David’s passion for making things started when he was young, with Lego. He spent countless hours building anything his imagination could conjure up.
When he finished school, he swapped bricks for bars. He started producing music, layering sounds on top of one another until he was satisfied. It was an early introduction to the design process.
“That's what building products is like. You start with something, you add, you get feedback, you tweak it, you improve it.”
David finds this process cathartic—he can lose himself for hours. So much so that doing anything else—like talking—can feel frustrating. And like many creative types, he’s never fully satisfied with his own work. He’s a self-confessed tinkerer.
“I feel like I'm always behind the quality bar I’ve set for myself, so I’m always tweaking. When I go back to old things I wonder: what was I thinking?”
Later, David got into web design. He didn’t know it at the time, but his constant tinkering would eventually lead to something huge.
“I believe that things create themselves eventually. People who create things are chaperones of their own creations, in a way.”
That’s exactly what happened with Typeform.
“I think that's the definition of stress, actually. Not living out what you really want to do every day, and forcing yourself to carry on regardless.”
He felt trapped, with no obvious way out. Then, along came Kim.
A way out
Joaquim "Kim" Lecha had been hired as Typeform’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) several months before. A soft-spoken, thoughtful type, Kim was more calm conductor than impulsive experimenter. He’d had an immediate impact, introducing procedures that allowed teams to focus and thrive.
One day, David and Robert were talking and it hit them: Kim was the “head” that balanced out the “heart”—the equilibrium they needed to navigate the next stage of Typeform’s journey. And he’d provide the release valve for David’s stress.
They made a bold decision: they would step down, promoting Kim to CEO.
People have since told David he was brave. But he sees it in a different way.
“Founders are quite attached to their baby—they find it hard to relinquish control. But having that control was something I wasn’t enjoying. It was easy to let go of the reins.”
<quote-author>David Okuniev<quote-author><quote-company>Co-founder and Head of R&D at Typeform<quote-company>
Kim brought in clearer boundaries, and a renewed focus on growth targets. And David immediately got back to what he loved best: making. He hired a small development team, and started work on a new product idea. It was a startup within a startup, and he felt liberated.
“I did it completely on my terms—I was like a mini-CEO again. There were no leadership issues from my point of view, because this time I was completely open and authentic. I wasn’t pretending. And I could work directly on product again”
He disengaged with everything else at Typeform. He even stopped going to leadership meetings. It’s what he needed to feel like himself again.
Back to the heart
David is still at Typeform. He now heads up a small research and development team, revelling in his role as leader of a scrappy band of innovators.
But he’s also become an advocate for the heart of the company again, returning to the principles on which Typeform was founded.
“We have to do things we believe in. Like allowing designers to be our driving force. Or not measuring absolutely everything.”
He formed a “design guild”—a group of employees that care about design thinking and want to apply it across the organisation. And when the office closed because of the pandemic, he was the one who pushed leaders to think about how to recreate spaces in which meaningful interactions could occur.
David once produced music—tweaking tracks until they sounded good to the ear. In his work, he’s now found the perfect harmony between “creator” and “founder” roles. It’s his responsibility to keep the company he founded grounded, while pushing it forward with fresh ideas.
His parting advice for founders struggling with the pressure of being a CEO?
“In the absence of viable options, it may be hard to see a way out. But you can create those options. And just remember: it’s only a fucking company.”