"My whole thing is no matter whatever role you decide to take in your life for your time, be the best. Just know it better than anybody else. That's the only way you're going to get above everybody else in order to work this."
Olga Duka on accepting people and ideas as they are.
(JP) Jeffery speaks with Olga Duka, GP at Improve Ventures, on how she makes a relevant impact on the investing world.
The guest of today shared her story of moving all over Europe, Asia, and America while starting her career straight after university. Having grown up with her parents urging her to expand her talents and interests, she is obsessed with developing early-stage talent. In this episode, Olga shares how she has succeeded in early-stage financing in emerging markets across almost 50 countries.
- Olga’s educational and career background
- Olga’s passion for early stage talents
- Lessons learned from being a trader of successful scalable businesses
- Olga as a founder
- Lessons learned as a founder
- Strategies used by Olga to build the Deal Flow up.
- The Importance of Community
- Tips when Investing in Early Stage Talents
- Success story of a founder that Olga had worked with
Infinitely curious, take futures personally, have many engagements of being myself. Spoke about curiosity as a skill at SXSW.
Finding, empowering, and investing in talents, building imaginative solutions together, welcoming all the things unsolved or otherwise impossible.
We currently build an early stage venture fund together with exceptional polymathic partners. We aim to discover and support the new frontiers of talents and innovations in emerging markets.
The full #OPNAskAnAngel talk
Olga: Hey, hi. I’m good, always spectacular.
Jeffery: I like that. That’s the best way to be. Well, welcome to our show. today we’re super excited to talk because you and I have been chatting for probably close to two years. And I’m very excited to kind of dive into what you’re doing because it’s very exciting and I believe the rest of the world wants to learn what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and why this is relevant in the investing world because it is so today. So, why don’t we start off by having you give us a little bit of a background. you can go all the way back to a little bit about your university days in Moscow, to the startup, to the build up, all the great things that you’ve done and we’ll turn it over to you. And also throw in one thing about you that nobody would know.
Olga: a lot thanks for having me.
Jeffery: Yes, always a pleasure speaking with you for nearly two years.
Olga: yeah, you’re right, bits of my background probably. Quickly, I was in mathematics and macroeconomics once to become a trader on financial markets when I was 22 while simultaneously finishing university. I relocated to another country, met my second degree. a risk taker is always a risk taker I guess. I was working in public markets in the United States. I’ve beaten Europe, UK and Asia several years working and writing my paper on chaos theory and portfolio construction in public markets. And at certain points, I got struck by the realization that what I felt is going to be like my whole life purpose apparently became just one percent of my talents. And I was quite surprised, quite taken aback, didn’t know what I was supposed to do next that I was in multi-asset portfolio allocation already, knees deep in hedge funds, in public markets, partially in private markets doing a lot of research along with asset management itself. And I guess, I was a bit lost as to what I’m supposed to do next. And since I was like a super small child like three years old or something my parents devoted a lot of time to expanding my talents and interests. I’ve always been an insatiably curious person, always like launching myself into multiple disciplines and it dawned on me that I was and always been obsessed about early stage talents, about ideas, how ideas are working in any field. While I was a trader, I was working with younger traders, with researchers, with students, with children all the time like a lot of my friends would come over and say hey, could you chat with my seven-year-old, they are obsessed about archeology. Would you like to talk to them, what they can do at this stage in school? And I left finance. I was working on different projects, probably about 40 different projects within a year just to figure out what it is that I want to do next as a long-term commitment. And I started working with musicians, stand-up comedians, popular scientists, interpreters at the same time which landed me in a very interesting cross-discipline cross-cultural field of exploring how early stage ideas work in different applications like what does it mean for musicians to come together and write an ALB, what does it mean for a couple of scientists to come together and do fundamental research, what does it mean for early stage founders to come together and build a software app. And I’ve opened my first business. back then, we were organizing conferences and concerts and exhibitions. I was also doing a lot of research such as mergers and acquisitions, research or educational foresights in the United States and Europe. It was several very turbulent and very insightful years. And eventually I ended up working with entrepreneurs around the world in Europe and in Russian cis in the United States and UK and Asia. I crossed probably 20 different industries starting up obviously with fintech whereas my background or with air tech which I spent 15 years in already, or robotics by some happenstance where I started off organizing a first robotics conference in Russia back 10 years ago or something. And this last decade, I spent working as a fractionalized executive, on demand advisor, operator, founder, co-founder for multiple startups, an extremely early stage and always was my biggest interest. But it’s mostly the complete obsession about investing in talents. And when code started, I sat down and was like okay, I’ve been thinking about investing in an intelligent scale for a very long time. I’ve been working with talents across the whole world in very different geographies and cultures and setups and macro for a very long time. I think it’s as good a time as any to start building the funds to actually go in and invest in talents as much as I can. And that’s how we started last year. By the time we met, I think I am currently a general partner with one more general partner, a good friend of mine who worked together before we were building the funds to invest in as early a stage as possible in emerging markets. Being a first institutional lead check in precedence, seed stage companies are building human-centric solutions for most sustainable life. So, partially it answers my complete obsession with finding investment in talents as early as possible. partially it answers mine and so my partner’s both understanding of emerging markets opportunities but also the needs of solutions which can truly scale and how much they’re needed outside over competitive forward such rates will be heated in developed markets. partially it’s perhaps just general excitement to like always being meeting talents from all walks of life, everywhere. And it’s a genuine pleasure to just make it to your life work. We are macro and data driven so eventually we’re building a data platform to be able to deploy capital at scale while we’re starting with the first small font of just 20 million. We are working on data modeling to select and assess multiple companies at the same time partially through data partially for just fundamental