As many of you already know, Vladimir Lugovsky is Akveo CEO and co-founder with years of experience in the industry. Being a CEO means he has a lot of inspiring stories to share with our readers. In this interview, we’re going to talk about the early beginnings of Akveo, from the initial idea to challenges the company has successfully overcome.
The early stages
Was it a gradual decision or lightbulb moment to start UI Bakery? How did you validate the idea and get your first three customers?
Vladimir: Our flagship low-code SaaS product UI Bakery was funded using the revenue we’ve received from consulting projects we had at Akveo. At some point, we realized that we had built many admin panels, and most of the work was quite repetitive. In particular, we would start most of our projects by removing obsolete widgets from our ngx-admin dashboard, then moving some widgets around and adding some standard CRUD pages. We started to look for a product that would eliminate this repetitive work but couldn't find anything. So technically, we decided to build a product that would fit our own needs.
So far, almost all of our clients have come from digital marketing channels. In particular, there’s a strong community behind our Open Source products. So, shortly after the release of UI Bakery, we just placed some links/banners on documentation and demo websites, and this is how we’ve got our initial customers. But obviously, developers are not your average Joe's type of users, so we also use paid channels to test hypotheses for different audiences.
The initial release was a huge step forward for us. We started to receive a lot of customer feedback based on analytics and support channels. Initially, we tried to rely solely on these sources. But now I realize that this was a mistake. What we needed to do (and what we started to do sometime later) was talking to users about their problems instead of our product.
The analytics and support are great channels for building a better product when it already has a product-market fit. But if you’re only looking for it or if you’re trying to find a new niche, you need to talk to users about their problems. This is the best way to get some insights that would allow you to build what the market needs.
What about the target demographic? And surely, our readers would like to know about the funniest/most strange customer request you've had so far.
Vladimir: Our customers are medium-sized B2B companies looking to create/re-do internal or operational tools. Currently, we’re primarily aiming at the US and EU markets. The most strange customer request we’ve received so far was from someone who wanted to create an erotic website similar to OnlyFans. He asked if we could allow him to build such a website using our platform. He even provided us with two rock-solid arguments: 1) He will not post porn, only erotic pictures. Patreon allows erotic stuff, so he was pretty sure there was no reason for us to forbid that. 2) His mom was okay with that.
How did you fund the idea initially? Where did you meet your co-founder/founding team? Any tips for finding first employees?
Vladimir: Akveo, the company behind UI Bakery, was bootstrapped. Before starting it, I worked as a freelancer for about a year and saved around $70k. Initially, I wanted to buy an apartment, but I decided to use this money to start my business later on. Luckily, I was able to get back the initial investments within the first year.
Apart from money, one more thing that I got from freelancing is the understanding that I desperately needed a co-founder. In fact, it was exhausting to handle everything by myself with nobody to back me up. I had two iterations of finding a co-founder. At first, I approached a guy from my university who was also proactive in starting his own thing. Well… Okay, technically, he offered me to do something together. But we had different mentalities, and shortly after, we understood that this would not work for us. So we decided to go separate ways.
However, this experience helped me to understand what kind of person I needed. Funny enough, this very person - Konstantin Danovsky - was always around, and he was helping me with some small projects while I was freelancing. He was always responsible, and what's more important, he was delivering good results. It's hard to express how happy I am right now that we have started Akveo together.
Soon after, it became evident that, in the first place, you need to hire the people you know. Most of our employees are people that we have worked with at our previous jobs. It was important that they could trust us, even if it seemed a little bit risky for them at that time.
Did you run any companies prior? What motivated you to start your own business? What were your family and friends' first thoughts on your company?
Vladimir: Before starting my own thing, I spent three years working for a large software development company. If you have ever worked in such a company, you know that you often can't understand why some decisions are made. What’s even worse is that you can’t influence them. At some point, I understood that I wanted to be my own boss, so I left and started to freelance.
My first freelance client came by a reference from a colleague. Despite this lasting engagement, the problem was that the client didn’t really want to support me in growing and expanding. Actually, I was asking for more work, suggesting hiring more people on my end, but I managed to persuade him to hire just one junior developer. On the other hand, it was hard to find time to focus on growth while coding myself. So, after a year of freelancing, two things became clear: I needed to quit coding and instead find a co-founder with whom I could share responsibilities. So I talked to my client about that, and we decided to go our own ways.
I can’t say that my family and friends were supportive. For instance, my mother was sceptical most of the time. First, when I quit my job in a large company, and then when I quit freelancing for a client and started a company. But now she is very proud of me.
What motivates you when things go wrong? Do you have any advice for startups? What has driven the most sales?
Vladimir: Any success is a matter of coincidence. But you can increase your chances by doing things with decent quality. People see when something's done well or when you're striving to solve some problems, even if your product is far from being ideal. If they feel that passion, they will trust you, and you'll be successful. In our case, we received the most sales when we invested nine man-months in building an admin template and published it for free on GitHub, while you had to pay for similar ones with lower quality on marketplaces.
Besides, never stop learning. When you face some success, it's easy to lose your head. But in fact, it will be even harder to make the next big step tomorrow. We could have found a PMF for UI Bakery much earlier if we hadn't been arrogant and listened to what the market needed instead of thinking that we already knew that.
How do you protect yourself from the competition? Do you have any trademarks/IP/patents?
Vladimir: Currently, we are not thinking that much about protection against competitors. We only do IP rights protection, which is a part of our employee contracting, legal paperwork, and accounting. What we need now is to focus on the product-market fit. While patenting is important, it takes time and requires effort. So as for now, it will distract us from achieving our primary goals. But when we start to experience exponential growth, this will become a necessity. At the end of the day, that's what investors want if we will try to get VC funding.
What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without? Why are they essential?
Vladimir: I would mention Google Workspace (GSuite), Slack, and Hubspot. But if I had to pick one thing, that would be Google Workspace. Even now, I’m genuinely excited about how much value you get for the money you pay. For $6/user, there’s Mail, Calendar, Drive, Video Calls, Notes, Tasks, Sites, etc. I can’t name any other tool that has a similar price/value ratio.
Helpful podcasts and books
What are your favorite books and podcasts?
Vladimir: I think the book “Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams” by Tom DeMarco helped us build a decent corporate culture in the beginning. I would definitely recommend it to any founder.
As for the podcasts, I like what YCombinator does. I think their “Startup School” episodes contain that bit of essential information that is good to think about over and over again. When you work in a startup, it's easy to get distracted and make irrational moves that don’t help grow your product. Sometimes, it’s essential to take a step back and think about the basic things to keep yourself focused.
The next steps
What are the next products you’re working on? Are there any releases you can tell us about? Where do you see the company in 5 years? Would you ever sell the company?
Vladimir: Our plan for the near future is to find a product-market-fit for UI Bakery. During the last couple of years, we’ve built a great core for the product. Now we need to focus on some niches and make UI Bakery able to provide value for our customers fast. That’s what we understood while talking to them.
Once we find a PMF, we will consider raising VC money to speed up the growth. We believe in our product and the whole No-Code movement. I definitely see UI Bakery taking a large portion of that market in 5 years. I can’t say if we ever sell the company. It depends on the offer we may receive. But I wouldn't mind seeing UI Bakery or Akveo listed on NASDAQ or any other stock market.
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