Respeecher Mates: Margarita Grubina on Mastering Sales Skills with Celebrity Clients, China-Vietnam Trip and the War
Dec 27, 2022 11:25:39 AM
This is an episode of small talks with Respeecher team members. They are human stories which stand behind Emmy-Award-winning technology. Behind every great product stands incredible people, and we want to introduce you to ours. We won't share all the secrets, but these stories will give you a glimpse into Respeecher's cozy office life in Kyiv and our daily routine.
We've talked with Margarita Grubina, Business Development, about life between China and Vietnam, mastering Sales skills with celebrity clients and how war stole her home but could not steal her hopes.
On pitfalls of working in Business development during the war that you’ve most probably never heard of
Can you explain and define your job in the most simple way?
I’ll try to do the same thing I do when I try to explain it to my mom. Earlier in Respeecher, I was basically the first contact our new clients met when they had an inquiry. I led them and then transferred to the most relevant team member who could help them.
But now it changed a bit and I got my own pipeline of potential and existing clients, as well as, different projects. I’m still the first contact for our clients, but not for all.
Do you feel pressure because of such responsibility? As you need to find the best approach, understand clients, and win their trust.
Yeah, you need to find the best approach to every client, but isn’t it the same everywhere?
So you got particular love for communication and people, how did you choose this Business Development path?
Frankly, I didn’t choose it. It found me. I used to think that Sales was complete bulls*it. Later I found out that my grandma was in sales too, she even had a degree in the University of Trade and Economics. She started to work at a meat factory and sold its production - translating into modern language, she worked in B2B. (smiling)
Did you know that before you started to work in Sales?
Sure, it was one of these legendary stories' my grandma used to tell me plenty of times in my childhood. But only recently I became conscious of this fun fact that I kinda inherited her talent in sales.
I can’t say I have a particular love for small talk or overall communication with people. Sometimes you feel extremely exhausted due to these interactions. You invest a lot of energy in people. At the same time, people can give you a lot of energy and kinda recharge you, especially when you meet creative people: world-known producers, directors, and voice actors. It’s a huge perk of working at Respeecher's Business Development team.
Do you have your own Vanity Fair in Sales - famous people you talked to, like the Head of Marketing in Warner Brothers or something like that?
Definitely, I have it. I used to be so nervous before when I talked to them. Worried I could say something wrong. I really freaked out on the beginning, but later I got used to this job when you talk with celebrities of different levels on a regular basis. Once I had a call with a famous producer and somehow, I didn’t recognize him on the call. After a call, I googled again and was like: “Oh, wow!”
How awkward was that?
No, I wouldn't say so. I think that is how it should be done. You need to talk as you would talk to ordinary people. It’s even better when you don’t know how many awards they have, you just need to build a human bond, and that’s it.
Do you have the top of companies you talked to in the gaming or movie industry?
Not sure if we can talk about it, but most recently, we had a call with the company that created my favorite video game that I used to play as a kid.
What they wanted Respeecher to do for them?
They have like six voices for characters, and they want to create more.
Margarita before she met Respeecher: How she got her first job, learned to ride a “drunk bike”, and spent a year between China and Vietnam.
Let’s put work aside and tell a bit more about Rita before Respeecher era. Where did you study?
When you grow up in Berdiansk (a province, a port city in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast ), you don’t have plenty of options to choose from: either medical school or pedagogical university. You could also study at some private university, but I have no idea where did people got that crazy money to pay for it. So, back then I knew that I won’t stay in Bediansk.
I decided to move to Kyiv. I’ve always wanted to move somewhere. I enrolled in the Borys Grinchenko Kyiv University for journalism.
That’s what my BA diploma says (smiling) Publishing businesses: journalism. I would say more - I even used to host a show on local TV.
Do you feel like these skills are now helping you in your job?
I believe uni is not about skills but more about teaching you to interact with people, especially when you need something. And communicate on a more advanced level than you did it in school when you could be an impulsive and capricious kid, and everyone forgives you. So in uni, you learn to ask about something and communicate even with people you don't like much.
Right after uni, you had your first job in sales?
There is a bunch of stories about jobs that I had combined with my study. But I had my first job ever when I was eleven. I gave away leaflets in the Berdiansk Wax Museum. So basically, I've been in marketing and sales since I was 11 (laughing).
Then I worked in a shooting gallery. And the funniest job I had - was called “drunk bike”. It’s a kind of street entertainment - the bike’s wheels were built that way, so it was almost impossible to ride it straight, but people who decided to try and managed to reach the defined spot could win money. I really needed that job, so I came there and learned how to ride that bike within four hours.
Why did you need to learn how to drive it?
Because how will people believe you that it is even possible? To be honest, I could not ride a regular bike properly, not to say a “drunk bike”.
Wow, you’re a venturer.
Indeed. It was crazy to experience: helms move right, but the bike itself moves left. Anyway, it was a fun experience.
And what happened next after you had your first jobs?
I had a list of weird and interesting jobs by the time I finished uni, even worked in an agency that helped people to find and get job in Poland. Then I married and moved to China.
