Video Founder Discussion: Andrew Filev – CEO & Founder, Wrike
Investor Discussion: Andrew Filev – CEO & Founder, Wrike
Founder of Wrike, Andrew Filev discusses how he grew project management software, Wrike, into a company that sits on the Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500. He covers his decision to bootstrap the company for 7 years before taking investor funding, as well the challenges involved with emigrating from Russia to Silicon Valley.
Don’t miss the chance to hear from more experts like Andrew at the many tech startup events at Founders Floor in San Jose.
CEO & Founder, Wrike
Andrew Filev is the founder and CEO of Wrike, a cloud-based work management platform. He is a seasoned software entrepreneur, project and product manager with 10+ years of experience in the IT arena and an advisor to several fast-growing ventures. He has been featured in Forbes and The New York Times.
Thank you for hosting. Thank you for coming here. Hopefully you can learn a thing or two tonight. That would be my goal. In terms of introductions, I’ll start on the personal front, so I live and work in San Jose, so I love the city. Love the Sharks. Although, to be frank with you, being an underdog myself, kind of them versus Golden Knights, you don’t know who to root for. But I still rooted for Sharks. I also root for Barracuda’s, which also lost playoffs. Luckily we have the Warriors, to make up for the rest.
So, I’m a dad of two. I love my work, I love my two boys and I love tinkering with robots and also love competing in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, if any of you know what that is. So, that’s me in a nut shell.
A couple words about the company, so we are growing very fast. So far we have close to 600 employees worldwide. Headquartered here. We actually just launched a beautiful new building in the Downtown Centers that our grand opening had Mayor Sam Liccardo come and help us launch that. So, growing here and growing worldwide. We’ve got about 16,000 customers in 100 countries. So, that’s going pretty well.
The reason for our growth and the value that we bring to our customers is … I’ll give you kind of a little metaphor, if you will, or concept how I look at things. So, if you think about digital economy, you start in this creative chaos phase, like you do in your daily work as a start-up, right? And at some point, once you figure something out, the beauty of the digital economy is you need to scale it, rapidly. And that’s when you need the platform to better manage and oversee that work.
So, a lot of our customers are start-ups that are in that scaling mode. Some of them are world’s largest enterprises that are in the similar scaling mode. They have their new digital product that they’re scaling, or they’re digitizing existing operations. So, again, when you’re small, five people in the same room, you can use anything, to be frank. I would prefer you do use us, but you could just as well use Whiteboard or something, like a spreadsheet. But once you hit that note and you need to scale and when you’re doing hundreds of projects or campaigns or buildings or however you call, that’s when you need a platform like us to survive and to sleep well and to make sure that the trains go out on time.
We basically grow with our customers and with digital economy, that’s a big part of our growth.
Mat Day (Host):
You were talking about, you know, earlier, kids, things like that and I started my company when I graduated college. My first one, my first of three, and I think you started Wrike shortly after college, as well, and you know how things change, you know? You have kids and things like that and you know, you make these sacrifices.
I know I was here a week ago and I coached my son’s Little League team and one minute before I go on stage, I get a text saying my son just hit a grand slam. Not a home run, a grand slam. And you’re just like, “Oh, there was a life moment I just missed. Fuck.” It’s like, “Oh, Jesus.” You know? So. These are things that as founders you can just kind of work through, you know?
But, talking about the history a little bit, you didn’t grow up here. You grew up in Russia. Immigrated here. You know, a lot of our founders at Founders Floor, you know, also grew up in different places and came here. This is really the Mecca for start-ups in a way. And, I don’t know if that’s how you felt, as well. How was that process moving here? I mean, leaving all your friends, colleagues and having to build those new business connections and founding a company at that same time. How was that process like for you?
For me it was exciting. I was really looking forward to it. I kind of dreamt about Silicon Valley when I was a teenager. I always got excited about building things and I always was excited about how to scale things to, kind of at their global scale. I saw Silicon Valley as the place to be and to learn from. And by the time I moved, I was kind of a global traveler. I lived in Russia, but I traveled all over the world for customers, conferences, this and that. So, I was really, really excited and for me, the hardest things were friends and family. Like, the rest of it, I was a digital native, if you will, already. So, I literally took a duffle bag, credit card, and shorts. You know, luckily, you don’t need to carry a lot of coats when you move here and snow boots, unless you want to ski.
But, so, the move itself was fairly easy and exciting. Kind of a lot of new opportunities to build those connections and to learn. And one of the things that I love about the Valley and that I leveraged at the beginning and that you’re leveraging now and could leverage is, that people are very open. And so, when you come, it’s very easy to learn. There are a lot of peers, there are a lot of people who been there, done that and so you could either kind of use one-to-many learning sessions like this, or something. So, you can grab a coffee with somebody, and generally again, people are fairly friendly and open and they can tell you about how they’ve done it. And so, that was amazing and inspiring and allowed me to kind of learn quickly.
