1 year anniversary

Bambam! 16th of September was Beetroot’s first year birthday, counted as our day of arrival to Kiev one year ago and symbolized by our long Lada trip between St Petersburg and Kiev. It was celebrated with a small and genuine champagne ceremony at the beach in Odessa.  It’s time for a summary and a general status update on how things are developing by the black sea.

Let’s start with filling you in on the past three summer months. The Rootbeet blog has been sleeping while the Beetroot and we have been doing quite the opposite. Odessa is obviously a wonderful place in the summer and so thought many of our friends and acquaintances who decided to visit us and the “pearl by the sea”. We would have done really well as a hostel here with constant batches of friends, families, clients and others passing by for some days to enjoy sunny and cosy Odessa. We counted at least 8 nationalities hosted in our flat at some point. This really made the summer for us with plenty of memorable and happy moments. It also helped us to take some mini-vacations here and there and helped us not to spend all our awake time working, which otherwise would have been a very likely scenario. 🙂

When it comes to Beetroot, we’re growing up. We’ve been just a baby before, but this summer, we took some major steps towards a more mature childhood. Together with a number of key clients we have been focusing the summer on recruiting new Beetroots to the team and we feel both lucky and privileged that we already have such a dynamic and great team of people in Odessa. Each developer is in direct communication with their client, current clients working in a range between website building for web studios, exciting start-ups and educational platforms for some of the largest companies in Swedish.

The office in Chernomorets football stadium which, when we moved there in May, felt like a place where we could grow for a while is now almost full. We are 13 people at today’s date and a few more to be integrated in the team before we move out in the end of October. We expect to sign a new “Beetroot garden” (office) in the nearest future, but we’ll spare you the details until they are fixed.

Parallel to taking care of our Odessa “headgarden”, we are also deepening the cooperation with our Moldovan project partners where now around 15 developers are working with Beetroot client projects. We often enter these projects when they are in a very early stage, meaning that an important part of what we do is working out definitions of the scope and development plans together with clients, needless to say, a very stimulating process.

Over the past year, we now and then got the question if we deal with design services. For a long time the answer was no, mainly because we hadn’t found designers who were good enough and at the same time with the possibility to smoothly integrate into our model.  But for last couple of months, we are comfortable in answering yes to design requests. We have set up a small Beetroot Creative Studio in Chisinau together with one of Moldova’s most skilled and progressive designers. The first delivery will be our own new Beetroot website which will be launched in the next couple of weeks! And the Creative Director himself, Dima, is in Stockholm as we speak, designing the new website of a prominent consultancy company. A site which will be constructed in Moldova during the autumn. Since July we are also testing out working with a skilled team of designers in Kiev. While design and development often goes hand in hand, specifics of the work processes differ quite bit. That’s why we are in a stage of experimentation when it comes to the design services, much like the stage we were at for development services during last autumn.

Something else in the category of important, interesting and exciting news is our cooperation with a team in Kharkov highly skilled in iOS development. We are now engaging a couple of developers in building apps for people with disabilities for a Swedish client as well as building an app for an American start-up. Together with this team we can offer very premium iOS development and we are looking to work closer and closer with our friends in Kharkov during the autumn and winter.

Having summarized the Beetroot news, I would also like to mention a milestone in my own life. In the end of May I graduated from Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship (CSE) which mean I am officially a Master of engineering with a focus on technology based entrepreneurship. CSE has been an invaluable base of support during the past year and creating my master thesis forced me into thinking about some things concerning Beetroot in a wider way. For anyone interested in a detailed summary on how we came to a location decision for Beetroot, how we worked out our different models etc., just contact me and I’ll send over a copy of my paper “Assessment of IT outsourcing locations within CIS, a field study in Ukraine and Moldova”.

That’s all for now, stay tuned and we’ll try to keep you more regularly posted on our progress and experiences during the coming autumn. For now, we are just concluding that the first year for Beetroot has been way over expectations, and we consequently have high expectations for the upcoming year, which we will be trying to overachieve as well. 🙂

Crossing borders

We took a combined work and leisure trip to Chisinau Friday-Sunday with our Niva last week. In this way we got some real insights in the specifics of crossing the border between Ukraine and Moldova as two Swedes in a Ukrainian car (according to the reaction of the border guards, it’s nothing they see every day). We chose the passing in the very south-east of Moldova, which means avoiding Transnistria, but also that you technically need to pass the border twice since there is a small slice of Moldova to be passed before you exit to Ukraine and then go in again. The system for this is quite well organized, you just get a small note telling how many people you are in the car passing the first control, you continue on the one road to follow, and then you give the note back at the end of the slice. We got a hitchhiking Ukrainian border guard onboard for this stretch, it’s normal. The more unusual help we gave to a Ukrainian border guard at the “real” Moldovan border crossing. Basically, he had locked his key into his own Lada, and wanted to test if our Lada key could work instead, it did. 30 seconds of tweaking, and his car was open. Maybe we should consider investing in a steering wheel lock.

