Business Spotlight: SLAV KULIK, CEO of PLAN A TECHNOLOGIES

Plan A Technologies is a software engineering and digital transformation company. That means other organizations come to us when they want us to either improve their existing software or build them some kind of cool new software product. We do everything from creating prototypes and mobile apps for startups to modernizing complex software infrastructure for Fortune 500 companies. We do a lot of software development-as-a-service work, where our clients pay us a fee to get ongoing engineering help.  

Q: What made you start the business? 

Slav: We live in a digital world. Work, relationships, shopping, healthcare, entertainment, safety, manufacturing, education — at least half of what we do today all happens through computers and mobile phones that run endless different software programs. I’ve always loved technology, and I really enjoy getting to create new things out of code that is used by millions of people around the world. 

The demand for software engineers has never been higher. At the same time, many software development firms don’t do great work, so a lot of companies get burned by developers who don’t code things correctly, or abandon the project, or suddenly charge ridiculous amounts of money. A lot of engineers are pretty unhappy too since many of those firms have a sweatshop mentality. 

I saw an opportunity to create an engineering company that prioritizes amazing client experiences and amazing staff experiences above everything else — including profits — and that has allowed us to create an organization with very happy clients and very happy engineers. 

Q: Is Plan A your first business?  

Slav: It’s actually my third business. I started my first software company, MacroView Labs, back in 2008 and sold it in 2011 to Bally Technologies (now part of Scientific Games). Then I started my second software company, OfferCraft, and sold it in 2018 to NRT Technologies. Those were both really intense experiences — I led the technology team at both of those companies with my co-founder, Aron Ezra. Aron was the CEO in those companies and was a great mentor to me. He and I partnered together again to start Plan A, but this time I took the CEO role, and he took the role of Chairman.  

Q: Do you find it helpful to have a co-founder?  

Slav: Oh, absolutely. Having another person who is in the trenches with you from the beginning is way beyond helpful. It helps keep you focused when you’re working hard to get your first client and when you’re dealing with all the inevitable surprises and stresses that happen when you’re scaling up a company. But it’s also critical to find a co-founder who has strengths in the areas where you have weaknesses, who makes their decisions based on logic, who is always honest with you, and who is willing to work hard with you to make everything come together. That’s not easy to find, but if you do find someone like that, you can do big things. 

Whether or not you decide to get a co-founder, when you’re building your founding team, find people who have the skill sets that you lack and let them shine. Then, as you grow, be sure to give up some control as you grow…that’s not always an easy thing for some founders to do. Some founders keep trying to do everything themselves forever, and eventually, the business hits the ceiling and can’t scale. 

Pictured here are the co-founders of Plan A Technologies: Aron Ezra, left, and Slav Kulik, right.

Q: What’s the biggest day-to-day challenge for the company? 

Slav: Hiring. We’re growing fast, which means we are constantly hiring. Unfortunately, that means we’re constantly also competing with the Googles and Facebooks of the world for the best talent. Companies like that pay a lot of money, they have cool benefits, and they look great on a resume. We have to work extra hard to create an environment that is fun to be a part of, where people feel listened to, where they have flexibility, where they get to work on really cool projects, where they have awesome mentors, and where they can make good income. 

At Plan A, selecting our team is our most important job. If we get the right group of terrific engineers, our clients are happy. If we don’t have an amazing team, we fail. We cannot succeed without great talent. 

Q: If you hadn’t decided to build software, what do you think you’d be doing? 

Slav: I probably would have started a law firm or something and felt super bummed out that I didn’t start a software company! It’s hard to imagine…I’ve been coding for as long as I can remember, and it’s what I love to do. 

Q: Do you have a lot of competitors? 

Slav: We sure do. There are some excellent companies out there, but unfortunately, most of the companies aren’t very reliable. One of the toughest parts of my job is distinguishing ourselves from a lot of the unprofessional groups out there. 

Q: What makes you different? 

Slav: We want to be the software company that our clients always wished for and dreamed of but never quite found. Our whole focus is on making sure our clients are super impressed by the work we do and the process of working with us. We go above and beyond when it comes to service. We take calls 24/7, we joke around with them, and we help them look great in front of their colleagues and competitors. We don’t make our clients file a ticket if they have a question — they can just call us. We also don’t just build the software, we make business and technology suggestions about how they can use the software to improve their organization in all sorts of different ways. That advice goes a long way and wins a lot of appreciation. 

