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Elena Terenteva

Happy Birthday, SEMrush! An Interview with our CEOs

Elena Terenteva
Happy Birthday, SEMrush! An Interview with our CEOs

Oleg and Dmitri

Hello, dear SEMrush blog readers!

First off, today is a very special day for us: SEMrush is celebrating a birthday! We are seven years old.

We want to say thanks to all of you for being with us through these years. You are not just helping us develop SEMrush, you are also challenging us to grow professionally.

Second, we prepared a little surprise for our community.

Our CEOs and founders, Oleg Shchegolev and Dmitri Melnikov, do not appear in public very often. So, an interview with them is a rare thing. But today, they made an exception and let us pick their brains for a Q&A-style interview.

We hope you enjoy this post as you get a glimpse of the thought processes and inner workings of SEMrush!

An Interview with Oleg and Dmitri

Oleg: Our content team came to us with a list of questions for this interview. It was a cut and dry list, very suitable for the company’s birthday ... and it put me to sleep.

Don’t get me wrong; this list was made by wonderful people and great specialists, and the questions they prepared would fit perfectly in any business magazine. Things like, “Oleg, Dmitri — let’s talk about the changes to SEMrush, the company's growth, our achievements. We are growing so fast! You definitely have some business experience to share — what would you like to say?” Oh, my. How boring!

I’ll explain my resentment. All of these articles about how to become successful, which habits productive people should have, great business lessons about how to succeed within your company — there are so many of them these days. We are saturated with this content. The world is so spacious and diversified, that no template or one-size-fits-all model works for everyone.

Dmitri: I agree. What do you want to hear? Get in the habit of waking up early, play sports, participate in business trainings, think positively, create a product that really solves a problem and save the world ... well, it might work, or it might not. It sounds like a cargo cult to me. The final result might look like a plane, but it’s not a plane at all and it’s not going to fly.

What did the company achieve in these seven years?

Oleg: A lot has happened in these years. How did we achieve what we have now? On one hand, our answer will sound commonplace — we were doing a job we loved and we listened to our users.

Dmitri But on the other hand, it’s not commonplace at all. We always listen to our users.

We don't aspire to be like other companies that launch their products in September when the market is at its peak of activity. We will sneakily launch our product in August, start collecting feedback and work on improvements. By September, we’ll come to the market with not just a functional product, but an updated one. And when others sit and wait for their own release, we will have begun working on something else already.

How can you avoid mistakes during rapid growth?

Oleg: We laughed aloud at this question. I don’t have an answer. Well, I have one, but you won't like it at all — there is no way.

Blunders, fails — they're part of the process. There is no way to learn how to ride a bike without the fear of skinning your knees; moreover, you’ll smash them for sure.

Make mistakes fast! It’s our motto and appeal for action. Learn how to make them and move on.

It’s important to make mistakes fast and nonfatal, extract the experience from them and never repeat the same ones. Experience comes only with mistakes.

How has SEMrush's vision changed?

Dmitri: Some of our users might still think of us as just a keyword research tool, but we are so much more.

One user will go to SEMrush for keyword research, while another has drilled down into the suite, checked out all our new reports, started a Position Tracking and Site Audit campaign, and has a very clear idea about our service capabilities. And these two users have a completely different vision.

Oleg: Honestly? I change my vision of the product every day!

We transform, change, adapt, build on, experiment. In short, we grow. Tomorrow we might wake up with some crazy idea that does not fit into your concept of SEMrush. We most likely won't abandon it, but rather, see how it might work.

The product is constantly evolving and an enormous number of factors affect its evolution. So, I refuse, flatly, to answer where we will be tomorrow. We are very flexible and always leave ourselves room to maneuver. While working within such a rapidly changing market, we must be able and ready to change.

The SEMrush offices have a great and unique atmosphere. How would you describe it?

Dmitri: We are very happy employees think our atmosphere in the office is great. Our main rule is to tell the truth and not hide problems.

But not everyone is pleased with this policy. Sometimes you have to be tough. I don't see any reason to hide behind corporate politeness when I see a sh*tty result. I have to say, that's sh*tty!

Oleg: But the real idea that unites the team is different, of course. Have you read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”? Do you remember the scene when Tom’s buddy is painting the fence for an apple? This is how we work. Do you want to paint the fence? Give us an apple and do it! Our two pillars — freedom and benefit. There are thousands of companies where very talented and versatile specialists are squeezed like a small screws into a corporate machine, which cut off all their initiative saying, “It’s out of the bounds of your competence.”

If you look at the company’s and user’s benefit through the prism of freedom, you’ll see a colorful kaleidoscope of ideas and variations. This gives the best results. We are trying hard not to limit anybody and to avoid “successful managers” who tell everybody what they have to do; we are trying to reduce the bureaucracy. We want to destroy anything that is killing flexibility.

Freedom is something we cherish because we all like changing and experimenting.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself when you were starting SEMrush seven years ago?

Oleg: I would probably not say anything to that guy. Of course, if back then I knew everything that I know now, I would achieve much more. But everything comes when the time is right; there is no need to rush things. More than likely, if you are willing to take the lead, you’ll face things you are not ready for.

I like my mistakes much more than my achievements; they are the part of the experience. And everything else — advice, admonitions — it’s all rubbish. Again, make mistakes fast! Just get your lessons out of them.

What inspires you as you move forward?

Oleg: We are running. Running and falling.

Yes, sometimes we smash our knees. What keeps us running? We just like running.

Someone will see no sense in it, someone will laugh and someone might say we are not managers at all, just a bunch of anarchists who understand nothing about business. But we like everything this way. SEMrush came on to the scene to be more than "just a business" a long time ago.

We keep running. And we’re digging it!

Final thoughts?

Dmitri: The most important thing we want to say is, thank you! Thanks to our users. Thanks to our outstanding development team. Thanks to our admins. Thanks to our marketing, sales and customer success teams. Thanks to everybody who mentions us is their reviews and for sharing their SEMrush experiences with others.

Oleg: Thanks to our very effective customer success team. Thanks to all our competitors for inspiration. Thanks to all the opinion leaders and brand advocates who believe in our service. Thanks to all our employees working hard in our offices. And thanks to everybody who keeps us evolving.


Elena Terenteva, Product Marketing Manager at SEMrush.

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