Tour Diary. 18 September 2014. Day 1.
Agenda: Ukraine Tech Gem conference
With almost 10,000 km behind us, our big and friendly group – this time it’s 25 people from 13 teams – successfully landed at San Francisco airport. Taking the first breath you can tell that the ocean is close by. The gusty wind refreshes a body tired after a long flight and queues at passport control. However, not everyone can yet sense that it’s the wind of change.
There is almost no time to look around. Ukraine Tech Gem conference at Hyatt Regency San Francisco is ahead, which means – a lot of useful information and new contacts. The time has come to meet potential clients, mentors and investors, give out your business cards and test out your pitches, previously prepared in Kyiv, on American audience. No buildup and no postponing «for later». Full speed ahead!
Ukraine Tech Gem is a conference organized by Ukrainians in San Francisco. It is unique in that this is the first time the Ukrainian IT and startup industry representatives gather in such quantity and quality all in one place to present Ukraine’s intellectual, technological and business potential to American business community. The conference was organized in the shortest time – in only two months, by our Happy Farm business accelerator, European Business Association, EPAM outsourcing IT company and U.S.-Ukraine Business Council with the help of numerous Ukrainian and American partners. Over 500 representatives of IT, startup and venture businesses from Ukraine and the US – startups, product and service companies, angel investors, venture funds, students and Ukrainian diaspora have participated in Ukraine Tech Gem. A closed VIP reception was also held there, in Hyatt Regency at the end of the conference with special guests, speakers and investors taking part.
Tour Diary. 19 September 2014. Day 2.
Agenda: Madeline Duva, Marvin Liao, 500 Startups, Roman Kostochka, Coursmos
Not having time to recover after a busy day at the conference, our teams have already met with Happy Farm mentor Madeline Duva the following morning. Madeleine is the perfect candidate for the start of a long series of workshops and meetings that we had planned for the next two weeks in the States. Madeline has 20 years of entrepreneurship experience. She serves on the supervisory boards of numerous startups in the mobile industry (such as Drop, Eyefi, mPerpetuo, Phone Halo, SplashTop), mentors Founder Institute, Happy Farm, Highway1 accelerators’ startups and regularly advises hundreds of startups around the world.At a meeting with Madeleine participants of the tour had a great opportunity to pitch their projects, get feedback and answers to their questions regarding business models, technology development, starting a startup in the valley and promotion of the product on the US market.
The next point in our program – a trip to the most powerful startup forge in the United States – 500 Startups business accelerator and venture fund. The legendary accelerator was founded by one of the most influential people of the Silicon Valley startup industry – Dave McClure and is in the top 5 best accelerators of the USA. In just 3 years of its history they have invested in over 700 startups all over the world. Unfortunately, during our visit Dave was out of States, however we did have a meeting with a person just as great – 500 Startups venture partner – Marvin Liao. Happy Farm is working with Marvin Liao since the very first cycle and values him deeply for his extensive experience and deep expertise in startup industry. Former Yahoo Top Manager, today Marvin is one of the most active US startup mentors working with young companies from Eastern Europe and the CIS.
Marvin has told us how the work process at 500 Startups is organized, what they are looking for when selecting projects and what the startup needs to attract investments. Interestingly, during the current 500 Startups cycle there was one project from Ukraine – MyTips, an online constructor with step-by-step tips for complex interfaces. Our group has agreed that the situation needs to be changed and that no matter what, other Ukrainian startups should be sitting at 500 Startups in the nearest future.
After two meetings in San Francisco at the end of the day we hit the Silicon Valley, the wonderful city of Redwood. We had a meeting with Roman Kostochka there, CEO and Founder of Coursmos, Happy Farm second cycle resident (summer 2013). Coursmos is an online platform of micro courses, where during the Q&A sessions everyone can share their experience on a particular topic. At the moment you can watch and listen to over 10 thousand micro courses at Coursmos platform. It was a very useful and inspiring meeting as it was an opportunity for us to see an example of how a startup from Russia lives and works in the Silicon Valley, pros and cons of moving, building a business there and most importantly – how to overcome difficulties encountered in your way, when you are building a business in a foreign country. Roman has moved to the Valley with the family less than a year ago, gathered a wonderful team of professionals, which he is particularly proud of.
