A new Ukrainian investment company was founded not long ago, which has already invested into a Kyiv-based project Easy Ads. The company's founder Oleksii Vitchenko has told us about the Digital Future investment strategy.
– Tell us a little about yourself. What projects did you run before Digital Future?
– As a student, I got interested in marketing and realized that everything in the company should be customer-focused. In those days, I evaluated the effectiveness of the fact that the business is migrating online and that doing business online is possible from anywhere in the world. The world is becoming globalized: you can run a business, for instance, from Bangladesh or Thailand – if only it is the proper product, and one is able to organize support for this product. When it came to building a business, I found this knowledge very useful. I've been in the business for 10 years already. I’ve successfully implemented a number of global projects in the field of e-commerce. It's what I like and what I am good at.
– How was Digital Future founded? Was it a relatively new idea or a well-thought-out decision?
– The idea is not new and I’ve been thinking of that a long time. Money should work, so I try to reinvest them. The company was founded when the right time came. In other words, we started thinking seriously about foundation of a company when we felt a real necessity in doing of this. It is not a secret that many foreign investors are now closing their projects and are stopping investing in our country. Therefore, we feel there is a double responsibility we take.
– Did you attract any additional funding or spend your own money?
– We operate the funds earned with our own business. But we are open to offers from third parties. Why not to share the risks?
– In what projects does Digital Future invest?
– We invest in unique projects, technological start-ups, and companies that are aimed at the online environment and the global markets. We're definitely not going to invest in another startup dedicated to a discount system. We have recently received around 10 such offers, but we consider this trend unpromising. We also do not invest in offline.
– Your company has already invested in a startup called Easy Ads. Describe how the transaction was closed.
– We had a number of meetings to get to know the team and their project better. We also asked narrowly focused specialists for their expertise. In this way, we assessed the risks and saw the real prospects of investing. We gave the guys 4 months to prepare a prototype and make sales. Then we made them an offer and set up a deal.
– Tell us a little about your investment strategy.
– First of all, we invest in the startups that we understand and that fit our expertise. We specialize in projects in the fields of e-commerce, digital marketing, mobile technology and other high-tech solutions for businesses and consumers. We have already received about 200 applications from projects and arranged a large amount of personal meetings. I can say that there are many talented teams with interesting ideas, but most of them do not know how to build a real, successful business. For instance, there was a team with a ready prototype, but it was unable to make a sale. We considered their project promising and created a custom business case for the startup, which will help them attract customers and investment in the future. In my opinion, each particular project requires an individual approach. We follow this principle in our company.
– What should startup be like to get investment from Digital Future?
– There are a few basic criteria of the startup assessment at early stage: 1) the team, 2) what project has already done, 3) how a startup is supposed to make money, 4) the project achievements: traffic, registrations rate, income. If a startup already has a history, it is important to see whether the team has managed to make money from the product / service. If that did not happen in a year or two, it means something has gone wrong. Primarily, startup should be a business.
– Are you currently considering any other Ukrainian projects? What sum of money do you plan to invest in them and what could you offer apart from money?
– Within the next 2-3 months, we plan to invest in 3-4 Ukrainian startups. While we are still beginners, we do not have budget constraints. The point is that each project is absolutely unique. Thus, we do not limit ourselves to specific amounts. The amounts and the terms on which we are working with projects are also completely different. We try to find the best formula for each project and a win-win combination, where both the startup and we could benefit from. It doesn’t necessarily have to be money. We offer profound expertise in the field of e-commerce and digital marketing. Also, the teams we are interested in are welcomed to share our office space and the equipment they need.
– Do you plan to attract foreign investors into Digital Future?
– Yes, we do. We already have agreements with several partners. We can’t give any names yet, since the negotiations continue.
– How do you assess the current state of the venture capital sphere in Ukraine? What do you think should be done to improve it?
– Of course, the current situation is pretty tough. Many foreign investors withdraw their money from the market, including the venture investors. But we are patriots and we believe in our country and above all, in people. That is why I think we are one of the few who were able to enter this market in these uneasy times and who are willing to invest in Ukrainian startups. I must mention that there is capital in Ukraine, and it is easy to find investment for quality projects. I emphasize: for quality projects. Of course, the investors most of all believe in the IT-industry of Ukraine. Although, the IT-outsourcing growth is expected to slow down this year.
– What climate does currently prevail on the Ukrainian investment market?
– In general, Ukrainian investors are ready to invest. Usually they choose projects that are aimed at foreign markets, the ones that they can understand, and that fit their business profile and strategy. Each company has its own strategy.
– Can the Ukrainian startups compete with dynamic Israeli and American projects? What distinguishes them from western companies? How do you think?
– Of course, in America and Israel, for example, there is a well-developed ecosystem of startups. We are a decade behind them. For American startups it is easy to test their ideas, because they are located in the largest consumer market in the world. For Ukrainians, it is much more complicated. Test results on the domestic market don’t always allow to draw correct conclusions and forecasts. American and Ukrainian mentality are very different. Our market is, of course, not so large. Startups, and thus, the investors could not earn that much from it.
– Could you give some advice to young Ukrainian entrepreneurs?
– Be determined and ambitious, but start with something small. Do not try to conquer the whole world at once.
Never put off what can be done today. Time is money. Generally, it is better to launch even a raw product, but earlier, rather than one with a higher quality, but later.
Nothing is impossible.
Build a business so that it starts making money from the start. Otherwise, it's not a business.
Use kaizen principles in your work.