Scaling Success: An In-Depth Interview with Anton Volovyk, Co-CEO of Reface

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Amid the vibrant backdrop of the international startup conference TechChill Milano, delve into a revealing interview with Anton Volovyk, Co-CEO of Reface. Uncover the meritocratic journey, innovative culture, and AI insights.

Oleksandr Komarevych: – The StartupReporter focuses on early-stage founders, team culture, and founder stories. I’ll start with the three questions.

Firstly, your journey from internship to co-CEO reflects meritocracy in Reface’s team culture. What makes Reface’s team culture unique, and do you have any advice for early founders?

Anton Volovyk: – Reface is founded on meritocracy, evident from the start. The seven co-founders rotated roles with a shared goal of building a major AI company in Ukraine. 

Another key aspect is that Reface operates as a B2C company, a notable distinction from B2B models. Our ability to swiftly translate ideas into scalable products, often within four to five months, sets us apart. This rapid cycle allows for immediate impact, often leading to results-based promotions.

Furthermore, we prioritise our unique culture. We conducted an extensive culture exercise at Reface six months ago, engaging in surveys and open discussions over several months to define our identity. 

The culmination of this effort led to the characterisation of Reface’s culture as a hackathon. We value individuals who thrive in a high-energy, fast-paced environment akin to the dynamic nature of a hackathon.

Oleksandr: – Any additional advice for early-stage founders regarding shaping their team culture?

Anton: – Absolutely. Defining your team culture from the outset is crucial, especially for long-term success and scalability. In the initial stages, hiring is relatively manageable as you draw from personal networks. However, time constraints and network limitations come into play as you scale.

Beyond the first 20 hires, building a systematic approach becomes essential to ensure the right people join the team. While hiring is often intuitive and based on personal connections early on, a well-defined culture articulated on paper becomes increasingly important as the hiring process becomes more rapid and complex. 

It’s not just about having a culture in your mind; it’s about clearly defining it on paper with concrete examples to ensure a shared understanding among the growing team. This upfront investment in culture definition will yield significant benefits as the company expands.

Our website highlights Reface’s culture, framed as a hackathon. The key principles include:

  1. Commitment to People: Prioritizing both business success and creating an enjoyable work environment.
  2. Sincerity: Aspiring to foster a culture of transparency, acknowledging room for improvement.
  3. Not Indifference: Rejecting indifference as our enemy, we value work as self-expression and challenge the status quo.
  4. “Hack It”: Emphasizing speed and agility in execution, challenging conventional approaches.

The foundational pillars revolve around people and sincerity. We strive to build a company that is not only business-wise successful but also a place where people want to spend their time. 

Our culture focuses on transparency; while it’s an ongoing aspiration, we are making progress. The other two pillars include a mindset to “hack it,” doing things quickly breaking norms, and rejecting indifference.

Oleksandr: – You’ve been actively involved in a project supporting Ukraine, having raised $220k. Can you share the background of this initiative, what prompted your involvement, and how it evolved?

Anton:– When the war started, like everyone, I was in shock. The initial response involved constant news consumption and discussions. Simultaneously, my friends abroad expressed a desire to contribute, seeking the most impactful way. Traditional organisations like the Red Cross were considered, but concerns about significant cuts in donations arose.

Friends started sending funds to my account, with the intention of my distributing them efficiently. However, challenges emerged, such as difficulties in sending money to Ukraine and limitations on what could be purchased with the donations. Leveraging Reface’s culture, I reached out to our team, seeking solutions from both a finance/legal and business development perspective.

The result was a structured project to optimise donations. This collaborative effort demonstrated our commitment to helping in a meaningful and organised manner, highlighting the agility and responsiveness of our team.

Oleksandr: – Given Reface’s diverse product launches with AI at the core, how do you foresee the future of AI? What developments do you anticipate in the short term, say, the next three years?

Anton: – The future of AI holds significant promise. In the short term, a few key trends stand out. Firstly, AI’s consumer adoption is growing rapidly as people experience the empowering impact of AI in their daily lives. On the enterprise level, adoption is slower due to the heightened concerns about the cost of failure and legal implications.

Secondly, the power of open source is driving an explosion of innovation. Independent developers, companies, research institutions, and universities contribute to a vast knowledge pool, creating a dynamic landscape for AI development.

