Luke Johnson: Lucy, thanks for joining me today! You've recently joined Kiitos as our new Head of People so I think a really good starting point will be to learn a little bit more about your background, and really what's brought you up to this point of starting with Kiitos Tech.
Lucie Zajíčková: Yeah, definitely. So let me introduce myself. My name is Lucie Zajíčková and I'm based in the Czech Republic, the capital city, Prague! I was born here in the Czech Republic, I'm still living here, but I travel a lot. So that's why I also wanted to join a remote company, right, to be location independent!
I’ve worked in HR, people operations, and recruitment, since my university studies. I studied diplomacy and International Relations at the University of Economics, wishing to someday be in the UN or European Union - something like that. But I never pursued this career.
While at university I joined a student organization and started sending people as interns abroad, and this is how I got to recruitment. I was hiring the students, interviewing them, and making sure they get great internships abroad. And when they were there, I continued to support them. And when they came back, I would run an evaluation of the internship, by going through their experience and trying to make them think about what they had learned! So there was a mix of mentoring, coaching & career support.
I started my career hiring finance & business people for a recruitment agency in the Czech Republic, but I never wanted to just hire people. You cannot influence their experience at the company, right? You just send them to a company. And then you won’t know how they will get on, or if the company is the right one for them.
I started my career hiring finance & business people for a recruitment agency in the Czech Republic, but I never wanted to just hire people. You cannot influence their experience at the company, right? You just send them to a company. And then you won’t know how they will get on, or if the company is the right one for them. I wanted to be on the internal side of both recruitment and people operations, which is the internal HR.
This eventually brought me to an eCommerce company, ZOOT, as an HR specialist. And then the responsibilities grew from just hiring to also taking care of talent development, employee engagement, and many other things. But unfortunately, the company wasn't in the best financial situation. So I decided to move and join a new startup, the very first one in my career - productboard. I joined as the second People Ops team member. At the time, we were only 45 or 50 people. In the two years I was there, we grew from 50 to 200, and from two locations to three locations and a lot of remote people. As a start-up, we had to build everything from scratch. There were very few processes! I and my colleague had to build the hiring and people processes, such as the benefits or learning and development programs.
After this, I joined a Czech NGO, which is focused on digitalization and innovation in the sector of government. Even though I joined as a Project & Community Coordinator I started helping with the hiring & onboarding. And then, after a couple of months, I was promoted to the Head of the People and Community.
And now, I’m here!
Luke Johnson: Amazing. You mentioned a few times there about remote working and that you’ve worked with a lot of remote people. you've now joined Kiitos, which is an international and hybrid remote company. What do you really see as the main benefits to remote working in the post COVID world that we now all live in?
Lucie Zajíčková: Yeah, so I think it's definitely the flexibility for me, both location-wise but also the time flexibility around work. If you’re a morning person, then work earlier, if you’re an evening person then work later, and… I don’t know… clean the house during the day! Also, I don't have kids yet, but I have a dog, Alfredo, so the flexibility is really good because I can just go for a walk during the day with him. I also like being able to travel and work from anywhere, not just the office!
I also see a lot of benefit from asynchronous communication, through tools like slack. It's teaching me a lot, such as how to polish my communication, because when you write something, you have to really think about what you are putting into the message, how you put it together, and if the recipient will understand what you're trying to say.
Remote work has also opened up a new opportunity for me, right!, I would never have been able to join Kiitos because, firstly, I wouldn't have even been aware of the option to join it, as I wouldn’t have been looking for a company with an HQ in Amsterdam. I would have been thinking that I would have to move there, so I can’t join them. But [due to remote work] I don't have to, which is a great fit for my lifestyle!
I have a dog, Alfredo, so the flexibility is really good because I can just go for a walk during the day with him. I also like being able to travel and work from anywhere, not just the office!
Luke Johnson: Great, I also have a dog by the way. She’s sleeping at my feet right now! So, Lucie, you sound very much like a people person. I guess it’s an important trait for the job, right!? How have you found, say, managing people remotely? And have you found any key differences in managing teams in person?
