Inside Paperform: Meet Vlad Shvets, Growth Lead

/ real-life wins
Jack Delaney

Paperform first started as a company of two. Our 'office' was the kitchen table of Dean and Diony's flat in Sydney (actually we're a remote-first company, so they still work from the kitchen table every so often).

But the days of Paperform being run by two people alone are long gone. Our team is now made up of 15 amazing people from all around the world. As the team continues to grow, we thought it might be fun to introduce some of the crew.

First to draw the short straw is our Growth Lead, Vlad Shvets. Vlad was one of the first people hired at Paperform and he heads up our marketing team. He spends his days growing our brand and helping make sure our customers can find us. When he's not juggling a million tasks or brainstorming SEO strategies, you'll find him skipping around Europe and reading books on Ancient History.

Jack: Let's start with something easy. Can you tell me about your role at Paperform?

Vlad: Sure, I'm Growth Lead, so in a sentence, my job is to make sure people know about Paperform. It’s about growing Paperform as a company.

Online form and landing page builders are very specific products that people aren’t really looking for until they need it. So, most of my day-to-day work boils down to ensuring we’re easily discoverable on the web when that time comes.

All my day-to-day tasks pretty much surround that. Ensuring Paperform’s brand is growing and that when the time comes for a business to look for a form or landing page builder, Paperform is the site that pops up.

Jack: What does a typical workday look like for you?

Vlad: Roxy (my wife) and I travel around a fair bit, so it depends on which part of the world we’re in. Previously we lived in Barbados and at the moment we're in Russia, but usually, it’s somewhere in Europe. I’ll be up between 7-8 am, take a shower, make a cup of coffee and then jump online for a few meetings with the team.

After the morning meetings, I’ll just continue working, either from home or a coffee place and work straight through until around 5 or 6 pm. Then that’s it. I do my best to switch off after dinner and spend time with Roxy and the family.

Jack: What’s your favourite part of the job?

Vlad: Can I have two things? My first would be the team. I really enjoy working with Paperform’s people. Everyone is great.

The second one is Paperform’s product and market. I love any chance I get to play with the product because it’s so versatile and can be used for so many different use cases—I mean, it covers everything from simple registration forms to starting your own online bakery.

And essentially every business needs a form builder or landing page builder at some point. That’s exciting for me as the Growth Lead, because from a market perspective there are almost infinite possibilities and opportunities for us to grow Paperform as a business and a brand. That’s what I love about the job itself, I guess. It just has huge potential and I love trying to help us reach that.

Jack: You were one of Paperform’s first employees. Tell us about how the company has grown since you came on board.

Vlad: I met Dean and Diony [Paperform’s founders] in December of 2018. Back at that time they were the only ones running the business. It’s interesting because at the beginning, they weren’t really sure if they wanted to grow Paperform as a business.

Their original vision was of a lifestyle business, a way for them to escape the rat race, but when Paperform had early success, Dean and Diony were faced with an important decision: stick to their original vision, or follow the natural trajectory of where the business was moving.

They were open to exploring their options, and that’s when they originally brought me on board as a consultant. As two people who had done a great job growing the business with very little marketing expertise, they wanted to assess whether they should try and grow, or put the brakes on existing growth because it was getting beyond their abilities to run the business alone.

We quickly figured out that “Paperform” as a business really had a life of its own. We looked at the numbers and did some market research. There was no escaping the facts.

Even with an insane level of competition and Dean and Diony working on it alone, the business was getting fantastic results (growing between 5-15% month over month in 2018 before I came on board).

That was it. Dean and Diony decided to commit to growing the business and it’s been a wild ride since then. In terms of how the company has changed? Yeah, it’s been massive in a very short period of time. Not just in terms of the growth of the company, but also the huge improvements that have been made to the product along the way.

For example, we didn’t always have our features like eCommerce, custom PDFs and our WordPress plugin among many other things. Over the past three years, the product has improved a lot and has many features that competitors don’t. It’s also a lot faster, more user-friendly, and has its own strong brand in the market and among consumers.

Then Dean and Diony started hiring more people—we’re at 15 now—and they’ve done a fantastic job of bringing the right people on board that have helped with growth and really shaped the company.

Jack: Were you ever unsure about Paperform’s potential?