assessments. And we’re looking into several thousand deals a month. at this point partially it has to do with just our backgrounds. we’ve been on international asset allocation for quite a long time partially to do with just my role in these early stage companies that I always have been. this sort of sound board when I found it doesn’t haven’t even started anything yet or two team members starting off and in ideation stage and just asking for some suggestion or feedback or advice. And so when basically I reached out to literally all people I’ve ever worked with in my life across probably 50 countries and said that okay I’m finally on my long life long dream to invest in talents and build the funds so let me know what you’re working on in a bit of a different campus. At this point we opened the Pandora box. The early stage financing in emerging markets is pretty much non-existent especially at precedes. It’s what every founder hears, you’re too early for everybody or you’re from the wrong geography or you’re from some vertical fund that doesn’t look into for us. It’s emerging markets as early as possible. We want to know what you’re working on and we want to be the first partners in whatever you’re building as long as it’s scalable. And one thing I don’t know how many people know this about me but I am an artist. I’m a professional photographer. I write poetry. I’ve somehow got myself into an art experiment with Nero right now to try. It’s only partially to publish what I’m writing. It’s mostly to use this blockchain platform to research how to invest in artists at scale as well because one of ideas is to deploy capital interpreters, partially to create infrastructure and some industrial grade solutions. But the next stage, at least for my personal journey, is to invest in scientists and artists and educators and this hobby perhaps is one of the ways to research these parts.
Jeffery: Too amazing. You’re a very well-rounded individual. you’ve done a lot of things but most importantly, you’ve also taken care of your artistic self while managing out the business side. So, that’s very cool and maybe we don’t get to see that very often. So, that’s pretty amazing. I do want to take a step back to some of the earlier comments you made about the things that you were doing and one of them I think really always stands out for me, and maybe I pulled this so the time but in calls, but I like data. I love the way data works. It’s structured. It enables things. It helps you find problems, build solutions and scale when you see the right opportunity. Now you take your trading days and understand how businesses operate and work. How much of that influence has had on the direction of where you are today? that being able to trade and sell equities into companies, one, you get a lot of learnings from that. I’m going to make the assumption. And two, you get to see how companies were scaling especially at that higher stage because you’re looking for wins in order to gain dollars. So, at the end of the day, you’re taking that same learnings and now you’re putting that down to smaller size and putting that into that early stage side. So, what are some of the learnings that you gained from being a trader that have kind of helped you today and picking the opportunities that are in front of you that could be winners and hopefully scalable businesses?
Olga: That’s an interesting question. something I get to debate with some investors and partners quite often. because it’s considered that hedge funds experience is not really applicable in denture and I would say that probably depends on where you’ve been as on ib or hedge funds or some other parts of it but there are a few things which I am definitely using every single day now as a font and been using for the last decade outside capital markets. one part is probably an unfamiliar ability to work with information. I don’t think there are that many people who actually understand what it is that you do in microstrategies that you get to read and research a lot. It’s unlike some proper day trading or older books for clients. if you have your prop, you dive deep into multiple sectors, multiple search industries. you look for companies which are already public but you’re also looking for what might go public or what might happen as emergent acquisition, etc and you get used to this. The amount of information I am consuming daily for most people seems impossible to do in a month. And it’s just a daily habit, it’s just a habit, partially curiosity. And just I mean my own interest in this helps a lot obviously. But it’s also a professional habit and something really hard to take from something which helps a lot in venture because you have to be researching every single day learning from every person you meet reading voraciously, speaking with founders, speaking with investors, with partners, with everybody everywhere grasping all those different bits of information. Venture capital works on the asymmetry of information so more so than in public markets. you have to grasp pictures without access to full information unlike in public markets. Another part is decision making itself. decision making which I was trained at least. And I found one of my first funds and our fund owner. He trained us amazingly. The whole decision making process is not just what it is that I want to invest in. It’s understanding your own set of frameworks, understanding your own skill sets, where your fits best to which type of strategies to which types of asset allocation to which types of assets themselves, ability to do decision making quickly. ability is like something like under 30 seconds you have to be able to say yes or no, at least either. I’m not wasting, even wasting my time. or it’s a yes to either look into this or consider or actually say yes let’s go. And this is something. there are some inherent habits in your blood after trading days which obviously helps to be a successful chief executive officer, chief investment officer. And also you get to understand your very specific different strategies. You’re most likely to execute on some people. It could be, say day trading or open hours trading for some people. It could be a long life long term investing and like buying holds you get to see not just the assets. You’re best tuned into or in stages of assets and how to actually research and close the information gap. You also get to see which specific investment strategies are working for you best and that helps to not just to work with funds, it helps to be not just different. But that’s specifically something nobody can copy from you because this is your inherent skill set over time and your inherent alignments to who you are as an individual. how you’re thinking and another, part from the trading is managing your emotions, having a decent feedback to yourself, decent feedback to your like biases and mistakes and ability to take a look at what’s been done so far and improving it on the daily basis, have a very calm perspective on your mistakes and wins. all those things are I think play at large in venture. So, it’s not specifically organic. Can I analyze the balance sheets? well I can. yeah it doesn’t help but precedes decision making. Does risk management understand and ask for allocation? Does research understand how markets are getting shaped? Especially if you get to see for some early stage companies two blue oceans and you’ve seen a couple of cycles in the markets where some companies haven’t yet been trading come to trade and then you invested in them from the hedge fund perspective. All of those things help immensely.
