mEET THE boss
We Are All Global Nomads Now
Val Jerdes, a successful entrepreneur, patron of start-ups and the founder of 'Yellow Door' co-working space tells us about his mission in Russia and a place "where ideas can have sex".

by Anna Timokhovich

Our Skype conversation started with Val surprising me by switching smoothly over to excellent Russian and back again. He is a very positive and inspiring person, filled with boundless knowledge about startups, with whom it was an absolute pleasure speaking to.

Tell me about what you've been doing around the world, in Russia and the CIS?

The big context is we work with government agencies to build innovation ecosystems in their countries. We've worked with Ireland, Chile, Singapore, a lot of regions in the US and Canada and because I speak a little Russian, my partners sent me over to the CIS. Yellow Door was one of the projects. We've worked with a number of governments. But what we felt was that we could do a bottom up, not a top down - not a top executive driven, but a very natural and organic, innovation ecosystem. So that's why we opened Yellow Door and it's been an interesting experiment. We've done quite a bit of programming to 'viyavliat'' (bring out), educate and give support to entrepreneurs who want to get exposure to something in complement to a government program, eg. Idea for Free.

Please explain that more detailed.

The idea is that in Silicon Valley, the last decade, we've seen a huge influx of entrepreneurs and investors from India and China. They have two strong sides in Engineering and Business. What we've found is, that they are very supportive of their own communities. The Indians have something called TiE and hundreds of thousands sign up for this group. They're brilliant at it. The Chinese similarly. What that's allowed them to do is to go into venture capital, so they were able to enter partnership positions in significant venture capital groups in the Valley. Not only is their engineering strong but if you do have a start up you can say "Hey! Can I raise funds with you?" and the people will support you. And so our thought was, Russia is renowned for its engineering, mathematical skills, its educational system, the people are there but organising Russians, historically is more difficult.

If there's something serious like a war we come together but otherwise we like to argue.

(Laughs) Exactly! There's a long history of Russians arguing here in the valley. But we advocate, we fight for and really support Russian entrepreneurs here. Because what we've noticed is that in the venture groups there's not a single Russian in a partnership position yet. Although there's a lot of engineers here, there's virtually none in the business, in the start up side.

What about programmers?

Not yet unfortunately, which is a big loss to us, because when a significant investment group wants to open an office in Russia they need to scout to get the deal flow. When they ask China or India, there are many aspiring partners who say that they'll do it. They'll spend a few years, open an office and do it. But when they ask about Russia nobody is there. So what we're finding is, that connecting Russian entrepreneurs and engineers to the startup ecosystem here is very important. At least, until we bring enough venture capitalists into the partnership ranks here. So that's our primary role.

What does Yellow Door 'open'?

We create Yellow Door in other places as launch pads.So startups don't need to spend thousands of dollars and sit in some random co-working and figure out how to do it. It's not easy to network. We can do that from Moscow: we can train them in the basics and the key elements. Then we have a landing pad in the Silicon Valley for them.
The startup's mission is to get initial traction. In startup language that means getting pilot customers to test their product, use it and hopefully pay for it. If you're lucky, all of these. Secondly, meet with potential advisors from the industries and build a kind of board of advisors. The third is of course raise money. It is so difficult to do this with US investors without those two first things. If someone just showed up here it would take them 6 months to a year to do this, we do this in 4 weeks. Really accelerate their entry into the Valley. And that's the value we bring.

So it's full support from A-Z Bringing them here, working on the pitch. Let's call it mentoring them along the whole process.

Yes, we do all that and in addition we work with Russian investors, who would like to get exposure in the West, to build portfolio or investment startups here. They want to learn, to co-invest with strong local ones. Good investors make good start-ups.
What we've been doing is educating the start-up and the investment community.

What you're offering is a unique thing - business coaching. Russian's don't really have strong mentorship programs.

Yes, and we've been really successful. There's a wonderful delta there. We've helped startups get into the top accelerators of the world.
'Yellow Door' not only helps start-ups with advice, buy also connects them with global sponsors.
How long have you been working in Russia?

We've been in Russia for 12 years.There is a lot going on in startups here, in Moscow especially.What's your goal? Yellow Door is a laboratory in some sense where we can experiment and get together, not to make money really. It's to network and work shoulder to shoulder with a group of like minded individuals. That's our goal.

Why this location?

It's central, convenient and lovely. But what we're finding is that for art, dining, movies that's a wonderful opportunity to just bring different people together with their creative ideas.

I want to tell you about an event that The Moscow Times Movie Club had at Yellow Door. On the Russian Old New Year, they watched "The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath," an iconic film by director Eldar Ryazanov. There were 15-20 planned attendees but people just kept showing up and joining in. Russians, expats, all from different industries and walks of life. The big group ended up eating salad 'Olivie', drinking, mingling and discussing the movie afterwards. This is a perfect example of what you've been telling me about Yellow Door, about it being a place for people to come together, interact and share ideas. Just in a different format to startups.

(Laughing) That's wonderful, what a great case study. This is the reason we've created Yellow Door - for people to meet! When a lot if diverse people meet up, almost seemingly by accident, something amazing happens. That's how we designed the place and it's a positive place without 'ponti' (showing off).

Where you forget about politics, money and ideas, come here to play.

I have an even better phrase for you, as Steven Johnson says: "Where ideas can have sex!" (we both laugh).

Leave me with a quote or a piece of advice to someone just starting out with their business venture?

The world market is not as far or as difficult as you think and there are very specific 'hodi' (moves) that you can do to access it. We are all global nomads now and it's very accessible. It's really doable thing to realise now. It's an opportunity to make big money, an incredible way to do business and make a positive impact on the world.
Meet the Boss at
Yellow Door
Strastnoy bulvar, 12/1
+7 495 966-15-40