A look back: Preply’s 10th anniversary retrospective with Andrii Dvoiak
Looking back and reflecting on our successes, learnings, and moments that helped us to become what we are now is something we will do regularly in 2022. Ten years ago, we began our dream of shaping the future of effective learning through a commitment to curiosity and mainly thanks to our people who have, year after year, pushed their limits to become what we are now.
Today, we look back at the unique journey of our Tech Lead Manager, Andrii Dvoiak, who joined Preply in 2014 and has been a significant part of Preply’s growth and development. Through his experience, we seek to understand more about where we came from and how we have become what we are today.
Do you remember your first day? What was it like?
Honestly, I don’t remember my first day at work, but I definitely remember my interview. It was very unlike the usual interview for a job. It was September 2014. Ukraine was recovering after the Revolution of Dignity and living through the crisis. After I graduated from my university with a Computer Science degree, I intentionally decided not to continue my studies and started looking for some exciting opportunities. I came back from summer business school in the USA, stayed in my friend’s apartment in Kyiv and was desperately looking for a job in IT, as it was the only thing I thought I knew how to do. Luckily, some of my friends had excellent networking skills, so they helped to distribute my CV around. A few days later, I received a call. It was Kirill (CEO of Preply) asking if I was interested in joining them. I didn’t know anything about Preply then, but I agreed to meet him.
We met for lunch at a local kebab place in Kyiv. There were the 3 co-founders: Kirill (CEO), Dmytro (CTO) and Serge (Design) and some of their friends. The meeting was very informal, and we mostly talked about ambitions, values and plans. The main criteria for me were people and their views. I felt that the guys had modern opinions on things, good motivation and an interest in doing something new. I remember feeling the sheer ambition of the company. I was excited to join something new, something at the very beginning of a journey. At that moment, Preply consisted of 5 people: three co-founders, one person in customer support and one business developer. Preply was only generating a few thousand dollars of revenue per month, so the risk of failure was pretty high compared to other well-established IT companies. However, I really wanted to join a startup. Also, I had nothing to lose. We agreed on a salary, which was just enough to rent an apartment in Kyiv, cover food, and my gym subscription. So I leaped and I joined — as Preply’s first developer.
Can you tell us about your current role and area of impact at Preply?
Currently, I’m a Tech Lead Manager of the Payments team in Barcelona. My role is a combination of technical leadership and people management. On one side, I’m helping the team of developers to make technical decisions and make sure the codebase is sustainable. On the other side, I’m trying to make sure that people in my team are happy with the technical challenges and growing professionally. I’m also responsible for hiring and cross-team collaboration.
How has your job evolved over the years?
I started at Preply as a junior developer. I knew what web development looked like, but I wasn’t familiar with the Preply tech stack at that time (Python/Django + Backbone.js). So, basically, for the first half of the year, I was actively learning everything. This is a trait of all Preplers; we are committed to curiosity. We like to dig deep. My first project was a separate internal tool for search engine optimization. We even had an internal joke about being an SEO-driven business, as organic traffic was our main driving element.
After half a year of working at Preply, we were selected by the famous business accelerator TechStars, which had just opened a new branch in Berlin. I was honored to take part in this journey as well. So, we went to Berlin for three months. In parallel, we grew the team and hired a few other developers. Some of them were my close friends. At that moment, and for a long time, we didn’t have any seniority structure between developers. We were just working, all together, on everything that was important to the customer and needed to be solved. Once we grew the company to 50+ people, we started to organize teams around different areas of the product. I was working as a Tech Lead in the SEO team — responsible for all inbound marketing. Later, I moved to our Supply team — responsible for tutor registration and onboarding as well as ranking. And from last year until now, I have moved to Barcelona and I’m building a new Payments team — responsible for the checkout experience, payment processing, fraud detection and withdrawals.
What do you like the most about being part of Preply?
The best thing, and, probably, the main reason I’ve felt good at Preply for so long, is that the company is constantly changing and growing. It never stays the same — with every passing year (or even 6 months!) Preply is evolving, staying fresh, and maturing. I really like that we are always trying to follow best practices in business, management and development on a world-class level — we challenge ourselves to be better. At a certain point, we realized that we need to think globally. Not only from a business perspective but also culturally. We needed more experience from top-notch companies, and more cognitive diversity. I think the breakthrough moment was when we hired our first interns from Brazil, Mexico, Poland and India. We were around 30 people in total and we had to switch all internal communication to English. It was pretty rare for a Ukrainian company. It was not perfect at the beginning, but as we integrated more and more international colleagues and opened an office — first in Berlin and later in Barcelona — we found ourselves on the right path towards being a truly global company.
What inspired you to start at Preply 8 years ago? And what made you stay during this time?
My wife always jokes about me being an atypical millennial for staying with one company for so long, while others change jobs every 2–3 years. But when I try to reflect on this, I can clearly see a few reasons for that.
First of all, I always felt included. From day one, the co-founders made me feel like an owner of Preply. It was just like being one of them. One team of passionate owners. It is also very much reinforced by our stock option plan, which we offer to all employees.
The second reason, as I mentioned above, is the company is always growing and changing for the better. And that gives me room to grow too. There are new challenges every quarter as we constantly push the limits.
The third reason is the company mission, which, regardless of the phrasing, essentially boils down to helping humanity effectively improve themselves. Even not necessarily being an avid language learning fan, I truly believe it’s an essential skill to widen your mindset and broaden your horizons, both personally and professionally.
What do you think are your biggest accomplishments since you started in 2014? And which are Preply’s biggest achievements?
It’s very hard to say. Many things happened during the last 8 years. But I think for Preply, the biggest achievement is to take a genuine, international direction. We have expanded the business worldwide and grown the team internationally while keeping a strong and vibrant internal culture. It helped to diversify risks, raise investment and improve the diversity of the team.
What is your biggest “lesson learned“ in these 8 years?
Business sense. We are always trying to foster a culture of ownership and business sense, especially among developers. And I think, largely, Preply has succeeded in that. Everything is getting more pragmatic and measurable. The highest paid person in the room is not an authority. Everyone is open to being challenged; we never stay silent. The decisions are based on data. For me, personally, it’s the biggest learning and motivation — to be able to see the impact of your work; measurable, tangible impact.
Can you share a fun, memorable moment you’ve had at Preply?
Once, we organized a 2-day hike across the Ukrainian mountains with camping in tents for the whole company. It was a crazy experience, especially for some of our colleagues from other countries. During the day, we hiked through the forest, over rocks and mountains, crossed small rivers and jumped through the mud. And in the evening, we camped in some beautiful places, made a big fire, and cooked food altogether. One night we even managed to build our own sauna, using some plastic wrap, heated stones and wood. An unforgettable experience.
Describe Preply in one sentence
Preply balances a ‘hacky,’ problem-solving approach to hyper-growth while always giving enough space for creativity and ownership.
How do you see Preply in the near future?
Preply will overcome the recession and grow to be a unicorn. Anything else is not acceptable :)