At his 21 Denys Zhadanov has been balancing between study in England and work at Readdle. It was a 10-year journey from kitchen-like office to one of the widely-known product company in the world; a company which products everybody says about at conferences; the products that are available in many Apple Stores all around the globe.
As Vice President of Marketing, Denys has announced 65 million product downloads of the company that keeps leading positions at App Store and the world’s largest media pages.
Pavlo Kuznetsov rubbed shoulders with Denys Zhadanov to get to know more about future plans, the competition between Odesa-based company and giants such like Microsoft and Adobe; and the most important goal — to make the world utmost productive.
I know that you recently visited Sir Richard Branson’s private island. What did you talk about?
When I arrived, Richard was pretty tired and busy welcoming Obama on the island. Everybody wanted his attention, so we didn’t hold an hour-long conversation. I thanked him for doing charity work and supporting Ukraine; and added that a great part of young Ukrainians are motivated by his ideas to create their own companies. Richard cheered up and asked about the current situation in Ukraine. I was honest to say that some spheres of life are getting refreshing changes while, others, unfortunately, are reminding unchanged.
Both Branson and Obama are the example of true success without even a hint of factitious business and shallowness. I’m very much in favour of Richard’s attitude, because even after succeeding, he still has sincere positive thinking and a will to influence the planet. There’s always a room in his time-agenda to launch Ocean Rescue campaigns and what’s more a great number of his charitable projects are aimed to safe lemurs and flamingos from extinctions. Humanity is what I respect in successful people. Even though they have a plenitude of opportunities to separate themselves from people, they do not build any borders.
The World Media writes about Readdle, and so all the world knows who you are. Speaking about positive changes happening in Ukraine, in your opinion, what’s to stop us of thinking out the box? What is the right way to deal with scepticism and justification to the products made in Ukraine?
Never I felt worse than others. Surely, the start point is different for everyone. However, experience says that inconvenient life conditions might become the all-powerful impetus to achieve great progress even faster. An individual who gets everything ready, in most cases, hasn’t got enough motivation to move forward. Our hunger is our advantage.
The American Education System teaches students to make presentations starting from the fourth form. As a result, they know how to show their strong points, tell their own stories and take a stand.
Inconvenient life conditions might become the all-powerful impetus to achieve great progress even faster
We know the insides of our country, we see a great amount of talented people around, we create goods and inventions of high quality. But every time the Ukrainian product appears at the global market, it makes a shocking turn of event.
Although we have all the ingredients for making success, we have no skills of spreading a word about them. There’s a fear of proving and defending the Self as the form of own being. And that is the main obstacle to the way to global growth. Therefore, Ukrainians who already succeed, are doing everything to get over of this fear and re-educate their minds.
These skills I got studying in England. At the period of project preparation all students were divided into the groups of seven people who came from different countries and had completely different experience. Despite the different ways of seeing the world, many things we were doing together: we were working and learning the right ways to stand up for own opinion.
How did you get in England?
When I was 19 years old, I joined Readdle to combine marketing work with studying in Odessa. At that time, Readdle was a small company created by my brother and his partners, so I supported the team only part of a day.
To tell the truth, it was difficult to reach out journalists in top media and raise their interest to our products. Far from ideal English didn’t let me clarify to the journalists what we do and why our product is top-notch all over the world.
My emails were too long and overdetailed, and no wonder why I didn’t get any response back. It seems to me that nobody couldn’t even read them up to the end, and in turn, I felt downcast for having being ignored.
It’s funny, but World of Warcraft polished my English speaking skills. I played online with Swedish whose English was just great. It is a bit easier to perceive their accent compared to British; and we spoke while playing every day.
The absence of certain conditions, where it actually could be possible to get the experience of other marketeers or share your own, left the chance to learn from mistakes. The absence of mentor, whose importance I realised much more later than I should have been, also had an impact on the quality of work.
That experience was a goal to leave Odessa for the sake of decent education in Marketing. So I sold my car, borrowed some money from my relatives and beat feet for knowledge in Aston Business School, Birmingham.
Aston Business School is a small university, not so widely known as, let’s say, Oxford. Although, at that time, the program that I have chosen — Masters in Business and Management — was 5th in the ranking of the best business programs in Britain and 17th in Europe.
Tell about your life in Birmingham. Did everything go easy?
