Sophie Kleschuck, a native of Ukraine now living in New York, is a product consultant, who advises startups and emerging companies. Her expertise is mostly based around operations management and marketing. Sophia has been working with startups across continents, helping them with product development in the fields of MedTech, media, and Web 3.0.
We asked Sophie to share her perspective on the pros and cons of working for an emerging international startup.
Grit Daily: Operations and Business Development are normally not connected – how did you end up working with both at the same time?
Sophie Kleschuck: When it comes to startups, all spheres are connected. Operations management and marketing, as well as business development, go hand in hand: all the departments are heavily involved in price forming, revenue projections, and cost management. For instance, in my experience with RYAH Group, where I initially started in marketing and client relations, my role has naturally grown into a more involved operational capacity as I was working on sales and marketing strategies.
RYAH is a company that works with both medical software and devices, so when it comes to defining competitive, yet justified pricing policies, one needs to take into account multiple aspects like production cost, shipping, potential insurance reimbursement, retailer markups, and so on; and as we were an emerging company, we needed to stay flexible and budget-conscious, so I was directly involved into all aspects of operations. Later on, it transferred into my experience with Enkonix as well – even though it is a software development company and I don’t need to worry about manufacturing fees, I strive to keep my team close to the delivery department, so they are well aware of what is happening after we sign new clients. It definitely gives more clarity and confidence to the business developers and provides way more comfort to the clients as well.
Grit Daily: Most of the products you work with are international – how do you compare working with companies of different cultural and geographical backgrounds?
Sophie Kleschuck: When I was studying to be an interpreter, professors would always say that no matter how advanced your foreign language is, the interpreter’s biggest value is in their “extralinguistic” knowledge: their general knowledge and understanding of culture. The same thing with modern businesses – it seems like everyone knows English, no matter where they’re from, yet we face communication issues daily. It is important to remember that emotional expression, manners, and work habits are nearly as important as your working vocabulary.
I come from a rather emotionally-reserved Ukrainian background and it took me a while to adjust myself to a more expressive and vocal western culture – yet at the same time, Ukrainians are less diplomatic in their word choice than, let’s say Americans, which often may require an adjustment on both sides. In my experience, it is really important to define a client’s/partner’s working pace: taking too long to reply to a New Yorker or pushing a Dutch client too hard for an immediate reply may ruin your existing progress.
Grit Daily: You’ve worked with many small startups. What Are the pros and cons?
Sophie Kleschuck: A big pro is that you get involved in more parts of the business, and my responsibilities are more diverse and interesting. Smaller companies can also be more agile as everyone tends to be in one place if you need to ask them a question. You can all get around a table and make a decision, so progress is quicker. In larger corporations waiting for management sign-off or board, approval can slow things down.
The flip side is that there are not always enough people to do the work needed to expand. Also, with a smaller company, everyone has an opinion. If there are only five of you, it can be harder to make a plan everyone is happy with. In these cases, the corporate setting might seem to offer more clarity and stability, which often sounds pretty good, but I still tend to choose smaller and more mobile teams. I like to be hands-on and involved wherever I can be useful: just like what happened with me getting into deeper operational work. I picked it up from an “Innovations in entrepreneurship” course at the University of Coruna in Spain: we studied how small, but diverse groups that unite experts from different cultural and professional backgrounds often help build better and more efficient products simply by including more voices to the conversations.
Grit Daily: Isn’t the startup market risky? What is one thing that most new businesses disregard?
Sophie Kleschuck: It can be. For a while, start-ups were a big trend. Everyone believed they could start a company and make a lot of money. Many of them had little business development experience, and some had no work experience at all. It’s a recipe for failure and explains why only 1%-10% of start-ups survive long-term. The fact is there is risk in consistency too. The business world is always changing, and the best way to be successful is to learn to be agile and adapt quickly, personally and professionally. From what I’ve seen, a lot of new businesses tend to subconsciously limit themselves in expected budget needs: it often seems to them that a certain start budget will be able to get them out to the market, and then they will be able to figure everything out once revenue comes in. As it often happens, revenue takes longer than expected and marketing budgets end up being way bigger than initially expected. That’s why I think it is important for startups and new businesses to get outside expert validation: for instance, I used to work with Starta Accelerator in New York where we would judge pitch contests and help startups improve their business plans and investor pitches. It was an incredible experience seeing how great ideas get proper “packaging” which allows them to grow and become real profitable products.
Grit Daily: Are there strategies that reduce the risk?
Sophie Kleschuck: There is no magic bullet. However, it’s sensible to analyze similar successful businesses as long as you adapt their approaches to your market and circumstance. No matter if you’re working on your investor pitch or scaling your product into a new market, you should always pay attention to every little detail and habit of the person you are talking to. Post-information age is pushing us into yet a new reality and the best thing to adapt is to do your homework.