Ilya is a CMO & Skier
Ilya Radzinsky is a co-founder of TaxDome, a 360° solution for tax and accounting professionals to manage their business. Project Management, Invoicing, Client Portal, Mobile App, Workflow, Website, Secure Document Storage, etc.
Ilya talks about his passion for skiing and how his balance on risk assessment applies both in the office and on the mountains. He also talks about how workplace cultures have changed overall with a demand for more purposeful roles!
• Getting into skiing
• Ilya’s favorite place to ski
• Risk management with skiing and software development
• Organizing ski trips with colleagues and friends
• The changing expectations of workplace culture
• How TaxDome encourages employees to share hobbies
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Welcome to Episode 257 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday, I’m interviewing professionals who, just like me, are known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. To put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and,” those things above and beyond your technical skills and the things that actually differentiate you when you’re in the office.
I’m so excited to let everyone know my book’s being published in just a little bit. It’ll be available on Amazon and a few other websites. So check out whatsyourand.com for all the details. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s listening to the show and changing the cultures where they work because of it. The book’s really going to help spread that message far and wide. Also, please don’t forget to hit subscribe on the podcast so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. And this week is no different with my guest, Ilya Radzinsky. He’s the co-founder of TaxDome. Now, he’s with me here today. Ilya, thank you so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Ilya: Oh, I’m so excited. Thank you so much.
John: No, I appreciate it. A listener of the show and you reached out to be a guest. So I love it, man. I think it’s awesome. As you know, the drill is 17 rapid-fire questions right out of the gate, get to know Ilya right away.
Ilya: Do it.
John: All right. Good. I like that confidence. All right. Here we go. Favorite color?
John: Oh, nice. Okay. How about a least favorite color?
John: Violet? Okay, very specific. I like that. All right. How about more pens or pencils?
Ilya: Definitely pens, zero pencils.
John: Okay. And puzzles, Sudoku or crossword?
Ilya: I’m terrible at both, but I’ll take crossword.
John: Okay. All right. How about when you fly on an airplane, window seat or aisle seat?
Ilya: Over four hours, window. Under four hours, aisle.
John: Oh, nice. Okay. I like that. All right. How about a favorite actor or an actress?
Ilya: Charlize Theron and Jack Nicklaus.
John: Oh, okay. There you go. Would you say you’re more of an early bird or a night owl?
Ilya: Ooh, early bird.
John: Early bird? Okay. More Star Wars or Star Trek?
Ilya: Star Wars.
John: Yeah. Your computer, more of a PC or a Mac?
Ilya: Oh, Mac all the way.
John: Oh, wow. Okay. I have no idea how to do that, so good for you. Do you have a favorite ice cream flavor?
John: Interesting. Okay. All right. More suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt?
Ilya: Definitely jeans and a t-shirt.
John: Okay. I wasn’t sure with the New York City if you had suited it up, but I guess you did it one too many times.
John: Right. Since you’re in New York, I have to ask favorite toppings on a pizza?
John: Mushroom? Okay. And that’s it?
John: There you go. All right. Prefer more hot or cold?
Ilya: Ooh, cold.
John: Okay. How about a favorite number?
John: Is there a reason why?
Ilya: No. My brother is turning 42 next year.
John: Oh, nice little dig there. I see what you did there. That’s good. Like a little, “You’re getting old, man.” How about a favorite adult beverage?
John: Okay. Nice. We got two more. More oceans or mountains?
John: Mountains. Yeah. I figured that’d be an easy one. And the last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own?
Ilya: I’m going to say my electric boot heaters for skiing.
John: For your ski boots? Okay.
John: Nice. So you plug them into the wall and then they heat up the boots. Plus, I guess it makes them a little bit pliable as well, right?
Ilya: Well, not just that. They stay warm all day long. So your toes stay warm even though you’re in the snow.
John: Oh, okay. So this is full-on. They’re staying warm all the time, not just warming them up.
