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.