Modestas joined Vinted 4 years ago. Since then, he has grown from junior product owner to head of product. He says that many of the principles he follows in his work have been borrowed from karate - his lifelong passion that, at one point in time, was also his job.
Tell us about your career path
I completed my studies in computer science and was always passionate about technology. I worked as an IT engineer and a project manager in the 2nd and 3rd year of my studies. However, I didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted to do with my life. At that time a major part of my time was also dedicated to karate - both learning and teaching it. After graduation, I’ve actually made karate my job and taught it for 2 years.
At some point I realized that this still wasn’t enough for me, so I decided to give IT a second chance. I jumped back into the job market believing that I’d get to choose from a lot of amazing opportunities. Oh boy, was I wrong. After having skipped a few years in the IT field it was far more complicated for me to find my way back into the sector than I could have imagined.
My first position in a tech-related company was in the area of customer support. After a few months, I joined another company as a project manager. I showed great results quickly, gained trust and expanded my responsibilities. The positions I held further in my career were all related to project management. Oh, and I also gave karate classes in the meantime - I actually did it for the people at Vinted before I was employed here.
Then came a day when Andrius (former head of product at Vinted) suggested I apply for the position of product owner. I had known Andrius prior to this and didn’t hesitate to act on his suggestion. However, my first attempt to join Vinted wasn’t successful. Nevertheless, I gave it another try and have never regretted this decision. In four years here I have grown from junior product owner to head of product.
How do the principles you’ve learned in karate translate into your life and work?
I’ll outline a few of them:
Focus equals results
This is one of the principles - focus equals results - that I learned in karate. Karate is a demanding discipline and progress is only possible with complete focus. The same rule applies in life and at work. In order to reach any goal, it’s necessary to have a clear direction and tune out all distractions.
Each moment only once
Ichi-go ichi -e - a Japanese proverb that literally means, “one time, one meeting”. When you fight, you have to think about each technique as if it was the last one in your life. I try to live by this principle everyday - I appreciate every moment and only do one thing at a time, as well as I possibly can.
In today’s modern world people tend to expect instant success. Far too many give up when they face the struggle. However, mastery is all about patience and repetition. In karate, the journey from white belt to black belt is incredibly long. Mastering any kata (a specified series of karate moves, or, simply put, fighting an imaginary opponent) is mostly repetition, there are always some details to improve. It’s the same in life - the people who dedicate hours and hours of consistent effort make it to the top of their field.
That’s one of the very fundamentals of all martial arts: “Karate begins and ends with respect”. It’s a bow, a simple and respectful movement. It’s applicable in many ways in our everyday life, but the most basic application always starts with empathy. As my teacher used to say - “Never dance your own dance”. You cannot win if you think too much of yourself.
The best way to win a battle is without fighting
That includes a vast amount of preparation in developing one’s own strengths and pursuit for excellence. An important point is that excellence should not be measured against others’ performance. It’s all about striving for your own best results, regardless of how others do.
What’s wrong about comparing yourself to others?
The lifestyle of the modern capitalist world is often seen as a competition in a big social rat race. Sadly, this also comes with alienation, distance and low respect for the ones who are in the lower part of social hierarchy. Ideally, all of this shouldn’t exist. We are all equal. And it’s normal that some of us perform better than others in some areas. I’m an advocate of constant improvement. However, the principle that we all are worthy of equal respect, despite our achievements, should prevail.
Do you have any morning rituals?
I usually kick off my mornings by doing some karate training. Then I have a cold shower (to boost my immune system and strengthen my will), eat some light breakfast and head to work.
Could you describe your regular day at the office?
It really depends on the day. Each week I set aside about 40 percent of my time just for thinking. That’s also what my Mondays and Fridays are normally for - I don’t schedule meetings on these days. Since it’s essential for me to minimise interruptions during this time, sometimes you will find my calendar blocked for no reason. Monday mornings are when I feel refreshed and free from the questions that tend to pile up during the week. I also use this time to review my to-do list and decide on the priorities for the upcoming week.
Generally, the first part of the day is when I feel the most productive and creative, so I devote this time to thinking, planning, reflecting and doing work that requires the most effort. My Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are usually spent gathering information and at sync meetings. I try to minimize the number of unexpected meetings. Sometimes they happen, but I see them as a sign that we are fighting something that could have been prevented through long-term planning and discipline.
You have a lot on your plate, how do you set your priorities?
I make notes and don’t keep information in my head - that would be inefficient. My to-do list consists of tasks that come from various sources, but in the end they all have to land in my notebook. That gives me a good overview and creates a sense of achievement when things are done. I can restart my thinking very quickly on any topic by looking at my notes for a few seconds. That’s why good notes are a crucial tool for me.
