Read the Vova Feldman Interview
I first met Vova when I began using his WordPress plug in “rating-widget.” I needed some help and he quickly responded to my question. I knew he was a good guy just by the customer service he so promptly provided. We exchanged a few emails and he was so kind to agree to an interview. We’ll of course talk about Rating-Widget and his work at Senexx, but we’ll start today with a few questions on how he got where he is today.
Thanks Vova for answering these questions which I’m sure will inspire our entrepreneurial minded readers. I want to start off by asking you to recount your first computer memories. What was your first computer? How did you spend your time on it? Tell us what you remember about those first computer experiences of yours.
I got my first computer for my 7th birthday. It was an Intel 386 PC, I think it had 4K of memory and 32-bit microprocessor. It was a very big deal for me because as I was a child to fresh emigrants, I knew that my folks didn’t have much money to spend, but they did it anyway.
Like all the other kids in the neighborhood I joined the pacman and digger club. It was exciting times of big magnetic diskettes with very small capacity. I remember myself as a kid, hopping between the neighbors’ houses, copying any piece of data they had – games, programs, just anything. It was a very addictive time of seeing who would have the most stuff to copy.
When did you begin to take computing seriously? For example, tell us when you may have said the following or something similar, “I can make a career out of this.”
At the age of 9, when I already had a Pentium processer. My father’s friend, who was a computer engineer, gave me a C Language programming book as a present. During that time I was hooked to racing and strategy games. Specifically to Dune, World of Warcraft & Need for Speed.
The book laid on my table for a week, and then I decided to take a look. I read, and read, and couldn’t stop reading the first chapter. I was amazed by the fact that it’s possible to run code commands which basically told the computer what to do – it was magical. I immediately decided to test my skills learned from the first chapter I installed the required Pascal C compiler that came with the book, and wrote a simple program that prints Fibonacci numbers. It worked! I was super -excited and had the amazing feeling of creation. It was an adrenaline rush. I finished reading the whole book in that weekend. I coded several programs and determined that this is what I wanted to do when I grew up – I wanted to create programs.
That weekend was definitely a life changing event. I stopped playing my computer games, began coding and decided that was going to be my career.
You have a very entrepreneurial spirit, how many companies have you started?
I always loved to assemble and create new stuff, puzzles, Lego, woodwork – you name it. But, looking back I realize that I was infected by the entrepreneurial spirit when I was 13. I started a venture called V-Resolution (V stood for Vova J). During that time, iframe-based websites were THE popular structure. The problem in those days, was that screen sizes and resolutions were very poor. If you had a little bit different resolution than the web developer, you found yourself in front of a messed-up website with 3-5 scroll bars. I acknowledged the problem and obviously found a need, I decided to build a special browser add-on button that will act like auto-zoom for the browser, and resize the content to the exact dimensions the web developer meant it to be. Of course today’s zoom browser is obvious, but back then it was innovative. V-Resolution was an html post-compiler that worked really nice. I showed it to couple of people, even dragged my dad to a totally unrelated computer convention to show it to relevant people – but I was too young and didn’t have the right guidelines, so this ‘company’ failed. It didn’t break my spirit and I learned a lot from the process.
Counting back, I’ve started five different software ventures and two hardware venture (underwater camera case & anti-dust drilling device), only three of the ventures became companies.
What is most difficult aspect of being an entrepreneur?
This is a very difficult question to answer. I think the answer varies according to the entrepreneur’s company stage. During the early stage, the most difficult, though exciting, part is the uncertainty. It’s like a roller-coaster, ups & downs on a daily basis. Most of the time you act according to your gut feeling, take chances, try to take advantage of the right opportunity – because you don’t have the money, time nor the resources to chase more than one direction. In addition, all the statistics show you practically have no chance to succeed. – so the odds are against you all the time. Later, on a more advanced stage, the challenge is raise money, grow the team, hire talent, and chase the bigger vision.
Thinking again, there is a common difficulty during all stages. Not having mentioned this before, entrepreneurship is a disease! Entrepreneurs are like professional skateboarders. It’s a way of life. There is no separation between personal life and work because there is no such thing for us called work. I It’s obvious because the venture is our baby. So why is this a difficulty? Well, think about it, if you spend most of your time doing something, there’s not much time left for other things. It’s very hard to have any hobbies, it definitely hurts your loved ones, and you can even lose your personal identity. Honestly, I have no idea how I could have done that with kids – I admire those parents.