Roman’s team’s secret, as we have heard and saw it, is in the following:
- Absence of a strict hierarchy: positions in the company are not given much importance. All the decisions are made together. The team has a high level of trust and mutual support.
- Flexibility: if by trial and error the team realizes that it is necessary to do things differently – everyone can quickly refocus and direct all the forces towards implementing something new.
- High inner motivation: each team member is in love with the company and sees the improvement and development of its product as a personal goal in life.
As a part of questions and answers session the guys have raised their concerns – startup monetization, promotion strategy, search for partners and much more.
Our meeting with Roman has ended unexpectedly. Leaving our group in good hands of his amazing wife and his team Roma has said his goodbyes as he had to rush to play hockey with Guy Kawasaki.
The main conclusion all of us made after visiting Coursmos is that nothing is impossible and all the barriers only exist in our minds.
Tour Diary. 20 September 2014. Day 3.
Agenda: Vitaly Golomb, Igor Shoifot, AVentures
The day began with a meeting with Happy Farm’s Board advisor, a serial entrepreneur, designer, startup mentor and co-producer of Startup AddVenture Vitaly Golomb. An overcast Saturday morning in San Francisco was suddenly replaced by a hot summer day, which awaited us in the valley. The office of Vitaly’s company, Keen Systems, is located in a pretty office center in San Mateo. Like the nost of residential areas in the valley, the city is surrounded by greenery and flowers and its cleanliness and tidiness are pleasing to the eye. Vitaly Golomb, who was born in Ukraine, moved to the United States with his family at an early age. His current company, Keen Systems, provides cloud-based solutions for the printing industry.
Vitaly did a fascinating presentation of the company, told the story of how it was founded, how the team works, and how new partners and clients are attracted; he shared the specifics of b2b startups, which was especially useful for those of our tour participants, who are also developing products for businesses, rather than the end user. Attracting investments was a separate subject. Vitaly had plenty of expertise to share: in the period from 2008 to 2012, Keen Systems managed to attract angel and seed investments for a total amount of $ 1 million 725 thousand, and most recently – in early 2014 – the A round has raised $ 1, 6 million.
The second block of the meeting with Vitaly Golomb was devoted to presentation skills – how to develop a deck and how to pitch properly. Vitaly can be called a presentation guru without false modesty. Vitaly’s presentations, which he regularly gives at startup conferences around the world and while conducting workshops for startups, are always vivid, with a memorable design and content. In addition, Vitaly is great speaker and it was very useful for our guys were to hear him explain the Do’s and Don’ts related to the preparation of presentations and public speaking.
Inspired by Vitaly, we went back to San Francisco to meet with Happy Farm’s Chairman of the Board of Directors, a serial entrepreneur, who represents venture fund TMT Investments and lecturer at Berkeley University, Igor Shoifot. The meeting with Igor passed seamlessly. He told us about the Valley’s startup ecosystem, the new companies and funds working here. Did you know that the current number of startups in San Francisco and the Valley is about 100,000? Yes, the competition is incredibly high, but Igor is convinced that no other place besides the Valley, could offer such opportunities and potential for startup growth. Igor shared some insights on networking in the Valley, explained how to properly establish business relations, how to write follow-ups after the meetings, how to choose relevant events and to benefit from such visits. Apart from this, we discussed using LinkedIn for business. The main message was: being open and willing to help, making every effort to ensure that all newly acquired connections are converted into mutually beneficial partnerships or business relations.
We also talked about the startup-investor relationship – how to distribute their shares in the company and which reporting has to be provided to the investor, as well as what mistakes to look out for in the process.
Another important message from Igor Shoifot: startups necessarily have to involve a team member from San Francisco or the Valley. This allows for a faster way to achieving success, especially if you have not yet moved your business to the Valley. It is not rare for non-US startups to invite a local CMO, BizDev, sometimes CTO, and much less often – but it is also possible – even a CEO.