One principle that I always follow is that I start doing tasks immediately, the only exception being when they’re too long to complete. There are a few reasons for that: first, it takes more mental energy to switch back to a task than it does to do it right away. Second, if I set a reminder for a specific time, it may interrupt me when I’m in the middle of something else.
And finally, I try to find the root cause of several problems and solve them holistically. This is a very powerful principle, that’s why I like to have as much context as possible about any topic first.
However, despite my heavy workload, I consider people a priority. If there’s something going on they’d like to discuss, I put aside whatever I’m doing and dedicate some of my time to them.
How would your perfect vacation look like?
Since my work involves a lot of planning, an ideal vacation would be spontaneous and free from analytical thinking. That’s how they usually are.
Tell us one thing you particularly like about Vinted that you never had in your previous jobs?
People. All too often (at least from my own experience) only a small number of executives at the very top of the organizational chart care about the company’s achievements. The rest are happy with a constant salary and other perks. At Vinted, every single person across different departments cares about the company's success.
In such an environment self-actualization and improvement happen faster. Naturally, if you are surrounded by highly motivated people, you start challenging yourself, too.
In 4 years at Vinted I’ve experienced both ups and downs. Generally, most of my lessons learned came from failures rather than wins. In my opinion, failure is necessary in every person’s life and maybe even more - we all have to learn to embrace it and feel comfortable to fail. Not that I wish it on anyone - screwing-up hurts. However, once you bounce back from failure, you have more experience and knowledge to build your future success on.
Tell us more about your wins and lessons learned?
The first one that comes to mind now is when I failed a brown karate belt examination because I forgot kata. I was stressed. Thinking retrospectively, I know it was just a natural consequence of a lack of practice. Excellence in any field comes with hours and hours of repetition. Many tend to believe that the performer is naturally gifted because they look confident and at ease. Quite the opposite - having done the same thing thousands of times you can clear your mind, get into the flow and just do the thing.
What are some hobbies that you have?
Obviously, karate - I still practice it and visit dojos (training facilities) or conferences whenever the opportunity comes up.
Another passion of mine is two-wheeled transport. Although I have a scooter, owning a motorcycle and traveling the world on it is one of my dreams. I also enjoy tasting good quality food and beverages.
Lastly, there can be nothing more relaxing than spending time by the sea or in the mountains. There you can easily feel the power of nature and realize how small you are and how tiny your problems are. A big part of our thoughts is about ourselves - how we look like, how we feel or whether we have attained enough in our lives. If a person could turn off that stream of thoughts about themselves and focus on others, life satisfaction and, in turn, personal effectiveness would increase.
What is the key to being a good leader?
Great leaders must lead by example. If you aim to set the right tone, it’s essential to exhibit the same behaviours you expect from others. Another important skill is the ability to help every single member of the team unlock their potential and spread clarity instead of uncertainty. Great leaders effectively communicate goals and visions of the company. Nevertheless, they understand that there are plenty of ways to reach the same goal. It’s not possible to decide everything by yourself, that’s why there’s a team of skilled people who make decisions within an area they focus on.
Who is your role model?
Sensei Hidetaka Nishiyama - a world-renowned karate instructor and the founder of traditional karate. In 2000 Sensei Nishiyama was awarded Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Emperor of Japan and received many other awards all over the world. Despite becoming a true legend of martial arts, he remained a dignified and humble man. He didn’t choose who to teach to - Sensei made himself available to every black belt. I also perceive his student - Sensei Avi Rokah - as my role model.
Anyhow, I strongly believe you can learn from anyone and anytime. This concept also comes from karate: “Give everything, once you go you must give everything. There is no mind in the technique.” We treat everyone - either white or black belt - with equal respect.
From your point of view, what qualities help people become great at what they do?
Curiosity, a strong will, as well as having structure in achieving one’s goals. However, while I believe that it’s possible to achieve anything, everyone, depending on their own character and skills, performs better in certain areas. So it’s also important to know yourself well.
What music do you like to listen to?
Recently, I’ve been listening to the Django Unchained soundtrack . Other movie soundtracks are also on my playlists (for example: Drive , Guardians of the Galaxy , Into the Wild ). My taste in music is so hard to describe because it is literally everything - from classical music to pop. The genre of music I listen to depends on the circumstances and my mood.
Is there any book you could recommend?
Depends on the topic. The Organised Mind by Daniel Levitin, for example, is about how our mind works. Or read books from famous basketball players and coaches John Wooden and Phil Jackson if you would like to understand how to build a winning team or get to know more about basketball.
Is there any blog that you follow and would recommend for others?
http://firstround.com/ will be useful for people who seek high-level and in-depth content.