Jeffery: I think I’m going to wholeheartedly agree with that. And I think that whoever is telling you that there aren’t any similarities there are always similarities to the things that you start off doing in life and the things that you continue to do you create patterns and those patterns are quite obvious. So, even throughout all of the roles that you have there was always one underlying thing that you focused on which was strategy, being a strategist, an analyst. So, I think at the end of the day, a lot of the things that you’re doing is always analyzing data, always analyzing where something’s going and what the potential is and one thing that you do talk about quite a bit is the opportunity to scale. And if this is something that’s scalable and again in somebody that has been a trader, they’re always looking at that same opportunity because the numbers will create a pattern which then creates probably some underlying. Will this be something that can scale in the next two to three months? or do I need to pull out now because this isn’t going to go in the direction I needed to based again off of that primary and secondary and sometimes even tertiary analysis that you’re doing which is something that is continuous throughout your career? So, now taking that, obviously all these great things that you learned about which is pretty amazing and being able to shift this into that early stage and as alluded to, there’s not a lot of data in this early stage but there are a lot of metrics that are there. if you ask the right questions and dive in to get that information. So, while you’re kind of taking this transition into the data world or into the investment world for an early stage, there was also a time where you were a founder and I think that a lot of what you did as a founder also transitions well into investing in early stage companies. you’ve been there. you understand it. Can you give us a little bit of a background again on when you’re building your first business and what learnings that you can take and how relevant that or that will be for working with these early stage founders? because at the end of the day, an early stage founder is going to look at you and say are you just money or are you going to be able to help me grow? And you mentioned that even families and friends were asking you for guidance and help throughout their careers on the edtech side. Do you feel that you’re going to be able to offer that same value back or have you been offering that same value back to founders? because you can relate to them and they can relate to you.
Olga: So, one thing I guess when I started off building my own business, I first found out that I actually do want to work with artists a lot and with scientists. And back then, I knew for a fact it’s not going to be a profitable business. So, I flipped the whole thinking upside down and said I will find a sustainable business model because this is what I want to do in the next few years. I will completely reshuffle the whole approach because first of all I do believe that talents should earn money first. not like it’s currently structured in our post manufacturing worlds. And second I will find a way to build sustainable business and learn from this but I want the talents I’m working with to be able to earn from this predictably and I once miss myself as a talent working with everybody to earn on this sustainably instead of shuffling 50 different side hustles and jobs and having a side whole bin. So, the whole pathway into working with talents was starting off with this is very complex. I started off with avant-garde jazz. It’s like the last thing you can possibly imagine would be profitable and would make sense. It would work and we turned it into a series of festivals. like we started off with a concert with 100 people coming over for a couple of fantastic American musicians. just amazing. And in a few years down the road, we had several festivals for several thousand people and it was the popular science type of explanation and very community driven approach to building up the crowds around supporting talents and coming to geeks as a friend for friends. I end this like the whole experimentation in this early stage gave me the insights on what it means to launch something. like first of all to just bet on yourself, second to launch something which is working completely different than the whole industry and still find options to do differently. And that’s another angle which was afterwards very useful in the startup world was I didn’t have an option to fundraise the money. It’s a project based activity event. I had to manage the budget by selling tickets somewhere, finding grants and sponsors and cultural centers support. And I became very used to always thinking in terms of sustainable business models short-term and long-term both. And this mentality when working with ideation and early-stage founders afterwards helped a lot because I would always be what, is it that you need money? for exactly what do you do? What you don’t need to do right now? What is it that you are going to waste a lot of your time, a lot of your energy and wouldn’t achieve meaningful results? What is the biggest thing you can do today to push your business forward for a month? What is the biggest thing you can do today with just your intellect, your networks, your ideas, your communication abilities, and your research abilities to push your business forward? And then okay let’s see what the actual budget looks like. And I found a lot of very useful interesting frameworks and working with early stage companies back then. But I also learned to recognize talents like someone who may not necessarily even need money. they just need a couple of people to talk to in the next few months and have this first support for. Yes, this idea makes sense. You’re not insane. Yes, this can be done even right now. No resources, no team members, no not much to rely on. There’s still a lot of things that can be done to push it forward and then find a few more early stage support. And then maybe get some investors on board and continue pushing forward. It was a very interesting flip side from the finance for sure from capsule markets and it was probably just this very structured engineering mentality in working with teams and business ideas. So, partially it’s being able to just recognize people and ideas for what they are, just accept people and ideas who they are and partially then bring a very methodical, very structured, very specific mental and work approach to build a sustainable business model around it as quickly as possible to make it take off the ground. And that’s been my specialty for the last decade, ability to do this like with unrecognizable open talents, building quickly to something very specific structured and working in a very early stage and looking within the team as the co-founder and at the same time having a very good grasp on the assets itself from the outside as an investor in including in different stages including like the whole market mapping and research like who is your potential competition in here, who’s your potential competition in there, what are your major macro considerations, where is your playing fields, what are the major public companies and emergency acquisitions in your fields in general and what their learnings and mistakes done, what is going on in all the different stages which you can actually take in and use to your advantage.
