14 Minutes of SaaS

14 Minutes of SaaS

E62: Polina Montano, Job Today Co-Founder – 1 of 3 – Post Perestroika St Petersburg to Amsterdam

Polina Montano, Job Today Co-founder, in Conversation with Stephen Cummins on the 14 Minutes of SaaS podcast - 1 of 3 - episode 63

E62: Polina Montano, Job Today Co-Founder – 1 of 3 – Post Perestroika St Petersburg to Amsterdam

We welcome back my old friend Polina Montano, who was the third guest on the show way back at the start. This time, instead of a single episode, we recorded a 3 part mini-series together. She’ll tell her whole history from humble beginnings in the beautiful city of Saint Petersburg in post-perestroika in Russia. Like our very first guest, Branch’s Mada Seghete, a strong mother had a massive influence on her career. Polina went on to become an international business person and accomplished polyglot, a champion of operational excellence and a hugely successful co-founder of SaaS rocketship Job Today – an employment networking app and SaaS service. The platform handles over 6 million applications per month and 70% of their job matches happen within 24 hours.

This is the first episode in the series with Polina. This conversation is a deeper and more personal dive into who Polina is, the challenges she faced in Russia, her adventures abroad and ultimately how she became a major tech founder

TRANSCRIPT

Polina Montano

Reading!
It’s a little bit like traveling without really leaving your house – because just by reading was books, it just takes you these fascinating lives and histories – whatever s/he wants to take you to. She invited us to come and visit Germany. And yes indeed, it was the moment that my eyes went just wide open .. I think that I was maybe 11 or 12. It was my first trip abroad outside of Russia. And yes, I just discovered this diversity and abundance in Western Europe, clearly showed me the way … “hey there is a different world out there!  There is a way to live differently. Just go and make it happen for yourself. I very quickly realized that in the corporate world, things just didn’t move fast enough for me – just the pace of how fast  you can implement new ideas or act on them are making things happen … Maybe this lack of dynamic was missing a little bit. So I quickly gravitated towards doing things for myself.

Stephen Cummins

Welcome to 14 minutes of SaaS, the show where you can listen to the stories and opinions of founders of the world’s most remarkable SaaS ScaleUps.

Polina Montano

In this episode which was recorded he WebSummit in Lisbon, we have the first of a 3-part mini-series with Polina Montano, cofounder of job today. You may remember that she was the third person we interviewed for the 14 minutes of sounds podcast. Well, this conversation is a deeper and more personal dive into who Polina is. It covers the challenges she faced in Russia, her adventures abroad, and ultimately how she became to major tech founder.

Stephen Cummins

Great to have you back on the show etc … Who is Polina Montano? Tell me a little bit about your childhood in Russia …

Polina Montano

I come from Saint Petersburg which is a beautiful city in Russia. I lived there until the age of 18. Basically I had the privilege to leave in these turbulant times just right after Perestroika. Then all of a sudden the whole of Russia’s society changed. You went from communism to the brutal first stage of capitalism literally overnight. … Just think about this! In the communist system private property wasn’t allowed – like you couldn’t own the business, you couldn’t buy an apartment. It just didn’t exist. And then literally like after Perestroika, all of a society suddenly discovered this whole new opportunity, whole new freedom. And to be honest, I think many people didn’t know what to do with it. How to benefit from it …how to find themselves in this new environment. So I had the privilege of living through that and having a very entrepreneurial Mum who was definitely one of the first female entrepreneurs in business latest back in those days. It wasn’t anything big or glamorous or anything like that. But she started her own little travel agency – literally like 3 people and a dog – trying to help Russian people to maybe book some trips abroad or travel. Finally, they actually became accessible – impossible for them before – it was like going to the moon. So to visit Paris or London, it would be considered a trip to the Moon because you would have to go for so much clearance and documents. So she was one of those of the first to be even doing that and having her own business back in those days. Running a small business was like something you really didn’t know how to do.

Because it was something totally new. You had no legal framework, nobody there to explain to you what you need to do. Having a great time with her colleagues – I saw the respect and the way they talked to her. I saw her being flexible and actually having time to take me out for an ice cream, when she wanted to do. I also saw her work after office hours, late nights. I also saw her facing all sorts of imaginable challenges. Just because it’s so new – you really don’t know what’s involved. At some time back in those days … then maybe I already knew that when I’m going to grow up, I definitely want to have my own business. I want to be like an entrepreneur myself.

And then like any kid there was a little bit of I want to go out there and make it big. So she doesn’t have to work so hard and I can have come back home on a shiny white horse and make it happen for her. And everything will be fine. This was obviously like a naive little childish motivation to do something else, to do something different.

Stephen Cummins

It’s a nice motivation. A good friend of mine Garrett Johnson who I still work with from time to time is the hyper-polyglot like you and I – speaks lots of languages. He’s also from Dublin. He’s a Russian citizen now. He’s also from Dublin. He talks about the queues for everything – and how people, you know, they didn’t have access to many different products. And he talks about the generosity of people. And there were… they were a lot of books. Does that resonate with your memory of Russia?