Wait, what? It sounds like one of those life turns that happens only in TV series.
Yeah, I know. In China, I was an English language tutor while spent some time learning Chinese. I was only 21 and faced a tough life situation, as I had only one month left before my visa expired. I was short on money, but I needed to go to a neighboring country to apply for a visa again so that I won’t be deported. In the morning, I worked in the kindergarten as an English language teacher and had night shifts in the nightclub. They paid a few more girls and me for us just for hanging in the club. You basically got paid for partying and dancing in the club as a regular guest. But at 7 am, I had to be in kindergarten.
OMG, sound harsh
Maybe, but I managed to save 600–800 dollars.
So you still can speak Chinese?
Nah, but back then, I had a proper conversational level, so I could explain to the cab driver where I needed to go or have a small talk about where I’m from or how old I am.
I loved staying in China, even though Chinese culture was unlike what I had known before and people there have different communication style. But you can explain almost everything with the help of gestures and emotions. Once, I managed to explain to a random man that I would send him money on the card, but he will give me cash instead. He understood me.
Ok, now I see how you mastered your comms skills not in uni but in China.
Yup, but then I moved to Vietnam.
Well, that was an unexpected turn. Before your Vietnam story, tell me how much time did you spend in China?
Almost a year. In Vietnam, I was supposed to redo my Chinese visa. But I missed some of the documents to apply. I needed some of them to be sent to me. Buuuuut it was a time before Chinese New Year, which is also celebrated in Vietnam. So the embassy went on holiday. So I spent a month in Vietnam alone and spent all my savings. I rented a two-floor flat there, it was cool.
What about the climate, all the humidity and rain - was it terrible?
Oh, the climate wasn’t the main problem back then. Climate was pretty cool. But My Vietnam visa expired. I was out of money. And I was about to divorce my husband. It felt like the end of a big adventure. I asked my husband to get me a flight ticket to Ukraine, Kyiv.
I came back to winter Ukraine wearing summer clothe and having just one backpack. Luckily, my mom moved from Berdiansk to Kyiv, so I could stay with her for some time. I was time to find a new job.
Sound like you had the most adventurous gap year in China and Vietnam. Do you have any life wisdom or conclusions after this trip? Or something you were taught by local people?
I like the most how easy they were with all this digitalization process on every level. Even homeless people had a QR code, so you could send them some money if you don't have cash.
Even though they are really hardworking nation but when they have a lunch break, they don't give a damn about anything else - they are having a break. You can’t bother them. They wouldn't do anything, no matter how urgent your request is. I think it’s good. Kinda work-life balance, you know.
Was it your dream to explore Asian countries?
No, not at all. My husband inspired this trip. I wasn’t into Asian culture until I came there. I think people need to be more open to the world and everything new and put their stereotypes aside. Try everything new, even if it's dried ducks' tongues. Yeah, it’s one of the snacks they eat with beer.
Trust me, it’s not the most extreme thing you can eat there.
How about the most extreme situations, did such happen to you?
On my way back home, there were some troubles with my visa, so I had all this drama: the entire police department came into a plane to take me, and I spent a night in the police room in the airport. Felt like a criminal. But later, they let me go, and I finally got home.
How Margarita met Respeecher
Ok, so after this happy end with your trip, how did your path cross with Respeecher?
I started to work in a B2B outsourcing company in sales because I had advanced English. It was my first experience in true sales: I learned there what is how presale works, what inbound sales are, and how to manage a team. Then Respeecher found me. They wrote to me on LinkedIn. I didn’t plan to change my job.
So why did you agree?
I loved the idea that this startup was born and made in Ukraine. I didn't even know they did any projects for Star Wars, and I didn’t know how this AI works. But I remember clearly when I came to my first interview, I was really nervous.
I have no idea. I really didn't plan to switch to this job, but still, I was nervous. The interview went really well, and funny that at the end of the interview, they asked if I knew Bogdan Belyaev.
I knew him as we were from the same city, but I didn't even check it on LinkedIn or something.
*You can read here our previous interview with Bogdan Belyaev, Sound Engineer at Respeecher, about the intersection of AI & music, how it felt for a Star Wars fan to work on Luke Skywalker's voice and the invasion of his hometown.*
So what made you change your mind and start working with Respeecher?
I guess because of people. I talked to Alex Serdiuk (Respeecher CEO and Co-founder) and he was cool. The test task was ok too.
How long have you been with a team?
A year and eight months.
Can you name projects or clients you were most proud of within this time?
Unfortunately, I can’t disclose names. But when I just started to work with Respeecher, they worked with five out of seven top Hollywood companies. This summer, we’re signing a contract, and now we can tell we got six out of seven.
Wow! That’s huge, congrats. What do you find most irritating, and what do you enjoy the most about your job in Respeecher?
I wouldn’t say there is something in my job I don't like. Yes, there are days when 90% consist of calls, so obviously, you get tired, but it’s more about balancing between other tasks and combining them. I know that my favourite part of the job is when clients send me signed contracts.
Also, when they give you feedback. Not only clients but when it’s a potential lead and they say “no at the moment” but always give warm feedback about our communication. At this moment, I know they will come back.
