I am writing on the bus between Lidköping and Göteborg. For once, I have spent a day at our official office address back in Sweden, I will spend another two later this week, doing some sales activities and paper work. I came back to Sweden on Friday last week after having spent two productive weeks in Ukraine. After some time for reflection over New Year, we spent a full day mini-conference to reflect backwards and plan our time forward in more detail. The biggest outcome was a decision for a relocation. By the end of February, we will leave Kiev and relocate to Odessa. Why? Because putting all the parameters on the table, it makes sense for us to do so… It has a slightly lower geographical availability seen from Sweden but it has better location seen from the perspective of where most of our Ukrainian and Moldovan development resources are located at the moment. Weighting costs, skills and a couple of other factors together Odessa itself should also give us a competitive advantage. Kiev will be missed, but not lost, there will be plenty of visits to Kiev and we intend to keep the good collaborations as well as friends we have made there. One of the later collaborations is the mentorship role both me and Gustav have taken at Eastlabs. Eastlabs is a start up accelerator based in Kiev which invests in, and help out hi-tech start-ups at the very first steps of their operations. As mentors, me and Gustav hope to be able to exchange some ideas with these bright minded entrepreneurs.
After spending a week in January in Kiev, we jumped onto two different night trains. Gustav’s taking him to Chisinau, where a bigger project as well as few good leads is about to get going. Mine taking me back to the very first location of our journey – Kharkov, also for client requests, but also to build stronger ties to our partner teams. We are happy to announce an official collaboration on Python development with anvil8.com. I also got the chance to try the Kharkov ski-slope not fully convincing called “Switzerland”, but still offering a good amount of fun together with the Anvil8 team.
On the 29th I will fly back to Kiev, and on the 30th Beetroot will be representing Swedish entrepreneurship in Ukraine at the Frydays event “Swedish Business in Ukraine”. Before that I will enjoy the IT Innovations Expo fair in Göteborg as well as meeting my group mates at Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship.
Some of you, who read my tearful farewell of the Lada, and then have seen that I haven’t updated the blog at all for almost 2 months, might have thought that I went down in some kind of a Lada missing depression. While I truly miss the Lada, the real answer to why there has been no blogging lately is that we have been extraordinarily busy, mainly in a good way, but also with trying to recover from some kind of a Virus that has been hunting me ever since the last Lada journey and only now have decided to leave for good (let’s hope). Looking back at the past two months, they seem to be some of the most value creating so far for Beetroot with a couple of major milestones achieved and some good enrichment of experience (take a look at the posts“Kick start in Zaporizhya”, ”Mapping the Moldovan IT environment”and “Visits and getting back to Gothenburg”). Here is a wrap up of this year:
Around three and a half months has passed since we arrived to Kiev with our things packed in an old Lada, some contacts and a rough idea of what we were going to set up in Ukraine. Personally I feel that I have grown a year or two in experience, and I even need to take a look at my own blog to get an overview of what we have done. We started with a lot of lose threads, a lot of visions and a cloud of ideas, and have been working hard to nail down our concept while dealing with practical matters of everyday life and business. If to look at some of the goals we set up early in the process, we are business wise slightly ahead of where we ambitiously aimed to be at this point. We have a handful of clients who we feel that we deliver good value to with our 12 active team members covering up for around 8 full time positions. Our most important people, our developers and specialists get market oriented salaries, forgetting the small detail that me and Gustav are yet to receive our first pay check, our numbers look good as well.
This autumn, just about everything has circled around work, which was well needed. We left for Christmas holidays with a good base to stand on, some good reason to relax a bit and with a rather clear picture of what direction we are moving in. It hasn’t been much time for non work discoveries though, and while the spring will mean plenty of hard work, it’s also time to balance the time a bit more. It’s probably about time to move up from the floor, out of the office and leave the LAN party state.
2013 is expected to be full of challenges, and things will take new and surprising directions in one way or another, it’s just not worth guessing too much about it at this point, but staying alert, focus at doing a good job and developing Beetroot well, rather than fast. For
the experience base, I see only a fast line though.
The beginning of December was the time of pleasant visits to Kiev, first by Robert and Einar from CATE Ventures, and then by my own sister and her seconds half. The first one a great chance to discuss our concept in more detail and map out a future direction, and the second a chance to see some more things on the Kiev to see list which I haven’t been so good at yet. I went home to Gothenburg mid December to finish off the first part of my master thesis while Gustav went back to Moldova to kick start our first projects there. It’s great to spend some time back home, to catch up with both family and friends, and to focus on the thesis for a while. It took me only about 24 hours back in Sweden though before my thoughts where back to things to improve in Ukraine and Moldova…
We just couldn’t get enough of night trains to interesting places, so after having spent one night back in Kiev we hit the rails again for an 18 hours train ride to Moldova. It happened to be the guest workers train taking Moldovan workers from Moscow back to their families. We found the train to be pretty empty, got our own coupe and got a good catch up of sleep before we reached the border. The Moldovan border guards were by far the nicest we ever met, and the pleasant experience of Moldova continued throughout the week. One reason why we went to Chisinau was an invitation from a friend at the Swedish embassy in Moldova, who I met a couple of weeks earlier in Moscow. He thought that it might be a good idea to research our opportunities Chisinau he was right. He connected us with some key persons from the IT industry and we did our homework well, after a week packed with meetings, the feeling was that we had met pretty much a majority of the interesting collaboration partners within IT in Moldova (we started to feel sure of this when they started cross referring to each other). We found the potential for us here to be great, from a short term perspective maybe even slightly better than in Ukraine and to make long story short, Beetroot now has operations in both Ukraine and Moldova, and plan to continue on that route. Being active in two countries has both drawbacks and benefits, but for now, with the different set of opportunities that each country gives, as well as the risk limitation effects, the benefits are more.