How do you, as an entrepreneur, determine success?
I have three criteria to determine entrepreneur’s success.
- How fast and efficient he can test hypothesis, and learn from them to improve?
- Is his network of connections always expanding?
- Can and how well does he learns from his failures?
If an entrepreneur knows how to fail fast and quickly learn from the mistakes, stay persistent and never lose his spirit, be open to feedback and his newtwork of connections is exponentially increasing. I would say that this person is definitely on the right track to success.
On a contrary note, what are your thoughts on failing? Some people say it’s good or necessary, but what do you say?
Failing is part of the learning process. When you succeed, it’s a combination of many variables that come together, including timing and luck. It’s much harder to learn something specific from a success because there are just too many variables. When you fail, it’s much simpler to isolate the reason you failed and learn from it. It’s definitely necessary! Experienced entrepreneurs have the skill of failing fast, learning and believing the mantra:
FAIL. LEARN. TRY-BETTER.
A lot of people know who you are by using your WordPress Ratings-Widget. Was that your first try at creating a plugin for WordPress?
Yes, the Rating-Widget was my first WP plugin. It’s actually a really funny story of how I started the project. By the end of 2010 I was planning to start a blog. I took a pen and piece of paper and wrote all the components that I would like to have in my blog. One of them was a rating system for posts and comments. After searching for a while, I couldn’t find something suitable and user-friendly for my needs. As a geeky developer I just decided to build one myself.. As a side comment, I never had time to publish the blog 🙂
Why do you think it become so popular and successful?
That’s a great question. I guess it became so popular because of three main reasons.
- I made the user experience very friendly and simple. The most unsavvy tech user can set it up in couple of minutes.
- I was constantly listening to the users. All new features were added according to users’ needs and requests. I was always asking for feedback, and feeding this feedback back into the product.
Last but not least, I keep doing my best to provide outstanding customers service and support. I think that many great plugins for lack of continued support, and that’s just a shame.
Since everyone loves Ratings-Widget, do you plan on creating more plugins?
Developing a good WordPress plugin takes time, persistence and constant maintenance. In addition, the WordPress plugins market is very mature and it’s very hard to innovate. I believe that there are other rising platforms with ‘young’ apps markets where there are more opportunities to innovate. This is exactly why sixth months ago I released the Rating-Widget for Blogger Gadget and three months ago I also released the Rating-Widget for WiX App which was chosen as one of The 10 most Popular Apps on WiX App Market, I’m also proud to announce for the first time that we’ve just released the Rating-Widget for Shopify App.
Just to answer your question simply – YES, I’m definitely planning on creating more plugins, but not necessarily for WordPress.
What was the most difficult part of creating the Ratings-Widget? Were there any bugs that took a long time to correct? (be as technical as you need to be)
The architecture of the Rating-Widget WordPress plugin is very different than most of the other plugins. All the ratings’ data is stored remotely on our servers. The reason for that architecture is because the Rating-Widget was actually designed to be a standalone rating widget, a Copy-Paste style widget, which would work on any website. Only later, I wrapped it into a WordPress plugin solution. This architecture raised some technical challenges during the way, most of them regarding cross-domain communication and cross-browser rendering issues. Once the project became popular, the biggest challenge turned out to be scaling. Suddenly, the service suffered from slowdowns and people started to complain about it and stopped using the plugin. I was never expecting the project to be so popular and the backend + DB weren’t well designed for scalability. Modifying the backend structure was the hardest part and required many changes. I’ve improved the DB indexes, configured replicas, added Memcached for caching and added CDN for the static files delivery. All of these modifications changed the availability of the server to 99% of the time.
As for me, I will be using the premium version of your plugin and I love the Google Rich Snippets feature. Can you explain that feature to my readers and why that feature is so valuable?
Sure. Rich Snippets are small pieces of special code in the html of the website. It’s metadata that explains about the structure of the website. It’s a collection of hints for the web crawlers. On May 2009, Google announced that they’ve added support for Rich Snippets to their SERP (search engine results page). Among other cool Rich Snippet elements, Google added a support for ratings.
The Rating-Widget WordPress plugin premium package supports the Rating Rich-Snippets. Which means that your posts’ ratings, will be automatically seen in Google search results. Why is that important? This will make your blog’s SERP more attractive and eye-catching! This results a higher CTR (click-through rates), which means more traffic to your blog.
Can you share some well known companies that use Ratings-Widget?
