First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Evgenia Khimenko: There is no doubt that COVID has affected our lives and things will never be quite the same. We have been forced to adapt to the current global situation and accept the fact that we have become limited by the circumstances. The most important thing currently is to keep calm and follow safety measures. We have always heeded the recommendations of the Ukrainian Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined Mindy support
Evgenia Khimenko: All my life I have been faced with challenges that prepared me for my adult life. I received my first managerial position when I was 22 years old managing teams consisting of 30-50 people. Then I joined Mindy Support in 2015. The company was in its startup stage and I knew that I had an opportunity to create something big. There were only a handful of people in our team and we were a part of a larger IT company. We had an office that was 25m2 and not many people believed in our ability to succeed.
We kept looking for our niche and places where we could show our abilities and thanks to the hard work and dedication of our team, we started to grow. Naturally, we encountered many problems on our way to the top. We put all the processes in place ourselves such as recruitment, training, team assembly, quality assurance and many other things. All the while, we were hiring over 200 people every month.
I vividly remember a particular Saturday when I gathered our team to come up with a strategy on how we were going to launch one of the most challenging projects we’d ever had.
It had to be a Saturday since there was so much work and very few of us that we simply did not have enough time during the workweek to think about tactical and strategic decisions. We created a clear plan on how to move forward and started opening new locations to actualize our development plans. Over the following 12 months, we grew to more than 1,000 people and opened five new offices all over Ukraine.
At first, I didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of what we created. We truly did the impossible. We made all of this happen thanks to teamwork and everybody putting in their maximum effort. We always kept our eyes on the goal and didn’t stop until we got there.
Today, I run all the behind-the-scenes processes at one of the largest Data Annotation and BPO companies in Eastern Europe, Mindy Support, which I took from bootstrapped and nothing to hundreds of clients, including several Fortune 500 and GAFAM companies, and over 2000 staff.
I make sure we hire the best out of the best staff. My role is to give the right direction to the team in terms of the company development and deliver value for every client no matter whether it is a large enterprise or small startup. I do whatever it takes to make our clients satisfied and proud of working with us.
How does Mindy Support innovate?
Evgenia Khimenko: Thanks to the clients we work with we constantly innovate. They drive us to be groundbreaking and deliver the best possible results. We help companies in the AI field to innovate, by taking the load of data annotation off their shoulders. Thanks to our clients we have a rigorous QA process in place that makes sure we get the job done right the first time around and meet all deadlines. We must make sure that we keep up with innovations in every aspect of the business: recruitment, operations, cybersecurity, delivery, quality assurance.
Our customers are the most innovative and the most demanding companies and startups. So, it is a huge challenge to meet their demands. But we have proven ourselves to be successful in delivering great results and service to even the most demanding of clients.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business and how are you coping?
Evgenia Khimenko: The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on virtually every industry and company. The only difference is how those individual companies have been able to cope and deal with all the changes. As far as Mindy Support is concerned, we handled all the changes very efficiently, without any service disruptions for our customers. We constantly monitored the latest information to stay up to date and this allowed us to be better prepared for the shift to remote work.
When the decree from the Ukrainian Health Ministry came to close all of the offices, we immediately started making sure our employees had everything they needed to work comfortably from home. This included giving them PCs, if they did not have one, and offering to pay their internet bills to make sure they had the fastest connection. Most importantly, we were not laying people off, like a lot of other companies were doing and we continued to pay out salaries on time. This gave our employees and our clients further confidence in the stability of Mindy Support, which allowed us to not only survive, but also thrive in such a difficult environment.
We faced another challenge with remote work: meeting all the cyber security requirements of different clients. Every client has very different requirements and we had to meet all of them. We managed to find solutions for every situation and all client requirements and improved our cybersecurity. We mitigated the risk of cyberattacks and data breaches while working remotely.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Evgenia Khimenko: Yes, of course. We needed to figure out how we were going to maintain our QA processes to make sure all the tasks were being completed on time and with the highest quality. We even managed to improve our QA process. We also needed to think about how we were going to handle the return to the office. Obviously, it would be too risky to bring everybody back right away, so there had to be decisions made in terms of the personnel that would come first and in consequent stages. Such processes are constantly adjusted depending on the situation on the ground.
We learned a lot of lessons. First, we learned that we needed to stay close while being a distance apart. We utilized Zoom, Hangouts App, Slack and other technology to ensure communication throughout the lockdown. This goes for internal communication between team members and with our clients as well. We learned about the importance of fast adaptations. There simply was not enough time to have meetings and to envisage all the possible scenarios that could come into play. We had to roll with the tide and adapt on the fly.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety and how do you project yourself and Mindy Support into the future?
Evgenia Khimenko: I think that the world around us is adapting as everyone gets used to having stress, which is now the norm. The secret is to be able to hear yourself, and to minimize your dependency on external forces – people around you, weather, pandemic etc. Of course, this is the ideal and in reality, life is a rollercoaster. When things do not go the way I want, I try to work with myself which I am doing through yoga, meditation and nature therapy. You need to hear yourself and recharge your batteries with the right energy.
In terms of Mindy’s future, I feel very optimistic. This is a company with great potential, and which gives its staff great opportunities. We joke that working at Mindy Support for one year is the same as two in any other company – time flies here with a bunch of ideas, including projects which we generate by ourselves propelling us forward developing the business and strengthening the company to be ready for new challenges.
Despite of the COVID pandemic, we continue to expand our operations during these challenging times, with increasing demand for new AI products in the automotive, healthcare, agricultural and other industries, and we are one of the market leaders in actualizing data annotation projects in these areas. Our BPO services are also in high demand and right now we are providing more customer support outsourcing, especially tech support and back office services. This helps our clients become more efficient while lowering costs and that is a win-win for everybody.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Evgenia Khimenko: My favorite joke is that we are not competing with concrete companies but we’re competing with a whole country which is obviously India for data annotation services. In a super-fast growing world you should be able to deliver exactly what your clients want and even foresee their expectations, and at the same time think over a long term period – what will be on demand in the near future and get ready for this. Thus, we’re investing a lot in R&D, cybersecurity and adapting QA processes to make sure we’re strong enough for more complex and challenging projects and being competitive moving forward.
Your final thoughts
Evgenia Khimenko: I just wanted to take this opportunity to remind CEOs, business owners, and startup founders that every crisis is a new beginning. Treat this time as a challenge and new opportunity. Believe in yourself, your company, your employees, and your ideas. I am sure you will find the best possible solutions and will drive your company to success. At Mindy Support, we provide support for every business and help them find the most efficient solutions.
If you need advice for your startup or personal advice on leadership and crisis management, please feel free to contact me. I am open to communication and will gladly help you find the way to deal with difficulties and drive your startup to new heights.