We talked to Stefan Chekanov of Brosix on how its instant messaging service is helping with remote collaboration during COVID-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Stefan Chekanov: Thankfully, our families are all healthy. I say “our” because Brosix began as a family business and family remains front and center of the operation today. Even those team members who aren’t relatives are considered family at Brosix. We’re taking everything in stride and doing our best to stay positive and productive, but also vigilant, in the face of a constantly shifting situation. Moreover, we’ve developed a work plan that reflects the guidance laid out by local officials and ensures everyone on the Brosix team can focus first and foremost on staying healthy and safe.
Tell us about you, your career, and how Brosix came to be.
Stefan Chekanov: Simply put, I’m a tech guy. I’ve been working on various tech-related projects for much of my life, long before Brosix actually. And it was those early projects that led to the birth of Brosix.
Back in the late 90s, my brother, Svetoslav, and I had an outsourcing software development company. The nature of the work meant that we were often collaborating across borders and time zones. The era, however, left us few options to collaborate – mainly emails and the public instant messaging apps of the time, like Yahoo Messenger, MSN, and ICQ. When you think about it, it’s really remarkable how far things have come! Remote collaboration during those days was much less efficient, if possible at all, and not all that secure. It’s hard to imagine a business today relying on apps like these. But we certainly did! That said, we also knew that there had to be a better way.
Luckily, as software developers, we were well-positioned to answer that need. So in between projects, we started working on developing an instant messaging service to meet the needs of the business environment and remote collaboration (something we were all too familiar with), but with all of the benefits of these consumer apps. In other words, what you now know as Brosix.
How do you innovate at Brosix?
Stefan Chekanov: Because Brosix was born as a side project, we were often working on it during what should have been our free time. And we were doing everything – from product development to marketing – ourselves. That meant we had little time off to rest up and refresh. After a while, you start to develop tunnel vision. You’re fixed on a goal, but you’re no longer able to react to the obstacles in front of you, let alone innovate. It’s really not a sustainable business plan for creativity.
Today, we’re wholeheartedly focused on Brosix! More importantly, we have an entire team of creative individuals who play a key role in developing the business. I challenge everyone at Brosix to constantly grow and innovate. But innovation is more than just the next new feature. In bringing different voices to the table and being receptive to new ideas, as well as disagreement, we’re creating a culture of leadership. In turn, that helps us to not just make smarter decisions, but inspire an environment of innovation and creativity where everyone has a stake.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business? How are you coping?
Stefan Chekanov: There isn’t a business out there that hasn’t been affected in some shape or form by the pandemic. Obviously, industries like travel and tourism, hospitality, and transportation, to name a few, have been hit particularly hard. So in those regards, we count ourselves fortunate to operate in the tech sphere and, more specifically, in the realm of secure team communication. The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare vulnerabilities in many areas of society. That includes the need for productive and safe communication, especially as kitchen tables around the world now double as conference rooms.
With that in mind, even major tech players have furloughed workers and closed corporate offices and factories. No one has been exempt. And so we’ve adapted, too. We’ve been working from home just like everyone else, supervising school lessons and homework in between product updates and feature releases. In order to cope, each day you have to bring patience, a sense of humor, and the awareness that countless others are in the same boat. Because the reality is, despite the pandemic, people rely on Brosix to ensure seamless and efficient communication.
Have you had to make difficult choices? What are the lessons learned?
Stefan Chekanov: The Coronavirus pandemic has shed light on the very real difficulties people are facing today. Navigating how best to manage family priorities, health and child care, work responsibilities, and physical and mental health – all in the context of COVID-19 – has a genuine impact on the well-being of loved ones, friends, coworkers, and employees alike. In that regard, we’re not unique at Brosix. These days, each of us is faced with difficult choices.
That said, the lessons that I’ve learned over the years at Brosix, and in life, hold true regardless of whether there’s a pandemic going on. First, step back and take stock of the situation. Giving yourself a moment to strategize for different contingencies keeps you from taking a rash course of action.
If others are around, it’s ok to admit that you need some time before making a decision. That has the added value of allowing you to bring them into the fold. And that’s beneficial for a host of reasons. Involving others in the decision-making process not only broadens the points of view and potential solutions at your disposal but also simplifies the communication process afterwards. It also helps you identify leaders or those you can empower to make decisions in your place.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Brosix in the future?
Stefan Chekanov: Stress and anxiety are part and parcel of the business world. But as the COVID-19 crisis has shown, unpredictability can come from anywhere. Take steps to control what you can, but prepare yourself for uncertainty. As I mentioned, I challenge my team to continuously learn and grow. That keeps us agile and well-positioned to react and adapt.
At Brosix, we’re in the business of communication. And communication is vital during times of uncertainty. We communicate everything and often, including problems, successes, fears, and assurances. Everyone’s got a finger on the pulse of the team’s emotional state. In this way, there are fewer surprises.
There’s also much to be said about taking good self-care. I take time off to enjoy loved ones, friends, and hobbies, not to mention plenty of breaks while working and adequate rest. These things sound cliché, but they’re really the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. For any business to sustain itself into the future, it’s crucial that well-being and performance are not only modeled from the top but valued as equals.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Stefan Chekanov: Two names immediately come to mind. In terms of features and core technology, Skype for Business and Trillian are most closely comparable to Brosix, so we consider them true competitors. Though that number’s about to be reduced by half as Microsoft will soon pull the plug on Skype for Business. Of course, Slack and Microsoft Teams are two solutions that have made real names for themselves over the past few years. As you can see, we’re in a crowded segment. But that’s what you want! Competition keeps you on your toes. It drives you to keep innovating.
You can see from the sheer volume of business instant messengers and team chats on the market, there’s a real demand for more efficient ways of working. COVID-19 has shined a spotlight on the entire state of work. But while the debate between working from home or the office remains fluid, the necessity of effective communication and collaboration is absolute.
We’ll continue to capitalize on that necessity in a couple of ways, first, by providing a top-notch customer experience. We have a great relationship with our customers. We listen to them and take their feedback on board. We’ll continue that dialogue so that we can keep making the improvements that help our customers communicate and collaborate more effectively. We’ll also remain focused on providing businesses with a hub for teamwork that’s both highly secure and productive. Ultimately, that’s why people choose Brosix. And we’ll strive to not only reward them for that choice but to make their work easier and more efficient.
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