CTO Sessions: Victor Kushch, Fairmarkit

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? “The biggest area I am most excited about is data science, with domains like natural language processing, ranking algorithms, and transferred learning.”


Name: Victor Kushch

Company: Fairmarkit

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: May 2017

Location: Boston, MA

As CTO and co-founder of the intelligent sourcing company, Fairmarkit, Victor Kushch oversees the company’s overall product vision and is focused on leveraging data, analytics and automation to revolutionise the way organisations buy the things they need. Kushch was previously CEO and CTO of KU64 Inc, a digital agency focused on agile development of Python/Django web applications, and held various leadership roles in IT.

What was your first job? At the age 12 I got my first gig helping to translate ERP software from German to Russian as part of software adaptation. That project introduced me to technology and gave me practical, hands on experience at a young age. Also, seeing its impact just blew my mind.

Did you always want to work in IT? Computers and networks always made my heartbeat faster. From taking part in school competitive programming sessions, to hacking different IoT gadgets around the house, to building early versions of automated models on MatCad. My early IT work slowly shaped my mind and helped me find my own way in the industry.  

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I received my master’s degree in Engineering from the Mogilev University of Technology in Belarus, where I was born. After I moved to the US, I dove headfirst into a range of self-education courses on boosting domains in Cisco networking, Python object oriented patterns, science and deep learning, frontend, and DevOps. Beyond formal education, I’m also a big fan of project-based self-learning for real, practical experience. Nowadays, pair programming is another fascinating tool I use for quick knowledge transfer.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I grew up and went to University in Belarus before relocating to the United States in 2013. From early in my education, I knew I wanted to build and create. In my early days I had roles working on ERP integrations and financial software modules. As I got more into IT and project development, I developed a love for leadership and team development. 

After moving to the US, I began leading a digital agency called Clever IT Systems with the goal of helping different kinds of businesses get to the next stage of IT and product setup. Also, being entrepreneurial, I developed a few e-commerce products where I was able to learn a lot about international business practices, procurement, sourcing and more. During that journey I saw the untapped potential of the procurement industry and realised when it came to purchasing power, companies were falling short across every vertical market. Many were desperate for innovation. Long hours and frequent conversations with my current Fairmarkit co-founders about procurement issues led to our quest to introduce a better way for enterprises to make purchases.

What type of CTO are you? I’d like to think that I am the type of CTO that encourages innovation, not only in our product, but within our team. I believe in leaning into great ideas no matter where they come from and love coming to work with relentless people. I’m of the mindset that it’s better to try and fail than play it safe.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? The biggest area I am most excited about is data science, with domains like natural language processing, ranking algorithms, and transferred learning. I’m also excited to learn more about DevOps as one of the drivers of development team efficiency. Our team has also started to take on a lot of experimentation with UI/UX for enterprise products with the main goal of building simple (yet powerful) flows for day to day use.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? I would have to say blockchain. While it is a strong technology with great relevance in the real world (like crypto currency or document system of records), I see many cases when it is used solely for the sake of name recognition or to attract investment.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? There are a couple of initiatives that come to mind. One is CIP (continuous improvement program) for the range of our development streams. With the full transparency and feedback loop, the process is a great addition to our other agile frameworks used on a daily basis.

In addition to CIP, we’re very proud of our initiatives surrounding diversity and inclusion at Fairmarkit. From my experience, diverse teams encourage well-rounded decision making by bringing different points of view to the same problem. We consistently see companies make D&I commitments with their wallets and fail to integrate those into their actual product. At Fairmarkit, we’re enabling our customers to achieve D&I at scale by diversifying their suppliers and allowing them to tap into local, BIPOC and female-owned businesses. One thing all companies will acknowledge today is the importance of impactful D&I. I’m proud to say we’ve gone beyond simply acknowledging the importance and made it a core tenet of our procurement platform.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Right now, I am focused on digital transformation, both through the lens of the product and internal company processes. There are several techniques that can be utilised to achieve this, including running a variety of small MVPs in different areas that can be disrupted. We’re trying to push customer experience with a deep focus on our customer base and operational experience with the end goal of making things more efficient.

 What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Due to pandemic related supply chain disruptions, there’s great urgency in effective management of cost and supplies. Companies are finding that the things they need simply aren’t available because the factories their vendors use to produce products have closed. Therefore, supply chain management is a mission critical function for our customers that we take very seriously. As we move forward in the COVID era, supply chain management will continue to be a differentiator for enterprises looking to improve and scale their efforts without breaking the bank.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? Fairmarkit was built with a customer-first mentality. From the early product research all the way to the current product lines, we always try to make it customer centric and have an open feedback line for constant improvement. Our goal at Fairmarkit is to make it easier for enterprises to purchase the supplies and services they need. Specifically, we help enterprises with their “tail spend”, and provide effective ways to track and manage purchases that equate to 80% of an enterprise’s spend by volume and billions of dollars. The technology we use - automation, machine learning, data analytics - is first and foremost informed by these goals. We knew we needed the technology and tools that could make procurement faster, easier and more efficient.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? I think we are in good shape with our service and tech strategy. Our team is made up of exceptional professionals gluing product and tech strategies together, which allows us to provide steady growth without hindering product development speed or introducing too much technical debt.

What makes an effective tech strategy? Surround yourself with a well-rounded team that is aligned in the mission of the company. Our team’s experience spans a variety of areas from cloud architecture to high performance application design. When we are aligned in our goals and chasing after the same mission, our customers will believe in that mission too. As a tip, I would suggest clearly separating R&D from production implementation. I see a variety of projects where breaking that rule leads to complex and hard to support products. Doing quick R&D MVP allows enterprise grade quality to shine.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? The modern CTO needs to digest and aggregate as much information as possible in order to produce innovative next stage products. The growing amount of data and new technologies make this process increasingly complex. As a forward-thinking CTO, it’s important that I have the ability to quickly build a personal network to help streamline a better design with diversified opinions.

Also, I believe we’ll be feeling the impact of this pandemic long after there’s general availability of the vaccine, and workforces (while mostly hybrid) will continue to be largely remote. This presents long term considerations for CTOs, who will have to take a more flexible approach when it comes to hiring and leading technical teams.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve built at Fairmarkit over the past couple of years. With a lot of hard work and hustle, we’ve expanded our boundaries and continue to find ways to leverage advanced technology like analytics and machine learning to bring efficient procurement to our customers. We have embraced automation like never before and understand the incredible power it can bring to the procurement process - particularly the manual and mundane steps in the process. We have over 50 customers, including names like Snowflake, Cabot Corporation, Blue KC and more, representing a wide swath of industries. The best part is, we’re just getting started.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have introduced cross-functional SWAT teams for the most complex areas of the business. The collective intelligence, diversity of perspectives and agile approach can make the impossible possible.

What are you reading now? Currently the books sitting in front of me are The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz and The Innovators by Walter Isaacson. Also, API documentation and SDK for Amazon Prime are worth a read if you are thinking about hosted scalable messaging services.

Most people don't know that I… When I was a kid, I had a hunger for new experiences. I tried more than 50 hobbies during my childhood. I still love swimming and always gravitate back to electrical engineering.

In my spare time, I like to…I love tackling DIY projects, playing mind games, and traveling with my family and friends.

Ask me to do anything but… Ride the carousel (I get motion sickness!).