Vlad: Oh no, right from the beginning I thought the idea had legs. There was a clear indicator about product-market fit in the sense that Dean and Diony managed to grow Paperform already just by themselves.

They didn’t even do much marketing—it was just all growing through word of mouth and partnerships like Zapier and the AppSumo campaign. From day one people loved the product.

That was a clear indicator that the business was scalable. I think the major dilemma that I had as a growth marketer at the very beginning was, how do we stand out? How do we gain the share of voice in that market? Because the space is so saturated and competitive.

Especially back when I came on board, when most people thought of a form builder they would just go and type in Typeform or Jotform. Few would actually do research or look for new tools out there, which wasn’t helped by the fact that if they did do that, Paperform wasn’t too discoverable.

So that was, kind of still is, the battle. Making sure that Paperform is mentioned everywhere. That Paperform is easily discoverable. That people searching for specific types of surveys and forms can find us. In many ways, we’ve come a long way, and in many ways, we’re still at the very beginning of that journey.

Jack: What would you say is the biggest mistake that hinders startup growth?

Vlad: So one thing that I really like about Paperform is that it’s a bootstrapped business. That means it’s a no B.S. environment basically. We focus on rapid growth, not on some vanity metrics that we’ve come up with to impress our investors.

In the past, I worked for VC-backed companies, and in my opinion, VC funding doesn’t necessarily help create better companies. They tend to mistake growth and building a sustainable business.

For example, VC-backed companies would monetise later. They would monetise a lot less aggressively and would focus on vanity metrics like the number of sign-ups or the total number of free users, and not necessarily worry about revenue growth because their paycheques don’t depend on revenue growth.

They depend on impressing the investors who will then invest more money in the business. This is particularly dangerous, in my opinion, for first-time founders who’ve never really built a successful business or a sustainable one. And so they would just optimise for the wrong metrics and indicators of success.

That’s why I love Paperform as well. It’s real in that sense. We are building a business here and only focusing on what really matters. It’s about what we’re doing and what’s actually happening rather than trying to impress outside parties.

Also, I feel like it shapes a different kind of company culture. Take you and me, for example. We’re not scared we won’t have a paycheque in two or three month’s time, because the company isn’t going to raise funding. We know the business is profitable and sustainable, so it’s a more relaxed and focused environment, with a lot less stress.

Jack: In the last few years Paperform’s marketing team has grown. What does it look like now?

Vlad: Yeah, it sure has. Right now we’re five people. Inside the wider Growth team, there are two smaller teams: a Content team and an SEO team. The content team is, well, you Jack, and Laura who just joined us.

The SEO team is just Bec at the moment, and we’re now hiring another junior SEO marketer. Vrinda—our Growth Manager—and I are kind of all over the place. Just doing everything and nothing at the same time. That’s basically it for the Marketing team. We’re a small but agile group that have been able to achieve some cool things so far, with much more to come.

Jack: How do you find working for a remote-first company?

Vlad: That’s an interesting one because the last time I worked in a traditional workplace with an actual office was back in 2015 in my first job. For my second job I joined a remote-first team and I haven’t looked back since then. I’m really used to it.

It’s great. I truly can’t imagine working for a company that would require me to go to the office and spend eight hours in the office on a day-to-day basis. I wouldn’t even work for such a company! Like, in all seriousness, I would just refuse.

Obviously that’s impossible with Paperform because our team is all based in different cities and countries. We’re a global business, so it’s never going to happen. Remote work is just natural for us and it’s no problem at all—if anything it’s a strength.

We all communicate really well and the workflows and processes are structured in such a way that remote work never feels like a handicap. It’s a really fun and productive experience.

Jack: Lots of people have recently moved into working remotely for the first time. Do you have any advice for remote work?

Vlad: My advice would be to make sure you maintain a good work-life balance. There has been a range of studies that indicate people who work remotely end up working a lot more than they do in the office, which has definitely been my personal experience.

It’s very easy when you’re working remotely to spend too many hours doing deep work at home and let the work-life seesaw tip way over towards the “work” portion of things. With remote work, the whole notion of an eight-hour workday gets lost because you have meetings, and many people don’t count meetings as “work” when it 100% is.

So I think it’s important to focus on output and not on time worked. And it’s important for both the employers to communicate this and for employees to understand this, and understand how to structure their workdays.