Jeffery: Yes, well it sounds like and again there’s a lot of things that you’ve brought into your learning as the founder and how you found ways to skate through the not raising dollars but building revenues on how you found ways to balance out your own business and now taking that same experience and relating that back to other founders I think is very important that being able to relate back to you. But I think at the same time, it goes back to your early days of budgeting and numbers. And this is the type of things that businesses don’t typically understand, especially new founders. They’re not really understanding all the time how to financially build models, how to plan for the future on what they should be spending and what they shouldn’t be spending and it sounds like you found a really good way to connect with them share on how these things can look just by giving them whatever you need to do this month versus what you need to do next month and how can you budget for that. That’s important and that’s huge because a lot of founders are always thinking big. They’re sitting in the middle of a football stadium and that’s how their brain thinks. They’re like this is amazing. There’s a million doors here. I can do a million things and what you’re saying is, no you need to take big business and you need to confine that down to a little room. we need to get you into a little room and focus and this is going to happen because you put some budgets together. you put together some ideas on how to get from a to b and if you don’t do that you’re going to be spending everywhere. And you’re not going to make it to the end of the month and we need to figure out how to get you into the next six months and then get into scaling. So, it’s pretty incredible how you can analyze and help businesses really see the future. you made me think of something else, something which you learn in public markets but then gets to re-learn again in private markets about the probabilistic approach.
Olga: So, this engineering mentality falls into probabilistic men’s ability. So, you kind of look like okay, what are the next not the steps for today and then who will jump in five years in the future? whatever the next 20 steps ahead and what are the probabilistic trees and where the major decision making I need to be doing, what is my decision making process itself, what I should not be doing at all and what are my options and if we fall down to like the worst scenario tree, what do we do next? What if we fall to the best scenario? What do we do next and then it goes from the business itself but also for fundraising. What are the different strategies in different scenarios? And for I know that plenty of people would prefer to write it down. I have this very weird thing coming from public markets that I keep a lot of things in just my mental modeling. So, I can talk to a founder for a couple of hours and then sit down and say okay. So, here are your free options. roughly we can write them down as a timeline as product map tech map, blah blah blah. But roughly your free scenarios are here. I think that’s the probability of getting a hearing. Here are these and the most important decision making you will have to make are these four different decisions. you should be preparing yourself forwards in the next six to 12 months and this framework especially helps in the early stage. It helps nuts to design something which is not going to work or it’s not scalable or it’s such a bottleneck that it’s like three rounds down the line. You’re completely stuck and you don’t have any other option but to just sell the company for cheap.
Jeffery: I love it. No, that’s great. And again this is all about that planning, strategizing, understanding where you are today, where you got to go. And I think having somebody even if it’s a startup that goes to a consultant whatever that looks like sometimes that little extra variable of somebody managing this output can help you go a long distance versus trying to manage all of these pieces together. And not everybody’s going to learn and be able to understand these types of scenarios that you just talked about because those are quite foreign especially if they’ve never been in capital markets or they’ve never been in big business. So, I think these are really good things that you can bring to or have been bringing to the startup community in all the companies that you work with which is fantastic. So, now to kind of shift a little bit, now you’re taking all this great learning that you’ve had as you mentioned. This is kind of like the dream job for you, building out a fun and growing company and doing something that you’ve been passionate about for a very long time. And it started when you were working with early stage founders, painters, designers, people in that entrepreneurial background. And fast forward to today, now you’re out building a fund which is made up of a couple of different things and maybe we can touch on a couple of them. I’m going to say one is going to be on deal flow. The second will be on community. And then the third one is going to be kind of the gunpowder to all of this which is the dollars that are going to invest in everything that you’re doing. Can you talk a little bit about what it takes on the deal flow side? What things that you find you’re doing in order to build that deal flow up? I think you mentioned thousands of companies. What do you have to do to get that many people, that many entrepreneurs interested in yourselves and your partners? And then we’ll jump in quickly into the community side.
