Anton Zykin is the CEO and founder of SFCD, a design and development agency with offices in NYC and San Francisco. He started the company about 10 years ago in St. Petersburg, Russia when he saw the market opportunity for high-quality design and software developments services. At the time, he was selling his own shareware software and it was really hard to find designers who specialized in software design. So he decided to start providing these services to his peers in the industry. He was the only designer at the time, but since the market was so hot, he was able to quickly assemble a team of designers and developers and start a real business.
In 2010, SFCD began a massive outreach to the Silicon Valley being based in Russia. In a few months, they were working with the hottest San Francisco startups such as Uber, Path, and SendGrid. At the same time, SFCD was also expanding their business in Russia working with the biggest clients in the retail and banking industries.
In 2012, the company decided to make a big move and establish their NYC headquarters. In just a few months, Anton established their first Manhattan offices and relaunched the company website. This helped them to acquire such coveted clients as ADP, T-Mobile, and Speedtest.net.
In 2015, Anton expanded his operations to the West Coast with the opening of our San Francisco office to have direct access to the burgeoning startup community there. He also led the major redesign of SFCD’s website, which grabbed some of the most prestigious web design awards such as Awwwards, FWA, CSSDA, Communication Arts, and a Webby nomination.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
I started my own agency out of necessity for high-quality design services in the software design niche. I couldn’t find anyone who could help me with designs, so I thought it would be a good idea to help others. My goal has always been designing beautiful software to make people lives better – that has been my inspiration from day one.
How do you make money?
We make money by providing paid design and development services for our clients. It may sound straightforward, but if you do good work, people will come back for me and will also recommend you to their friends and colleagues. It’s that simple.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
We’ve been profitable from the day we started. In the services business, if you can’t be profitable right away, it’s nearly impossible to keep the business at a sustainable level. I always knew that.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Yes, there were times where we didn’t have enough projects and I thought it would end soon. But when it was almost over, we managed to find new clients or do something that would get us some work. You have to be creative doing these things.
How did you get your first customer?
It was me helping a fellow developer with a small design project for his Windows application. It was easy to get him as a client and he paid what I asked and got the result that he wanted.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
We don’t use any agencies since we’re getting most of our clients through word of mouth and referrals from our past/current clients. The best way to generate new business is to create something people will talk about. For example, we developed a free app which was featured by Apple and has over 20,000 users – it gave us a lot of leads and new clients.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
I hired a few employees without having projects lined up for them. I believe that acquiring and retaining new talent is crucial and sometimes you need to take risks to achieve that.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
My formula of success is super simple – work hard and be flexible. No matter what you’ve achieved, you need to remember where you came from and what made you who you are today.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
It was the moment when I hired my first employee.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
I’m excited about the development of technology, more specifically VR and AR. In the nearest future, we’re going to design interfaces and software on a completely new level and
What business books have inspired you?
I don’t read business books, but I do read a lot of design books. I can recommend a book by Massimo Vignelli called Vignelli Canon. The rules he explains in the book can be applied to almost anything.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
I purchased a subscription to HubSpot – it helps track your leads and stay on top of your business in general
Which companies would you consider innovative and why?
My vote goes to Tesla and Elon Musk. They are actually thinking about the future. They are building a new energy delivery system and infrastructure around that.