Lucie Zajíčková: It's very different, for sure. You can’t always use the same techniques you would use in an office environment. You need to be more conscious of the time you spend with people, you have to really put it on the calendar and make time because you don't meet anybody in the hallway, you don't meet anybody in the kitchen, you cannot go for lunch, you're not going to just meet them randomly, and talk to them for a couple of minutes. So you really have to have proper one-on-ones to make time for a real connection. It also takes longer to build trust with the relationships you form remotely.
Luke Johnson: You mentioned earlier that you would have never heard about Kiitos if it wasn’t a hybrid remote company. So how did you hear about the opportunity? What put you in touch with the company?
Lucie Zajíčková: LinkedIn! I saw the job post on LinkedIn because I decided I was ready to find a new job. And I wanted to go back to the startup world. I was excited to go back to a hypergrowth environment. A bit of a messy environment, where you can actually set up everything as the company grows, and you have new challenges plus an international environment. This was something I was really looking for.
I was just browsing LinkedIn. And I saw an opportunity at Kiitos pop up! I was actually really drawn to the name of the company, so I looked into it. The job post was really great and matched everything I was looking for. So I just applied and well, the rest is history!
Luke Johnson: Nice! Welcome on board Lucie. It’s great to have you with us! What specifically drew you to wanting to work with the team at Kiitos Tech?
Lucie Zajíčková: It was definitely the values and the mission of the company. The NGO I started working with during university was an international one. And the mission was to create leadership opportunities for people across the world, no matter where they come from. And I saw some similarities, like really trying to provide people from underprivileged communities with the opportunity to actually grow and develop themselves. So this was something which I was really excited about, and I wanted to somehow contribute.
So that's one, and then definitely the interviews with Chris and Jafar (the co-founders). I was looking to work with founders who actually take care of the people, and who are really people first. A lot of companies say it, but it’s not actually true. With Christian & Jafar, I got a sense very quickly that [people] is one of the most important topics for them. So I thought, this is the right place where I can contribute.
I was looking to work with founders who actually take care of the people, and who are really people first. A lot of companies say it, but it’s not actually true. With Christian & Jafar, I got a sense very quickly that [people] is one of the most important topics for them. So I thought, this is the right place where I can contribute.
Luke Johnson: Good to hear! I guess that leads nicely on to asking you what you’re hoping to achieve at Kiitos?
Lucie Zajíčková: I think there's a lot of stuff to be done. But I first want to continue building upon the values and the culture we have already and just put a bit more structure into it. We’re also scaling fast and that's something that I'm excited about - hiring more people to join the team, so we can make an even bigger impact! What I also like about people operations is that you can create helpful processes, which then enable people to focus on their work, be successful and satisfied in the workplace.
Luke Johnson: Lots of processes and foundational stuff at the moment then?
Lucie Zajíčková: Yeah, exactly!
Luke Johnson: You’ve only recently joined the team, but in your short time here are there any highlights for you so far?
Lucie Zajíčková: Absolutely, I have a lot of them! I really like the weekly challenges, we’ve done fitness challenges, healthy eating challenges, and learning challenges, which everybody in the company can join.
These things really help the team bond and create stronger relationships. No matter where we are based. So this is pretty nice. And also, I really enjoyed the annual retrospective that I was able to attend in December. It was super nice to do this. Everybody was super open and everybody shared their feedback. I could really tell that everybody cares about the company.
Luke Johnson: I’d like to know a little bit more about you then, Lucie, as a person. I guess I can start by asking, what are you really passionate about? What drives you on the personal and career level?
Lucie Zajíčková: I love experiencing new things! I'm passionate about always learning and I enjoy new adventures. I like exploring the world, experiencing new cultures, meeting new people, talking to them, and really expanding the horizons of what I know, or what I think I know!
From the professional perspective, the topic of leadership is something that I'm really passionate about, and I'm trying to study. Stuff like how different leadership styles work and how to become a better leader.
