Interview with Nataliya Anon, CEO Svitla Systems Inc.
by Svitla Team
Nataliya, you have 2 Master Degrees. Not many people have that. How did you get them?
My first Master Degree was an entrance to US, I came to the Univesity of Kanzas and did my Masters in accounting and information systems and then worked for Ernst and Young for several years, but always had in mind that I would like to start a business and business school was always on my horizon. I got applied to Stanford and got accepted and got my MBA and it was near 80 percent of my stay here, in Bay Area.
It was a wonderful experience to be in the mix of people from all over the world, from different backgrounds and age categories, the wonderful professors and speakers who were invited to our classes. I was privileged enough to have Uoren Buffett as a speaker.
The network of Stanford Alumni is wonderful, they are really helpful.
I studied in Moscow, the Wall just came down and I was one from several students who had a chance to come here. As I was growing in the Soviet Union, it was easier to imagine that I’d become an astronaut and go to Mars then I go to the United States. I still remember the day when I came to the emigrational officer and presented my papers he asked: “You’re going.. where? Kanzas? … to study… what? accounting?” That point I thought maybe I’m doing that wasn’t quite right. But in fact my experience in Kanzas was wonderful: relaxed lifestyle, people are very friendly.
Nataliya, I’ve known you for almost 5 years, from Inflection company, thank you for the great service, great teamwork, it’s been really a pleasure to work with you and your team. How did you start doing your own business?
The concept of an outsourcing company was an easy idea because India by that time have been already on the market for about 10 years, it was already established industry growing rapidly and keeping my connections in Ukraine and knowing that great technical talents and being here in Silicon Valey where was a shortage of that talents (they are expensive and hard to find), sit became very easy for me to make the connection and to start a business.
Are you a programmer? Did you study programming and computer science?
No, I’m mostly a business person, finance, accounting, business development are my specialties. I’ve been in this industry for quite a while, I communicate with great technical people.
What made you think IT? Maybe you should start a hedge fund or consulting…
I was at the “soup” of the Silicon Valley and being exposed to different entrepreneurs and ideas, speakers who were coming to the school, friends, and network of my friends, they all were in IT industry. To come up with an idea to use great technical talents from Ukraine was an easy way to start a company.
Did you start your company after studying at the University of Kanzas?
No, I worked for Ernst and Young, I was in an international tech consulting group, I’ve gone to New-York and then to London, doing quantitative calculations for multi-national companies. And from London, I applied to several business schools and Stanford was my top choice. I was lucky after got accepted and moved to California.
So, you went to Stanford and decided to start your own business and your first one was Lohika. What area of IT do you decide to go?
Yes, Lohika from Ukrainian means “logic”. It was a venture-funded business which we started in 2001, it was a very tough year, but a concept was good, we had a good business plan and were fortune enough to raise funding. Again, the idea was to use the talents from Ukraine to deliver development and testing services to US companies. We had US strong technical people, a sort of front-end, they were dealing with customers and a back-end development work was done in Ukraine.
I remember those times when it was really hard to sell. Right now you don’t have to sell the concept of outsourcing. Entrepreneurs who start a business, say: “We’re going outsource”.
Now it’s much easier to bring the developer to a customer, they stay here for a month-two-three. Skype is a great tool to be connected.
Is Lohika still in business?
I exit the company after 2 years being there, the company is still around and going strong.
Why did you leave and start Svitla?
Certain friction on the management team and secondly I wanted to see if I could try to start a product company. We’re trying to create a solution to protect CDs and DVDs from pirate copying. Unfortunately, that company didn’t go very far. And the third company, Svitla, was already bootstrapped and I came back to a service model. What’s different? No venture funding, only organic growth. People, who interact with a customer, are highly qualified team leads and developers, they understand the requirements, go to daily meetings and lead the engagement with the customer.
Are there 2-3 key tips you can give to the entrepreneurs what it takes to start a company?
I think the major tip is perseverance. It’s so difficult to start a company, things always go wrong, it always takes more time, more money than you predicted. Obviously, you have to listen to your customers, go back to your assumptions that you don’t bitting against the wall. It’s hard, but it gets easier.
What is the main difference between venture funded and bootstrapped company? If you had to do another company, which way did you go?
For the services business, I’d go bootstrapped way, like Svitla, because you don’t need much capital to start a company. As soon as you get a customer, you get a cash flow and can finance your operations and go to the next level. For a product company, you have to go for venture funding because it allows growing faster. It’s also a choice for entrepreneur how fast you want to grow, which model you want to choose, which one fits your personality, your lifestyle.
What should the company think of when it is going to outsource?
Obviously, what is your core business and what is not. Startups usually build their core business in-house. When they have a need to scale up and do it fast, they start thinking about outsourcing. Our developers become the part of an in-house team, they participate in daily meetings and this is the way of expanding startup’s core team.
Sometimes startups would like to have the whole development cycle: from graphic design to system administration.
What is the difference between hiring people in-house and remote outsourcing team in that case?
When you hire people in the US, you hire employees. When you sign the contract with an outsourcing company, the outsourcing company itself is dealing with its employees and you don’t have to think about it.
There are so many countries that propose outsourcing services for the clients: India, China, Argentina etc. What country should man think of when he makes a decision to outsource?
What differentiates Ukraine in the map of all outsourcing companies is the great technical talents, I’m really proud when I’m talking about that. I heard many times from many customers that we have strong technical people who can think out of the box, come up with ideas and suggest things. Time lap is not a problem: we have 24 hours working day. We wake up, doing a daily meeting with the offshore team, then the guys go to sleep, we check what was done during the day, think about strategy and plans for the next day, send them off and go to sleep. Offshore team wakes up and here is the cycle.
How do you work for Inflection?
We started from 1 developer, who came to the US and had interaction with the team in the US, understood the requirements and got back to Ukraine to establish the team there. In a year we had 20 developers and we’ve been working for 6 years with Inflection, in fact, it’s my favorite customer. They treat our team as an internal part of their team.
How Svitla compares to Odesk, Elance or other similar companies?
Such websites are usually for renting a developer when you need 1 developer to get a job done. In Svitla case you deal with a company, with the whole number of services from UI, graphic design till deploying a ready project.
I know that technical resumes are almost always a crap. They are full of anachronisms and never tell the level of developer. How do you deal with that?
We’ve found a really convenient format of resumes. Our HR department fills out a table where you can find not only the list of technologies but the level from beginner to expert. Such a format helps our customers to understand the skills clearly.
What are trends of software development?
Ruby on Rails allows our startup customers to develop prototypes quickly, also PHP with Zend Framework is a scalable tool. We ask the right questions at the beginning of the project to know which technology will fit the best.
Why do you think your developers are so tremendous talented?
Such a heavy emphasis on math, physics from Soviet school, we learned a lot from such disciplines.
I don’t think that there is some secret in the water or in the air, it’s just a hard work.
Thank you for being here and sharing your experience.
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