Tatiana Zakharchenko founded Project First America after gaining seasoned experience in the international TV industry, having produced international adaptations of U.S. scripted and non-scripted TV shows, such as Jeopardy!, Law and Order, Criminal Minds, Psych, etc. Project First America is a multimedia production company specializing in creating original content for preschoolers for digital platforms. Their work ranges from content production, localization, and distribution to brand and creative marketing.
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Table of Contents
Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Tatiana Zakharchenko: My name is Tatiana Zakharchenko. I’m the CEO of Project First America, the creator of the hugely successful YouTube channel for preschoolers in Spanish, TV para niños, which has amassed over 1.7 Billion views and is watched in over 160 countries.
Our audience is interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to become a CEO or was it something you were led to? Our readers would love to know your story!
Tatiana Zakharchenko: I’m originally from Uzbekistan, where I went to a school that had a sister school in the U.S. Every year American exchange students would come to our school and share their culture with us. That’s when I decided to get an education in the U.S. In 2007, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue an MFA in Film and TV Production at Loyola Marymount University.
After graduation, I got a fantastic job opportunity in Russia. I was hired by Studio 2V mostly known for producing the Russian adaptation of the critically acclaimed American prime-time TV series “Law & Order,” and the beloved quiz show “Jeopardy!” During my time with the company, I traveled the world, looking for the best scripted and non-scripted shows to be adapted for Russian television. On one of those trips, I met my future business partner, who wanted to produce original children’s content in English and Spanish in an LA-based studio. And that’s how Project First America was born.
I never thought I’d strike out on my own and become the CEO of my own company. But I love every minute of it. Being self-employed is my thing. Having creative control is a dream come true, not to mention the opportunity to make an unlimited amount of income. If I want a raise, all I need to do is work smarter. It comes with its own set of challenges, of course. But in my experience, the advantages of running your own business outweigh the disadvantages.
“Selfmade” is a myth. We all received help, no doubt you love to show appreciation to those who supported you when the going got tough, who has been your most important professional inspiration?
Tatiana Zakharchenko: I agree 100%. I have had a lot of help along the way. I had amazing classmates in film school, who always had my back, we’re happy to share their knowledge and experience with me and offer a helping hand. I had fantastic co-workers at Studio 2V, who were like my second family. My former boss at Studio 2V and my YouTube partner are my most important professional inspiration. Both are extremely supportive, brilliant business leaders and an absolute joy to work with.
How did your journey lead you to become a CEO? What difficulties did you face along the way and what did you learn from them?
Tatiana Zakharchenko: Having worked with all major studios in Los Angeles, I gained essential knowledge of both the creative and business side of TV production, which led me to where I am today. Running a YouTube channel is like running a TV network. You have to prove yourself to your audience and win them over to stay on the air. YouTube is a data juggernaut, providing valuable insights into the audience’s viewing behavior. This allows me to develop a data-informed content strategy, decide which series to renew, and which ones to cancel. The experience of being on both sides of the content buying equation helps me craft better pitches for brands resulting in quality content creation.
Speaking of difficulties, the company was much smaller in its early days, which meant super long hours for me. I sometimes worked from 7 am to 1 am and was severely sleep-deprived. I didn’t know how to take care of myself back then, and as a result, I was burned out. My burnout caused chronic excruciating back pain. It took me several years to fully recover. It was frightening. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t move normally. That experience taught me to prioritize my wellness. Of course, like any business mine had some setbacks, but I learned that difficulties are an integral part of changing course. I now see disappointments as opportunities to learn and grow.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Tatiana Zakharchenko: Project First America is a multimedia production company specializing in creating original content for preschoolers for digital platforms. Our work ranges from content production, localization, and distribution to brand and creative marketing. In my role, I direct the company’s creative endeavors, produce binge-worthy content, develop brand partnerships, increase brand awareness, generate growth, expand content offerings across multiple platforms and leverage a direct-to-consumer model.
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Tatiana Zakharchenko: My company produces educational content for toddlers, animated series, and nursery rhymes, which means my world is all sunshine and rainbows. We’ve been fortunate to have a very engaged audience. Parents always share pictures of their little ones who are over the moon with joy singing along with our characters. In my case, the CEO stands for Chief Elation Orchestrator!
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Tatiana Zakharchenko: I didn’t have any expectations. I am a producer by trade, so I was solely focused on producing binge-worthy monetizable content. What surprised me is how much I was going to like running a company despite all the hard work I had to put into the business for it to take off. Which didn’t happen right away. It took several years before everything started running like clockwork. And let’s not forget, there’s always room for growth.
There are many schools of thought as to what a CEO’s core roles and responsibilities are. Based on your experience, what are the main things a CEO should focus on? Explain and please share examples or stories to illustrate your vision.