Polina Montano

Yes, yes. There was no entertainment offer on TV channels was quite limited back in those days. Once again I just got incredibly lucky to be born and raised in St Petersburg, which is definitely a the city of culture in Russia. So guess what … if you don’t have an interesting program on TV, you go to the theatre. Guess what? You just grab a nice book and you sit somewhere and read. I used to love stories when I was little. Sometimes I was like late for lunch and dinner. And I just liked stories and histories – which I was so into at that moment. I also believed – and I still believe – that reading is a little bit like travelling. It’s really leaving your house because just by reading was books – you enter the lives and histories – wherever the author wants to take you to. So I remember when I was a little girl, I was like totally into reading. If I was reading something interesting and I was obviously driving my Mum up the wall because I wouldn’t come on time for the table ever. What my parents used to do. They would come in my room take my book of, and put the books on top of like the highest furniture. We had an apartment. So basically, I couldn’t reach it until I went and ate all on my plate.

Stephen Cummins

And are you still an avid reader?

Polina Montano

I have much less time for it now. Unfortunately. But I kinda … now I replace my passion for reading with my passion for people. So I kinda compensated by traveling  and talking to people and discovering their experiences – and what I can learn from them.

Stephen Cummins

You had a young girl from the United States stay with you when you were younger in Russia. Is that right?

Polina Montano

Not quite.

Stephen Cummins

Okay.

Polina Montano

It was actually a German teacher. She managed to come over and stay with us. Literally right after Perestroike happened. She wanted to experience this Russian life. And how people were leaving. And I remember one morning she volunteered to go to buy and buy milk – and she woke up early. So that morning she woke up earlier. She went out on the streets – and back then we were selling – literally talking like first days after Perestroika – so some processes were not really sophisticated then -logistically back then things didn’t work. So you could buy milk from big trucks. So people would just a queue in the morning and just get the milk and then go home and I remember her reaction because she got in line and the milk finished just before she arrived at the head of the queue. And eventually, she got back home and she had like she had this look of absolute desperation and surprise. Like how does this even possibly happen? So after she invited us to visit Germany. And yes, indeed ..it was the moment where my eyes were just wide open … I think I was maybe 11 or 12 … Not exactly sure. But it was my first time outside of Russia. And yes, I just discovered this diversity and abundance in Europe. It clearly showed me the way – that there was more out there.

Stephen Cummins

Now you arrived I think as an 18 year old girl in the Netherlands … with a bright coloured case in the Netherlands I believe …

Polina Montano

Yeah .. it was like Summer vacation and my first year in the university. I was studying Law and business. And my mom was trying to save me from some kind of tragic heart-breaking romantic story … and so she organized for me to go and actually spend time somewhere in Amsterdam and do some kind of internship. So here I arrived with my beautiful colourful suitcase and 300 dollars. So today, it was like 300 dollars in my pocket in value .. arriving in Amsterdam and just kind of settling in my temporary apartment just for the internship. And I remember back in those days that 300 dollars or whatever it was… it was like a significant chunk of money for a young person back in Russia. But I quickly realized that in Amsterdam that wasn’t the case. But I had a great time. And found an internship job . The company was very kind and they offered me the opportunity to stay, if I wanted to continue and pursue it in Amsterdam. And that’s actually how the whole thing happened. I stayed in Amsterdam working for this company doing my internship. Obviously coming from a very normal working environment in my family in Russia … my parents couldn’t afford to actually pay for me. So okay I had to support myself for university years. So I basically waited tables and had any casual job I could find out there f from waiting tables and in the hard rock café to selling shoes … and to work ing in a customer support centre for some of the internet providers at the time. Yeah, but it was still great… great moment.

Stephen Cummins

Fantastic. Now you eventually finished a degree in business administration in the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

Polina Montano

Eventually! I did it as fast as I could!

Stephen Cummins

Oh, well, forgive me. Yeah. Yeah. Well, we know you move fast Paulina!
: )
And what I was gonna say was that you immediately gravitated towards franchises. A form of business ownership where you can access established brands and establish channels or supplies. Were you already driven to be independent and .. kinda the owner of your own destiny? Even at that stage in life?

Polina Montano

Absolutely. I had a few experiences like outside of casual jobs which I had to put myself through college. I also had like a few corporate experiences, really amazing companies and amazing people but nonetheless ..  I very quickly realised in the corporate world things just didn’t move fast enough for me … just the pace of how fast you can implement new ideas or act on them or make things happen. Maybe this lack of dynamic was missing a little bit. So I quickly gravitated towards doing something for myself.

Stephen Cummins

In the next episode – two of three – she’s gonna take us through her career from a very successful boss of a chain of petrol stations and other retail organizations –  going back to do an MBA and eventually emerging to become extremely successful as a tech founder within just a couple of years of that transition.

Stephen Cummins

 

You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thanks to Mike Quill for his creativity and problem solving skills and to Ketsu for the music. This episode was brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins. If you enjoy the podcast, please don’t forget to share it with your network, subscribe to the series and give the show a rating.

 

 

 

 

 

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