Olga: So, the short version is I’ve been working with early stage founders but also with artists, experts, advisors, research labs, institutes, corporate investors around the world for more than a decade. And they always knew me as someone interested in an extremely early stage. When no investor will take a look, I will be sitting down and grinding and thinking together how to make it work and then how to make it fundraise successfully as well as knowing the requirements of different investors from the other side, what they would be expecting to see when you invest. So, you should be prepared, you will be in investable shape. And I’m not joking. We obviously have partnerships with local accelerators and denture studios and certain funds who say seed stage funds for whom pre-seed is too early. So, they’re sending us everything they get to see partially to just take a look, partially to learn what we get to see in there and the communities of founders in multiple very different charts like data science chat in southeastern Asia, data science charts in Latin America. like all those different things I’ve been a part of for a very long time. And when last year was like you don’t get to fundraise the funds from day one right, we spent last year just building up partnerships networks, deal flow strategy investment thesis documents, all the things you need to put together before you start fundraising. And we were slowly tapping into communities saying we are fundraising. We are a work in progress. we would like to not take much of your time. we only need maybe take a look at your deck if you like to talk to us for any brainstorm advice on how to reach other investors. Feel free to tap into it but the problem is what I’ve seen in my work for years and my partner’s seen in his work for years, they are always too early for everybody. And while it’s true in the United States or in Europe, it’s even more so in emerging markets. There is no pre-seed. pretty much none. A few exceptions obviously but none precedes pinch funds and in even angels local angels are looking and asking for some sort of metrics or some achievements with some mrI or some revenues or some lawyers. or some are indeed done. And for us our whole experience tells us that pretty much all metrics in preset are completely misleading. they don’t help you at all. they may make no sense. If you actually see a good team with a potentially scalable idea on the whole forefront of the vertical, you understand yourself and you see founders, do understand it very deeply and have a differentiated angle to this. This is the time you get to invest, not six months. later down the road when they have some revenues not two years down the road then, they somehow scrapped around friends and family and got their first prototype, you invest immediately. This is how the whole decision making in this is done in our opinion. And so when we said that yes we’re looking as early as possible, we want to meet people first and foremost because people are building this. We want to see some specific angle to ideas like human-centric sustainable business models for the macro benefits of say Africa or western America’s office in Asia and we’re looking for something really scalable, regional wise or global. We do get to see a lot of founders who don’t really scale or can’t or they think they can but I don’t think it’s true. But at the same time, the whole limitations are quite simple. And when we started talking to everybody, we quickly realized that we opened Pandora’s box because all of these founders are always too early for everybody else and not too early for us we’re always happy to take a look, to think and to talk. Apparently they are not even getting accepted to accelerate so they are too early for accelerators. let alone angels in emerging markets. So, it’s not a huge gap in funding but also in the ability of people to take risks properly. because if you would start considering dollar weighted average risk, you are actually taking in these markets. It’s 50 to 150k check in precedent compared to say a million in prison in the United States and you get the capital efficiency twice as much compared to the United States and the cost of work and resources and everything is several. It’s much cheaper and people have to be sustainable and think through the implications beforehand before they will be spending money because their capital is a rare resource in emerging markets. you get to see some amazing companies, fantastic founders with a lot of experience which doesn’t look like that, a lot of companies which don’t look anything like lean economy or Silicon Valley startups with various reasonable first checks who are getting strides afterwards.
Jeffery: oh, that’s amazing.
Olga: completely obsessed about emerging markets on their own stage. No, and you have to be if you want to be in this space. you got to be the best. my whole thing is no matter whatever role you decide to take in your life for your time, be the best. just know it better than anybody else. That’s the only way you’re going to get above everybody else in order to work this. And that goes from finishing school faster, being the top of your class. whatever that might be, you always have to strive to be a bit better than yourself but better than everybody else.
Jeffery: So, I think that’s brilliant. now you mentioned a lot of great things inside of that and one of them that kept coming up was again which is community. And that was our second kind of bullet. How important to you is the community? not only for yourself because you’ve spent the last 10 years working in and out of communities to build up and learn on deal flow, learn up on startups. How important is community for a startup? Is that important to you when you’re making an investment as well?
Olga: Good question. I know there is a huge conversation going on about community-driven funds, community-driven companies these days like partially, I’m coming from. like my first computer was in 87 ish or 89 I think. then we had these forums and early chats and it always was some form of community based on interest. So, while it looks different these days, it doesn’t actually differ that much from say yet another obscure anime channel back in 90s. in my opinion, community is important. I think a community of practices, a community of knowledge and practice. So, it’s not like chitchat, let’s help each other. Let’s support each other. hands up who’s cool and awesome here. But very practical and very result oriented communities. This is something I’ve always been a part of and always been. They are enduring a lot so the place where you can come with a specific question and actually get an answer or a resource or maybe a call or some specific type of support based on your ask. So, to get things done basically, this is probably even more important in emerging markets because markets are so fractionalized, disconnected early-stage communities. There could be like 80 different communities in one the same country. We do not talk to one another for some reason. And it doesn’t help any of them much. So, connecting these communities has been and is going to be a further part of our work. Anyway, there should be a reason I’d say not to be in the community for the sake of the community being there because you can bring your value and ads to a joint knowledge. And if you have some specific question you don’t know the answer to, you can at least get a pointer or some help. one thing I found over time is that you don’t get to find a founder in a community. If you’re looking for a founder, it’s a very different risk taken. It’s a very different journey itself and just asking within a group of strangers, basically strangers, that’s hey I’m looking for someone to join my startup. oftentimes ends just deadly. not necessarily badly. It could just not work and people split up in a matter of months. But it’s rare such a coincidence happens that you actually find someone you’ve never worked with before. you haven’t spent much time with and you end up working together. you still get some experience to live through. It’s probably a big difference in blockchain though these days because there are so many intense things happening simultaneously. And then the whole community leads through a specific project with a lot of support. It feels almost like a collaborative experience I would say.
