Natalia Solodukhova has over 9 years of international experience in digital marketing, sales and asset management with companies like Richemont SA, L'Oreal, LS Mobili and Private Equity arm of Corporate Finance Bank.
Natalia is a serial entrepreneur and seed investor in IT startups such as GetGoing, Prizeo, ElaCarte, Service Titan and others. Natalia holds BA and MS degrees MGIMO, Sciences-Po, Paris and Paris Graduate School of Management.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I come from a long line of foreign diplomats, so throughout my childhood I was blessed with the opportunity to be surrounded by people from various countries, cultures and religions. Having been exposed to such a vast array of perspectives from an early age greatly influenced the way I approach situations though my own style of leadership. I place a heavy emphasis on making sure I'm always open to absorbing and analyzing ideas that are outside of conventional wisdom, which was particularly difficult to do while growing up in a Soviet state. This ultimately helped me build the framework of my own leadership style. To me, being a leader is a never-ending task of completing a huge puzzle. At times when it may be difficult to see the "big picture," I always remember to think outside of the box and make sure I'm carefully analyzing each piece, from all angles, until I've been able to appreciate the full range of perspectives for any situation.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Buzzoola?
Although difficult at times, I am lucky to have had a very multilateral career thus far. My first job at Richemont, a Swiss luxury goods conglomerate (Cartier, Montblanc, Piaget, Net-a-Porter, etc.), showed me that people are behind 99 percent of a company's success. It was there that I learned the importance of building the proper corporate culture and team spirit for success. My first boss always used the example of experienced watchmakers embellishing the tiny parts of masterpiece watches. They were always true experts in highlighting the intricate pieces that many people fail to appreciate. This representation perfectly describes how the little details of each moving part, are what turns a dull organization into a beautiful and efficient working mechanism.
I later moved on to work for L'Oreal and developed more skills in achieving and staying focused on big goals, something I deal with every day at Buzzoola. Working at multi-national corporations provided me with many lessons -- I recommend any young entrepreneur with aspirations of someday building a global organization, to try working for one first.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Buzzoola?
This is my first time working in a highly technical, even slightly scientific environment. During the beginning developments of Buzzoola, I found myself sometimes feeling as though I was in a NASA space laboratory, surrounded by rocket scientists. Most of our team was comprised of elite programmers with backgrounds from top tier organizations like CERN (the particle collider in Switzerland) and some of the most highly accredited technical universities in Russia. It was a struggle for me initially to find the right approach to lead such a highly technical organization. In situations like this, it was crucial to surround myself with the right people.
Luckily, I was able to team up with my current co-founder, Vitaly Zhelyapov, who really helped bridge the gap between the business, the creative and the technical aspects. More importantly he helped promote interaction with our technical staff to be involved with the different aspects of the business, even working side by side with our marketing teams and vice-versa. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is crucial to determining the right partnerships for any business. After working directly with our own data scientists, I now even have a few pretty good programming jokes and anecdotes in my pocket.
What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business?
You don't always need to go at it alone. Having a partner or partners who share your vision and are driven to succeed can be of great value on what can sometimes be a very thorny path. Try finding someone who complements your own skillset. My current co-founder was able to provide the technical and product development expertise that balanced my own background and skillset. It also never hurts to have someone willing to provide you with a reality check from time to time even when it's sometimes difficult to hear.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I believe that the best path in life is laying out a definite set of priorities. For me, my family has always been on top of that list. You can't be successful at work if there are problems back at home and many people sadly forget or ignore that from time to time. At Buzzoola, we always encourage employees to have a healthy balance between life at home and at the office. Even when unexpected situations may arise, we look to find an optimal way to accommodate a balance. Happy people, make happy employees.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Maintaining the balance with your personal life can sometimes be the biggest issue. Many women take on the roles of men, which I think is a mistake and can hurt your personal life. There is a way to remain yourself whether it is at work or at home. I truly believe that.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
There have been many people throughout my professional career who have influenced my perception of the business world. For instance, one of my earliest investors provided the wisdom behind what ultimately became a cornerstone of the Buzzoola business spirit. He once said that the only precious thing one can truly possess, is their "good name". This belief has transcended onto everything we do at Buzzoola. We strive to build a reputation that delivers the most transparent and carefully constructed product for us to stand behind as a company.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Indira Gandhi. She was the fourth prime minister of India and spent her life fighting against a system and set of social norms that have remained unchanged for centuries. Similar to my own Russian culture, Indira's homeland of India holds very strongly to these century old traditions. Her strong-will and perseverance helped her overcome the obstacles and challenges that many would not have dared to stand up for. She truly left her mark on history and of the entire world. For me, Indira is my inspiration to never give up and keep on fighting for the things I truly believe in, no matter how impossible the task may sometimes be or how long it takes.
What do you want Buzzoola to accomplish in the next year?
We believe that after testing Buzzoola technology in our initial markets, we are now well- positioned to take the company to the next level by expanding into the native video ad markets in the U.S. and globally. We are working to continuously roll out new generations and add-ons to our platform and bring unprecedented levels of scalability to our customers. Someone said recently that visual designers and data scientists are slowly becoming fused into one. Buzzoola is a good example of this phenomena, as our technology works to utilize both processes of today's innovative technology and we are confident that this will have a deep impact with the ever-changing online advertising market over the coming years.