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Victoria Zykova, a graduate of WU Executive Academy’s Professional MBA Marketing and Sales, lived in Asia, Russia and Europe for years, where she acquired language skills in English, German, Russian and Chinese, as well as extensive business know-how – before joining Viewpointsystem as Business Development Manager.
Looking back, Victoria Zykova describes herself as a highly extroverted person who tends to gather her energy through interaction with individuals from different cultures, which is exactly what she has been doing: Born in Russia, she spent a year in Taiwan as part of her language studies; moreover, she went on a backpacking trip to Thailand, spent time ballooning in Cambodia, and practiced yoga with monks in India. In hindsight, it is not surprising that she aspired to be a diplomat at the age of sixteen. This led her to Moscow to study Chinese at the Institute of Asian-African Studies, a course that would later shape her professional career and bring her to Austria in her current position as Senior Business Development Manager at IT start-up Viewpointsystem, which manufactures smart glasses with eye-tracking technology.
“In Taiwan, I came to the realization that the planet is a small ball,” she says with a smile, “and that all people living on this planet are more or less the same, with different cultural backgrounds, different languages and attitudes.” More than anything, she was interested in people and interactions, and she wanted to learn as much as she could from everything that surrounded her. Quoting Confucius, she says: “If you are in a room with three people, one of them is your teacher.” Yet she also wanted to accumulate a wide variety of experiences and achieve all she could through her own efforts. This stemmed from her vision that one’s decisions should not be guided by the fear of leaving one’s comfort zone.
Zykova completed her studies in 2008 with a change in her field of interest away from working in an embassy towards working in commercial companies. What was the driving force behind this particular shift? “Of course, as a diplomat you have contacts all over the world, and I find that very exciting,” she explains, “but you also have certain limitations, you can’t freely decide where you go and how long you stay.” Another major limitation she saw there was the lack of freedom to interact freely with people, as interactions were dictated by protocol. She didn’t want to be dependent on a single thing, she wanted to be able to decide for herself, where to do what she wanted to do. “I realized that freedom is where entrepreneurship is,” she says.
So, Zykova started with imports, customs clearance and transportation services, using her language skills as she was in continuous communication with China. “I was switching companies during that time,” she recalls, “because 2008, as we all know, wasn’t the best year to start a career.” And things didn’t suddenly get better in the years that followed. At that point, her focus began to shift again: this time toward logistics and sales. “I remember realizing that I’m actually a very extroverted person,” Zykova notes, “I want to meet people all over the world.” When she started in sales in 2011, she did a lot of business with Europe, which eventually brought her to Austria; Linz, to be precise. There she received an offer from an Austrian company in the wood industry (Serafin Campestrini GmbH, note) that was looking for someone who could speak both Russian and Chinese, which is a very niche set of abilities. “It was not an easy decision,” she says looking back, “I had a job in Moscow that I loved, but after six months of thinking about it, I decided that I should at least try.” This was her first business development job and as she recalls, it wasn’t just about sales, but involved rough development from zero to a hundred, as she puts it. „During that time I started my MBA at the WU Executive Academy,” she says, “because I realized that I was also interested in the theory behind it.”
“The eyes are the same for everyone, no matter what nationality you are, what background you have or what language you speak.”
She was writing her master thesis on the application of eye-tracking technologies in marketing when she landed a job offer from her current company, Viewpointsystem, and moved to Vienna to join the innovative start-up in 2018. The company produces both hardware and software for smart glasses technologies, combining technology with scientific know-how in gaze research. “I’ve managed to survive the launch of a new product to this day,” she says with a laugh, “and the MBA at the WU Executive Academy really helped me see that connection between sales and marketing in our innovative start-up.”
Just what is the eye-tracking technology? When you wear Viewpointsystem’s glasses, the system knows exactly where your pupils are, as Zykova explains, and with the software it is possible to calculate the gaze point of the wearer. This is critical as the eyes have the potential to tell a lot about a person. As Zykova puts it: eyes do not lie, unless they are trained to do so. They are the same for everyone, no matter what nationality you are, what background you have or what language you speak.