Chisinau would surprise most first time visitors arriving with a package of the most common western prejudices about Eastern Europe, I was surprised myself even though I consider my package of Eastern European prejudices to be smaller than most westerners. The general language knowledge is impressively high with the younger generation typically knowing at least 3 languages, Moldovan, Russian and English/Italian/French/German. A strong proof of the Moldovan talent for languages is the Swedish company Samres. They have set up a call centre in Chisinau where 80 Moldovans are employed to speak Swedish on the phone with Swedish elders ordering transportation We were already informed about this phenomenon by Gustav’s grandmother who uses their services, but where happy to be invited to take a look. We were stunned by the slightly surrealistic experience to hear young educated Moldovans speak our native language, knowing that many of them have yet to visit Sweden. Another interesting clash of impressions came on the train back to Kiev, passing by small villages that didn’t look to add too much to the overall GDP, we enjoyed super fast data traffic on our mobiles. Moldova has one of the fastest internet speeds in Europe, partly thanks to Telia Sonera owned Moldcell. While writing this I am in a small French village, and longing back to Moldovan mobile internet speeds.
We spent a full week in the city Zaporizhya (ZP), where we kick started a new Beetroot team of 4 for an important client. The search of the right team for this client really gave us a wake-up call in terms of strategy since we did found it harder than we had expected to fulfill their needs with a reasonable cost for us and them, if to do it in Kiev. This made us search our way further out in the regions, and we landed in ZP thanks to Anton, a friend, and nowadays business partner, Gustav met on a conference in Kiev a couple of weeks earlier. From the week we spent in ZP, only good memories remains. We where warmly welcomed to stay in the home of Anton and his wife Oksana, and we soon got a close and great relation to the whole new Beetroot team after integrating into the office environment. An intensive week of team building, interviews, tests, negotiations and contracts passed with satisfying results for all parties. We could even afford ourselves to visit a Bachelors party for a good friend of Anton as well as a visit to a very special house where local artists have decided to settle and live.
ZP is a very industrial city, unfortunately with some work to be done on the emission side, but also with a wonderful island park called Khortytsia which we gave a visit. Next time I hope to visit some of the more industrial sites such as the ZAZ car factory, which used to produce the classical Zaporozhets cars, but that now produces for some of the Asian brands. Also the airplane engine producers Motor Sich that produces various engines mainly for the CIS markets is of great interest. In terms of our company strategy, it has become obvious to us that the place to be for IT outsourcing purposes is rather in the regions than in the capital, at least for two highly flexible and dynamic young entrepreneurs who are ready to get onto a nightrain in any direction when needed. One positive side effect of this is that we are “forced” to learn and get first hand experiences from various interesting locations. My 60 ECTS master thesis which is in production will be largely focused at mapping out various mid-sized cities in Ukraine and Moldova in terms of feasibility for IT outsourcing from the perspective of a small Swedish start up. Moldova? Yeah… that’s where much of our December focus will be.
After having finished of the week in Moscow with a get together of some friends from the Swedish embassy, celebrating a birthday – the aim was set for St Petersburg, well aware that there where some aspects of the health of our Lada that could make it difficult. It turned out that the strange sound which occurred on the way to Moscow was the generator which had shaken out of position. Realizing this only at the Sunday of departure with no car workshops open gave me two options, either turn back to Moscow, fix the car the coming day somewhere somehow, or hope that I would make it all the way on the battery charge as long as I never switched off the engine. Considering that I planned to go no further with the Lada after this trip, and my eagerness to get to St Petersburg that day, I chose the latter alternative.