At the end of the day we had a meeting with the co-founders and managing partners of a Ukrainian investment fund AVentures Capital – Andrey Kolodyuk and Evgeniy Sysoev. It was a very interesting and useful meeting for our teams, dedicated to the basics of venture business. Andrey and Evgeniy told us about the specifics of different investment stages, shared the statistics of the deals of Ukrainian startups, talked about the principles of co-investment, rules of distribution of shares in a startup, principles of assessment of the company, and many other pressing matters of interest to our young startups. Andrey and Evgeniy have also described what the work process is like at their fund. AVentures Capital is an investment fund with 12 years experience of investing in Ukraine, Russia and the United States. AVentures launched and financed a number of companies, the total revenue of which exceeded $1 billion. The fund invests in companies at the growth stage and the early stage of its development. Our startups have also had a great opportunity to pitch their projects to investors and receive feedback.
Diary. 21 September 2014. Day 4.
The first day off on the tour. A great opportunity to enjoy the ocean, wonder around the wonderful streets of San Francisco, admire the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge, try oysters at the seafront or… hold a number of business meetings arranged during the turbulent working days – exactly what some of our teams have chosen. Well done!
Tour Diary. 22 September 2014. Day 5.
Agenda: Scaale Group, Pavel Cherkashin, Sprayable, Dinner with mentors
A new and active week of our business tour started at the very heart of San Francisco, on the Market Street in one of the Scaale Group offices with hospitable and welcoming Kaushal Chokshi and Marta Emerson. Scaale Group is a venture resource group that helps startups and small businesses develop through investment, sales and talent attraction. The group consists of 7 companies that join 300 employees from 10 countries together. Today Scaale leads over 100 customers from Europe, USA and Latin America. A startup or a young company can get the knowledge, expertise, entering new markets strategy and assistance in its implementation, when contacting Scaale Group. Cross Border Angels is a particularly noteworthy organization within Scaale Group companies, which joins over 150 business angels and investors from USA, Asia and Europe. CBA specializes on cross-border deals, constantly developing its network and embracing new markets.
Kaushal Chokshi, Founder and President of Scaale Group has held the “Introduction to Venture Capital” lecture for our group, told us how Scaale Group work process is built, how venture business works in the US and other countries, pointed out the differences, how a startup can enter the global market, and what investor expects of a startup. “People, the product itself ant time are equally important when building a company”, said Kaushal.
Continuing the meeting Marta Emerson, Vice President of Scaale Group companies, held a presentation on building entrepreneurial ecosystem on the example of Spain. Questions were raised regarding the development of startup ecosystem of the country, the state’s role in the development of startup ecosystem and the major factors affecting the development of startups. According to Marta, 10 main factors influencing the level of development of startup ecosystem are: education, investment, innovation, network professionals, the public sector, business culture, business specialization in the region, successful cases of exit, talent development, maturity of the local market and access to global markets.
A great start of the day, full of new information and food for thought. Moving on. Next stop – Sunnyvale in the Valley, where Pavel Cherkashyn, the general partner of a new fund Vestor.In Partners, a former executive at Adobe and Microsoft, co-founder of Actis, AdWatch, Sputnik Labs, later successfully sold to large companies, is waiting for us. Quite recently Paul was an active business angel, but now, with the emergence of Vestor.In Partners, he walked away from angel investing and moved to a new investment level. An incredibly interesting meeting where Paul spoke about the laws of building a business in Silicon Valley, about the experience of launching their own companies and their subsequent successful sale, as well as of the effective involvement and use of investments.
After several meetings with investors in a row – it’s time to get motivated by a successful startup case. In search of inspiration, we come to meet to Deven Soni, co-founder of an unusual startup – Sprayable. Deven’s and his startup’s story is unusual from the very start. It’s not uncommon for us to see serial entrepreneurs subsequently change their work to become investors. But for a venture capitalist to leave for a startup? Yes, this is exactly what happened to Deven Soni. Another curious thing is that he met a future co-founder during an expedition to the Antarctic. This is where the idea for a startup was born – to create an energy caffeine spray, which will act through the skin pores. Convenient, safe and completely devoid of disadvantages of coffee and all kinds of energetics putting the heart through too much stress. What’s said is done. A year of hard work, parallel development and testing of a product on one hand, on the other hand there’s work on the marketing strategy, with Deven and his partner already placing their product on Indiegogo, where instead of desired 20 thousand dollars they get 176. Today the company sells up to 15,000 bottles of Sprayable per month. Deven also shared their future plans – they will soon bring a product to the market, the effect of which is the opposite to Sprayable. The new spray will have a calming effect on the body, helping people who suffer from insomnia and jet legs.
