May 22, 2023
Great CEOs are generalists and are also capable of rallying people around a goal and leading them toward its achievement
How did you end up as a CEO? What was your route to this position?
“End up” makes me smile. For me, being a CEO is where I wanted to be from the beginning of my career. I always saw myself in a leadership position. I thrive on working with great people, and I strive to inspire them. I
also love challenges; it’s what makes me excited when I wake up in the morning.
In business, including startups, the role of CEO or founder has always appealed to me because it has the responsibility to envision, evangelize and lead a team capable of innovating.
My path to this position started with an entry-level job as an office manager at a 5-person startup in the San Francisco Bay Area. At the time, I knew nothing about startups or entrepreneurship, but I fell in love with learning, multi-tasking, and being offered work that was well above my skill or pay grade.
In fact, I loved the job so much that after graduating from Stanford, I decided that I wanted to be in technology, and I wished to be an entrepreneur. Subsequent startup jobs and positions led me up the ladder, first in business development and later in product management.
I later also earned a degree in Finance from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. These experiences and my education — together — led me to a place where I could become a CEO.
I say “together” because I learned that the job of a CEO also requires a person to be a generalist. Some may call that a “glorified multitasker,” but indeed — leading a cross-functional team requires a person to know what people in different parts of the organization do and what their challenges might be.
Why are you the right person to be the CEO of your company?
I am the right person to be the CEO of BSPK because I am my company’s customer, in addition to being its founder. Great CEOs are generalists and are also capable of rallying people around a goal and leading them toward its achievement.
But a company cannot be successful without understanding its customers. Especially at this stage, as we innovate, develop sales, and grow, understanding who our customers are and why they need our services is fundamental.
I cannot say if I would be the right CEO when my company has a thousand employees and different challenges than we have today; however, at this stage, when we are a thriving young business motivated by an ambition for growth and innovation, I can’t think of a person that would be more “right to lead.”
What gets you up in the morning?
What gets me up in the morning is the desire to be challenged and the excitement to be a catalyst for something big, positive, and rewarding for everyone who participates.
I have always been motivated by a desire to make a positive change, and that is true in the morning as well as evening.
Who helped you get to where you are today?
There are many people in my life to whom I owe a lot. Some have been personal mentors and coaches. Others helped me professionally.
I defected from my native country Bulgaria (a Communist satellite of the Soviet Union at the time) at the age of 17, alone, with a suitcase and big dreams of living in America.
Multiple people who were older and wiser helped me make the right decisions about where to live, how to find a job, or how and where to go to school.
A family I owe a lot to even invited me to live with them for a year while I was getting ready to apply to college so that I did not have to maintain a side job to pay the bills. Later, professionally, I relied on my friends at work and on my professors and friends in business school at Wharton.
Most of the investors in BSPK are classmates from my business class at Wharton; my first investor was our professor of entrepreneurship at Wharton, and our lead institutional investor is a fund started by people in my class.
I would not have been able to raise the capital to start BSPK without their trust and help.
What is the best or worst business advice you have received, and from whom?
The best business advice I have received is to validate a need by speaking to our customers. I received this advice from several investors and a former manager, and an entrepreneur who is also an advisor to my company.
The worst advice I have received is to invest in building a team in France because our early customers were French companies.
I now have an amazing team in France, and I am proud of them. But the path to get there was difficult, and I would approach this problem differently today.
If you could go back in time to when you were a teenager, what life advice would you give yourself?
The advice I would give myself would be to avoid second-guessing my decisions. I have found that for important decisions, I was usually right from the beginning. The trouble started when I decided that I had to rethink a decision.
What are the most important values you demonstrate as a leader?
The most important values I demonstrate as a leader are empathy, fairness, and honesty. I try to be encouraging, respectful, and truthful when I provide feedback to our employees.
This is based on my own experience, which is that the most inspiring leaders were those who presented opportunities and did not dwell on mistakes or shortcomings other than as an opportunity to learn.
How can a leader fail?
A leader can fail when they lose their trust of the people they lead. Mistakes happen, and events in the markets cannot be controlled. But the actions of a leader are under their control.
What do the next five years hold for you?
The next five years hold continued efforts to lead BSPK towards success. Starting a comapny as a female founder continues to be harder than starting a company as a male founder.
Like other female founders, my desire is to build a highly successful technology company that further improves the landscape of entrepreneurship.
Mentorship is a big business in the West. Do you have any experience with it?
Yes. I try to help everyone who comes to me for advice, recommendations, or mentorship. I do not do this as a business; I help people who have the drive to work hard to succeed and the potential to develop.
If people want to reach out to you or your business, what is the best way for them to go about doing that?
I am available on my LinkedIn and respond to all inquiries that do not look like spam.
Zorntiza'a LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zstefanova/