Next step was buying a green card -road insurance for Moldova, I thought it was a bit expensive (20 EUR), but was informed that this insurance was valid not only for Moldova, but also for Russia and Belarus, and for 15 days, so I would get a lot of value for my money… right. Anyway, the crossing continued with us getting some comments about our nice car, and the usual questioning session on what we have been doing in Ukraine, what we will be doing in Moldova and so on. One guy thought it was a fun thing to call us the Swedish hackers, so he did so about 10 times, each time followed by his characteristic laugh. A second guy, in the passport control, looked at our latest edition Swedish passports, turned them in inside out with the comment “what kind of a country is this?!”, it was followed by a discussion with a colleague weather we have finger prints or a chip in the little “window”, just for interest. A third guy took a careful look at our car papers, to make sure that we are really allowed to take this car abroad. It’s hard for a foreigner to officially own a car in Ukraine, so the papers of our car is on the old owner and we have a document saying that we are allowed to use it and so on, it’s normal. A fourth guy was seriously interested in joining us to the Leningrad concert on Saturday (which was truly great btw). The last step was paying the road tax of about 5 EUR, since we didn’t have any Moldovan Lei, we had to do it in another box where Ukrainian Hrivna was ok, for this, we got no less than 3 A4 papers as receipts.  The whole process took less than one hour waiting included, and in general, it was a very cozy and relaxed border crossing.

On Saturday we had the experience of crossing another, less official border, the one from Moldova to the generally unacknowledged autonomous region of Transnistria. The idea was to join one of our friends (and business partners) who were going to do some paragliding over the Dniester river. Arriving at the border, the first sight is parked tanks and soldiers equipped with rifles (no need to mention what kind) and dressed in Russian uniforms. You also get the chance to have your passport checked by KGB, in our case represented by a polite and nice guy. Filling the immigration card we got a special note to fill out our “otchestva” which means fathers name. Since my father is Eje, I am Andreas Ejevich Flodström and Gustav is Magnusovich Henman when travelling in Transnistria.

Right after crossing the border, we were stopped by the police at the first crossroad, apparently it’s a common procedure to do so with foreign registered cars. He was looking for some “safety issue” to remark on and it didn’t take him long to find our tinted windows (in fact, even looking for safety issues with two Swedes carefully driving with their seatbelts on is a bit funny considering the safety of some of the other cars that passed). I had to walk after our documents into the police station to sit down with the officer. I pretty much know the normal procedure by now: Let the officer sit down and talk about the seriousness of your “crime” and how much trouble this could cause you. Make him understand that you pretty much understand the non-seriousness of your crime, that you were not born yesterday and that you are not going to open your wallet without any proper motivation. So I got to read the actual paragraph in the law which states that our side windows shouldn’t be too dark. I asked him how we could fix the “problem” since it was obviously both dangerous and illegal and got the answer: “Naaaaaahhh, it’s nothing scary, just pay me the fee, and nobody will bother you more”. I asked to get a receipt of the fee (about 5 EUR), which I got and even managed to get him to write the date. He asked me for my “Otchestva”, I said I don’t have any, he said “but you have a father” and ones again I got a paper saying I am Andreas Ejevich Flodström, maybe I should put them all in a nice frame on the wall, maybe together with some Transnistrian Rubles. The officer wished me a good day and a safe trip, and we where off. On the way back a few hours later we were stopped again by his colleague who soon realized that we already had been there. “Ahhh, you have already visited us haven’t you? Then have a nice day!”

In general, I don’t want to make a to big deal about border crossings, but rather about the very beautiful landscape of both Moldova and Transnistria! I am truly impressed, and for every time I visit Moldova, I want to see and feel more of it. Considering how our partner relations in Chisinau are developing, I will probably get many more chances. Our overall experiences of Moldova, are highly boosted on the plus side. As for Transnistria, I would like to see much more of it, it’s probably the place in the world that has kept most from the Soviet times, a fact they seem to be quite proud of.

The soundtrack of this trip =)
http://youtu.be/QD9ODx2_nNU

No electricity

Yesterday evening the electricity went out for the whole block. It has shown some signs of instability for the whole week, but there have never been any longer breaks, so I expected something similar. Now the electricity has been out for 12 hours, and I am reminded on how electricity dependent I am. For the first few hours, I could continue working almost as usual in the dark with my mobile internet. My Samsung Android eats battery fast though, so I soon lost my connection. The warm water and the stove are both by gas based, so that’s fine, heating is also not electric, so no need to worry really. But my phone is out of charge, and soon my computer as well.

