Katerina Furtak has held leadership roles across a truly expansive range of industries: she has been the Head of Administration of one of the largest construction projects in Ukraine, the founder of a fashion company, the CEO of a travel and retail startup, and now she's the Head of Operations at Unstoppable Domains.
She's working on Unstoppable Domain's mission to accelerate the world's transition to a more decentralized internet by issuing domain names on the blockchain. Although she's focused on one industry, she's still working with team members from an expansive range of backgrounds: the growing startup employs people in fifteen countries around the world—and counting.
"It's a great opportunity to learn, because even if you're doing things you've done previously, it influences the company in a different way when it is global and has so many people," she says. "The processes are much bigger, much more active, and you really learn a lot each day."
We sat down with Katerina, who's based in Kiev, Ukraine, to hear more about her career journey, how she worked her way into a leadership role at Unstoppable Domains, and what advice she has for her peers leading global teams.
From Startups to IT
Katerina first got into startups by founding one of her own: a platform that allowed people to swap clothes.
"I started with this idea to create something useful, something people would like," she says. "My goal wasn't to make money, and I didn't know how to do that."
That didn't matter, in the beginning. Katerina's enthusiasm made up for her lack of experience—"It was all about dresses, bags, and clothes, something that is familiar to me," she explains, smiling. She then started going to tech meetups in Kiev, finding mentors and investors in Ukraine's brand-new startup ecosystem.
"Even though I'm not a technical person, I learned a lot," she says. "Now, I'd say I really know a lot about IT, about different roles."
When that company eventually closed, she transitioned into being the co-founder of a platform that helped shoppers buy duty-free purchases.
That company was a success, and still exists, but after a few years, Katerina knew she was ready for a change.
She took three months off to recharge, and then started looking for jobs. She came across a job posting for Unstoppable Domains early in her search process. "I had a recommendation from people I knew, and I respected them a lot; their recommendation was meaningful to me," she explains. "Then everything in the job description matched my skills, and it was an American company that wanted to open an office in Ukraine and hire people. I felt it would be an ideal match for me."
As good as the role looked on paper, it was really Katerina's exposure to one of the company's founders that sold her on it. After being the CEO at two companies she'd founded, the opportunity to learn from a seasoned peer was too good to pass up. "When you're in that [founder] role, you don't have so many people that are more senior than you and can lead you elsewhere," Katerina says. "I felt like I could learn a lot from the Unstoppable Domains founders: they were smart, clever, and progressive, and I felt they could lead me further."
A Wide Remit
As Head of Operations, Katerina plays a key role in Unstoppable Domains' growth. She's helped grow the company from the 12 employees it had when she started to the 70+ it has now. Her current major responsibilities include hiring developers, working on business development, and overseeing Brand and PR in Ukraine.
"I would say that my work is mostly about processes. If there is no process for something and you need to figure out how to build that process and how to scale it, usually such requests come to me," she says.
Across her set of responsibilities, there are a few hard-won lessons Katerina always seeks to apply:
- "The business model comes first." Having learned this with her first failed startup, Katerina now keeps a laser focus on the bottom line. "Only when the company is sustainable and making money can you create a great place to work at. Only then can you create a great product, because you can invest in it. Only then can you create the company of your dreams," she says.
- "Be honest and fair." This goes for work as well as for general life, says Katerina. "Being honest helps you today, and being fair helps in the future."
- "Treat people with the future in mind." Related to the above, Katerina believes in paying kindness forward and thinking of work relationships in the long term. "If you're interested in people and treat them well, it always pays off," she says. "Maybe they can't contribute right now, but if you show your interest, they will remember you, and maybe later you can help each other."
3 Pieces of Advice for Global Leaders
As Katerina continues to scale Unstoppable Domains, she's learning that the techniques that worked for a team of 10 or 20 don't quite work for a team of 70—and certainly won't work for a team of 500 or 1,000. That's especially true when that growing team is distributed across the world.
"It's totally different dealing with that many people, seeing how they can work together," Katerina says. "It's interesting now because we have so many people joining from other big companies, bigger than our company, like from unicorns, and they bring their experience with them, and you're sitting in a lecture room and these very experienced people can share their knowledge with you."
Here's what Katerina recommends for the making of a growing team like hers and all the disparate knowledge they bring to the table:
- Organize effective communication. For Katerina, this means meeting in person when there's a good opportunity to do it, embracing asynchronous communication, and having clearly communicated processes for sharing information.
- Find tools that work for your business processes. "Tools are important because with good tools, you can scale yourself, and don't need to hire three people to manage the same thing," she says.
- Be positive. "Smiling really opens doors," says Katerina, who says she loves the work culture she's found at Unstoppable Domains. "And you'd never believe that there can be so much fun around blockchain debates!"