We managed to pin down Anastasia, our super-organised and dynamic Chief Operations Officer, to ask her a few questions about her role at Hop Online where she is greatly admired for her ability to keep on top of everything and find a solution to (almost) every administrative and strategic problem. In so doing, we discovered an even more talented person than her impressive resume led us to believe.
Born in Ukraine, Anastasia grew up in Moldova. But, as we discovered, like so many of our Hop Onliners, she’s a person of the world…
What drew you to the position at Hop Online in the first place?
In short, it was both the contagiously enthusiastic and open personality of Paris, our CEO, when I met him, and the opportunity to dive deeper into online marketing waters, which I had been interested for a while before joining, and was using every chance to learn.
I’m also a big believer in being in the right place at the right time, and the chance with Hop Online was just that. Before joining, I had been with a global executive search firm for six years, responsible for PR and marketing across 50 countries, and had been feeling that it was time for me to move on and try something totally different. Exactly at that moment a friend of mine told me about the opportunity with this SEO and online marketing firm. The fact that the company was a start-up was an additional plus and challenge, firstly because it was a completely different culture from all my previous experiences, and secondly, because I believe that, especially in a start-up, everyone can carve out a niche for themselves and create a role where they contribute to the well-being of the firm and feel satisfied. Needless to say, after my interview I kept my fingers crossed that I would get the job. And here I am two years down the line, learning every day and loving it!
What special pre-requisite qualities do you think you need to be chief operations officer at Hop Online? What special skills do you, personally, bring to the post?
An ability to keep calm in the storm and be objective. The job requires attention to a variety of tasks that change every minute, strong structure and organizational skills, diplomacy, psychology, and knowledge of many aspects of operations of a firm, such as HR, legal, finance, and accounting, in addition to keeping up with the latest trends in our lightning fast industry.
I actually started in a business development role preparing custom proposals for clients and pitching them online because most of our customers are in the US, UK and Australia. To say that the first couple of months were a steep learning curve would be a severe understatement. In order to prepare each proposal I had to analyse a website to identify the potential technical problems it had that might be impeding it from ranking well and bringing relevant traffic. I also had to research a customer’s industry, offer solutions, a plan of action and a budget. All this required the use of a variety of tools that were unfamiliar to me at the time.
Once the deal was sealed, I had to prepare service contracts, which led to learning more about the legal aspects of running a business. With issuing invoices, I got deeper into accounting and financial planning, and eventually was dealing more and more with the administrative work and operations. In summary, I now do everything our super-talented creative folks consider non-essential and boring. It might not sound fun to many, but I can vouch that there is never a dull day for me!
In terms of special skills, I’m not sure if I can pin down any, but what I definitely have is the ability to learn fast and not back down in the face of a challenge.
What were the special challenges involved in being part of a start-up company like Hop Online?
Frankly, I don’t think we had any special challenges that any other start-up has not faced. One that comes to mind is that Content Marketing is a fairly new industry and service, and there are not many people familiar with the way it works and the benefits it provides to clients. There are even fewer people here in Bulgaria that are very active in social media channels or have their own blogs. In terms of the technical SEO specialists that apply ethical methods of work, and have an in-depth knowledge of practices and tools, the situation is similar.
Therefore, one of the biggest challenges, was, and still is, identifying and attracting talented people, especially those with a combination of expert and management skills.
Another challenge was the ability to focus and say “No”. As a startup, it is very tempting to try different markets and industries, and we have taken on many projects, which ultimately turned out to be unprofitable. In the end, however, I believe we managed to turn it to our advantage because, by experimenting and making mistakes, we are now more focused and have a much clearer picture of the type of clients and people we want to work with.
Is it an advantage to have a melting pot staff – ie. staff of different nationalities. If so, in what way?
Absolutely! Everyone brings a variety of languages in addition to their native one, depending on where they lived and studied, cultural backgrounds and world overview. This might seem chaotic, but it works as I believe when people have the chance to live abroad they acquire this openness and tolerance for others, their behavior and way of life that is difficult to obtain if you’ve been marinating all your life in the same environment.
In terms of working with our clients, this is also an advantage, as we have guys who have been living in the US and in different European countries, which gave them an understanding of markets, people’s interests, as well as that particular way of speaking that you cannot learn from simply attending language classes or reading books.
Do you believe that working remotely (well, from home) could be the future of organizations like Hop Online or do you think it’s important to gather everyone together in the office most of the time?
Working remotely is one of the advantages of our organization, but I would not state that this is the future. We tried this at the start when we were much smaller, and learned that communication was slower than if we were all in one room; also, people were literally drowning in emails.
Having everyone in the office provides the opportunity for faster problem-solving, spontaneous brainstorming sessions, and faster knowledge sharing and training. It also allows for a closer-knit team because people interact more face-to-face over lunch, coffee or Friday beers. So, having tried both ways, I am definitely in favor of everyone working at the office most of the time, especially considering that we have very flexible hours as long as everyone keeps up with their responsibilities.
What is the most rewarding part of your job at Hop Online and what do you see as your most important function/role in the company?
As it turns out, the most rewarding part for me is working with our amazing team. I have always considered working and managing people as a challenge that did not come naturally to me, as I am an introvert, and prefer “alone” time and working independently. With our team of strong individuals, however, where every person has a talent, an interesting passion or hobby, and particular outlook on life, I’ve learned that it is very interesting to find a key to everyone and figure out a way to work together.
My role is making sure the company is run like a well-oiled machine and that everyone is happy. Well, at least most of the time!
Are there any clients that an online marketing company should shun/avoid for moral reasons?
I cannot speak for all online marketing firms, but Hop Online, in particular, will not work with clients who, for example, promote pornography, cruelty, and abuse of people, animal or substances. This is not a moral or religious choice; we simply want to make the world a better place and help businesses that support respect for each other and nature.
What are your main hobbies/interests out of work?
Gardening and cooking, as it relaxes me. It’s simply awesome to step out to on my little terrace and see it filled with various herbs (I do not grow anything I cannot eat) that can immediately be added to salad, soup or tea. Sharing this food with close friends and loved ones, especially by the fireplace, is one of the best pastimes.
Yoga and pilates, and sometimes high intensity interval training because, after a whole day of sitting in front of the computer, my body craves attention and movement. Or, in the morning, ten sun salutations are enough to give me energy for a day without the need for coffee.
Acquiring new skills is another hobby, I guess. The newest in my collection is diving. While doing first practices in the swimming pool, I thought that I must be mad and wondered whatever on Earth gave me the idea that this could be fun?! But I had already promised a friend that I would go on a diving trip, so I stuck with it and am immensely grateful for that because I was able to discover a totally new dimension to our planet.