Jeffery: no, that’s great. And you’re right. I think community can be used in many different forms, different ways that can benefit you or benefit the whole. And in blockchain, they seem to be because it’s such a unique build up that the people that do fit into it do tend to come out on the other end building deeper relationships because they’re all facing the same struggles at the same time which is pretty fascinating. But I think inside of building a company or building funds or raising funds or building a fund, the community can work. obviously the different people that come in that can help offset knowledge and help you gain and move quicker. or if you’re going to find a partner or a co-partner, I think a lot of that comes down with two people or three people having the same passion and being able to unearth that passion together. And when you both start from scratch and build up, I think that’s where you’re going to really benefit from that whole experience. whereas if someone comes in usually with way more knowledge than everybody else, it’s tough to kind of build co-partners and ramp up at the same time when one is leagues ahead of the other. It does kind of make it a little disconnected. So, I can understand that as well. Now the last thing that really kind of defines the whole process of what you’re doing comes down to the funds and what’s going to happen next. So, if you have those two things pretty strong and you’re de-risking a lot of the value which you have immensely a huge background, you’re networking. you’ve built a community. you’ve got all these great things. What’s that next step look like on the funding side? What is the thing that triggers everybody to go forward? And what types of advice can you give to people that are kind of in the same spot that you’re in or going to be in? And not just from a fun side, this is also from a start-up side. you talk to thousands of startups that are also trying to de-risk their business, so that they can get investors to say hey, I’m interested even if you are too early. What kind of things would you say outside of those two main pieces we talked about? What other things can you use to strategize on this to help people say, yeah, what maybe I’m not there yet. Maybe I need to do this, this and this and that will get people to have more interest in me and me as a fund, or me as a founder, or a fund. There’s a lot of cross-pollination here of course. But it’s more of what’s that advice that can help those founders. because like you said, so many people look at you and say well you’re too early. So, everybody will always say that because somebody’s always one stage at a different stage and you never seem to find the people that are in the area that you are. But at the same time, there’s some good learnings and things that you’ve gone over the last year that would really define this kind of thing that can help you de-risk. pay attention to these. look for these types of people whatever that might be. I love to get your perspective on that.
Olga: I would say not just probably last year, like the whole previous years that I’ve been preparing other founders for fundraising, I get to see what would make me comfortable. So, first of all, there are two different things investible make me investable. an investable shape for someone else who I know are, and I can recommend this story to go there, probably there will be some difference in metrics, as well as geography and verticals. But metrics oftentimes is the biggest difference. So, I know that’s when I feel like this makes total sense. It’s at least plus three to six months down the road where I can actually help connect these founders to someone else. In my experience, what it is that you want to showcase to an investor in the early stage is first your founder product market fit alignment that you are as a team. not one person, as a team with your unique experiences, backgrounds and superpowers. alliance as the team itself because you somehow first attracted one another to do this and then maybe you have one more person in the team. So, you somehow already started your first hiring process, bringing in team members that tells a lot about your just ability to build teams in early stage and your ability to not just grow the business, ability to attract talents in the first place so that you can always reach out for a very high level of execution and a much broader thinking together as the team. And you are capable of listening to one another. Another part is how all of this, your collective uniqueness shapes your idea of a product and how your uniqueness is aligned to the market you’re going into. And some differentiated angle you have is reflected in your go to market strategy or to some of your parts of your business model. These things always seem very clear when founders have that because you’ve been building something for your whole life. you’ve got a set of skill sets which are extremely rare and very unique to you and how you were thinking then. you met a couple of more people who have the same and your alliance in between them. This first early point where you align your visions to build something bigger than all of you combined is something which already gives me as an investor this whole sense of what you’re capable of doing, not on your own. And something which is bigger than all of you combined. And then the product itself may not necessarily be some spectacular innovative disruptive change. nothing was ever done like this before. It could be some breakthrough in a business model or something unusual, if application of the same idea to a completely different market. But you need to showcase how you are thinking about it in terms of assumptions. why the pain you were witnessing is big enough not just to justify the injury investments, to justify any investments if it’s a business. Maybe it’s an agency. Maybe it’s some other type of business model itself. But if the pain is big enough the market, it’s big enough and you have a very clear idea how to cover it less than painkillers to actually solve the problem itself. And it’s evidence most often. I do get to see very simple, quite often unusual things like how nobody ever thought about this before in some, at least in some parts. But it is always super simple. It’s not some abstract platform with 50 different functions. If people are looking for this, I will be delivering them this in my first prototype. We will be doing just one thing. It may be two functions but it will be just one thing because we want to make sure that we are properly answering the biggest pain in the markets, that we actually talk to real people, to the real market and we understand the needs and we do know how to answer that. And then the market itself, you have to know it’s preferably better than me. So, whenever I’m getting on a call with a founder and saying EdTech and for some reason, I end up reading them a whole lecture about the 15 years of development in NetApp, including their closest competitors nearby, and a few other markets. I feel a bit strange because they should be telling me that’s not me to them right. And one of the ways to measure up the potential ability, probabilistic ability of this team to make it big is an in-depth knowledge of their own markets. It’s not just competitions or maybe even forecasting future competition. understanding some specific business models, understanding of the death valley. There are magnitudes you have to know and understand because they will eventually help to build the strategies to go to markets. some specific product shapes, some uI ux form communication who you need to attract as partners and advisors, why you need these particular investors, etc, but as you like already hearing, I think that I’m talking about talents, about assumptions, about deep research and knowledge. I’m not talking about metrics. The early stage of execution is all about figuring things out, communicating them clearly. trying them out and making sure that it makes sense at some scale or at a large scale. But it’s your ability to build assumptions based on exactly who you are and be aligned with what you’re building and taking the just the risk itself of being a founder, raising the money in venture. So, something like that.