No, it was pretty hard. Aston showed the direction rather than gave information. They gave us a book showing, although not clearly, the place where to “dig” for information needed. Students were responsible for their progress. I remember that students from EU paid twice less than Ukrainians, Indians or representatives from other countries. Consequently, we were motivated twice as hard. I felt the respect from others when I took the initiative or burnt the midnight oil at the library. So here’s how it went down, I was balancing between studying, leadership in University marketing community and work for Readdle.
Step by step the level of my work was getting better. Frankly speaking, it is much easier to be a marketeer at an awesome company than promote slag. The quality of Readdle products became our calling card.
One morning we saw fantastic analytics — there was sales growth of more than 800% per day. We started to look for the reason and found it on The Wall Street Journal pages
One morning we saw fantastic analytics — there was sales growth of more than 800% per day. We started to look for the reason and found it on The Wall Street Journal pages. It turned out, Walt Mossberg was the one who mentioned us in his article.
In a nutshell, Walt Mossberg is the influential figure in the business journalism world, he interviewed such prominent people as Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Bill Gate, and Jeff Bezos, that’s why that article boosted our confidence. Such moments give a feeling that the world belongs us and we won’t end up poor.
Back then I realised the most important thing: we must reach the top media pages to raise our company income. It is hard to overestimate the benefit of work with the press, but it is impossible to take their respect and attention by storm. All the industry works thanks to the story you can tell, communication and willingness to spend a large amount of time on people.
Both media and business do not stand on imaginary “connections” and numbers in your phone, but on relations with those people. It is worth to be patient when you build relationship of such kind.
That experience has changed the strategy of work with the press and nudged me to research each author personally. It became meaningful to know what a journalist life is like, where do they live, what do they write about, what makes them go nuts, and what remains them indifferent. The very my ultimate goal was the accuracy and straightforwardness of facts that can be used for future article to be interesting, even without communication with me.
What was the reason of coming back to Odessa? Were you sure that Readdle will become a successful company?
After graduation I’ve decided that I need to consolidate received knowledge through practice before returning to Readdle. That is why, I started looking for job in big companies. There were two corporations that I almost reached the finishing line with in the process of interviewing — HSBC bank and TUI tourism company. However, I was rejected by both companies.
When it comes to analysis of that situation, I understand, it was a pure luck, but not a failure. As opposed to being able to work at a low position in a company with slow growth and a small salary, I got the opportunity to learn how to build a marketing team from scratch and make Readdle applications popular. Of course, I wasn’t absolutely sure that the company would succeed. It was only possible to predict success by analyzing fails and achievements. But from the very beginning I believed that I could influence the company’s success.
And it happened as you expected — the products of the company became popular. Readdle is now on the list of Adobe and Microsoft competitors.
I remember the quick death predictions of our PDF Expert, when Adobe released a free alternative. But subsequently it happened as it wasn’t expected — sales increased by 40%. The reality is that the competitors enlarge the size of the market, rather than take away our piece. When Adobe launches the product, a great amount of preparations is always under the way. First of all, they tell about the problem, putting an emphasis on the most important parts, furthermore they invest a significant part of their budget in advertising. As a result, a hundred times more people are looking for solution by comparing various alternatives.
There’s a reason why our development can be better — we are driven by focusing. Not all the product line is of high priority for corporations. And for us, all the products are of utmost importance
There’s a reason why our development can be better — we are driven by focusing. Not all the product line is of high priority for corporations. Some of them are vitally important, while the others receive considerably less resources and attention. And for us, all the products are of utmost importance.
The meaning of company’s digital life is the success of each and every product, that’s why we do care about development and quickly make upgrades. Another useful feature of focusing is prioritising. At the very day of the company foundation, we were at the right time and in the right place just when the market appeared. Many years have passed, but the ability to prioritize and avoid spending time on things devoid of value is still in the DNA of the company.
Such an approach also affects the way we choose. Readdle has a unique, even specific, way of taking people to the very core of our being, our team.
We are interested in a symbiosis of love for the work and the desire to take responsibility. If a candidate has no idea about prioritizing, has no burning desire to work until late at night for every our user, so well, the sympathy to our company hardly ever may happen in the heart of this candidate.
So now when the company has succeed, what’s the new big step?
There’s a big difference between “work hard” and “work smart”. I’m really into the question of emotional intelligence and, therefore, my mission lays in making people more productive, happier, and let them live life full of vivid impressions. I want to show how dreams can work, I want to inspire people to build something big and full of sense and never stop becoming better that yesterday.