I had 30 to-dos on my list this morning, 6 of them I can perform without internet. Without computer, I could perform 2, and they are done. I guess better go and find some nice café, and then buy some candles for tonight.

A lunch to remember

The Institute

The InstituteWe are doing our best to establish ourselves in our new neighborhood, we are aiming to find a good “столовая” (сanteen) which could give us a good daily lunch to a sustainable price-level.  We put our faith into the Institute on the other side of the street – students usually have a chance to buy cheap lunch food. We went in, met the security guy and asked him if they had a good canteen we could use, and he said that: “Sure it’s over there at the left, but I will speak with the director at first”. We took three four steps into the building were a lady “stopped” us and asked who we are. We made a short explanation which seemed to satisfy this lady.  Nothing seemed to satisfy the next lady though, the director, the big boss. She had decided her mind about the unusual invaders without even letting us open our mouths, “This is not a canteen for everyone so you can leave”.  We said “thank you” and left the building.

The story could have ended there, but we also had our eye on the “Avto remont” (car service) on the other side of the institution territory (don’t ask me how they organized that thing).  So we just crossed the yard and went into the car workshop, simply to ask the guys some Niva related questions. We didn’t have time to open our mouths in there though until the director of the institute was behind us again. She had obviously followed the suspects over the territory and was now ready for some telling-off. She didn’t believe anything of what we said, and our explanation that we need the workshop for our Niva on the other side of the street didn’t seem likely for her. “There is no Niva on the other side of the street, show me your documents!!” I have rarely felt myself so disbelieved before, and our surprised smile over her reactions didn’t fall into taste either “What’s so funny!”.  Finally she let us go without calling the police (which she threatened to do), and we eventually found another canteen connected to the police institute. This turned out to be exactly what we were looking for, with borsch just in our taste, so now we have a lunch place.

After the lunch we had a short walk home and got our sights on an office building close by with the sign “office for rent”. We walked into the building (with our previous experience in mind) and asked for the director. We were showed in to a room packed with flowers and met with “Viktor Anatolevich”. He had been the director there since way back when they used to construct assembly lines for factories from all over the Soviet Union.  We were shown some pictures of the good old times, and also got a look at the room that now might become our office. Overall, this was a lunch to remember!

Moving to Odessa

I went up early to get going to Odessa and hit the road with two lives packed into the car and a good mood at around 09:00. I managed to drive for 20 min before the car stopped; I suspected an empty fuel-tank since I had my doubts about the fuel indicator’s correctness (which indicated the tank was fairly full).  I am starting to get quite used to these situations – so I grabbed a taxi, luckily I found one of those great old guys who are ready to help you with anything, so that’s what he did. We got the fuel, but the Niva didn’t start anyway, the battery discharged – and once more I found myself in a Lada towed by a random Taxi.  The car started from the towing and lack of fuel turned out to be the actual problem. I then discussed with my driver on how to negotiate the best price for a potential workshop visit. Taxidrivers masterplan: “I do all the talking, and if they ask, you are my friend from the Baltics, it will be 20 % cheaper than if you’re my friend from Sweden”. Luckily we didn’t have to execute the plan, and I took of towards Odessa after a warm hand shake and a after paying a very “democratic” (this is a very common way to describe anything that is fair) sum to the driver.

I arrived to Odessa without further problems. The roads between Kiev and Uman (half way) were awful, with literary thousands of holes in the road, the second part was better.  Another surprising thing for me was to realize that Russian was not enough for me to be able to speak to the citizens of Uman. It’s in the middle of Ukraine, so sure, Ukrainian would be the normal language, but still surprising considering that both Kiev and Odessa are cities where Russian works very well.

The road between Kiev and Odessa:

 

A day with Stas and the guys

Niva at Stas

Niva at StasThe plan for the day was to move to Odessa, it didn’t happen that way. We had asked our  guy Stas to make a full overview of our new Niva before the first master test, moving all of our stuff from Kiev to Odessa. I knew already that there would be a delay of some hours because some parts were missing, but I kept my hopes high and expected to get rolling at around 2 PM and do the 7 hour ride with style.  When I arrived there were still some “details” left to do, so I was invited to sit down and have a coffee in the meantime. What was supposed to be a small coffe-break turned out to be a full day with the guys in the workshop, I finally left them at around midnight.