Considering I am now in Kirovsk outside St Petersburg, with the Lada safely parked at the street, it was a valid decision. 5 hours earlier, when I was standing on the road in the middle of nowhere, exactly half way, exhausted and with a completely empty battery unable to go anywhere, I was in doubt. This is a time when you really need a supporting hand from a real Russian babushka (grandmother). Walking a few hundred meters from the place of my unintended stop I found a babushka selling berries of different kinds, the kind you will find at any major road in Russia at this time of the year. I don’t know if her mechanical skills where typical or not, but she was happy to open up the trunk of her own Lada, sharing her well equipped toolbox, and involving herself in the attempts to try to restart my car. I guess I have to admit that I was a bit lucky when she revealed that she had an extra battery in the car “just in case”, which she was happy to sell to a Swede in need. That battery took me and the Lada to Kirovsk, where she now is resting, she is waiting for someone to take care of her, and take her to new adventures. For now, I am thankful for the 6000 km and the 6 breakdowns that we have had together on the Russian and Ukrainian roads. She never gave up, gave a lot of joy and life experience and I say good bye with mixed emotions at the end of an era…
What an ambitious event! The Russian government with prime minister Dmitriy Medvedev had really put a lot of effort into making the Open Innovation Forum in Moscow a truly prestigious one with guests such as, the prime minister himself, entrepreneurs like Sir Richard Branson, various ministers of both Russia and other countries, company leaders as the CEO of Ericsson Hans Vestberg and leading people in the fields of science and innovation. I was selected to take part as one out of 100 young innovators, 50 Russian and 50 international. I have rarely met so many interesting people at one place so I really tried to maximize the time spent in communication with people. Four days is a short time, but I managed to get a lot out of it, spending quality time and exchanging ideas with innovators and entrepreneurs from both Russia and abroad. I took the chance to walk around the exhibition area to speak with Russian high tech companies as well as business incubators and technology innovation centers from all over Russia. I just counted my collection of business cards to some 50 pieces, from which at least 20 goes into the category of “very interesting to follow up on” people. At least a couple of those are potential customers for Beetroot and many are interesting from a long term perspective. So, work still to do there… Richard Branson gave a good advice during his Q&A session, whenever you meet people who you find interesting, let them know that by dropping them just a line or two over email when you come home, and you can come back to the same persons even a few years later in some cases.
My speech? Yes I had it, I as one of the lucky few from the youth forum section to get to present my project in front of innovators and entrepreneurs. The 7 min I was supposed to speak was shortened to 5 because of some time schedule issues. I did my best though, and made a passionate presentation about my first meeting with Russia, the fascination that kept me learning and discovering more in the following 3 years, Beetroot resources business model and vision as well as a few words about exchange in innovation focusing on Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship. I felt that the whole thing was a bit squeezed because of the time limit, but at least I got good response and feedback from people afterwards.
The era of Lada travelling is soon to be over for this time. I used it to go to Moscow and will try to take it back to Saint Petersburg after the Open Innovation Forum event. The ride from Kiev wasn’t too bad. I started at 04:30 in the morning and arrived to the border according to plan at around 08:30. I had expected at least some hours of waiting for the border crossing, but the whole process went shockingly fast, just 40 min with both the Ukrainian and the Russian controls. One of the border officials just couldn’t resist commenting on the odd combination of a young Swedish guy in an old rusty Lada with: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself – what’s your salary in Sweden?!”. The journey had two major challenges though, the first one being that the heating system in the Lada is long gone. As I was driving north, the weather got colder and colder to the level of ice being inside of the coupé. My solution to this was to dress accordingly – in my sleeping bag, it helped at least a bit… The second problem was that with some 300 km left to Moscow, the engine started to sound awfully bad in speeds over 40 km/h. So I adapted accordingly to running and drove in 40 for the rest of the way. I arrived 15 hours after I started at 21:30 local time, frozen, tired but happy.
I am just about to leave northwards, to Moscow with my good old Lada… She has had a bad week we could call it. It started with the battery being completely empty when I came back from Sweden. In times like this, it’s good to live on a hill, and it’s good to have 3 strong German business partners who can give her a push down the hill for a fresh restart. It didn’t help for long though since she decided to refuse to start two days in a row (at the same street), and we had to tow her home with a taxi, breaking the towline no less than 3 times in 3 km… An old Lada needs care, that’s why we pushed her down to Stas and his crew yesterday morning. I decided to take the chance to spend some time to get my hands dirty in the workshop environment, learn a few things about Lada mechanics, sit down with the guys for some coffee, some small talk and listen radio Chanson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_chanson) – by all means an invaluable life experiences.
My Lada is now in her very best mood and spins like a cat… I will try to keep her happy all the way to Moscow.
5 days passes fast when you have a busy schedule, I had filled it with some family quality time as well as meetings with clients, potential clients and sales partners. I also spent a full day at the Encubator, it’s an open office space with some 35 bright entrepreneurs are working hard with forming a business case around their technology based innovations for commercialization. Being there for just one day gave a great injection of inspiration for me, knowing that some of the concepts formed here will rise as successful tech start ups with my friends and group mates at the steering wheel. A special thanks to the team “super fast wireless data transfer” for lending me a work space.
Beetroot took some big steps forward this week as some of the leads that was generated early in time has started to pay off, with a couple of projects started with new clients and also some delivers to happy clients. Writing this, I am at the bus between Warsaw and the Ukrainian border, which means I did catch both my plane and the bus without making any drama this time. We have an exciting week to come with our German partners sourcingbull.de visiting for a couple of days, some delivery to be made and a new sales approach to be tried out starting tomorrow. My girlfriend will also be in town, adding to our forces, as well as working at the Kiev film festival.