Ilya: Yeah. This is high-tech.
John: That’s fancy. That’s like skiing in a Ferrari. That’s fantastic. I like it. Awesome, man. And that dovetails perfectly right into your passion of skiing. Did you grow up skiing or was it something that you got into later?
Ilya: I skied a few times as a child. My parents went to Lake Placid for New Years when I was maybe eight or nine years old. I went four or five times and I liked it, but I didn’t really fall in love with it. Then I didn’t really ski until my mid-20s. Then something happened and it’s probably my favorite thing to do. So my winters are very focused around any time I can go skiing.
John: Wow, that’s awesome. Then is there a place that you like to go? Living in New York City, I guess somewhere East Coast, I imagine?
Ilya: No. Actually, quite the opposite. I’m a bit of a ski snob. I’m always traveling for skiing, whether it’s the West Coast or I go ski in Europe. Every year, I try to do a road trip out west. I guess this is a bit of a plug for some of the ski mountains. But basically, they have these passes, which allow you to ski at multiple mountains. So what I do is I’ll do a road trip with some friends where we fly to either Denver or Salt Lake. Then we’ll essentially make a big road trip out of it. Go to Wyoming, go to Sun Valley, Idaho. We’ll do about a two-week trip and combine those.
John: That’s awesome. And it’s with friends as well. So it’s not just going solo.
Ilya: Yeah. Some people are different. I’m a fairly social person. So I definitely like skiing with friends more than by myself.
John: No, for sure. Do you have a favorite place in the world that you skied?
Ilya: Actually, Alta in Utah is my favorite place. Some people might not like this, but they don’t allow snowboarders, which means there’s a lot less people in the mountain.
John: Oh, there you go.
Ilya: I’m a skier. So that’s actually one of the few — I think there’s maybe only two mountains left in America that don’t allow snowboarders. But it leads to a pretty awesome skiing experience. And it’s super challenging terrain. I love all of them.
John: That’s really great. Are you a double black diamond level skier? Or what do you prefer?
Ilya: I think skiing is one of those things that no matter how good you are, there’s someone a million times better. I can ski the whole mountain, but that still makes me, especially in Alta, a relatively new compared to a lot of the local there. I can ski most things, but that still doesn’t make you an amazing skier.
John: There’s some Olympian that just flies by you on one ski going backwards and you’re like, “What the…”
Ilya: And she’s 11 years old.
John: Exactly. I’ve been there. Living in Denver going up in the mountains here, it’s like, “Ah, forget it.” You have to just stay in your own lane, just trying to get better myself. I’m not trying to be better than everyone else, just better than the last time I was out there. Yeah. That’s really how you have to look at it, I think. So would you say that skiing gives you a skill that you bring the work?
Ilya: I think so. Skiing is really interesting. I’m both very risk-averse while skiing and at the same time, a little crazy. I take a bit of risk sometimes. But I try to make it as controlled as possible. You can get down the mountain in a lot of different ways, but I’m always very focused on the technique and trying to improve that versus going faster, for instance. So the same thing when we’re building software is we really want to be methodical, but at the same time, you do have to push the boundaries a little bit because otherwise, you won’t really make much progress.
John: That’s a really interesting parallel because I mean, like you said, there are many different ways to go down the mountain and several of them don’t involve skis at all, head over heels. There’s that or on your butt. But that’s true because I mean if you don’t push yourself or if you’re not a little bit “crazy,” then it’s playing it too safe and then growth doesn’t really happen. And you don’t develop those skills or grow in skiing or at work.
Ilya: Yeah, definitely.
John: Yeah. And especially with what you guys are doing where it’s building a company, that’s definitely needed to push yourself out of the comfort zone.
Ilya: Yeah, exactly. Our clients, they want to see improvement over other systems. And if you play it too safe, you’re just going to build the same exact thing that already exists. But at the same time, you don’t want to introduce something too radical where they’re not used to it and they have to relearn. The fastest way between two places is a straight line. So trying to make something really flexible but at the same time really easy to use is quite a challenge.