Structuring your days is vital. Set some time apart for deep work, but also leave room for the menial tasks and meetings spread evenly across your week. But as with most things, it’s easier said than done.

Jack: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Vlad: There’s one really good piece of advice that Dean and Diony gave me actually.

It’s not really so much career advice, as it is management advice, but basically, they shared with me that one of their core principles when managing people is to always assume the best about other people.

It sounds simple, but it’s really good advice. It’s something that I’ve been using myself, not just in work or management, but in my day to day personal life.

Jack: Are there any specific books or resources you’d recommend for people interested in Growth and Marketing?

Vlad: Yeah, so one really good book that I read many years ago when getting started is Traction, How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabrielle Weinberg. It’s written by the guy who started DuckDuckGo, the privacy-focused search engine. It’s fantastic. It breaks down Growth into different channels and has in-depth case studies for every single one.

And they also came up with a framework for Growth prioritisation. For example, if you want to grow your startup from scratch, you need to look at these 16 channels and then select three or four that might work, then run a test.

Depending on what works you should just double down on that one specific channel until you’ve exhausted it, then you move on to the next one.

This is what we did at the very beginning with Paperform. But now we’ve grown, we have a bigger team so we’re actually able to focus on a couple of channels at the same time because we’re a bigger business. But that framework of doubling down on one thing at the very beginning works really well for early-stage startups and businesses.

Jack: Last serious one. Do you have any advice for someone wanting to work for Paperform?

Vlad: I can offer two major pieces of advice. The first is to be a really nice person. The second is to be willing to go the extra mile or to do your best, whichever you prefer.

At Paperform we’ve built a culture of working with truly nice people, but also making sure that our team is full of smart people that are striving for excellence. If you can nail down these two things, it'll go a long way in our book.

Lightning Round ⚡️

Jack: What's one app or program that I couldn't live without?

Vlad: That’d be Omnifocus. It’s a task manager that I started using back in 2017 after a few friends recommended it. It took me almost half a year to properly set up, but now I can’t imagine my life without it.

All the tasks have multiple views so you can break them into projects and have them forecast to you. It’s not particularly complex or anything, but it just makes it easy for me to see the tasks that I need to complete—and when.

I literally have everything in OmniFocus. I couldn’t live without the recurring tasks. I’ve got them set up for work processes, but also for personal things like reminders to call my grandma, or buy birthday presents. And it all syncs natively with Google Calendar, and they work great together.

Jack: What’s one book you think everyone should read?

Vlad: I don’t really recommend people the books I’m reading because they’re in a very niche category (I love biographies of historical figures like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar). But one book I can recommend is Getting Things Done by David Allen.

I started using OmniFocus after reading this book. It’s about being more productive and how to structure your life in a way that it’s not overwhelming. The idea is to structure your tasks into projects that have clear deadlines and have a way every day to review what you need to do and when.

Jack: Name three people, dead or alive, that you’d invite to your ideal dinner party.

Vlad: The first person I’d invited would be my mum-in-law. She’s a historian and loves telling stories. She’s a really good guest at a dinner party. She’s just a good person to start with, but she always finds important, deep topics to explore based on people’s backgrounds.

For example, I’m Ukrainian. So she’d want to talk about the history of Ukraine; anthropology and how Ukrainians are connected to these other countries and whatnot, which I find fascinating because history’s a big hobby of mine.

The second person would be my Auntie. She passed away a number of years ago, but she was a history teacher at my school and was the person that I got my love for history from. We had a very close relationship. She actually always told me that I needed to marry a woman with a knowledge of history, and that brings me to my third guest: Roxy, my wife.

Yes, she also loves history (both her parents happen to be university history professors too), but that’s not why she’s invited. I really enjoy dinners with Roxy—with other people or without other people, so I’d definitely want her there.

Jack: Finally, what’s something people don’t know about you?

Vlad: Well it depends who you are. Seeing I’ve never shared a meal with the Paperform team, you guys probably don’t know that I don’t eat fish. I don’t like it. I don’t eat it. I don’t mind seafood like shrimp and octopus, but I can’t stand fish. So there you go.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for a new instalment next month. Like the idea of working with Vlad? Check out all our open positions here.

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