CEOs / Founders / Interviews / Software Engineers & Developers

Balancing the Grind with Igor Debatur, Co-Founder & CEO at Uploadcare

Igor Debatur is a software developer and the co-founder & CEO of Uploadcare, an end-to-end cloud platform, covering the complete media pipeline: uploading, processing, and delivery.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I started off as a developer in a software company, and in 2007, while working on our new website, I met my future friend and business partner Anatoly Chernyakov. A year later, we founded a web-design agency called Whitescape.

In 3 years, the Whitescape team grew to 25 people, and the revenue grew as well. Therefore, we decided to invest money in our own products. In 2011, we got a good chance to do so while working with one client.

Among other things, we had to find a way to quickly convert and upload images and audio to the site. This is a pain for all the developers, so we tried to ease that pain by writing a program that could do it automatically. We realized it might be useful for others, and created a scalable subscription service based on the technology.

We called this startup Uploadcare, and after several tough years of trying to run both the agency and startup, looking for investors, team members and new offices, I became Uploadcare’s CEO, which I remain to this day.

2) What does a day in life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

My workdays start early, at 7:00, because for me the most productive hours are in the morning.

Before doing anything work-related, I take some time for my personal morning routine. I go for a run, then take an hour to read something. Such a gap helps me to fully wake up and settle down into a focused working mood.

Once I’ve checked my day plans and decided which tasks are the most important at the moment, I start my work. At my current position, it consists mostly of meetings with a very diverse agenda, from business tasks to technical details.

Usually I try to avoid all the meetings which can go well without me. And to keep track of all of them, I rely a lot on recordings and notes. For meetings and calls, we use Zoom in combination with Gong. This tool keeps both video and text records for each discussion, so I can quickly look through any notes later if necessary.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote work? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

At Uploadcare, we started working remotely 13 years ago, and since our team is located all around the globe, for the last 9 years we’ve been working asynchronously.

This basically means that everyone is in charge of their own working and personal hours.

You just keep a record of your workflow in the open calendar and plan everything yourself. This approach has been extremely helpful for organizing work among different time zones.

So, my team doesn’t expect me to answer any request or solve any problem in a moment unless it’s a real emergency, and vice versa. This principle makes the work process so flexible that I can shape it in the most comfortable way to suit my life.

For instance, if I want to go to the gym for an hour in the middle of my workday or go for a run in the forest for a couple of hours, it’s totally fine. I know I won’t interrupt anyone’s work by doing whatever I need to stay productive and satisfied with my days.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I value work-life balance a lot, because I believe that you can’t achieve your best in professional development if all other life spheres suffer.

To my mind, living a full life and enriching your working routine with sports, family, hobbies, and anything else you like is crucial to stay focused, productive and motivated. These are the three whales for achieving your goals. At the end of the day, it’s not the time spent on the task that matters, it’s the result.

So, what do I do? First of all, I optimize my office hours.

For instance, I rarely answer any request immediately, since I prefer investing more time in researching the question to give a meaningful answer. So, if I can’t answer right away, I set reminders in email or messengers. Once I’m ready to look through them, I can solve up to a dozen questions in half an hour. That’s more efficient than trying to do it throughout the day, wasting time on refocusing my attention.

Still, maintaining a healthy work-life balance and being a perfectionist at the same time can be tricky for me. So, I always keep in mind the big picture and try to control my desire to be the best at absolutely everything.

Sometimes being just good is enough—that’s what I remind myself. I try to prioritize spending time out of the office, embracing sports or leisure activities and personal interests. They are my resources for inspiration and energy, and they’re necessary to cope with the demands of the job.

5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

The first and most basic thing is implementing the principle of Occam’s razor in our work at Uploadcare. In adherence to that principle, we try to remove everything unnecessary from each process.

For instance, include fewer people in email correspondence or at meetings. We also made a map with the company’s objectives and team structure so that work processes are clearer for everyone, and most problems are now solved without my participation.

Another routine I use a lot is workflows and calendars. Actually, now I can’t even imagine my life without a daily schedule in Google: if it’s not on the calendar, it won’t happen.

This approach helps to manage my time, shows my team when I’m available, and serves as a reminder for all the things I should do.

This lowers anxiety and provides a good structure for each day.

As a result, I don’t waste energy on decision making, which is the most tiring process for the human brain. I just follow the plan.

Another important thing is optimized communication. I do my best (and always ask my colleagues) to be really precise and accurate in requests. Before sending any message, I think about its reader: is there enough information for him or her to give me an answer? Is it clear enough what I want?

Surprisingly, caring about how much time other people spend on my requests saves a great deal of my own time. If I’m straightforward from the very beginning, there is no need for me to provide additional details or explanations later.

6) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

One book that helped me a lot to change my whole approach to work and optimize my routine is Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker. At just 69 pages with large type, it’s actually more like a large pamphlet or booklet than a book, so you won’t spend much time reading it, but still, I found some valuable insights there.

I realized why the standard approach to time management doesn’t work well, and how to change it in the best way. I saw how many ways there are for people to manage information, and how stupid it is to expect everyone to answer properly immediately. Some people just do a better job when they’re given more time.

This way I found out why I’m not really good with Twitter and Reddit. They turned out to be way too fast for me, since I really like to invest more time in researching a subject to give a meaningful answer without a hurry. Understanding these deep reasons for changing my routine was the main driver of actual changes, some of which I described above.

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

The start of the day matters the most for me. Each morning I go for a run, which helps me to get fresh and active, and brings benefits not only for physical health but also for the brain. Along with breakfast, checking my day plans, and an hour of reading, this builds up a good mood for the whole day.

Three times a week, I eat breakfast at the beginning of the day with my team. Earlier, we used to have it in the office from time to time, but when things changed and everything moved to the internet, we decided it would be a good time to scale this small tradition up and give it a new meaning.

So now we have calls on a regular basis just to get together, eat something, drink coffee and talk about anything but work. We call it “intercontinental breakfasts,” though for some people it might be a dinner due to the time difference.

After all, it’s not the time of the day or the food that’s valuable in these calls, it’s the sense of support that helps us keep our emotional health in such strange and tense times.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

I remember reading on Forbes one quote from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. He said that blending work and personal life has become the norm. And I agree that people nowadays, including myself, rarely draw a thick line between the professional and personal.

This doesn’t mean that everyone started working more instead of building their own lives. This means that we expect more than just money from our jobs as professional goals blend with personal ones.

This is a real challenge for both company owners and employees. And I would really like to see what perspective Salesforce has on it since their main idea—integrating philanthropy with work—resonates to some extent with what we’re trying to build at Uploadcare. I believe that social responsibility and attention to people serve as the most reliable base for success.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Balancing work and life often implies changing habits and shaking up the routine you’re used to. Challenging though this might be, I always try to remember that it’s impossible to be successful in a changing environment by staying the same all the time. Comfort usually slows down development.

However, changing your perspective is the key to overcoming resistance when introducing new habits. Stop thinking of being the best of the best and reward yourself just for getting better than you were yesterday.

Lead the positive changes around you by example and believe me, it will pay off.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.