A cozy atmosphere of Bocce Café in San Francisco and a dinner with our wonderful mentors and board advisers is a great ending for a busy startup day. There is nothing better than talking to mentors with no rush, with a glass of wine, asking all the vital questions you have for your startup and even enlist the mentoring support. However, not the whole evening was just about socializing. In order to diversify the evening we held a mentor pitch battle. 5 of our luckiest startups had a unique opportunity to ear their project’s pitch by our mentors. The idea is simple: each mentor pulls out a paper with a name of a startup present and each of them is given a couple of minutes to prepare the pitch. This is where the best part begins. Mentors with excitement and youthful enthusiasm start presenting someone else’s projects, while putting in so much strength and energy, as if it were a matter life or death. Startups get an opportunity to take a fresh look at their projects and some impressed ones even start rewriting their pitches. Fantastic and energetic battle!
Big thanks to our wonderful gurus and guests – Igor Shoifot, Vitaly Golomb, Jonathan Romley, Shawn Lopiccolo, Viktor Shaburov and Sergey Parilov for a productive and enjoyable evening and for your superb pitches!
Tour Diary. 23 September 2014. Day 6.
Agenda: Institute for the Future, PayPal/eBay Inc., Dialect Inc., Namo Media
Tuesday morning we arrived in Palo Alto and got … to the future. This happened thanks to Sean Ness, Director of Business Development at the Institute for the Future. Institute for the Future is an independent, nonprofit organization with a long history (founded in 1968), which deals with research, development of global forecasts and modeling of the future with their subsequent graphical visualization. Three main areas of research and forecasts at Institute for the Future are technology, health and organizations. The Institute regularly publishes a variety of reports and maps from which you can easily find out what awaits us decades later in different areas of our lives. Many companies from the Fortune500 list use the services of Institute for the Future, in order to identify trends, prevent potential problems, and to anticipate the needs of the future (foresight – insight – action). At a meeting with Sean, we talked about the trends, technologies that affect the quality of life, and, of course, eco technologies as one of the most promising and popular trends of our time.
Our next stop was the holy of holies of e-commerce – the headquarters of PayPal/eBay in San Jose. There was an incredible interactive use case presentation waiting for us there, showing different ways of using PayPal payment system.
Today the number of active registered PayPal accounts – both personal and corporate is 152 million. Payment transactions are carried out in 100 currencies on 203 markets and these numbers are growing. Every day more than 9 million payments are carried out through PayPal.
After the presentation we had a fascinating showcase tour, where we were shown a variety of examples of the use of PayPal payment system (whether it’s shopping in the grocery store, ticket service, clothing store, etc.)
PayPal office is actually equipped with virtually real shops with goods in order to be able to demonstrate all the benefits of the products and their customization options to the visitors, guests and potential clients!
Our entire group was very impressed by what we saw. At the end of the meeting we were treated to a wonderful lunch and were shown around the office and the territory of PayPal. Our findings continued. It turned out to be not just an office, but also a town with restaurants, terraces, playgrounds, small parks and even a pond. A complete delight! Many thanks to Sergey Ivashov!
After the tour to the wonderful world of PayPal we returned to San Francisco to meet the Happy Farm mentor John Gower. John Gower is a top manager with over 15 years of experience in the field of branding (magazines, videos, web and mobile applications). He has worked on 3 continents with the world’s biggest brands in virtually every industry: games, technology, fashion, finance, art, automotive industry, sports, music, movies, and many more. John is a Founder and CEO at Dialect Inc, a branding agency based in San Francisco. John has given our group a presentation on promotion and publishing of mobile games.