Lastly, the focus will be on use cases. Businesses must address real-world problems and provide solutions that people want. The challenge lies in understanding users’ needs rather than merely relying on the novelty of AI. It’s crucial to remember that people seek solutions to their problems, not just AI applications.

Anton Volovyk, Co-CEO of Reface
Anton Volovyk, Co-CEO of Reface

Oleksandr: – Great insights. Now, shifting a bit towards the team, how would you describe the Reface team in one word?

Anton: – Refacians. It’s a term we use, inspired by “Martians.” It signifies pushing boundaries and maintaining a tribe-like culture, where some fit and others may not.

Oleksandr: – Moving on to personal preferences, do you have a book you’d consider gifting to someone, whether fiction or non-fiction?

Anton: – One impactful book is “Exponential Age” by Azeem Azhar. His thoughtful insights on AI and its mid-to-long-term implications make it a compelling read for those interested in building something. 

Another recommendation is Clayton Christensen. It’s the second, probably most famous professor from Harvard. Unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago. And he’s famous for the word disruption because he’s the one who made it to life.

He has a lot of amazing research on how industries get disrupted and which companies have more probability of surviving and which do not. It’s like Innovator’s Dilemma, which is one of his books. So, this is an amazing read. But I want to suggest not this read but the one he wrote about how you need to take a strategic approach to your life – “How Will You Measure Your Life?”. 

How do you need to think about relationships, friendship, your career long term, and work-life balance? And it’s very cool because you see frameworks people use for business, which are applied to real-life examples.

I think it’s very powerful. For example, during my MBA at Harvard, they made us all read this book. It is not about only navigating our careers but also just to be happy. 

Oleksandr: – You mentioned your MBA experience. How did pursuing an MBA impact you, and in what ways did it change your approach and perspectives?

Anton: – The MBA had several profound impacts on me. 

Firstly, it provided a pause from my career, allowing time for reflection on life goals. While this may seem challenging as friends progress in their careers, the pause offers valuable introspection. 

Secondly, the diverse international community in MBA programs broadens perspectives significantly. Interacting with people from various backgrounds and experiences enriches your worldview.

Thirdly, the university setting makes it easier to approach different people, fostering a culture of mentorship and guidance. The open exchange of ideas and the willingness to help students create a conducive environment for personal growth. 

Overall, the MBA experience expanded my horizons, helping me understand my goals and broaden my thinking, though it might not necessarily go deeper, which one can pursue independently.

So I think it also helps. Uh, yeah. And, uh, in my opinion, it probably expanded my width of what I see and how. I understand what I want. I wouldn’t necessarily say it can help you go deeper. If you want, you can. But you can do it by yourself. But what will help you is to expand and broaden your thinking.

Oleksandr: – In the last six months, as you’ve taken on the role of co-CEO, what personal changes or realisations have you experienced?

Anton:  – The major shift for me has been the need to adapt to the expanded scope of responsibilities that come with being a co-CEO. 

Previously, I worked with smaller teams and tasks, but virtually everything within the company demands my attention now. The challenge lies in ruthlessly prioritising tasks since time is limited, and I must focus on what truly matters. 

I’ve learned the importance of doing a few things well at a time and being mindful of delegation. Embracing the ability to delegate effectively has been crucial for personal and company growth.

Oleksandr: –  How do you manage your productivity and prioritise tasks? Are there any productivity hacks?

Anton: – Absolutely; productivity is a crucial aspect, and my co-CEO, Ivan, and I often exchange ideas on this. First, I assessed my calendar and eliminated many recurring meetings, especially status updates, as they often lack substantial value. I set a cap of 10 hours per week for recurring meetings. The rest of the time is split between handling operational questions and focusing on deep dives into two main tasks per week.

I highly recommend reading Paul Graham’s insightful essay on managing schedules. He emphasises the need for managers to balance meetings and deep work. It suggests having chunks of uninterrupted time, around three to four hours a week, dedicated to strategic projects and deep dives to propel the company forward.

Oleksandr: – How do you manage your priorities? Do you have some productivity hacks?

Anton: – Yes, managing priorities is crucial. I focus on limiting recurring meetings to 10 hours per week, reserving time for operational questions, and deep-diving into a maximum of two strategic projects weekly. Paul Graham’s essay on managing schedules has been instrumental in shaping my approach to balancing meetings and deep work.

Oleksandr and Anton at TechChill Milano
Oleksandr and Anton at TechChill Milano