“If you have our glasses on and you’re looking for a particular object for example, your supervisor can help you find it because we can see that you’re looking for it,” explains Zykova. Another example for the application of the technology is when someone is under stress, the supervisor or the handler in that situation will be able to tell that their coworker is presenting signals of stress and will be able to help remotely. “This type of technology can be disruptive to some services,” Zykova says, pointing out that, “in hospitals, it can be used to train doctors who work with newborns, for example, it can start a revolution and make doctors’ lives easier.” She notes that she wakes up every day looking forward to the next day at work because healthcare is her passion and she believes the company can make a big difference there. Moreover, with digitization, more and more companies are realizing and understanding that it doesn’t take a lot of funding or a large infrastructure to implement solutions like Viewpointsystem’s. “We are at the beginning of the escalation of this technology, and we are very happy to see other companies in the market,” Zykova says. She believes the market will grow as more and more individuals and thus companies realize the potential.
For Zykova, who places great value on regular, high-quality interactions with people from different backgrounds to learn from different perspectives, corporate culture is one of Viewpointsystem’s best features, along with innovation. “We have more than 20 nationalities in our 70-person team, from Canada to Russia, from India to Mongolia,” Zykova says. “Some companies talk a lot about this aspect of diversity – we don’t talk about it, we live it.” Nevertheless, there are certain challenges involved with innovative start-ups, and Viewpointsystem has its fair share of them. The biggest of these is the fact that the company has created a new market, as Zykova puts it. Thus, there is no direct competitor out there. “Our smart glasses technology is extremely innovative, and the biggest challenge is selling it,” she explains. “It’s not a commodity product; a lot of potential customers don’t know this kind of technology exists.” According to Zykova, this means that the company must proceed with a strategy based on its own interpretation of the market and its possibilities. In addition to developing new strategies, a key challenge is educating customers about the product, as they may not know if they need the solution offered by Viewpointsystem.
Zykova is optimistic, in that she believes this situation will change in the following couple of years as the application areas for such a smart glasses technology is very long reaching. “If you put our glasses on, I can see everything that you’re seeing from my PC,” she explains, “and I can give you some instructions about a task.” This is very useful and popular for companies producing large machines and selling them overseas. When the customer has problems with the machine, the companies must send over people (it could be China, could be Australia or New Zealand) to fix the problem. The smart glasses in this case would mean CO2 reduction, cost reduction as well as time saving. “Especially after the pandemic, people started to understand the application more,” Zykova says, “they saw that they do not have to send people to, say Australia, they can send a system there and solve almost any problem.” The company experienced a high growth rate during the pandemic, which Zykova traces back to being in the right place at the right time. Viewpointsystem is currently in an immense growth phase and is hiring new employees. Zykova is looking forward to helping shape the growing team and sharing the knowledge she has gained there over the years. “Of course, I hope we can make our team even more innovative, because we need that,” she concludes.
As a leader with diverse cross-cultural and cross-industry experience, and as president of Viewpointsystem’s Women’s Club, Zykova is particularly passionate about encouraging women in IT and urging them not to be afraid to step out of their comfort zone and give the IT sector a try if that’s what they want. “I just want to reach out to all women who are thinking about pursuing a position in IT, whether it’s in programming or development, product management or other areas. I want to inspire them to challenge themselves and at least try,” she says. Zykova believes that women bring along a creative mind, that they are very versatile, and that’s what is needed in innovative IT companies, where women can make a big impact. “Come on in and give it a try,” she adds, “because there is great fruitfulness in these positions for the future.”
...a Professional MBA alumna of the WU Executive Academy, is currently Senior Business Development Manager at the innovative IT start-up Viewpointsystem, which produces smart glasses utilizing eye tracking technology.
Text: Ekin Deniz Dere
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