In the evening, thanks to one of our startups – the founder and CEO of Bethclip Rashid Aliyev of Azerbaijan we met up with one more Azerbaijani startup – Namo Media. Namo Media’s technology allows any mobile app to do mobile advertising like Facebook: beautiful mobile ads that sit in-stream rather than in annoying banner ads. The startup was founded in 2013, and in the summer of 2014 Twitter bought it. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Techcrunch wrote that the new acquisition cost Twitter about 50 million Dollars.
We spoke with the co-founder of the company Tural Badirkhanli who told us about his startup’s path in such a short period of time.Our guys were very interested and inspired by this story, they asked Tural a lot of questions about how they built their work after moving to the Valley, how Twitter took interest in them, etc. Tural’s main message is to not get hung up on idea of selling the company:
‘It’s difficult to be acquired if you are aimed to be acquired. Your first goal should be building a great product’, Tural says.
Tour Diary. 24 September 2014. Day 7.
Agenda: Julian Zegelman, Robert Shwentker, Tim Draper, Sasha Johnson, Demo Day SF
Another interesting and busy day in the United States began with a meeting with Julian Zegelman, partner of Velton-Zegelman law firm. The subject of the meeting was legal basics for startup, how to open a bank account and a company in the United States, how law firms work with startups in the United States – specialties and conditions.
Later we met up with Robert Shwentker, Developer & Startup Relations @ PayPal, who held a workshop on the effective use of Twitter in business communications for us.
In the CIS, Twitter is definitely gaining momentum, especially lately. Thus, the number of Ukrainian Twitter users increased by 1.5 times over the past year and a half and now stands at more than 430 thousand users. However, many people still underestimate the value of twitter and its use for both personal and business communications.
Robert told us how to work with Twitter: how to develop your personal page and company page, attract new users, tools and applications to improve performance when working in Twitter.
Our next stop is San Mateo, Draper University of Heroes and a meeting with the incredible Tim Draper, founder and managing partner of Draper Fisher Juvertson venture capital fund. Tim Draper is a venture capitalist in the third generation. In 1985, he created Draper Fisher Jurvetson company, which invested in projects such as Baidu, Skype, Hotmail, Tesla Motors and many others. Now Draper’s company has affiliated offices in 30 cities around the world and over $ 7 billion in capital commitments. In 2008, Tim Draper was recognized as a “Number one venture capitalist”.
Tim shared his experiences, telling what he is guided by when investing in projects nobody believes in. Advised us on how to present the product to the investor. Spoke about the latest market development trends of technology products. He also touched upon the issue of Bitcoins, which he has high hopes for. It was a very inspiring meeting.
After meeting Tim, we had a very interesting meeting with Sasha Johnson, Managing Director DFJ-branded affiliate – DFJ VTB Aurora. Sasha told us about the history of development of DFJ fund, its portfolio companies, the criteria based upon which the investor makes a decision in favor of a startup, how to properly execute the pitch for the investor and what is necessary for a startup to attract investment from DFJ.
The day turned out to be very busy, but it didn’t end there. We had Startup House Demo Day ahead of us in San Francisco as well as an exciting FIRST pitching session for our startups in front of the startup community. Pitches, best pitch competition, beer and snacks, communication with the local community – the evening was a success!
Tour Diary. 25 September 2014. Day 8.
Agenda: Oded Hermoni, Victor Shaburov, Dan Morris, Max Skibinsky, Demo Day SV
Our morning in the Valley has started with a meeting with Oded Hermoni Investor @ Rhodium, CEO/Owner @ Hermoni Investments and Consulting. One more useful meeting for our guys, which helped them understand startups from the investor’s point of view and see the backstage of venture capitalism at least a little bit. Oded has told us what the criteria for investment in startups on the early stage are, gave feedback for our projects.
The next meeting with Victor Shaburov, Co-Founder, CEO&President @ Looksery Inc was just as interesting. Looksery app lets the user change his or her facial features, add multiple funny effects, or transform a real human face into a 3D character in real time; then exchange video messages or create video-selfies. The app will let people pick various effects, record them on video and share them with friends or post the results online. Startup founded in Odesa in 2013 got its headquarters in San Francisco and started the development of Looksery. Victor Shaburov is Russian, but has long been supporting Ukrainian startups. He created Handster – a successful company in Odesa, which was later bought by Opera Software. For the last two years Shaburov served as Vice President at Opera, but in the spring of this year, left the company in order to participate in a new startup. Victor has shared his experience on how to build the work process of the startup in the Valley, how to gather a team, hire people in a startup, how to promote your product on the American market with us, as well as showed his amazing job app to us.
