Founder Stories: Anton Mishchenko, YouTeam
Interviewed by Paula Pärnaste
Anton Mishchenko, the founder of YouTeam, and his team bootstrapped YouTeam to over €1M in annual gross revenue without any external investment. This year they were the 4th Ukrainian startup ever to be accepted into Y Combinator. It’s a big year for the team and for Anton – he also just recently moved back to his hometown Kyiv to set up an office there after living in London for almost 15 years.
What’s your elevator pitch?
YouTeam is a platform for assembling and managing offshore software development teams. We’re building a bridge between a company that wants to hire someone and a brilliant engineer, so that they could work together and not be tied to any particular territory around the world. We created a legal paradigm, a management process and a product that will help both sides, a company and an engineer, find their perfect match.
What’s one thing people know before talking to you?
By my first education, I’m a pianist and I’m still very much connected to music. It’s a big part of my life. Also, I love cats. And football. And traveling – of course, I love traveling.
Before founding YouTeam what did you do?
Straight before I founded YouTeam I did a bit of consulting in digital marketing. That was in the middle of founding and failing with another company. The business was a customisable landing page builder for any kinds of events that any people around the world could organise. Back in the days it was really hard to pull all your different social feeds, pictures and music into one place. So we created a codeless way of for doing that. That idea got into an accelerator and subsequently failed back in 2012 in London.
I participated in a couple of other music related startups as a marketing person. And I was interning for different musical companies. In fact this is how I got myself into tech – through the music industry.
How did the early days of YouTeam look like?
So now we’re a marketplace... but we used to be, at the very very beginning, a consultancy company. We didn’t have an office so we’d invite leads and potential clients into bars and say that our office is under refurbishment so we can’t invite them to see it. The goal was to get the first couple of clients to pay the bills and luckily we achieved it.
Looking back there’s so many things that we’ve learned and gone through in that period of time – it just incredible. And we’re still learning a lot along the way.
In the end of 2016 we pivoted to a platform. That’s when we grew from 2 people to 4 and now we’re 20 – actually as of this week.
What is one achievement that you’re really proud of?
Our participation in the Y Combinator program – the fact that we got there is a highlight of the year for me.
Something very recent that I’m personally loving a lot is that we’ve opened a new office in Kyiv – my hometown. I just love the opportunity to build something back at home.
Do you have any YC tips to share with other founders?
The first is, what I’ve heard from people in YC, to apply a couple of times and show growth in every next application. The first time you want to apply is as early as possible. And then the second time what you want to be doing is highlighting that growth as much as you can in the application. So when the second application is compared with the first one, an investor is going to be interested in what has happened between the two and why has it resulted in growth.
There is a term - FOMO, a Fear Of Missing Out. Obviously, Y Combinator, as any investor, would not want to miss out on a fantastic opportunity if they see a startup is growing fast. This doesn’t guarantee an interview, but if you build your communication with them in such a way it definitely increases your chances.
Here’s another tip. YC does these field sessions with startups in different counties, I believe they’ll be doing one in Tallinn soon. A lot of successful applications come from founders that had already met some of YC partners in these sessions. So when they apply, mentors that review applications know that they have already met some of these guys and they may be worth a closer look. That means these people are interested in what they’re doing, it means that they’re more determined and they’re grabbing all the opportunities.
That’s the thing about investors in general – what you really wanna do is to build a pattern of communication. You want to be updating people on your progress. So when the time’s right to talk to them it’s not a cold email or a cold call but you already have some sort of relationship established.
Name one failure that has grown you as a founder?
The funny thing is that failures don’t come as huge events that suddenly fall on your head. They are a combination of things, small things even, that come in different shapes and forms and turn into bigger issues.
For example you operate and suddenly find out that the way the business provides certain services is not strictly legal. Everyone has gone through a period like this. It happens with many marketplaces – even the big ones are very prominent examples of this.
What I am saying is that big failures stem from inability to react to those smaller everyday challenges. There’s just too many of them. And when there are thousands they will inevitably come to huge failures.
What’s the next big milestone for YouTeam?
One of the big milestones is finally turning the US into our main market. We had to move there for the YC program within 3 weeks of being invited, so we just packed all of our stuff and moved – very hastily. And now we’ve kind of taken a step back, set up an office in Kyiv and strengthened our position in Ukraine. In the meantime we are slowly but surely moving back to the US to make things work properly there.
Secondly, what has happened to us (and to any company as it grows) is that you need to create or change many internal and external processes. Old things don’t work anymore and the new things are yet to be put in place – but you don’t really know how to do that. Since we need to continue growing, the only way forward for us is to figure out how to 'ride a broken bicycle and continue fixing it as we ride'.
Name one unique skill that you possess?
I’m able to realistically assess risks. In the environment of constant uncertainty that’s a very handy skill to have.
Also, something I’m personally always striving for and what I love is bringing people together around concepts and ideas. One of such concepts is remote work. What I want to figure out is how people are going to be working in the future, how it’s going to be structured, what’s the management process going to be, what's the hiring process going to be and so on and so forth… And since I am quite stubborn I won’t stop until I do it.
If you weren’t a founder, who would you be?
A cat? I’d probably be doing music… or working in digital marketing. Honestly, I am sure I’d still be connected to tech in one or another way.
In addition to building a company, what fills your days?
I play music to unwind. I do sports, not as much as I used to do but I love football and jogging. Also, a privilege that I have is that I can often work remotely. It’s not specifically leisure time but it’s an opportunity to combine leisure, work and my passion for travel. I know so many people that share similar values and I want them to be capable of doing the same. That’s part of my motivation to make remote work a new standard in our society.
How do you feed your curiosity?
By doing things I haven’t done before but always wanted to.
Anton is also on our F2F app – an invite-only platform for startup founders who want to grow through sharing experiences and know-how, and widen their horizons with valuable connections.