What does your business do & what made you decide to start your own business?
In August 2010, I founded Anima Venture Partners, an incubator focused on assisting entrepreneurs with the scaling of their businesses, providing strategic and corporate finance advice as well as management consulting services. The primary purpose of founding the Company was to provide a vehicle for me to work with my friend and former business school classmate, Nina Pogossova, on the development of Travelmenu.
Realising that the online travel market in Russia and the Ukraine was about ten years behind the US and Western Europe, Nina decided to set-up Travelmenu, together with her brother to address the emerging B2C online travel market in those countries. I had spent the first two years post my undergraduate degree working at lastminute.com during the dot.com boom years of 1999-2001. This experience was extremely formative to me and I had been playing with the idea to take the entrepreneurial leap for a long time. When Nina and I started talking during the spring of 2011 it became obvious that we shared the same passion for building a business and travel.
As a first step we determined that we needed to refine Travelmenu’s business strategy and start raising venture capital funds. Up until the securing of our initial Series A, none of us paid ourselves for Travelmenu but spent countless hours of sweat and tears. While I understand that not everyone may be in a position to work for free for over a year on setting up a start-up, my dual set-up with Anima Venture Partners provided me with a simple way out. By taking on a number of smaller projects alongside my work on Travelmenu, I was able to keep myself above water financially during that period. Now that the financing has been secured, I have devoted myself completely to grow Travelmenu into the leading travel consumer brand in Russia and the CIS.
What have been your biggest challenges so far & how did you overcome these challenges?
I had heard many stories about raising VC funding and in fact been a growth investor myself for three years prior to working on Travelmenu, but nothing could have prepared me for the stresses involved when you are on the other side of the table, pitching your business time after time and working on convincing outsiders to believe in you and your team. Having said that it was also exhilarating and mind-opening! During the fundraising process Nina and I also significantly benefited from speaking to lots of very experienced and knowledgeable investors about our business model, which we were able to refine significantly with their help. Hence raising funds was both the most challenging but also the most demanding activity to date.
Another challenge is to attract the right type of people. In the early start-up days it’s very difficult to pay employees adequately, which means you have to find other ways to motivate and engage them. We are lucky in that we were able to convince some people, who we had previously worked with, to join us on our adventure.
What advice or tips would you give to other business owners?
There is always a Tomorrow, even if Today is difficult. Don’t give up! The most important trait that will lead to success is persistence and endurance. Be flexible and adapt to changing context without being thrown by it. Act quickly and decisively but don’t think that you know things best. But most importantly never give up. Starting a business is a long slog and if one is just looking for a quick buck then you probably will be disappointed. However, if you have a long breath and keep at it the rewards will come.
What’s your favourite quote?
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. (Roosevelt)
Life is understood backwards but must be lived forwards. (Kierkegaard)
Who inspires you?
Too many people to list here, but including some obvious names such as Steve Jobs and Queen Rania of Jordan and some less obvious ones such as my best friend and my dog.