John: That’s interesting. And it’s exactly skiing for sure. Is this something that you talk about at work?
Ilya: Yeah. I mean, well, just more not from an approach perspective but more so just others like to ski and it’s just a topic we bring up. But especially amongst my friends, it’s definitely something that we’re all big fans of. I think it’s funny. Skiing is one of the few things that you can continue to do for many, many years, right? Especially if you’re an athlete, as a younger athlete, you generally drop off in your 20s and 30s as you get older, especially team sports or anything like that. Whereas skiing is something you can do with your spouse, with your partner, with your kids. It’s something that you can do for many, many, many years. That’s also why I invest so much in it because I do see this as something that I continue doing hopefully into my older years.
John: At least 42. I mean you know. I’m teasing. No, but that’s true. And it’s something that you’re able to talk about. I mean as the co-founder, that’s cool that you’re humanizing yourself because for some people, it can be intimidating being around someone who’s the co-founder of a company. Was skiing something that you talked about even prior to founding TaxDome?
Ilya: Yeah. We’ve built TaxDome three years ago, but the idea has existed for about ten years. And I’ve been skiing for quite a bit longer than that. My brother is actually my co-founder. We both share love for skiing. He’s actually skiing right now as we speak.
John: Then even when you first got out of college and started your career, do you feel like those relationships with people that you were able to talk skiing with were different than other people in the office?
Ilya: Maybe. Once you’re an adult and you make the choice to go skiing as opposed to your parents bringing you, it really requires you to really want to go because number one, it’s fairly cost prohibitive. So unless you really want to do it, it maybe will just skirt away. Number two, especially if you live in New York, you have to travel a lot. You’re living in Denver. It’s easy for you, relatively easy.
John: An hour drive. Yeah.
Ilya: Exactly. Whereas for us, you really, really got to put forth a lot of effort. And many people also don’t want to use their vacation days for it. So the people that I go on these ski trips with and the people that I plan these big trips with, for all of us, it’s really something that we’re super excited about. It’s really one of the highlights of our year. So I think that changes your perspective on it than when, say, you’re maybe 12 years old and your parents bring you and you’re just going because that’s what everybody’s doing.
John: Yeah. No, it does, for sure. But I mean it sounds like you being so social that, especially creating these trips and bringing people along and things like that, that it just creates a different dynamic.
Ilya: Oh, definitely, definitely. I’ve organized several of these ski trips actually, the trip this year with 24 people going.
John: Oh, my goodness.
Ilya: We have two houses next to each other and not everybody knows each other. I even know probably maybe 16 or 17 of the people. So there’s some new people. Some bring plus one. Some people bring their friends. It really is a great connection. Every year, I try to — back in New York, I’ve done it for six years now. I organized a friendsgiving. I have all of our friends in New York. It’s become a thing that I really look forward to. I bring my parents. My fiancée brings her parents. We’ve got a pretty big event. I’ve generally really liked to bring people together.
But what I realized is that when you do bring people together, you have to make people buy in. I think that’s something that is really important. It’s that people have to feel that there’s a reason that they’re there. There’s a purpose. It’s not just — I’m not just coming to dinner, but there’s something bigger behind it. For instance, in the friendsgiving, what we do is we make everybody bring a dish. And it’s gotten fairly competitive. Because it’s one thing that people just come to dinner, but it’s another when people feel that their dishes are on display. So then they’re not coming to my house for dinner. They’re hosting a dinner. Then everyone that comes becomes a host. So all these people that come, they’ve all become better friends. I’m a big believer in bringing people together.
John: It’s awesome, man. And it’s bringing people together through food and fun and not necessarily in the office. Because I mean I’m sure that some of these people are co workers. But yeah, it’s outside the office. It’s where that real connection happens, which is great.
