Responses provided by Yana Vlatchkova, COO of Swipes. Yana is one of the three co-founders of the Danish-Bulgarian startup that’s reinventing how people achieve their goals. And you know what – the team got together because of the serendipity of Startup Weekend.
At Swipes, Yana has her hands full running business development, marketing, PR and forging partnerships to grow the product worldwide.
When did you realize you were an entrepreneur? How did it start for you? Was there a spark or revealing moment?
My mom is an entrepreneur, and this is where my story starts too. When I was a kid, I used to play with business cards, coming up with names for her companies, pretending to be a salesperson. I loved it.
I’ve always thought that work is something you create for yourself. But it was only in my third year at university when I started creating my own projects, brainstorming on ideas with friends and truly diving in the entrepreneurial world.
What was your biggest feeling associated with the beginning of your journey?
When I started working on my first project together with my brother and a friend of mine, I didn’t know much about the challenges of creating something from scratch. But because there’s a ton of research that needs to be done in the beginning, and I was confident in this activity, I felt only excitement then. It was like a school project, but on a topic I had chosen myself and loved.
As it so often happens, eventually the rollercoaster of emotions began. Frustration that you don’t know what you’re doing and how it would turn out. Fear that you will fail, hyper-excitement over the small wins, exhaustion interchanging with happiness.
You’re always on a mood-swing when you’re working on your own project. But the beginning is beautiful. You’re blessed with the excitement of embarking on a new journey and you don’t see any obstacles on the road.
What is your one-sentence company pitch?
Swipes is one of the leading startups in the productivity space. We help people make the most of their time by reinventing task management.
What problem is your company trying to solve?
Time is the most valuable resource we possess, both as individuals and as teams. How we use it to achieve our goals is a very complex matter. It involves goal-setting, day-to-day progress, motivation and coordination of activities.
Swipes helps you set your priorities and work on the most important things. It also allows you to have the mind space you need to use your full potential because you can focus on one thing at a time, instead of wasting your energy on multitasking.
What value proposition does your company offer over competitors?
Technology should de-clutter the time management process and streamline some of the activities to truly help people in achieving their goals.
With Swipes, we give people more than a tool. We give them a mindset and a method how to collect all their tasks together, organize them into priorities and take action on one thing at a time. We blend the method of working and the technology into one powerful tool. This allows us to walk our users through a success experience of completing their tasks for the day rather than storing plans into lists.
Has your startup had a “near death experience?” along the way?
When you’re launching a startup, you’re essentially creating a unique value in the world every single day. It has not existed before. This process is very challenging. Sometimes I get frustrated. I get scared. I get stressed. Now, when you transfer that on the team level, it gets really interesting.
For us the most challenging period was when we were bootstrapping Swipes during its first year.
Kasper, one of the three co-founders, and myself had taken the decision to move from Denmark to Bulgaria to bootstrap. Our third co-founder, Stefan, stayed in Denmark and took on some freelance projects to pay the bills. But we seemed to be in a slump. We couldn’t raise an investment over and over again and we were getting desperate, tired and stressed.
One day in December 2013, all these emotions broke out and every one of us felt hurt and worn off. We had a fight about who worked how much, who loved it more, who said what. This approach of attacking each other could have killed us.
Then we spoke with one of our advisors and he was wise enough to point out that we all had a hard time managing the pressure and the remote coworking. We needed to improve our communication and make sure everyone felt appreciated. Rethinking the challenges and putting effort to set our egos aside saved our relations and our company.
What are your short-term future challenges? Longer term?
Our short-term challenges relate to finding new ways and getting better at spreading the word about Swipes. This includes involving new colleagues into the process and enabling them to unleash their potential.
In the long term, the challenges are to break out of the day-to-day operations and what we know today, and instead focus on bigger innovations and goals that will bring us closer to Swipes’ vision. We are reinventing one of the most fascinating areas of life – how we work. It’s inevitable that we would face many challenges and need to be resilient.
Swipes’ proudest achievement so far was to receive the Best New Startup award by Evernote, one of the greatest companies in our space. In mid-October 2014, they nominated us as a finalist. We got to compete for the final prize with an on-stage presentation in front of 1,500 people on their annual development conference.
Winning this award was a big accomplishment for us, as it represented nine months of hard work, not a month of competing. We didn’t just develop an integration with Evernote, we actually planned how to get a big company like them to care about us by creating something awesome. We made a bunch of videos and campaigns and forged contacts that pushed us up as the winner.
Kasper, our CEO, recently made a great presentation on all our tips and tricks on building partnerships and why we’re so proud of this achievement.
Tell Us About Your Startup Weekend Experience.
I have participated in two Startup Weekends as a team leader, three-four times as a coach and two times as an organizer. I love the spirit of the Startup Weekend events and the magic that happens when you bring so many like-minded people together. This magic also turned out quite important for the Swipes team!
Stefan, one of our co-founders, and myself attended our first Startup Weekend together. We were university students, passionate about the whole tech scene. At the event we met Kasper, our third co-founder. He was organizing the event and helping our teams with coaching and tips. Later on, I joined him as a co-organizer to the event and saw the great potential that working together in this format holds. Thanks to this Startup Weekend, the three of us got together as a team and started Swipes.
What was the hardest thing for you to overcome at Startup Weekend?
I had to overcome my fear to step up as a team leader. This was a whole new area for me and quite different from the university setting in which I was used to be.
Our team was restricted by time, we were all smashed, as we hadn’t slept in 48h, so we needed everybody to be aligned on what we want to achieve. And I had to step up my game and lead this team of strangers into a direction that I believed was the right one.
Any advice for others entering Startup Weekend?
Take the event and yourself darn serious! Just fake that this is the big thing in your life and that you’re the leader. Try to put yourself in a situation as close to reality as possible.
Startup Weekend is not about the event itself, it’s about the test you put yourself through. You can get invaluable knowledge from it – what you’re good at, what you’re bad at, what you like doing or absolutely hate. Most importantly, you get a free chance to try if the rollercoaster life of an entrepreneur is right for you.
Swipes has been already downloaded by more than 350,000 people.
- June 2013 – Launch Swipes on iOS
- September 2013 – Kasper and Yana move to Bulgaria
- December 2013 – First 50,000 users
- By March 2014 – Rejected by 20 accelerators & investors
- April 2014 – First two new colleagues join Swipes
- June 2014 – We close a deal with our angel investor
- October 2014 – Awarded Best New Startup by Evernote
- December 2014 – Close an early seed round and opened an office in Sofia, Bulgaria
- January 2015 – We grow to eight people
- March 2015 – Launch Swipes on Android and grew to 250,000 users
- April 2015 – Webby Award Nomination for one of World’s Top 5 Productivity App
- June 2015 – Growth and building the happiest place in Bulgaria to work in
Co-founders: Kasper Pihl Tornoee, Stefan Vladimirov, Yana Vlatchkova
- Employees: 7 people
- Customers served: 300,000 people
- Products shipped: http://swipesapp.com/product/
- Revenue generated: Still in a growth phase
- Partners signed up: Evernote
- Funding secured: 5 business angels and one of the elite Danish investment funds – Seed capital
- Industry: Productivity software
- Country: Bulgarian/ Danish startup
- Platform: iOS, Android, web, Mac – http://swipesapp.com/product/