Jeffery: Well, that’s pretty awesome because you listed out lots of details there. And I think all of those are very sound. And you even did the little paraphrase of the last four things or five things that you really do need to focus on which was fantastic. And I do agree that having a lot of market knowledge is very helpful but starting off by having a fantastically strong team and being able to hire the right way and keep testing your product and go to market in that same sequence is going to be very beneficial. So, well said. we’re going to kind of transition now because we’ve got to keep moving along. So, the question that we like to learn a little bit about is and always dive into which is throughout this time that you’ve been working in this early stage space over the last 10 years, you’ve probably really gained knowledge for what it takes to be a founder, what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Do you have a story that kind of pops into mind something quick that you can kind of share that really defines what it takes to be an entrepreneur? And there might even be your own experiences in this case because you’ve gone through it. But is there something that just pops that you were like this is unbelievable, this happened and I can’t believe they made it through. And now at the other end, they’re amazing or whatever. The story might be but just something that really can show the audience what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
Olga: It’s funny because I don’t have an answer to this question at all. I’ve seen so many pathways into being a successful entrepreneur anywhere from five previous failures to building a successful stage b company by this point to side hustling bootstrapping for three years with one million in revenues not being able to attract any single investor in the United States and in Europe and now being completely overloaded with offers from across like top 20 funds somehow or with like a magical team which somehow just stumbled upon a solution with a further resolving for themselves and friends and family in their region and they woke up to like 100 000 subscribers in a month. And we’re like okay, now we are in the business. Now they had experience before but they literally woke up to something. they had no clue what’s this and it’s like this careful wild flower, you have to be so careful about not to break it because you already have a community of your own which is already tapping into even the glimpse of a prototype of a solution you’re offering. And you have to be very conscious and very attentive to what you’re doing next. I’ve seen people from like literally all walks of life and they’ve had unique pathways into entrepreneurship. some transitioned into investors. some transitions into just a business or consulting deciding against it like all the options whatever you can. So, I know two founders who transitioned to become musicians. So, go figure. But there are probably a few things I got to see which probably I enjoy working most, this immense curiosity for life and for people generally able to bet on yourself, like to inherently at least learn to and then build up on this and then believe in yourself and better yourself ability to go all in on things. You deeply believe in ethics, work ethics, human ethics, long-term mindsets building for like generations, basically not some money grab or some short-term solutions because well somebody’s going to pay me for this tomorrow. And I don’t care what happens the day after tomorrow. This is probably what I personally like the most. I do know a lot of founders who’ve been building companies for two, three or four years or for some specific opportunity for some specific venture funds targeted or companies being built because we can. I mean we have some specific backgrounds. We can raise pretty much anything we can ask for. Let’s build this and see how that goes. But it had nothing to do with what their desires were. It was just, oh yeah, I can raise money from anybody why don’t you do this. But well yeah, something like that. I mean I don’t think there is some distinct r flavor. well it sounds like a lot of stories combined into one and those are all very helpful and very exciting. So, I think that if you broke in each one of those, you would be able to unearth even more of a story. But I think the underlying comment is that when you work hard, bring in great people, you’re going to be able to succeed. And you have to stumble before you crawl, before you walk, before you run. And it sounds like a lot of them have gone through all of these trying to de-risk their business and get eyeballs on what they’re doing and somehow just fell on it and had to work through that too. So, there’s always going to be problems and there’s always going to be solutions as long as you spend enough time to understand them.
Jeffery: So, great. great share. we’re going to go now into our quick rapid fire questions, personal and business. We’ll start with the business side. Are you ready to roll?
Olga: yeah for sure.
Jeffery: Okay. So, pick one or the other. founder or co-founder?
Olga: the founder.
Jeffery: All right, okay. tech or cpg?
Jeffery: ai or blockchain
Olga: That’s not fair. Well, technically we are data-driven funds not looking into blockchain at the moment except for some specific solutions to apply to real life. So, it’s ai. And big data.
Jeffery: Okay, first time founder, second and third time founder?
Olga: don’t care. depends on the person. deeply depends on the person.
Jeffery: Okay, first money in or series a?
Olga: first money.
Jeffery: angel or VC innovation?
Jeffery: Okay, board seat or observer?
Olga: hands-on investor.
Jeffery: safe or convertible?
Olga: price equity rounds.
Jeffery: Okay. Lead or follow?
Jeffery: equity or interest payments?
Jeffery: number of companies to be invested in per year?
Olga: depends. right now, probably 20. Hopefully in the future hundreds. probably more.
Jeffery: any verticals of focus?
Olga: agnostic. depends on the macro. depends on the macro of your region deeply.
Jeffery: Okay. And then favorite part of investing?
Olga: working with founders.