I can’t share the exact numbers, but there are a LOT of blogs and websites using the Rating-Widget. Two big names are Loreal which is using our WordPress plugin on their Makeup.com blog, and Asus which is using our WiX app on their support website.
What was most satisfying about having created a very popular WordPress widget?
The most satisfying part is knowing that the Rating-Widget project is helping so many users every day to make their ratings experience much better. It’s a great feeling creating a product that people love and use.
You are not only a plugin creator, you are the CTO of a very successful company called Senexx. Can you give our readers a summary of your work with Senexx?
I co-founded Senexx with my university buddy, Zeevi Michel. We started Senexx in Mar 2011 and we are now have eight employees. Senexx is an internal Enterprise Q&A platform which helps employees solve work related questions faster and seamlessly. We’ve built an innovative technology using Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning algorithms, which leverage organizational unstructured data. Being part of Senexx is exciting and technologically challenging. It’s a B2B product which is very different from the ratings-widget.
So, it’s all about saving companies time. When it comes to the services you provide your Senexx clients, what have your clients raved about most?
From our observation for the last 18 months, our email integration is the most raved about service we offer. Users can simply email their question to a designated email address (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org for Microsoft) and our sophisticated engine will analyze the email and make sure to forward it to the most qualified employees within the organization that can help with the inquiry.
What are some near future plans you have for Senexx? Are there any new features or services that will improve the lives of current or future customers and make their work even easier than you already make it?
We’ve just recently launched SolvePath, our new product web platform. It has many exciting features like semantic search, following capabilities, rich-content question threads and more. We’ve put a lot of effort on the FTUE (First time user experience) and added a leaning center. We are constantly working on the platform and the technology. Improving the UX and the quality of our classification and routing engine.
On a personal note, your LinkedIn profile shows you have many interests outside of tech. These include but are not limited to photography, sports and movies.
What kind of camera do you use? And is there someplace on the web to see your photos?
I’m an amateur photographer, I love to capture moments from life. I have two cameras Canon Rebel i3 DSLR and Canon SD-630. I mainly use the Rebel i3, but when I scuba dive I use the small SD-630 with my underwater case. I prefer underwater photography. You can find my albums on Facebook (e.g. Scuba diving 31.07-01.08)
Your favorite sports ( to watch and participate in) are?
I don’t have much time to watch any TV, but having said that, if I do watch any sports that would be the NBA. In my very limited free time, I’m doing Capoeira. It’s a Brazilian martial art, combining music and dance. It powers me with just the right energy, both physically and spiritually, to continue with the intensity of my entrepreneurial life.
What types of movies do you enjoy? Any classics or do you prefer only the most recent releases?
I love Quentin Tarantino, I think he is a genius. I have extremely enjoyed most of his movies. Including the classic Pulp Fiction. I also love movies with Tom Hanks. Two of my favorite movies are Forrest Gump, and Saving Private Ryan.
Finally, what words of wisdom can your provide those who would like to follow in your computer engineer/entrepreneurial footsteps?
I’m only 27 and not wise enough to provide words of wisdom, but I can share some thoughts about entrepreneurship.
Many people think that entrepreneurship is about the money, and that the only thing which matters is the exit. That’s a very common misconception. If I was working in a big company today, my financial state would be much better.
- Entrepreneurship is about the process, the learning and the innovation. It’s about the amazing people you meet along the way. It’s about waking up every morning with excitement and high motivation, ready to conquer the world! It’s about doing the thing you love, having your dreams come true and making the world a better place. If you do choose that crazy path called entrepreneurship here some recommendations from my own experience:Find a great co-founder that will complete you. Startups are all about the people.
- If you can help someone – do it! It’s a karma thing. I’ve adopted this belief from the startup ecosystem in the United-States. Everyone there is super helpful and eventually it pays off for everyone.
- Find experienced people in your industry and make them your mentors. There’s nothing better than getting feedback from people who are familiar with the industry and who have plenty of experience.
- Stand in lucks way! That’s a quote of one of my mentors, Gil Ben-Arzy, and I love it. In addition to persistence and hard work, success is a lot about timing and luck – being in the right place at the right time. If you have ways to increase your luck, do it! And When you see an opportunity – pursue it!
- Stay positive and persist. Don’t ever give up! You’ll have many failures before you succeed. Don’t be afraid to fail – embrace it and learn from it. Fail fast and keep trying!
Thank you so much Vova for your time!