Ilya: But you’d be surprised that those can turn into — relationships can change and people that were your friends can become your business partners. People that were your business partners can become your romantic partners. I mean your relationship change over time. And it’s good to be friendly. You never know where life leads you.
John: Right. It sounds like a Hugh Grant movie or something based in New York friendsgiving, right? It’s just one of those like Love Actually Part Four or something. No, but that’s cool, man.
Ilya: I’m working on my accent.
John: Right. There you go. I think this is really interesting because I mean as the co-founder of an organization, how much do you feel like it’s on an organization to create a culture where it’s okay for people to have other dimensions to their life besides all work? Or how much is it on the individual to buy into that or just create their own little circle amongst their peers?
Ilya: I think work in that way has changed a lot because people today expect a different relationship with their jobs than they used to. I think people today, at least millennials more so, want to feel fulfillment and they don’t just see a job as a means to an end. They want to enjoy going to work. They want to feel purpose behind whatever their job is. And I think that that’s just becoming a more bigger part of a job role other than just your salary or anything like that. So anytime a company can create a culture around that and incentivize people to bring their personalities, to feel at home at work, so to speak, that they don’t have to be somebody completely different, but they can be themselves, I think that really fosters a great work environment.
John: No, I love that. To feel at home at work, what a great concept. I mean the fact that that’s so foreign is alarming. It’s like you want people to be comfortable because they’re more productive and more invested.
Ilya: There’s a balance, right? Because I think there’s also a push back towards the companies that were doing that originally. So you have, say, the Googles and the Facebooks and these big companies that used to provide — or still do probably — free lunch and free daycare and all these things that now some people look at that as actually a negative because they’re essentially using that to keep you at work the whole time. So it’s a balance between your staff and your team feeling that they’re not essentially being trapped into being there but that they generally feel a purpose behind what they’re doing.
John: That’s exactly it. I mean I feel like people have these other interests and it’s okay for us to say that we have other interests. Yeah, sure, we’re good at our job and we want to do a good job over there. But we also are doing it so we can make money and go do cool stuff.
Ilya: I was so impressed. So many people on our team are musicians.
John: Oh, wow.
Ilya: We kind of have like a little karaoke thing. And everybody, it was just so impressive. I mean I can’t sing or —
John: Yeah. Me either, man.
Ilya: I’m the least musical person ever. And they were just all amazing. I was blown away. I’m glad they were able to share that with us and felt comfortable enough to sing and bring their musical talents to work.
John: Right. It probably lights them up in such a big way when they’re able to shine like that. Yeah. Now, you look at them differently in a good way where it’s like, “Wow, you have some serious talent. This is amazing. How can we utilize that maybe in a creative way at the company while you’re at work?” It’s a cool thing. That’s awesome, man. That’s really cool.
Ilya: We have guitars in the conference room.
John: There you go. I mean that’s a perfect example of something that — yeah, sure, the companies that you mentioned have the free lunches or daycare or things like that. But if no one has kids or if no one — it doesn’t matter. But the fact that you have musicians and there are guitars, it’s like, “Here. Go play. We want you to do this,” type of a thing, which is really awesome that you guys have that. That’s cool. Is there anything else that you guys do specifically to encourage people to share their hobbies and passions?
Ilya: Not as much outside of that. But what we try to do is we try to have a very open communication, very flat structure so that no matter how senior you are, you can still voice your opinion. and we try to make everybody feel heard. I think that’s important on every level.
John: No, that’s for sure. For some reason, that’s hard for people to get over. Is it just checking your ego aside a little bit? Or what’s the secret to that?
Ilya: I think just being really conscious of it because inevitably, it’s really easy to dismiss someone if you feel they’re more junior than you or if you feel that they’re wrong. So I think it’s being able to listen because what you thought they might say at first might not be what they really meant. So to let the person say their thoughts because odds are there might be something really interesting behind there. I think just really trying to listen and especially if you’re more senior in a meeting, letting people speak before you. You say your mind because then otherwise, they just might not share after.
