s consider two scenarios: (a) the person who hardly ever makes mistakes and (b) the person who makes a lot of mistakes, but is careful to learn from them each time. Who do you think will accomplish more? In my personal experience, chances are very high that the person who is willing to make mistakes and learns from each one, is likely to accomplish significantly more than the person who is not willing to make mistakes.
Certain founders become satisfied with their achievements very quickly, long before achieving their ultimate potential. They become comfortable. They become afraid to make mistakes. Their ego is not strong enough to take any hits. They like their position, so they don’t want to take any more risk making mistakes.
On the other hand, there are founders who experiment endlessly, enjoying their successes, learning from their “failures,” but never completely satisfied that they have achieved all that they can. They see mistakes and “failures” as opportunities to learn. They learn to make as many mistakes as possible, as quickly as possible, so they can achieve their goals more rapidly.
5. Lack of money is not an excuse for starting a business. There are always banks, friends, and family there to help you. And you can always start small.
I understood as an entrepreneur that the point of being an entrepreneur is you have to get results with or without money. The money may affect how quickly you can get the results. If you don’t have money the path is much harder and longer, but you will have to find the right people to help you for free, you will need to convince them to believe in you and your startup. Absence of money should not make it impossible, rather make it harder to achieve. I believe that almost every business can be started with a 100-dollar bill in your pocket — that’s exactly what it is. You don’t need much money to start planning and then move further step by step. On every step you must think how this or that can be done without money.
If you don’t have the money, especially early on, it cannot be your excuse because most of the things that an entrepreneur does early in his or her business are not tied to how much money they have in the bank. And it’s related to how hard you want to work, and it’s related to how much focus you can have. It’s related to what you’re willing to put into your business and if you are truly willing to put your heart and soul into your business.
Find yourself a good business partner you can rely on. It is not possible to do everything yourself, especially at the very beginning, when the temptation to give up is strong.
No one is expert at all aspects of a business, so if you go it alone, you’ll need to hire someone to do what you don’t do well. And hiring someone before you have a revenue stream is a problem. Good business partner will become a person who motivates you and keeps you going when times are hard. Starting a business solo will be very hard if you don’t have much experience. It’s also lonely working solo, even if you see customers every day.
The majority of startups have one or two partners when they are starting, so don’t be an exception here. Find a good partner who you can rely on.
I’ve never started a business alone, so I cannot speak about running a business solely. But there are so many benefits of starting a business with a good business partner, that I cannot even recommend other options.
Start selling as early as possible, preferably on day one. Any business model should be tested at the earliest stages. Successful early sales must inspire you to continue.
Finding out if people want to buy our product has helped us assess what to make before we build. You can create a single-page website with some promo code which gives early access to your product when you launch. Start building a customer base very ealy, so you can collect people’s opinion about your product. Moreover if you are very lucky, you can earn your first money which you can reinvest back into development.
Go live with your MVP as early as possible and start early sales. As with any process and product, you need to continue to grow and adapt to fit customer needs. The faster you start sales, the sooner you get feedback from your customers. They will tell you what they like about your product or even better what they don’t like or understand. You will have to make several iterations before your product is ready to scale.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. :-)
I like to turn dirt into cleanliness, so it would probably be cleaning or plogging.
The most rewarding thing I can personally do is fund charitable projects to help people or the planet. To make the planet clean and people healthy and well-fed — what could be better? There is a social ideology behind almost every one of my projects, for example, helping children in Africa or helping to clean up garbage in my city. It’s simple and doesn’t take very much time and effort. Everyone can start helping the community, it is enough just to clean up the garbage near their home.
The best an entrepreneur can do is make the planet and society a little better. I’ve already tried a lot of things in my life. And I want even more. This is probably the main driver. I try to follow ecology, science, art, and interesting technological developments. I would like more social projects within the Doft at the intersection of technology and ecology, perhaps. I can say the same about medicine, social projects, helping talented people — I find it all very interesting.
How can our readers further follow you online?
I invite you to read our Doft company blog, our corporate social accounts Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Sergey and I also share insights and news about investments and technologies on our personal pages. Feel free to follow Sergey’s Linkedin, Aliya Salakhova LinkedIn or Instagram, and my LinkedIn or Twitter.
Also to visit Doft.com
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!