Imagine that the work you are doing for 12 hours can be done in 4, and the rest of the day you will enjoy life or learn and improve your skills. The effectiveness increases so does the satisfaction of life. This is my ambition. I’m sure I can help many to become much more productive and emotionally satisfied.
Readdle has a separate team that works in the field of artificial intelligence. They are looking for opportunities to turn our product out of tools into assistants. Imagine apps being proactive and helping you work better. This is only the first step towards reaching the global goal and turning into a billionaire company.
Along with other technology leaders, Bill Gates is concerned that artificial intelligence can put many people out of their jobs if they do not have time to change their qualifications. Do you agree with this statement?
I’m sure we are on the verge of the automation revolution. We are still far from Matrix and Skynet, but AI is quickly becoming an alternative to some areas of human labor. Banks turn off traders to replace them with machines, advertising agencies use programs that perform as a substitute for creative directors. Just a few days ago, Elon Musk announced that Tesla launches a line of their autonomous trucks, and the truck driver is the most popular profession in the United States.
Imagine that the work you are doing for 12 hours can be done in 4, and the rest of the day you will enjoy life or learn and improve your skills. This is my ambition
Machines can cope with a lot of tasks in a shorter time than people, but I do not think that humanity is threatened with anything. The development of artificial intelligence is an incentive to use our strengths in our work more actively — empathy, irrational thinking, sensorics, social connections, intuition, etc. What makes us human is our superiority over the computer. That’s why we have to control it, not the other way.
What helps you to be productive?
Accurately planned morning. I try not to check my mail or plunge into work right after sleep, but I try to change the state of the body — to warm up, take a contrast shower. Running also helps me to wake up.
I write texts during breakfast to start cognitive processes of the brain. For example, I can post an article or reply to letters. Only then I plan my day and start work. I tend to set 3-5 tasks per day, and if the morning is perfect — the day goes without a hitch.
I recently read your post about the fact that Ukrainians are far from the most productive nation, and our level of service is often low due to the fact that employees are poorly motivated.
So, there is a kind of a vicious circle — many people around us perform unacceptably because they receive low wages, and receive low wages because they perform unacceptably. What is the way out?
This is not a problem of Ukraine. I meet financially successful people with no fire in their eyes all over the world. For those who feel “in their place”, payment ceases to be the main incentive to work better. Anyone who can not call themselves happy has to think who exactly they want to be and what they can give to the world with pleasure.
You can hate finances and be related to them, or you can put all your talent into burger preparation, become the best in the world for the creation of sauces and cutlets, but being happy is crucial.
I know that this may sound like a radical change in life to most of the people. This may often be true. You can start with two important steps. First, you can get self-confidence by means of knowledge. There are hundreds of ways to get it for free on the Internet — TED talks, Coursera courses, media publications.
The second step is to change the environment. If there are people who are not supportive of changes in their lives or are always evaluating their ambitions negatively, then they are pulling you down. It has long been known that the negativity is contagious. As a general rule, you need to cut off old contacts to become the person you dream of being.
How do you keep the fire burning in your eyes?
It is burning because I sincerely want to contribute to the development of mankind — to help make life more productive and meaningful. Interestingly, this is not an imaginary “contribution” that can’t be measured, but a clear action plan. I am driven by the feeling that the best work is still ahead, and I feel how fleeting life is. My biggest fear is not being able to fulfill my full potential.
Another thing that lights my fire is the surround. I am motivated by people who think out of the box and believe in their strength to change something. They talk about life a thousand years from now, about solving nutrition and ecology problems, they are interested in innovation and space. When you are surrounded by such people, you are motivated to become a better version of yourself every day.
Last month, Terry Blanchard, who was the lead of Apple’s Mail app development, joined your team. How hard was it to convince him to leave Apple and work for the Ukrainian company?
The best calling card is when your application is installed on your interlocutor’s phone. Terry became a fan of our Spark email client and monitored it from the very first days. He liked how we solved the problem of a full mail account, as well as the growth rate of the product.
According to Terry, the decision to leave comfortable working conditions in the richest company in the world was not easy, but he sincerely wants to form the future of email and believes that we can do it. All negotiations lasted for only two weeks. We quickly realized that Terry could help us build something grand, and I’m really waiting for September to show the world what the e-mail of the future should be like.
Photo — Anastasiia Potapova