7 Questions with Lilia Stoyanov
Name: Lilia Stoyanov
Current title: CEO
Current organisation: Transformify
Lilia Stoyanov is a Chief Executive Officer and angel investor at Transformify; a fintech and digital transformation leader. She is also a professor at Zigurat Business School, an expert evaluator for Horizon 2020 at the European Commission; an author in various magazines including Entrepreneur.com. Over the years she has held various Chief Financial Officer Positions in several international IT companies.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
One of the most challenging parts of being a CEO is to take risks, especially when the future of your company and your employees depends on it. Like, when we started Transformify, everyone was telling us that it would be impossible to expand globally on a very tiny budget. Still, we took the risk and bootstrapped the company. 4 years later, and being present in more than 150 countries, I can say that it is your strategy that is more important than several funding rounds.
Another challenging part of being a leader is to create and embrace diversity and build an inclusive, welcoming culture for employees. Encouraging diversity of thought leads to innovation and it must be initiated at the top level.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Yes, so I graduated from Oxford University with a major in Financial Strategy. This journey really started for me in 2013 when I was a director at Coca-Cola and I was involved in the business transformation process. During my time there I saw how lots of people lost their jobs due to automation and it was clear that everyone would benefit from a solution that provides equal access to jobs and secure payment no matter what the location. And that's why Transformify was born. It started as a Freelance Management Platform (FMS) offering remote jobs and soon became the recruiter’s best one-stop-shop available in the market. From Employer Branding to candidate sourcing to ATS (Applicant Tracking System) to Diversity Hiring to billing and payments, it’s all that a hiring manager may need. Of course, the shift from a salaried employee to an entrepreneur didn’t happen overnight. It took about 10 years to progress from auditor at EY to GM & CFO at Skrill to Director PTP at Coca-Cola, and finally to become the CEO of my own business.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
We are an all-remote company so working from home, from a coworking office or a café is the norm. As a leader, it is easy to be pulled into multiple directions so it's imperative to have balance, focus, and discipline for all the tasks. My day usually starts with reviewing the tasks for the day, preparing for meetings and conference calls, and communicating with my team.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
One of the most important lessons that I have learned in the last years is the fact that expanding your business globally has more to do with a disruptive strategy and execution than with raising funding each year. Transformify expanded to more than 150 countries because we were open to partnerships. It was our revenue share model that shares 20% of our revenue with our more than 100 partners and affiliates that provided our growth. At first glance, 20% may look a lot but when you compare it to inefficient sales efforts and low return on investment regarding marketing campaigns, it is definitely the best way to go.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I have in mind - ReWork, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. It is definitely a must-read for the new generations. The authors are the founders of Basecamp, a $100 Billion business that provides project management plus an internal communication tool for remote workers.
It is a book full of disruptive messages, showing us how to build businesses out of the box and in a very simplistic way. The 12 chapters of this book inspires everyone to be an entrepreneur and shows us that work doesn't have to be soul-crushing.
At Transformify I always aim for a simple way to work with my teams, avoiding time waste, and providing them the freedom to be creative and be motivated with our projects.
Since we are all remote workers this book is very interesting and also shares my experience so far. To be successful as a company we need to stay aligned with our values and vision; fight for our efficiency and be focused on results. Using the author's words "It's playing what you've got as well as you can that makes a difference. Your tone is in your fingers”.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
Nowadays building leadership capacity is a need since we want to attract and retain top talent workers. It would be very frustrating if our best employees leave the company after so much effort on their training and trust. So, in my opinion, we must learn how to be good leaders and stay a reference for our teams.
At Transformify I work together with my managers in order to provide a true appreciation for our employees. We genuinely care about our teams, we interact daily with everyone providing a cozy company culture where everyone breathes the brand and shares their pains and achievements.
I think it is important to have a mix of leaders in the company, from the agile ones to the innovative and creative ones. In common, they all need to have good communication skills and the ability to reflect on better ways to problem solve. If teams are not performing as well as they should, a leader should have the ability to figure out why and address the issue accordingly.
Building an honest relationship with everyone, observing and learning, is the key to the best leadership and how we keep our team together for a long time.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
Diversity recruitment is in our DNA and I’m very happy to say that so far we have already helped thousands of people with disabilities, people diagnosed with autism, single parents, people living in areas with high unemployment rates, parents of children with special needs, etc. to get them on remote jobs and provide them a decent life. Millions of people are displaced due to war, political instability, natural disaster or lack of jobs and opportunities in their home countries. Consequently, many of them don't have access to the labor market and the banking system and become likely victims of the grey economy and human trafficking.
When I founded Transformify I needed a logotype to represent our brand and it was one of our first job seekers that drew the first butterfly. This person was a girl from Pakistan that was suffering terrible abuse and was living in a safe shelter. We helped her secure a remote job from her place of convenience and made her feel confident again in her life. It is a story to remember, extremely meaningful for us, it represents everything that we are standing for. By giving these girls an opportunity to provide for themselves, we give them wings to fly.