Matt Day (Host):
Yeah. A lot of our audience members are founders and/or entrepreneurs that soon want to start their own company, and so they love kind of hearing you know, how successful founders like yourself came up with the idea for their company and how they kind of got it off the ground. So, with Wrike, how did you come up with the idea of Wrike? And, in those earlier months, how did you kind of help just get it off the ground?
So, Wrike is my second series business, if you will. And the first one, which grew to more than 100 engineers and was multi-million profitable, was basically a professional services organization. So we did work for hire. And that’s one of the reasons again, I traveled throughout the world.
So, in that business, that business was also growing very fast. Basically in services, it’s very linear. Like, you do great work and extra work on top of that, and your business grows through referrals. So, it was growing with our customers and through referrals, we didn’t do any miraculous sales or marketing, it was just growing by us executing well. And so, with that growth I was managing multiple functions. I was managing recruiting, which was key to that business and that was good school for my later career. So, recruiting was key. Managing of those projects and delivering on time was key.
And so, I had to oversee very different things. I had to oversee them across multiple projects and that’s where I felt like I was drowning in spreadsheets, mixed with project files, emails, share point portals and stuff. I needed a system where I could login and get the picture across everything. So, if I needed to see what [Joe 00:07:30] has done over the last two weeks, I’d be able to see it. If I needed to see where my VIP customer projects stand, I should be able to pull it instantly. If I need to drill down and solve an issue, I need to have the information right there in context, rather than being scattered across instant messages and emails and sort of files that lead to who-knows-where.
So, just where I just felt the pain myself and I wanted a solution. A very important point though is that I was not just building a custom solution for myself. Right? So it wasn’t like, “Hey, let’s build an internal tool.” And then somehow it transitions into external. I did realize the pain. I did realize that it’s big and I wanted to build a solution for everybody.
So, right from the beginning we were not just building like a custom, ugly tool that gets us there, it was more of like, let’s build the right solution that’s scalable. That’s a great product ideal. I always wanted to build a product business because once you build services business, at some point, a little dirty secret if you’ve never done it, you start it as a technologist. And that’s why you’re successful because you love your work and that’s why you do go that extra mile and that’s why customers get extra value. But once you scale it, it’s no longer a technology business. A professional service organization, it’s about client management, recruiting and project management.
So, all three pieces are interesting, but again, you lack that technology and that drive and that exponential scalability. So, I had a good idea. I had good skills. We were, me and my team, we were very, very early in the, what later became known as software as a service. So, basically we were building for our customers, SaaS solutions before there was a term SaaS.
Matt Day (Host):
It was ASP right?
Yep. Yep. And so, and then we were also building fully dynamic, interactive apps while most sort of app sites and pages were static. Like, hit refresh, you get your new data, maybe. Who knows. And so, that’s where I had the technical skills and I had the right idea and I felt, “Okay, I build services business, it’s working well. Let me try to build product. I know it’s harder, but it’s also more fun.”
Matt Day (Host):
And I think, you know, for the first five, six years, this was a boot-strap company for you. And you know, and I tell our founders this, you know, I mean, if you can boot-strap the company, that’s the best way to go. Not to take outside funding, you know? And sometimes that can be a blessing in disguise, you know, because you know, if you’re able to get to a certain level where you create those success metrics and then when you go to raise, it’s under the terms that you kind of dictate with investors. Rather than vice versa.
That doesn’t make it any more easier though because it’s hard at those early years. How was it for Wrike? Was it a choice to boot-strap initially because of just what you wanted to do? Or, was it what most start-ups fall into, which is out of necessity you have to boot-strap?
I think it was both. So, I’d say again, as a person who just moved into the Valley, and you know, 12 years ago the Valley was similar to what it is now but also a little bit different. So, I wasn’t like an ex-Googler. I wasn’t Stanford grad. Nobody cared about the fact that I had built a business somewhere else, despite the fact that it was like multi-million engineers. Unless they knew the name and unless it sort of clicked with them, nobody cared.
So, for them, I was I like their no-name dude with a heavy accent. Well, not heavy, but still with some accent. I didn’t necessarily see people writing to me with the checkbooks and I figured that maybe, who knows, if I invest a lot of time, maybe I’ll be successful. But I could just as well invest that time in building the product and acquiring customers. And ultimately, they’ll give me the money, right?
So, I was kind of internally, and we got a couple of Wrike employees here, internally, I like to say that customers are our first and best investors. Right? So, again literally, same amount of effort. Neither is easy, but I felt that’s more sustainable over the long term because even if I do raise the money, I still need to acquire customers.
So, but I still obviously kind of build the relationship over the years and it’s funny how the world sort of goes around, like I literally just met the other day with a guy who I pitched, you know, eight years ago. And now he’s very interested, so that’s kind of a little bit different sides of the table right now. But it helps because I was always you know, polite and cautious and I always delivered more than I promised. So, even though in those original conversations, even the people who didn’t write their checks, some of them are kind of good acquaintances and friends and some of them will write down the check later.
So I wasn’t adverse to investment, but I also wasn’t necessarily like using it as my singular priority.
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