Asa part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Tadas Burgaila.
Tadas is an entrepreneur, investor, and co-founder of Kilo Health. As of 2022, Kilo Health is the second-fastest growing company in Europe on the Financial Times TOP 1000 ranking, the second-fastest growing company in Central Europe on the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 list. Tadas supports local businesses and shares his experience in different conferences, thus being one of the co-founders of Unicorns.lt — a union of successful startups that create world-famous products and new job opportunities.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
In hindsight, not being an entrepreneur was never an option for me. I started my career when I was 16 and I built the world‘s №2 wallpaper website. Over the years, I have launched more than 100 different projects, developing them from tiny startups to solid companies.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I think we are at the beginning of the most interesting part of the story — the scaling of Kilo Health. Even though building the company to this point was literally insane at times, being recognized by the Financial Times as one of the fastest-growing companies in Europe truly put some gasoline into the engine.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the mistakes we made, in the beginning, was not having enough people on our customer support team when we began to grow rapidly. This lead to delays while answering messages our clients sent us. If we could do this one more time, I would definitely make sure we have enough resources to create excellent customer experiences from day one.
It might not be a funny mistake — but it’s definitely important and I would like to share this lesson with other future CEOs.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Mom and dad. They are the biggest help and influence on me.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
There are numerous reasons. Diverse teams result in increased innovation which is essential if you’re working in a health tech company. Every colleague has a different viewpoint and with grown team creativity, teams also benefit from better innovation. Companies that discover innovative solutions can make more informed conclusions. So, this can help them tackle issues even faster and offer more balanced solutions that benefit the performance of a company.
For instance, we have a lot of inspiring female executives across the company, including Kilo Health managing director Lina Jasaite. We systematically seek to balance the new hires to make sure that we have a diverse environment that encourages innovation.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
From my perspective, the most important thing to remember is that people are a company’s most important asset, far more valuable than any other key indicator. For me, contributing to people’s dreams is the greatest joy of my life and the most meaningful part of my job, which is perhaps why I never stop believing in my colleagues and their potential.
When I see a colleague rising through the ranks, getting huge offers from competitors, or leaving to build their business, I always feel a genuine sense of pride. I believe that building relationships with colleagues is the best investment, but only if it is sincere and organic and not an attempt to replicate the books one has read.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
While all leaders have to think about the big picture, CEO has to create that picture. Show the direction and provide their people not only with a task but also with purpose.
It is important to remember that as CEO your working hours are not limited to 9–5 because you are responsible not just for your work, your team’s work, but the entire company. If you are afraid of that, being a CEO is simply not for you.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
The main myth is that the CEO has all the answers. When I am asked how you do it or how it should be done, I often say that I don’t know — I just do. We try out different solutions with the team and find the way that works.
Not all projects are successful. But as a CEO you have to remember that speed is the key today. You have to be quick to make decisions and even quicker to learn from your mistakes. Of course, this comes at a cost.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
If you want to be an executive you have to be a risk-taker and not a control freak. We are the second-fastest growing company in Europe, so it could be hard sometimes to manage growth. Therefore, it is essential to remember — don‘t try to control everything. Sometimes we just rely on the approach to allow things to happen on their own. And that’s how new great solutions emerge. Our idea is to make mistakes as much and as quickly as possible. It allows us to discover new opportunities. Therefore, strict management is not always the right choice. We like to make mistakes and we often fail, but that’s one of the key reasons for our success.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
A person spends at least 8 hours a day at work, so our company motto is that we want those hours to be well spent and enjoyed. We have a great deal of freedom, independence, and opportunity to strive for our own. New colleagues usually don’t get a clear list of tasks and goals to complete. Sometimes some even get scared of the chaos, but when they realize that in the chaos there are lots of possibilities, they see that it is essential. The other thing, I think, is that people change jobs because of their direct managers. We are working very hard on making sure that there are no ego games and no power-sharing games. For me, the scariest thing is when a manager does not protect talent because of the fear that someone will take his place.
For instance, the story of how we searched for an HR person perfectly illustrates what we look for in talents. At that time, we already had over 100 people working for us. We needed a new colleague in HR department. There were a lot of applicants, but nobody was suitable. Most of them understood HR work as filling in contracts and preparing reports. But we needed a different kind of person. And then San Diego came along…
It was maybe four o’clock in the morning. We were having fun with the company in a bar. Lots of people. I see a bartender with a sign on his back saying ‘San Diego’. He is doing all sorts of things, interacting with the clients, setting the mood. I knew straight away that this is exactly what we need. I offered to work for us straight away. He thought it was a joke, but I called him later. We met in the office. He asked me — what will I do? I said: you have to create a good mood for the staff, to make people just a little bit happier.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Well, our company is all about helping people get healthier. Health is the key to a better world. Kilo Health’s focus is to empower innovation in the healthcare industry. By creating accessible chronic disease management solutions, we have positively impacted patients with diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mental health issues. Every day, the number keeps growing as a reminder that we’re on the right side of change.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Trust your gut feeling. You are the only one who truly understands what kind of company you are trying to build here. While tons of people will try to give you advice or tell you are wrong in the way you conduct your business, listen to yourself first. While building Kilo Health, we have tried tons of unorthodox strategies, each of which was crazier than the other.
- Don’t play by the book. Great companies were not built following others — they are built leading by example. Yes, insights in business books are valuable — but even the best book will not provide you with the edge that could only be developed by trying out new ideas, gathering feedback from your customers, and improving on the go.
- Don’t be afraid of the corporate suits. You will definitely meet people that will look intimidating and sound like they know better than you. But that’s all there is to it — they seem and sound serious, but not all of them are. Even though you might feel you cannot match their experience, you are still the one who makes the decisions. Gather the information, understand the risks, and be open to other opinions. But don’t follow others just because they look like they know what they are talking about. On many cases, they don’t.
- Don’t lower your standards. Rapid growth will push you to feel like you are always behind on hiring. It will seem that you need tons of people, fast. However, even though it’s so important to ensure new people are constantly joining your company, it’s just as important to keep your standards high — or even higher than before. Make sure that the 546th expert who is joining your company will be greeted with the same enthusiasm as the 5th one. It’s crucial for keeping the company culture alive, and your people looking toward Mondays.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. When we just started Kilo Health, we invested heavily into performance marketing, and this tied up a lot of capital. This limited us because we couldn’t grow as fast as we wished for. I think it’s important to know your strengths, and if you are good at something — use it. But also try to diversify your toolbox to make sure you are agile enough in the future.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Stop the war in Ukraine and the killing of innocent civilians who are just trying to live their lives in peace. I think this is the most important message that everyone in the world must focus on all day, every day until Putin and his marauders are stopped.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
You are not going to live forever. Make the most out of each day, and live a life you will be glad to tell tales about and remember: it’s very nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to meet myself in the future. The version of me who lived their best life, learned all their lessons, gathered some solid knowledge, and could steer me toward the right track. While I value the experience of others, I believe that we all need to make our own mistakes to truly learn.