What surprises are waiting for the Ukrainian startup in the Silicon Valley? And what is the right way to move business there? Kateryna Kondrunina, Head of Business Development & Operations of Ukrainian startup Sixa, shares her observation results.
Startup Sixa about two years old. But he has already managed to make “a lot of noise”. American publishers Venture Beat and TechCrunch have written about the Ukrainian project that may add computational power to any computer via the “cloud”. Prominent investors, such as Istanbulian startup-incubator Startupbootcamp and Californian YCombinator, Ukrainian funds Digital Future, Horizon Capital and American Tandem Capital were among those, who invested in it. A total of $3,7 mln of investments were raised by it, number of its users exceeds 20 thous.
The history of Sixa is actually a story of trials and errors. When it attracted its first investments in Istanbul, project team went to California, to the “heart” of world’s hangout of startups, where they faced with local realities. Head of Business Development & Operations, Kateryna Kondrunina, dealt directly with opening of company’s headquarters in San Francisco. She extracted a number of recommendations from her own experience and shared them with Innovation House.
Rely on genuine professionals to resolve your organizational issues
The first thing you will do when you arrive in the US, is to hire immigration lawyer. There are several types of visas pursuant to which startup may operate in America. Migration lawyer will help you to choose the right one and to collect all the documents. The same goes for financial and tax issues, as well as for the registration of the company in the US. This way was the simplest and the most effective for us.
But you may also use the Ironclad service to gather all the required documents by yourself, or Stripe Atlas to create the company. This allows not only to speed up the process, but to significantly save your money.
Apply to YCombinator
After Istanbul, it seemed to us that we were rather tough guys. And that everyone in the US will communicate with us. In some way this really happened to us. It seemed that we attended constructive meeting. Everyone was smiling sweetly and was saying that our project was great. But this communication resulted in nothing – there were no deals, there were no real proposals for cooperation.
The situation fundamentally changed when we got into the program of the legendary Californian incubator YCombinator. It is commonly known that less than 2% of all the applications are being chosen. If YCombinator has chosen you – this is the merit and distinction.
Prior to this we were searching for the meetings with investors by ourselves. But after YCombinator we were the ones, who were searched for. American publishers Venture Beat and TechCrunch wrote about us, which helped a lot.
Make useful social contacts whilst you are still in Ukraine
Silicon Valley – is networking. Everything is built here on personal connections and recommendations. If you want to do business there, make useful social contacts whilst you are still in Ukraine. Keep company with Californian investors, look for Ukrainian startups that have already moved there.
There is strong Ukrainian community in Silicon Valley. All we are trying to make friends and to help each other. Personally, I have never refused to meet our guys, who come to San Francisco.
Choose your investor as your family member
Startups often think that lack of money – is a problem. But real problems arise when money comes from “not your” investor, which is hard to work with. After all, a new person comes to your team – investor with his own vision and plans. Keep in mind: with each new investor you accept a new family member. Therefore you shall not agree to each money. Conduct your own due diligence. The very same applies to the accelerating programs.
We are always focused on smart-investors that may bring something more than just money to the company. For example, contacts, expertise, people with whom it will work at ease.
One more thing, we never conceal that we are from Ukraine. It is a bad scenario to lie at the beginning of your story with investor.
Learn from mistakes
When you look at successful projects, you see only the result. But no one knows how many mistakes were made on the way toward this result.
It’s fine to make mistakes. People learn from past mistakes. And in the US it is highly appreciated if company has trials and errors experience. It is common thing in Ukraine to conceal own failures. But there is no purpose in this. After all, it is hard to repeat the success story. And not to repeat someone’s mistakes – much easier.
Study without interruption
You shall not hope that you will succeed in building up business based on your current knowledge and skills. The world is constantly changing, and you shall constantly study to keep pace with it. Nowadays many startups emerge at the confluence of different fields. For instance, technology and medicine. Or technology and finance. And to work with such projects you shall have omnifarious knowledge.
Have a rest
When we were raising investments, we had to work 14 hours a day. And the same applies to any accelerating program and periods of time when you shall be focused on urgent tasks – you have to work a lot. Silicon Valley is the place where persons work hard. Although recently it has become fashionable to reach balance – idea of mental health is being propagandized, which is much needed to generate ideas. From my own experience I may say that sport helps a lot to wrestle against stress.
Team is of great importance
One of the frequent phrases that we heard from investors: “We invest not in ideas, but in the team”. Team is one of the key criteria for investment, because it is very the same, who is responsible for the implementation of idea. As a general rule, investors and accelerators prefer teams having more than one founder. In addition to domain expertise, strong teams always think about loyalty of employees, about balance and diversity of skills and knowledge within the team, as well as about segregation of duties to catch the rhythm of the Valley.