Friday 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.
Walking 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.
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!
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?;)
The 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!
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…