Tatiana Zakharchenko: First of all, I am all about customer-centric brand building. Customers are human, and humans are emotional beings. It is my goal to help bring out true emotions by making sure my product helps my customers achieve their personal goals. Granted, not every customer experiences your product from their perspective. For instance, our customers are parents with children under five. When choosing a streaming service, they are more likely to pick the one that guarantees a safe screen-time experience, a platform with an array of educational children’s shows, since their goal is to become a better parent. Every time parents flood our social media feed with positive feedback about our shows, I know I’ve helped them accomplish their personal goals. It is the “why” of my work and every “thank you” brings a smile to my face. I always interact with my audience online as they’re the ones who help me build brand recognition and grow my following organically. Next, I believe CEOs need to deliver the change their customers are asking for.
Yes, negative customer feedback is a tough pill to swallow. But if you put yourself in your customer’s shoes, it will eliminate the need to sate your appetite for self-righteousness and will keep you focused on the ultimate goal, which is building a better brand experience. If your product doesn’t reflect your customer’s needs, especially after they have expressly told you what those are, they’re going to leave you for someone who listens. Customers want to feel part of the family and they will remain loyal to the matriarch who has their back. After we implemented valuable customer feedback related to the presentation of our hit show on TV para niños, we experienced a 170% increase in views per episode and 180% ad revenue growth within a month. A successful CEO always treats their employees well, supports and inspires them, avoids blame, and always shows gratitude and appreciation.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Tatiana Zakharchenko: I had to fire a toxic employee. I hired a candidate with an impressive résumé but as it later turned out the wrong attitude. Firing is not an easy task. But postponing the firing of a toxic employee hurts the company culture, so it must be done without the slightest delay. After it was done, I found a fantastic replacement who proved to be an amazing team player. As a result, the whole team felt relaxed, energized, and encouraged to share their creative ideas.
How would you define success? Does it mean generating a certain amount of wealth, gaining a certain level of popularity, or helping a certain number of people?
Tatiana Zakharchenko: Success is being able to produce a positive impact in your business, create change and help a lot of people. Being a parent is not easy. My goal is to make the journey a little easier and more enjoyable for parents and caregivers around the globe. I want to encourage learning from a very young age, which is why I’m producing educational content for preschoolers. Our content teaches empathy (which is at the heart of emotional intelligence,) and important social skills, helping children become emotionally healthy individuals. The latter is of utmost importance as children’s emotions shape the way they experience the world, and guide them to the decisions they make, helping them thrive in society.
Some leadership skills are innate while others can be learned. What leadership skills do you possess innately and what skills have you cultivated over the years as a CEO?
Tatiana Zakharchenko: Due to the nature of my work, one needs to be an amazing producer. I’ve always been great at networking, discovering fantastic talent, planning, and managing time. I have moved a lot in my life. I have lived in three opposed countries, which taught me to adapt quickly. As a CEO, you have to excel at adapting to a fast-changing business environment. I have cultivated my analytical skills over the years. A key to success in business is being able to analyze sophisticated streams of data quickly. Business schools require applicants to take a standardized test to check their ability to process a large amount of data within a short period. During the test you need to answer 12 questions in 30 minutes, sorting through a large amount of information presented in an array of tables, charts, and graphs. I did a lot of practice tests to hone my analytical skills. After a while, I was able to ace them!
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Tatiana Zakharchenko: I started working remotely back in 2014 even before I got into YouTube. Project First America has been a work-from-home company since 2017. Our team is geographically dispersed, working remotely from the U.S., Mexico, Venezuela, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, and Russia. So the pandemic didn’t change how I work. We checked on each other all the time. Thankfully, all of us and our families stayed healthy throughout the pandemic. 2020 was a great year for streaming. TV para niños had a 54% increase in views and over 60% increase in subscribers. The only challenge caused by the pandemic was not being able to meet up in person with my family and friends, travel, and attend in-person business events.
Do you have any advice for aspiring CEOs and future leaders? What advice would you give a CEO that is just starting on their journey?
Tatiana Zakharchenko: Prioritize health and wellness for yourself and your team. A team with burnout can not help you achieve your goals. Your success as a CEO depends on how you treat your people.
Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with our readers! They would also like to know, what is one skill that you’ve always wanted to acquire but never really could?
Tatiana Zakharchenko: Thank you for having me! It was a pleasure! Hmm… Drawing. I do sketch animated characters for the shows we’re developing, just to get it out of my head and onto paper. But it takes forever! Sadly, I can’t even draw a straight line or a circle properly.
Before we finish things off, we have one final question for you. If you wrote a book about your life today, what would the title be?
Tatiana Zakharchenko: A working title would be “Balcony, Cartoons, and Burden of Proof.” But most likely, it’ll be “Balcony, Cartoons and “insert a phrase here my publisher insisted on after giving me “I want this book to sell” look.” So stay tuned!
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Tatiana Zakharchenko for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Tatiana Zakharchenko or her company, you can do it through her – Facebook
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