Our next stop was Facebook, where Daniel Morris, Head of Games Partnerships @ Facebook was already waiting for us. We started off with a tour of Facebook office campus, which has left a lasting impression. It has everything for work, life, sports and recreation there. We had a very cool talk with Dan. Dan began his career in 1999 as a writer and editor for the world’s biggest-selling PC games magazine, ultimately serving as its fourth Editor-in-Chief. Prior to Facebook, he also worked at Electronic Arts and DeNA. He told us about the integration of games as one of the main aims of the Facebook team, about the mobile gaming market, how Facebook works with mobile games developers, and much more. It was a very interesting and useful meeting.
Later we met up with Max Skibinsky, entrepreneur, investor, ex-Partner @ Andreessen Horowitz. The conversation with Max was long and fascinating. Max told us about his experience at Andreessen Horowitz, the criteria for investment, top technological trends, most demanded kinds of startups, bitcoin and much more.
In the evening we had a beer party in the Valley for the local community at Tied House, Mountain View – 1:1 pitching, networking, chatting with mentors and guests in an informal atmosphere. It was a very eventful day.
Tour Diary. 26 September 2014. Day 9.
Agenda: Jim Smith, Artem Gassan
Early in the morning we went to Menlo Park on the famous Sand Hill Road. It is here that the greatest number of VC firms is located in the Valley. We had a meeting with Jim Smith, General Partner @ Mohr Davidow Ventures here. We received a very warm welcome. Jim told us about the peculiarities of the fund’s work process, kinds of technologies that are in demand, how startups are selected, how they are invested in, what the optimal equity for an investment should be, the relationship between a startup and an investor, the legal aspects of accountability and much more. In addition, Jim answered questions our guys asked and talked with all interested individually. A very pleasant surprise awaited us after meeting with Jim at Mohr Davidow office – a lunch organized especially for us. We were very touched. Thank you very much, Jim.
Our next meeting was held in San Francisco again. It was a meeting with Artem Gassan, CEO & Founder @ Whale Path Inc., Alumni @ 500 Startups, mentor. Artem has told us about the history of his company – Whale Path, a platform for Business Research On-Demand for Corporations. He talked about building a startup team, the experience of acceleration at 500 Startups and attracting seed investment. There was a lively Q&A session, it was a very helpful and practical meeting.
Tour Diary. 27 September 2014. Day 10-11.
Great opportunity to enjoy amazing San Francisco and Sausalito.
Tour Diary. 28 September 2014. Day 12.
Agenda: Gigi Wang, Alex Fishman
Second to last day of our tour began with a meeting with the Happy Farm mentor Gigi Wang, Board Member & Chair Emeritus @ MITEF / Stanford Venture Lab, Managing Partner @ MG-Team. Gigi held a very interesting presentation on ‘Entrepreneurship & Innovation Culture in Silicon Valley’ for our group – told us what qualities have to be acquired in order to become successful in Silicon Valley (trust, risk, support, integration, openness, etc.), gave many different examples from the lives of startups and VCs, answered our guys’ questions.
Marc Daugherty, Brussels Invest & Export Project Manager, North America, has also arrived at the meeting with Gigi. He told us how Brussels Invest & Export company operates and what opportunities startups in Europe have.
Later we went to the Valley to meet with our mentor Alex Fishman, CEO & Founder @ Dishero. Dishero offers a wide range of services to the restaurant industry, including a centralized visual menu platform that enables the restaurants to present their menu in the most appetizing way – via professional gorgeous images.
Alex told us how to succeed as a CEO, how to assemble a team, allocate roles and responsibilities between the team members. He shared his experience on how to find the first customers and become unique in your segment. It turned out to be a very interesting and practical meeting, which gradually moved from the office to a cozy seafood restaurant. Thank you for a wonderful evening, Alex!