Lilia Stoyanov has an impressive background with more than 10 years in the C-Suite, including time at the European Division of Coca-Cola Enterprises, and Skrill, the second largest payment services provider in the world. Among her many accomplishments, she is also a chartered accountant in the UK, an Oxford grad, and recently won the 2017 First Women Award in the UK.
Stoyanov’s background in finance and management has led her to start two businesses: management advisory company, Service Optimizer; and remote job platform, Transformify. Stoyanov currently serves as CEO of Transformify, which describes its mission as, “Connecting awesome people with exciting jobs.” Yet the company’s core values run much deeper: diversity and financial inclusion, bridging the digital skills gap, and corporate social responsibility. Among other things, Transformify offers payment options for workers who struggle with access to the normal banking system, like refugees who cannot legally open a bank account for months or sometimes years.
The moment Stoyanov started Transformify she joined Everwise as a mentor, but she has also participated as a protégé. “It complements my other activities quite well,” she says.
The Inspiration for Transformify
The idea for her business came while Stoyanov was a director at Coca-Cola. At the time, she was facing major challenges as the company undertook a phase of transformation which caused layoffs. Numerous people at risk were highly qualified, solid performers with a long tenure at the company. It occurred to Stoyanov that she could possibly help connect them with companies who needed remote contractors.
Stoyanov also had also recently experienced times of needing to staff up rapidly. She says, “If you need to hire more than 70 people in a short period of time, you discover you’re overwhelmed with applicants.” The process of sifting through applicants is notoriously time-consuming, and the results uncertain, so she thought there might be a technological solution using AI and machine learning.
“I combined it all,” she explains, and that was how Transformify came to be. Initially it focused on addressing the needs of employers who require temporary workers or contractors and need the ability to transfer payments to them anywhere in the world. Since then Stoyanov says, “we’ve expanded to cover any type of employment, still globally.”
On the Horizon
Transformify wants to continue expanding, which means new challenges and ambitious undertakings for Stoyanov. “We’re in 150 countries, but still we need to grow and we need to grow fast,” she says. Transformify is particularly focused on Asia, which is one of the fastest growing markets for them in terms of workforce and business development opportunities.
The other focus for Stoyanov is bringing more employers with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects into the fold to support Transformify’s social mission and vision. “These are business that could impact the wellbeing of people globally. They just need to know that we exist and we can make things easy for them,” she says. Because of her corporate background, she understands that professionals in large companies may not know what’s new on the market, but rather be familiar with the tools everyone is using.
Luckily, the tide is running in Stoyanov’s favor on that point, with more and more companies turning their attention to CSR. Originally, she thought only the largest organizations would be worth pursuing, but now she’s realized companies of different sizes are getting engaged. Not only that, but their CSR programs are a point of differentiation to help them stand out from the crowd and attract loyal users.
A Disruptive Mindset
Stoyanov explains her business philosophy succinctly: “To be successful you need to be different, otherwise you’re not a competitor. I’m always looking for ways to do business in a way the rest aren’t doing.”
In the beginning, Stoyanov took a huge and unusual risk as the sole investor of her fledgling company. She felt it was necessary, because the company rested on a mission and vision which could be changed by incoming investors. She says, “Often potential investors wanted us to be profitable over a very short period of time and they can be willing to sacrifice a lot to achieve that.” From her perspective, the sacrifice was too great, because the founding principles of her company were what made it valuable, rather than simply the tech.
The other challenge was getting the word out with a very lean budget. Stoyanov’s strategy was to engage with the press, gain the support of a very large organization (which ended up being Virgin), and join the Digital Coalition of the European Union to raise Transformify’s profile. “It sounds like a good plan,” she says, “but it isn’t easy when you’re young and no one has heard of you.” Partnering with large organizations is time consuming and difficult, but she’s found it has helped her business stand out. Transformify has received numerous prizes and awards, which boosts the attention of the public, but relies on Stoyanov’s follow through to gain traction with the media. “All this is for free,” she says “but it requires time, knowledge, and effort. That’s the capital I have.”
Working with a Mentor
“My mentor complements me because he has a very different background,” Stoyanov says of her Everwise mentor. Her mentor’s background is in international business development, which was exactly what she needed to get a good look at the business from the outside. Stoyanov explains, “You are more or less emotional if this is your own business,” so an independent perspective is essential to see the big picture.
Stoyanov also says mentors can help ground you. “I’m very critical of myself, that’s a personal characteristic of mine that I know well. It normally moves me forward, but sometimes it is good for someone else to tell you ‘You’re doing more than well, why are you not taking some time for yourself? Everything will be fine.’ Sometimes you need to hear it from another person.”
Through her mentorship sessions, Stoyanov developed a lasting connection with her mentor. “We enjoyed talking about business, really about anything and everything,” she says. They look forward to continuing to stay in touch and advise each other in the future.
Advice for Mentors and Proteges
“The most difficult thing is to stay independent and to not push your own opinion,” Stoyanov says, regarding mentoring relationships, “We’re human, we’re not perfect.” She feels that we each carry an opinion strongly rooted in our own experience, which may not always be applicable to a mentor or protégé. Stoyanov prefers to show and discuss various cases and allow protégés to reach decisions on their own rather than pushing for one direction. “It could do more harm than good,” she cautions, “It’s very natural to share your experience and how you dealt with a situation, but this isn’t necessarily helpful.”
Asking questions is a best practice for both mentors and protégés according to Stoyanov. By digging into a situation from multiple angles together, mentors can help provide protégés with resources and connections to outside people. Her mentor was excellent at sharing links, perspective, and information relevant to her business and explaining why he thought they would be useful, but he always left decision-making to her. “In the end it was my choice, and responsibility as well,” says Stoyanov.
Stoyanov has a few words to share on persistence: “There is always a way to be successful, it is more a mindset than anything else—and persistence. There were many times I wanted to quit. If you don’t quit, it will be a success. It may take more or less time but the important thing is to persist.”