• Dharaa Rathi

Episode 2: Zack Dugow & Optimism

Updated: Jun 18, 2018

Read about the importance of keeping spirits alive during your unsexiest times, with stories and experience from Zack & Sumay.

The Essence

“At it’s core, it’s necessary to be optimistic, but also open,” says Zack Dugow, CEO and Founder of Insticator. A founder who has been through overdrawn bank accounts to thousands of users on his advertising platform, Dugow has seen it all. In the second episode of The Unsexy Startup, Sumay Parikh and Zack Dugow have a frank and open conversation about the realities of being a founder with a team relying on you to see them through the tough times.

The Focus

           So what does it mean to be optimistic and open? Dugow relates it to the idea of the “Steve Jobs-esque drinking the Kool-Aid.” To be a successful founder, you absolutely have to have blind drive to make your product succeed, and a broad vision of what you’ll do. But you also must consider that your business has to respond to the market in a way that leaves it open to change. The acceptance of change during dire straits at any business is what keeps driving it forward.

“Especially at the beginning, it’s an estimation of pure grit and determination that gets people through, and is a lot of times the difference between success and failure.”

The Unsexy Time(s)

           Dugow relays one such time, when Insticator had been running out of money because their product wasn’t selling to the market they needed. He had put all of his own money in the business, and slashed salaries across the board just to keep the lights on. But doing this doesn’t fix problems even in the short term. Dugow

talks about how one of his employees had to come to him and tell him that he wasn’t able to bring his mother to the United States anymore because of the pay cut. There was nothing to be done except believe that the team would be able to come up with the right solution to right the course of the company, and through sleepless nights and a major pivot in the business, they were able to do just that.

Obviously, the challenge of “powering through those dark times” was at its peak then. However, through this experience, Dugow learned the importance of accepting every problem with the possibility of change and growth. As hard as it is to not fall into despair, Dugow stands by his argument of accepting problems as the best way to grow.  

… And What Came From It

For example, he tells a story of when they had just started running their software and the program kept crashing. He and his team were able to slip out for a few minutes to simply grab a sandwich, but within seconds of them sitting down to eat, another alert came back needing their immediate attention. The whole team started laughing, as exhausted as they were, in disbelief of the fact that they couldn’t even finish a sandwich. Dugow insists, however, that the ability to take these setbacks in stride is hiring a team that truly believes in the company and its trajectory. Team above everything, so to speak. The wrong team wouldn’t have laughed. We hope you’ll remember the importance of “drinking the Kool-Aid” in your business as well! Give the episode a listen for more details on Zack Dugow’s experience as a founder, like what he considers most important in compensating your team.