We have leading experts across several industries, so we really, really know the verticals where we do work. That means there’s not a huge learning curve when we take on a new client, and it means we can add a lot of value beyond simply delivering a solution. We know the regulatory environment, we know the acronyms, and we know the issues. We can help our clients see potential problems and opportunities that they may have missed. 

We’re also very selective when it comes to hiring. We hire less than 4% of the applicants who send us their resumes. On average, our engineers have a lot more experience than most firms, so we’re able to bring genuine expertise to our clients. 

We deliver outstanding results, and we can usually do it at a lower cost than most competitors. 

Q: What personal advice do you have for other entrepreneurs or people thinking of taking the plunge and starting their first business? 

Slav: That’s a great question. I think a lot of people solely focus on the professional side and sort of forget about the personal side until they’re actually a few weeks into the business. 

On the personal side, start by doing some deep thinking about how much you want to do this, and go into it with your eyes open. There are countless stories of entrepreneurs who get so wrapped up in the excitement of starting their own company that they don’t think through how much work and sacrifice is involved. A few years ago a friend of mine told me that he wanted to create his company because he didn’t want to work as hard, and I just started laughing; that is maybe the worst reason to create your own business. Starting a successful business is like igniting a black hole that pulls in time instead of matter — it will gladly suck up every free second of time you have if you let it.  What’s more, when you have employees, investors, customers, family, and everyone else depending on you, you don’t want to let anyone down. 

I’ve been lucky. Each of the businesses I’ve started has been successful, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. You need to make sure your loved ones are on board and understanding of what you’re trying to do because it can be really tough on them if they’re not. All the long days, missing special occasions, and the stress of not knowing if your company is going to make it or not, can take a serious toll on family relationships and friendships if you’re not careful. 

I think it’s really important, to be honest with yourself about whether you’re ready for that kind of pressure. If you’re not, it’s totally fine to find a different path. 

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom — in general, I find running a company to be pretty damn exhilarating. I feel very grateful that I get to do something I love for a living. 

Q: Those are some great points about the hard personal parts of the entrepreneurial journey. If someone decides that they are ready to go forward with their idea, what do you tell them about the right first steps? 

Slav: That depends on what kind of business you want to start. I always find that a helpful place to start is talking to friends and family. When you pitch the idea for the business, are you seeing smiles and nodding heads or blank stares and confusion? Do people “get it” or does it seem like they’re politely trying to nudge you in a different direction? 

Second, do a competitive search. Is your idea already being done, and does that matter? Is that awesome company name you want already taken, or is it still available?  

Do you have a partner or even a couple of people in mind for your initial team? 

How much money will you need to get started? Do you have some ideas about how to get it? 

Are you clear on what your value proposition is, and why a customer would want to buy from you instead of one of your competitors? 

Put together a loose plan that explains your product or service, your pricing, and your rough model for growth. This document doesn’t need to be an official fancy business plan, but you should at least have a high-level overview of who you are, what you’re selling, how much it will cost, how you’ll create your product or service, how you’ll tell the world about the company, and where you would like the company to be in a few years. 

Q: Two more questions. First, what’s the hardest thing about being a CEO? 

Slav: Every now and then, someone really disappoints you…maybe it’s an employee, or a client, or a partner, and you have to part ways. I hate that. I’ve never fired a good performer in my whole career. But if someone is being dishonest or not pulling their weight, you owe it to the rest of the team to take action and solve the problem. 

Q: And finally, what’s your favorite thing about being a CEO? 

Slav: It’s so cool getting to see Plan A Technologies grow and thrive. It’s really fun bringing a team of people together to create something great that didn’t exist before. Getting to promote people and see them mature and evolve in their careers is incredibly rewarding too. I’ve always been passionate about helping people realize their potential, and that’s a big part of my job. 

Finally, I love interacting with our clients and hearing about how Plan A has helped them achieve their goals. It’s genuinely rewarding to know that we are making a positive impact on the world. 

Nutritionist, Cornell University, MS

I believe that nutrition science is a wonderful helper both for the preventive improvement of health and adjunctive therapy in treatment. My goal is to help people improve their health and well-being without torturing themselves with unnecessary dietary restrictions. I am a supporter of a healthy lifestyle – I play sports, cycle, and swim in the lake all year round. With my work, I have been featured in Vice, Country Living, Harrods magazine, Daily Telegraph, Grazia, Women's Health, and other media outlets.

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