I’ve started a billion dollar publicly traded SaaS company for my first startup and then started a healthcare company out of my passion for improving healthcare in the United States. Now for my third company, I’m working with my friends to create a sales automation platform that helps sales teams sell more, faster.
What was your project about and why did you decide to launch it in Ukraine?
Sales is one of the oldest professions in the world, however the technology to help sales people is very old. You have the telephone, email and maybe you have CRM. But that’s really it. While other professions have gotten amazing software and hardware now, sales people still rely on very old technologies.
Quite simply, using sales automation technologies like JetBridge will save salespeople at least 2 hours per day and increase their revenue anywhere from 5% to 30%. Really.
So we asked ourselves, wouldn’t it be great if salespeople could send an email and know when their customers opened it, to not have to write the same emails over and over again, to be able to call someone from your email client, and to have it all automatically record to your CRM?
In the United States, these types of tools are starting to become available to sales teams, but they are very expensive and very unreliable. We knew we could build a better product, and offer it not just to Americans but to our fellow Ukrainian brothers and sisters as well.
We also decided to launch in Ukraine as well as in the United States because we have engineers in both countries, and I have noticed that the technology used by salespeople in Ukraine is very old fashioned.
Finally, I’ve been to Ukraine many times, and it is one of my adopted countries — I love the people, the culture and the spirit here very much. Ukraine today reminds me of South Korea in the 1980s, there is so much young energy and potential for growth.
Have you thought about any other countries?
Of course we must always be successful in the United States first because that is our homebase from here in Silicon Valley, and it is of the course the largest market in the world. This year alone in 2017, it is expected that the Fortune 500 and Global 1000 companies will spend over $3 trillion dollars on enterprise technology! Much of that is in America, so of course that is our primary focus, but JetBridge is a technology that is agnostic of the country. If you are in sales and sell on the phone and by email — JetBridge (or using one of our competitors) will make you more money. Period.
Aren’t you afraid of the corruption and bureaucracy in Ukraine?
There is corruption and bureaucracy in every large country, that is unavoidable unfortunately, but entrepreneurs are risk takers. We think about the promise of a better tomorrow, not to complain and worry about the problems of today.
What do you think about the price of IT talent in Ukraine? Is it worth the money or complete overpayment?
For outsourced IT labor the prices are fair, but for innovation work it is expensive because you must train and educate the Ukrainian staff to think like Silicon Valley, to work like Silicon Valley, to have team spirit like Silicon Valley. This can be very difficult. Great strides are being made in India and China in this regard, but in Ukraine the thinking is still far behind.
The world is changing quickly with new technologies and Ukraine is not keeping up to date. For example, it is very difficult to find great Python engineers here in Ukraine but easy to find good Java engineers. In Silicon Valley, no one programs in Java anymore — it is the language of outsourced IT software houses, not innovative startups.
And that is the greatest danger for Ukraine — many people are happy for now to make some money having a “good job” in an IT software house, but in 5 to 7 years their clients will no longer be from America or England or Scandinavia. They will be from China and India.
Because China and India know that the real economic weapon of the new world economy is not oil — it is technology innovation that happens in startups. Startups are the new global weapon, and Ukraine is losing to the rest of the world’s IT markets because many engineers here are happy to make a couple of thousand euros a month working in a software house. Meanwhile the rest of the world is learning and innovating at lightning speed. We must have government and oligarch support here in Ukraine to get the ecosystem to grow faster.
Think about it this way. In Kiev now there is Uber, and of course all over Ukraine there is Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp. Where does all the advertising and commission money go? It does not stay in the Ukraine, it all goes back to Silicon Valley. In essence, because Ukraine does not innovate as much as it can — because young people think it’s safer to work in an IT software house — all that potential money in Ukraine goes to the United States!
I tell my friends who are engineers in Ukraine, if you really love Ukraine — stop working in an IT software house and work for a startup. Ukraine will change over time to become a technology innovation hub for Eastern Europe, but this will take time because it will take a change in thinking from the smart young people today who mostly want security and not to take great risks.
Of course, as they say, the greatest risk is not taking one at all, and this is especially true of Ukraine in 2017 and beyond. But let’s not get it wrong — Ukraine has unlimited potential to be an innovation powerhouse of not just Eastern Europe, but on a global stage. Ukrainians are technically excellent.
Employees in Ukraine have got used to cash remuneration and are not accustomed to equity. What would you persuade to change this situation?
I once had an engineer in an IT software house and he was good so I asked his boss if I could give him some equity. He said that this was a “dangerous idea” in the Ukraine.
But I gave the stock options to the engineer anyway, and the engineer complained that the vesting was “4 years.” Little does he know that most stock options are 4 to 5 years, and stock options are how I bought my house. Stock options are how most people I know buy multi-million dollar homes in San Francisco.
In our industry, if you don’t have stock options, you will never build real wealth. But of course, owners of IT software houses don’t want to give stock options to employees because in Ukraine owners like to keep 100%.
For me a good mix is for the founding CEO to have 50% (to retain control and be able to represent all employees effectively), the investors have 22.5% and have 27.5% owned by employees.
You have started your career as a sales person and I believe you have experienced many frustrating situations dealing with customer objections. Are there any tips you could share with novices to the profession?
Yes, great question. I am proud to be a salesperson, but the key to great sales is this — stop selling and start listening! Your customer has a problem — shut up and figure out how to make them more money. If you can do that, they will tell their friends and your business will grow. Simple.
In your opinion what is trendy in IT word right now and worth efforts in terms of market opportunities?
SaaS still is a great business. And B2B in mobile is just starting — there is going to be a lot of money made in B2B mobile.
What kind of opportunities are open for your Sales Departments via the project JetBridge?
Salespeople spend too much time writing emails, leaving voicemails, and entering CRM information. Machine learning and automation software can solve much of these problems and automate them so that salespeople can do what they do best — which is to listen 😉