Do you have your own pipeline of “Big fish” clients you still try to get?
I would say that we’re already either working to some extent or communicating with them. The funny thing about Sales processes is that you can hunt a company for six months and send reminders, but in a few months, they come to you on their own.
At the very beginning of my journey in Respeecher, I was so persistent in reaching every company and getting replies. Within the first two quarters of a year, I couldn't make it to sign even one contract. I was worried I was doing something wrong. We used to have only CRM, but now we built a smooth operational process pipeline and have a working system. So now it all works perfectly. In fact, when you have such large-scale Hollywood projects, it inspires you to keep that bar high.
Is there a particular niche you work with?
Now, I decided to focus more on the video-gaming industry, But I mostly sell our real-time feature, and there are plenty of industries where it could be useful. Not only gaming and gaming streams but also live podcasts, chatbots, call centers, virtual influencers, TV or avatars. I do communicate with all of them. I love this flexibility in Respeecher, so if I would like to take some random case of localization - I can do it.
Do you have a particular market geography you focus on, it’s more about working globally with any country?
Yeah, we’re rather Global. But most of my clients are from the US, Canada, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria. Probably not a big surprise, I have clients from Asia: China, Japan, Singapore.
"You could be really proud if you signed contracts with a Japanese company because most of the time, it means long-lasting cooperation. They are very loyal. "
How many calls do you have per day?
It could be nine or even ten calls.
About war, stolen home and big hopes ahead
When the war in Ukraine started, how it influenced clients and your work?
I was impressed because most of them didn’t ask if we were reliable, they showed support. When the air sirens started, I just told the client I needed to hide in the corridor or bathroom and continued the call. They were ok with that. I mean, they mostly worried and asked how the things were going and asked different questions. They often sent messages like “Slava Ukraini” or “F*ck putin” - these are my favorite one.
Where were you on February 24th when Russia attacked Ukraine with missiles and started the war?
I was in Khmelnytskyi. I was there one week before the war started.
Did you go there, just in case?
Yup, as no one knew what would happen in Kyiv. Didn’t know whether we would have internet or 4G. I needed to work and communicate with clients no matter what happens.
I woke up because of a phone call. “The war has started”. I looked outside the window, and people were running around. Air sirens were on. On TV news about the war. When we went outside on the streets, lines were everywhere - in banks, supermarkets, and petrol stations as in the beginning, people panicked. We also were shocked, as we didn’t know what would happen next. Glad I had a job and some sort of stability at that moment.
It really managed to distract you from news about the war.
You can’t even imagine. We had a morning meeting with Respeecher team and everyone who was in Ukraine, it really helped a lot to ground ourselves. When you see the faces of people, you know that everyone is in the same position and understands each other with no words. When you have someone to discuss the same experience. It gave us a feeling that we would cope with everything as a team. On the very same day, I also had two calls with clients.
We had a plan to go abroad to a safer place, to Poland or Prague. But when we came to a railway station, we saw real madness and an impossible number of people there. So we decided to stay in Ukraine.
I know that city where you were born is now also occupied by Russians. When you visited it last time?
That’s a good question. I guess last summer, as I usually visit it in summer.
To see the sea?
Yeah. It’s very beautiful out there. I’ve spent there a few weeks, the last time I was in Berdiansk in 2021.
What do you miss the most about your city?
I miss the sea a lot. And shrimps (smiling). We had a conversation with Alex recently, and I said I miss home, and he asked where my home is as I have lived in Kyiv for the last 8 years. I realize no matter where I am, my home is in Berdiansk. Place where I grew up and spent 18 years of my life. At the same apartments. I know everything and everyone in the city.
Did you believe that full-blown invasion and the war would happen?
No. I thought it would be illogical and irrational. But a week before it, when I packed my stuff to move to Khmelnytskyi, I kinda started to believe it was possible, but I couldn't fully accept it. On February 22nd, two days before it, I was sure it would happen.
Because of a media buzz about it?
Maybe. I don’t know.
Ok, but do you believe in Ukraine’s victory?
I believe the outcome of this war fully depends on us. When everyone believes in victory - it will happen. Because when you believe in something, you act accordingly. If you’re skeptical about victory, you will put your hands down and wait for occupiers to come.
It’s not an imaginary thing. When you believe that we win: you aren’t afraid to donate like crazy to support Ukraine’s Armed Forces or to buy military obligations. You literally invest in accelerating this victory.
What will you do when we win?
I will dye my hair.
Ukraine's blue-yellow flag colors?
No kidding! I will do it. Seriously.
Ok, let’s finish this interview with one last story - tell me your life’s biggest venture-adventure?
Frankly, it feels like my entire life is a venture. I mostly don't plan anything, as everything happens spontaneously. Before the war, I really wanted to move somewhere. To live abroad, I spent some time living in London. I wanted to immigrate. But now, when the war happened - it changed everything. I don’t want to live anywhere else.
“It’s awesome in Ukraine - we have Monobank, Diia, Respeecher, kind people you can easily communicate with. What else do you need?”
Margarita Grubina, Business Development