Positive social impact is also something that I'm looking for in everything I do. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are really important for me. When I was joining Kiitos I was thinking this is the most diverse I’ve ever seen. So I’m excited to learn here as well.
I'm also a huge fan of volunteering. I love helping and uplifting others. I spend a lot of time volunteering. I’m currently volunteering in two fields - in palliative and hospice care as a direct caregiver and then in a tech community, GUG.cz, where my team empowers women to become better leaders, entrepreneurs, and business professionals in general. It’s a big passion!
Yoga is also something that brings more peace into my life. As I'm doing a lot of stuff, sometimes I just like to sit in a corner, meditate, and do some yoga.
Luke Johnson: You mentioned traveling! Where in the world have you traveled? And, where would you recommend going? What are your favorite places to visit?
Lucie Zajíčková: So I traveled a lot around Europe, I think I have visited most of the countries. But then out of Europe, definitely Mexico. That's my favorite country. I've been there twice and actually I was there for the first time when I was 11. And I was there without my parents because I was singing in a choir as we had a tour there! That was definitely amazing, spending three weeks there with friends.
And then there is Vietnam. I was invited to a Vietnamese wedding and we also spent two more weeks there. So this is also my favorite country for sure. These countries also both have amazing food!
I also love the U.S.A, I was in California - San Francisco. It was a different world to me! The business world and Silicon Valley - the place where all the cool startups are. That was also interesting to see. I cannot imagine myself living there, but it’s definitely worth visiting, for sure.
I love experiencing new things! I'm passionate about always learning and I enjoy new adventures. I like exploring the world, experiencing new cultures, meeting new people, talking to them, and really expanding the horizons of what I know, or what I think I know!
Luke Johnson: You talked about your passion for learning. I might put you on the spot here, but let's see! Do you have anything that you've learned recently that people reading this might find super interesting? Or a fun fact?
Lucie Zajíčková: Hmm, okay! Something super interesting that I learned recently, and I'm still looking into, is how dopamine works. It’s very complex. There is an interesting concept called dopamine stratification. Everyone has a dopamine baseline and we’re always adding more and more to that, we always do so many things at once, right? You listen to a podcast, cook, eat, go to the gym and browse social media. This is all just helping you to get more and more dopamine. These continuous activities and pursuit of ‘dopamine hits’ increase your baseline over time, which means we enjoy these things less and we need more of them to get to the baseline. So we all need to be careful! It’s really made me think about my own relationship with social media and how I should work with it.
Luke Johnson: Have you done a dopamine detox yet? I heard this is a new trend.
Lucie Zajíčková: Yeah, that's a new trend. And actually, I was listening to a podcast where they recommend that it’s better to make changes in your day-to-day life that reduce your baseline. It’s a better fix in the long term. As with a detox, you just do it, like for two days, and then you are back to the same habits. I did it last year, for one month, I deleted all my social media applications from my phone. It was nice, but then when I just put them back, the old habit returned. So yeah, it didn't work for me that well.
Luke Johnson: Okay, fair enough! You said you’re learning a lot. And you've told me a bit about what keeps you busy. But is there anyone specifically that you can think of that really inspires you either on a personal or professional level?
Lucie Zajíčková: Yeah, I get inspired by people every day! I think everybody has the capacity to inspire anybody. With regards to people operations, I get inspiration from different leaders in companies I think are really great with people and culture. So for example, there is a Katarina Berg, who works in Spotify as the HR lead, or Patty McCord, who is the former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix. She helped shape the renowned Netflix culture. There is also Jessica Hayes from Whereby. I follow all these on LinkedIn and other social media for insights into what they are doing and their approach to culture.
On the personal level, definitely a lot of the yoga teachers I’ve had. I think they just helped me on my way of self-discovery, like how to take the techniques from yoga and apply them both in real life and on the yoga mat!
And finally, there is my Grandad’s! They were both amazing. When I have difficult decisions to make, I always look back and think “what they would do”, you know, because they were very kind, very supportive, very compassionate, and super fun as well.