Jeffery: And last question on this. two things that make a startup stand out to you, what are they?
Olga: integrity and curiosity.
Jeffery: I love it. Okay. personal side. book or movie?
Jeffery: Superman or batman?
Jeffery: five minutes with Bezos or Oprah?
Jeffery: ah, no you were Bezos. Yes, or Oprah?
Olga: Oprah as in music?
Jeffery: no, Bezos as in Amazon. Oprah as in Oprah TV. What a strange choice. big mac or chicken McNuggets?
Jeffery: trophy or money?
Jeffery: camera or mobile phone?
Jeffery: king or rich?
Olga: first was king. King, queen or rich.
Jeffery: Okay. concert or amusement park?
Jeffery: fortune cookie or birthday cake?
Olga: I don’t care. I don’t like sweets.
Jeffery: Oh crazy. All right. we’re getting close. favorite sports team?
Jeffery: Okay. favorite movie and what character would you play?
Olga: about 200 movies. let’s go with “Let’s go Jesus.” I don’t know any. first one that pops in your mind being in June.
Jeffery: Okay and character?
Olga: all of them. I mean the movie is spectacular. I’ve seen it sometimes.
Jeffery: I think I’ve never seen it. But is there one character that you feel that you would play?
Olga: Okay, so one thing to which goes to talents, to working with people but also to books and movies and music and everything. I have a high level of empathy and I live through and empathize immediately and accept things for what they are. And so with people, it’s like deep connections with books and movies. I don’t associate myself with a certain character. I’m just fooling down the rabbit hole. The whole world in itself sounds like I’m all of them. Simultaneously, I’m just a part of the movie. at certain points, I could be a tree. I don’t know if you like it.
Jeffery: Okay, perfect. Your favorite book?
Olga: thousands and thousands. Let’s go with Louis Bouchard’s Barcode Saga. I’m a sci-fi fantasy writer. The Saga is called Porkochigan Sagar. It’s a famous series of novels. She’s been writing for four decades. I think that’s something.
Jeffery: Okay. I’m going to look that up. very cool. All right. the first brand that pops into your mind?
Olga: my computer, Dell.
Jeffery: Okay. the most famous person that pops into your mind?
Olga: Jeffery Potvin talking to me right now. I’m sorry.
Jeffery: sounds interesting but we need someone a little bit more, or way more popular than myself. But we’ll go with that if you want. unless you can come up with something off the top of your cuff voluntarily. All right. last question. What is your superpower?
Jeffery: I love it. It would be a good reason why you’re looking for others with the same integrity. Brilliant. well said. well Olga, I want to thank you very much for all your time today. It was fantastic. As I always do, I took a ton of notes. I feel like I’m writing autobiographies for everybody but it’s a fantastic job. Thank you very much for sharing everything that you did today and the way we like to end our show is we like to give you the last word. So, anything that you want to share to investors or to founders. Again, thank you very much for sharing and being part of our journey. And keep doing all the great things that you have. You’re awesome. And I turn it over to you. Thank you.
Olga: Thank you for having me. It’s always fun to talk to you and brainstorm ideas. idea parties that’s the best. Let me, I don’t know, end up with these ideas. part is rock long-term adventures. generational adventures rock. It’s an immense pleasure to work with founders in extremely early stages. It’s a man’s pleasure to meet investors to the fund itself who are a part of this journey because it takes some courage and guts and vision and strategy to be a part of something like this as investors and as partners and as founders and generally takes a lot of guts to do these things and build something which would actually change lives of people and build up to generational wealth for everyone involved and to stay yourself. I guess you should stay true to yourself.
Jeffery: Well Olga, I love it. I like that you carry a lot of integrity and you’re doing and you’re working your butt off. And you will launch this fund and I’m very excited to continue to follow your journey doing this. Thank you very much for being with us today. And we will have you on again to keep talking because you’re fantastic. So, thank you so much.
Olga: back to you. a lot of compliments.
Jeffery: We’ve been hanging out for quite a while. I am always enjoying our conversations, cross-discipline, cross-cultural. very deep, very intense, very fun. I’m super happy that I have met you.
Jeffery: Thank you Olga. All right. That was awesome. I love chatting with Olga. She’s fantastic. We chat all the time and I always learn something new every time I get the opportunity to deep dive with Olga and today I learned a lot more. There are so many things to unpack here from the steps around raising funds, de-risking the community side product, the team metrics support. I love that her things around integrity and curiosity are key. And what she’s looking for in founders knowledge of the market is key, taking all that business strategy side and understanding of those things uniquely shapes your product. I think that’s really big as we’ll figure out what that team uniqueness is and really dive out and be able to offer that and scale that up eventually. But I love that Olga understands the beginning and the end, what this whole thing is about and helping founders understand how to scale. And I think that that’s key to making the investment and helping these founders and her whole idea around investing in a lot of companies in a year and being able to scale is fantastic and especially globally. So, we look forward to more exciting conversations with Olga in the future. So, thank you for joining us today. If you enjoyed this conversation, please subscribe to our YouTube channel or follow us on Spotify, Apple podcast and our Stitcher. Please leave your comments. It always helps support and push our content further upstream. You can also check us out at supportersfund.com and for startup events with opn.ninja. Thank you and have a great week.
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