We talked to Maria Rybak, founder, and CEO at PVLSE, about turning passion into a business, and this is what she said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Maria Rybak: Thankfully we are doing well. My sister had been COVID positive but has since recovered. On the mental health side of things, I’d say that everyone has taken a hit. The indefinite lockdowns, the loss of freedoms, inability to see loved ones, are having a considerable and unpredictable effect on everyone, myself included. This is why we’ve launched an initiative to address exactly this issue. More on this below.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded PVLSE.
Maria Rybak: Before founding PVLSE I was working at the World Health Organization in Geneva and to be honest hated most of my time there. I was in total misalignment with myself and therefore suffered from it. Not because of the people, but because of the setup. I’m very free-spirited and having bureaucracy imposed on me drains my soul.
Deep down I always knew that I wanted to run my own company, and the idea of a platform that would help people earn a living from their passion came to me naturally as an extension of my own experience. I knew and know so many people who are genuinely unhappy in their jobs but don’t feel like they have the tools to do something they’re truly passionate about. Whether it’s because they can’t let go of security, don’t know where or how to start, or think it’s too difficult.
So we take care of all of those worries by offering an all-in-one solution, that is both easy to use, looks beautiful, and costs nothing upfront. I’m also a big believer in people’s multi-dimensional nature and enabling them to monetize multiple aspects of their skills set and personality.
How does PVLSE innovate?
Maria Rybak: For me, innovation isn’t finding or doing something groundbreaking, we’re simply not in that business. For me, innovation is constantly iterating to be better than we were yesterday. Finding ways to improve, being aware of the market and the competition, and looking for ways to integrate the good ideas and strip away the fat from our product and processes. That, for me, is innovation.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Maria Rybak: Before the pandemic hit our prime focus was on in-person activities and services. We quickly realized that this was no longer viable so we switched to supporting online, and have actually integrated a live video solution into our platform. So from a product perspective, we’ve increased the scope of our offering at a faster pace as a result of COVID.
However, the pandemic has had an effect on the team’s morale, so we’ve been much more supportive and understanding of each other. Also making time on team calls to talk, share ideas and worries. We will certainly continue doing that once all of this blows over.
Earlier I mentioned that we’ve launched an initiative to support people struggling with mental health as a result of COVID. The decision to put PVLSE to charitable use came after I read heartbreaking headlines of teen and parental suicide. As a new mom, that really moved me. So we’re collaborating with creators and charities/NGOs to offer people free recreational activities. Although most of those will be online in order to comply with COVID regulation I strongly believe that connecting with others is the only way to stay sane.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Maria Rybak: Definitely some hard choices when it comes to product roadmaps, execution, and development sprints.
Prioritization is always tricky and gets especially difficult with external instability and changing rules and regulations.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Maria Rybak: The fewer the better. We use slack and zoom daily, google drive for our shared docs, Trello for dev tickets, and that’s it. We also use Trello and notion to map out strategy and roadmaps, but not as often and rather punctually. This is what we’ve always used as our team has always been remote so there was no switch to make when the pandemic hit. Personally, I’m not a fan of using too many tools, it’s so easy to get lost in tracking all of them that it becomes more hassle than productivity.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Maria Rybak: When it comes to providing recreational experiences Airbnb is one of our competitors and it’s actually a company I’ve always looked up to. They’re extremely slick with their user experience and are pretty airtight when it comes to customer management. However, due to the depth of our offering, we don’t consider them so much of a competitor on the supply side as our product is dedicated to serving creators and the breadth of their needs.
Since COVID hit there have been many companies that have sprung out of nowhere attempting to do what we do, and it’s exciting to see so much movement. It validated the idea and shows that the space we’re building in is really hot.
As I said earlier, being aware of our market is key to succeeding but getting caught in a competition is counterproductive. We stay ahead of the game by listening to our customers and working closely with creators, ensuring that their experience with our product and us as a company is always at the highest standard and improving.
Your final thoughts?
Maria Rybak: Even before the pandemic hit a shift was happening in the way we work, the things that people pursue and aspire to. COVID has just exacerbated that and the shift happened at an unprecedentedly fast pace, and unfortunately with major negative externalities. But the silver lining is that we’re building a product exactly at the time where it can positively impact so many people and help them step into their calling.
It feels we are at the time of opportunities of the last financial crisis which birthed many companies that changed the world (like Airbnb for instance).
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