Yeah, I get inspired by people every day! I think everybody has the capacity to inspire anybody.
Luke Johnson: As an avid learner, what are your top 2-3 books you'd recommend to people?
Lucie Zajíčková: Okay, books! Yeah, I read a lot! I love to read both nonfiction and fiction. But let’s think about the nonfiction ones. A book that I find is a book for my whole life, and something that really made my life different is The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz. The book outlines four agreements you should follow. It's about not taking things personally, not making assumptions, and always doing your best. Plus, being impeccable with your words. These might seem basic, but if you dig deeper, you can really use them. They helped me to get rid of the stress in my life because sometimes it's very, very needless stress and suffering you create for yourself, and also some self-limiting beliefs. So that’s the number one book I always recommended to anyone!
I would also recommend Radical Candor by Kim Scott, that's a book that I really enjoy, because of the framework on how to provide feedback in a caring way, while being very direct with the person you’re discussing things with. I think that's super helpful for any manager, and anybody working with people.
The third would be the Making of a Manager. A book by the former VP of design at Facebook. It’s full of practical tips on how to be a great leader. She says that great managers are made and they are not born, and everybody can become one. It’s tips on how to build a team, how to develop trust within that team, and how to run productive and efficient meetings.
Luke Johnson: Thanks for sharing those Lucie. You’ve clearly taken a lot from the authors of these books but what would you say is the best (in-person) advice that you've ever received?
Lucie Zajíčková: I'm not actually a person who enjoys getting advice. I have to try things on my own. So if somebody gives me advice, I’m happy to listen, but I try things anyways my way and then, of course, I find very often find that they were right! So I should have listened.
I think the best advice I’ve received would probably be that “the journey is much more important than the destination”. So I'm always really trying to enjoy the process of everything I'm going through, even though sometimes you don't know what's coming next, or it’s that positive. But I think it's much better if you enjoy it, and you are in the present moment. Don’t just wait for success to come, or for something to change your life. But enjoy the current moment.
Yeah, that would be it!
I think the best advice I’ve received would probably be that “the journey is much more important than the destination”. So I'm always really trying to enjoy the process of everything I'm going through, even though sometimes you don't know what's coming next!
Luke Johnson: That sounds like great advice! The time is now and not in the future. Great! Now I'd like to come up with a very important question - are you a coffee or tea fan?
Lucie Zajíčková: Haha, well both, actually!
I love filtered coffee. That's really something I have to drink almost every day! And I enjoy preparing it. So it's like a ritual for me because I just love to explore different coffee roasters and buy the coffee beans from different vendors. And then preparing it at home. It’s a bit of a hobby!
But on the other side, I drink tea all the time, green-teas and black tea. Weirdly, I love to drink it in summer when it’s like 40 degrees. I drink hot tea all the time.
Basically, I always have two cups on my desk. One for tea, and one for coffee!
Luke Johnson: Thanks for everything you've shared with me, Lucie, really, really I'm sure people will learn a lot from reading this. I do have one final question that I'd love to ask you. And that is what advice would you give to someone looking to start out in their tech career?
Lucie Zajíčková: Just do it!! If it's your dream, then definitely go for it! The world needs more people in tech. If I look into this from the hiring perspective, we definitely need more candidates.
It can definitely be tough and complicated if you're switching from a different career or you are a fresh graduate who has no experience. So I would definitely suggest taking some time to deepen your tech knowledge. But it’s also important to understand and pick up business skills, English, and any other languages.
I would also recommend getting a mentor, probably somebody who went through a similar journey. They can help you because they probably went through the same or similar challenges. So I believe that would be also very helpful.
Oh, and you should go for an internship, it can also help just to get the very first practical experience. It can be like three, four months and you just see if you even like it in practice, if it's how you envisioned it to be.
Luke Johnson: Thanks again for sharing Lucie. It’s been great catching up with you! And welcome again to the Kiitos team!
Lucie Zajíčková: Thanks, Luke. I’m looking forward to the journey. Let’s make things happen!