It was a quite interesting afternoon for me in any case. I found a good corner of the workshop where I sat and worked for much of the day; let’s say I gave quite a good contrast to everything else in the environment. I also got surprisingly open minded stories about Stas private life, his three wives (from which wife no. 2 is the present one) and about his favorite movie (Braveheart). At around 10 PM, the radio arrived, but the antenna was missing, so we raced through the city to get it from one of the night open car part shops. I was informed (as usual) that the seatbelt wasn’t needed, because Stas has a good friend he can call if the police would stop us. Stas took all of the safety measures needed though since he made the sign of the cross every time we swept by a church. When I left the workshop at midnight, (a time when new clients still arrived), I had passively inhaled smoke roughly equivalent to one year of cigarette consumption.

Chernobyl visit

Chernobyl

ChernobylFriday was spent with a full day trip to Chernobyl under rainy and snowy conditions.  The road towards the contaminated areas was as bad as the weather, and our guide joked that our group had some similarities with the group from the horror film “Chernobyl diaries” (seems like a ridiculous film btw) with three couples, and a driver named Yuri.

PripyatWalking around the snowy and empty ghost city of Pripyat was both sad and fascinating, especially interesting as a museum of how a small Soviet paradise city could look like. Huge efforts were made in Pripyat to attract the best brains from all over Soviet including a modern warehouse, football stadium, hotel and amusement park. I was surprised how close to the reactor 4 we were allowed to be, and how relatively low the radiation levels now are there. We could also see the construction of the “New Safe Confinement” in full action, supposed to be ready in 2015 and replacing the Sacrophagus that has been standing since soon after the accident.

 

Getting to know Odessa

The first 4 Beetroot days in Odessa was focused on getting a grip of the place, both as a city and as a Beetroot location.  As Gustav already spent a month here 1,5 years ago, it was up to me to approve the location. Result: Approved.

Odessa offered a rather warm welcome for the season with some 8 degrees and sun during the Monday when we celebrated Yana’s birthday walking around the streets of Odessa. It has a comfortable wibe, beautiful architecture as well as warm hearted people who love to make a joke now and then. Having gone through a number of meetings with developers, small IT companies as well as the local incubator Wannabiz, I am also convinced that this is the right place to continue to build Beetroot both when it comes to IT outsourcing and our broader vision. For Beetroot’s account it has also been a good and busy week with positive developments in several directions.

One of the main tasks of the week was to search for a place to live. We did this using some of the local broker services. You call a woman, tell what you want, they search for it among their contacts and then call you back, any time of the day, for any reason.  Making phone calls seems to be the main value creating activity for these brokers and every meeting should be booked, confirmed, rebooked, time-changed, place-changed, confirmed again, and of course followed up on, preferably before the meeting has ended so that the follow up can be followed up. 92 phone calls and 6 flat visits (yes, an average of 15.3 calls per flat) led to results though; we have a flat in Odessa, which should offer a comfortable living for quite some time to come. It even offers a guest room, so friends, very welcome!

How to buy a Lada Niva in Kiev

The other big event of the week took place yesterday.  We had planned to do some cross country skiing with our room mate and his wife, but the weather wanted something else, and offered a couple of degrees above 0 and rain. What would you do on a rainy Saturday in Kiev? We decided to go buy a Lada Niva. Well, the plan was to at least start to look at Nivas to see what was out there. After all, life has felt a bit empty since the old Lada was parked in St Petersburg in November, and a Niva is actually a real car, which can be used both on and off the road…

We went out to the “Авто Ринок” (Avto Rinok) which is a car market some 20 mins drive outside of Kiev. People come here if they have a car to sell or buy. Judging of the amount of sellers and potential buyers at the location, it seemed to be the most common way of giving a car a new owner in Kiev. It could also be that car changes owners a lot. However, at the first, we were a bit disappointed with the low rate of “made in the USSR” cars that we were looking for. But after some minuets of walking we found what we were looking for, 3 Lada Nivas, in quite different conditions. We started in the low end, testing an old piece of eeehh, car, which seemed to have been painted with silver metallic spray just before arrival to the market to cover the worst beauty flaws. After a small test ride we realized there were more more to it than just flaws.

With the next one, we fell in love, and bought 3 hours later. The start price was slightly over our budget, but the condition of it indicated very good value for money. To be really sure of this, we took it to our own car guru Mr “80 Hrivna” Stas (probably the coolest guy on earth btw). With the seller having his friends with him, we having Yana as our own negotiator, and Stas having is guys looking at the “soon to be ours” Niva, we were as most 10 people standing under the car and discussing the condition of this or that part. With mandatory ok from Stas, and some tough price negotiations from Yana, we are now one Lada Niva richer. Isn’t she beautiful?;)

Fryday W

Fryday

FrydayThe Fryday event was enjoyable as always, and this time extra valuable for Beetroot when being an official partner of the event together with the other “well known Swedish brands”.  We heard an interesting presentation from the Swedish ambassador and we got a chance to mingle around with both Swedish and local business people in Kiev. Great fun!