John: Right. Yeah. Because you can intimidate people for sure. I mean it’s just what happens. I mean we were once those people early on. I mean I remember what it was like. It’s hard to remember that that’s how people look at us now type of a thing, no matter what level we’re at. So that’s really cool that you guys have that there. That’s awesome. Do you have any words of encouragement to people listening that think, “Hey, I’ve got a hobby or a passion. No one cares and it probably has nothing to do with my job.”
Ilya: I think, A, people do care because they have their own. And I think by sharing it and by talking to your co-workers about things outside of work, you’ll build stronger bonds. And they might share their own hobby and passion with you. You never know where your hobbies actually might intertwine. So you don’t want to build connections at work, build connections everywhere because if you leave work, that person might stay a friend of yours even after you leave.
John: And that’s the thing that I’ve also discovered through my research. It’s just that your skiing passion was with you before you started TaxDome and whatever job you had before that and whatever. Even if you get promoted within the company and moved to a different company, you’re always a skier. You started TaxDome, still a skier. That’s the one thing that is actually grounding you. Everything else is changing. The skills you’re using, the work that you’re doing change, change, change. But that’s the one thing that has it. Yeah. And it’s really important, I think, in this day and age with mental wellness and things like that that people have something to at least anchor them a little bit, the eye of the hurricane sort of a thing, if you will or it’s called. Yeah. It’s got to be peaceful when you’re at the top of the mountain like that.
Ilya: Yeah. It’s easy to get sucked into work. And we all need our own — whatever that is, but our own distractions to keep us interested outside of it.
John: No, I love it, man. This has been really great. But since I so rudely fired away at you right out of the beginning with my rapid-fire questions, it’s only fair that I turn the tables and let you come back at me. So whenever you’re ready.
Ilya: Okay. Denver or Brooklyn, which do you prefer?
John: I’m going to go Denver, man. Maybe to visit New York City is the ideal. But after living there almost ten years, that’s not a visit. That was too long for me. Yeah. Denver’s nice.
Ilya: Got it. Biking or skateboarding?
John: Oh, wow. Okay. I’m probably going to go biking just for safety’s sake because, yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve done the skateboarding.
Ilya: Okay. Favorite vacation spot?
John: Favorite vacation spot? Well, Costa Rica is pretty awesome and so is Cape Town, South Africa.
Ilya: Oh, nice.
John: So I don’t know if it’s just the letter C or what it is. But yeah, both of those are pretty fantastic. That’s for sure.
Ilya: Okay. And dinner guest, anyone alive or dead?
John: Anyone? Oh, man. This is a lot. I don’t know. This is going to be a little sentimental. But my grandfather, he passed away probably five years ago. He was six weeks shy of 100. He was a pretty awesome dude. He was in D-Day plus 12 and all kinds of cool stuff. Yeah. He was just a really, really cool guy. I just enjoyed being around him. So that would be neat to do that again. I don’t know if that’s too cheesy.
Ilya: No, no. No, I hear you, man. And one final, what one is your favorite dish?
John: Favorite dish? Lasagna is always good. A really good pizza, I guess. Yeah. I don’t know. Lasagna’s always good though because it’s hard to mess it up. Maybe that’s why. It doesn’t even have to look pretty. It’s all good. Yeah. I mean I don’t know if ice cream counts as a dish actually. That probably should have been my answer, to be honest. Ice cream for sure.
Ilya: We’ll do some lasagna and coffee ice cream when we’re in Denver.
John: No, that’d be awesome, man. Next time you come through, for sure, and all 23 of your other road trip warriors. Very cool. Well, thank you so much, Ilya, for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”? This was so much fun.
Ilya: This is awesome. Thanks, man.
John: Everyone listening, if you want to see some pictures of Ilya skiing or connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. All the pictures are there and all the links as well. While you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. Thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread that who you are is so much more than what you do.