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How to Invest in Start-Ups – Viktoriya Tigipko

Viktoriya Tigipko is a hugely successful venture capitalist from the Ukraine. She is the Founder and Managing Partner of TA Ventures, an international early-stage VC fund primarily focusing on Transportation and Digital Health.

A Tech Crunch report put TA Ventures in the top 4 of European funds – they currently have 135 investments in their portfolio and have already had 45 exits. Viktoriya also founded iClub, an angel investing network, and started Code Club UA, an initiative that uses gamification to train young children to code. Viktoriya is also President of the Odesa International Film Festival, and Chair of the Ukrainian Film Academy.

We started off with facts and figures: the % of female VC partners and female entrepreneurs in the world, the funding and the valuation gaps, and the fact that start-ups which include women founders vastly outperform those with all-male founder teams. Viktoriya shared practical tips and advice on how people can approach angel investing – especially if you don’t have the time or skills (like me!). And finally we talked about rebuilding the Ukrainian film industry from the ground up.

I found it amazing that the domestic industry was completely wiped out due to political circumstances and is now going through a renaissance.

This is the first ever When Women Win interview done live on stage, in front of hundreds of people, and it happened at Naseba’s 2018 Women in Leadership Economic Forum in Dubai. A huge thank you to Naseba and the WIL Forum for making this possible.

If you would like to follow Viktoriya you can find her on Instagram and LinkedIn.

Read the Transcript

Note: While When Women Win is produced as an audio recording, we are delighted to produce transcripts for those who are unable to hear. Kindly note that these are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Media is encouraged to check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Rana Nawas: (00:00)
Hello ladies and gents, my guest on today’s show is a hugely successful Venture Capitalist from the Ukraine, Viktoriya Tigipko, is the founder and managing partner of TA ventures; an international early stage VC fund, primarily focusing on transportation and digital health. A TechCrunch report put TA ventures in the top four of European funds. They currently have 135 investments in their portfolio and have already had 45 exits. Victoria also founded iClub; an angel investing network and started Code Club Ukraine; an initiative that uses gamification to train young children to code. Victoria is also president of the Odesa Film Festival and chair of the Ukrainian Film Academy. We started off with facts and figures, the percentage of female VC partners and female entrepreneurs in the world, the funding, the valuation gaps and the fact that startups which include women founders vastly outperform those with all male founder teams. Victoria shared practical tips and advice on how people can approach angel investing, especially if you don’t have the time or skills, like me. And finally, we talked about rebuilding the Ukrainian film industry from the ground up. This is the first ever When Women Win interview done live on stage in front of hundreds of people and it happened at Naseba 2018 Women in Leadership Economic Forum in Dubai. A huge thank you to Naseba and the WIL forum for making it possible. So let’s get into it.

Rana Nawas: (01:39)
A TechCrunch report put TA ventures in the top four highest performing VC funds in Europe. Viktoriya does a whole lot more than that and she’ll tell us all about it. So let’s please welcome her to the stage. We almost didn’t have Viktoriya. So Viktoriya, tell us why you missed your flight getting here.

Viktoriya Tigipko: (02:10)
Hi everybody, so here I am. I was supposed to arrive yesterday but I missed my flight because, you know, we are still living in the paper world and I am a big fan of paperless, but with the passports it doesn’t work like that. So I have three passports because I have long term visas, a US visa, a European visa and other visas. And when the passport paper pages expires, the visa is still there, so I have to have all these passports with me. And then yes unfortunately…

Rana Nawas: (02:38)
You forgot your passport. She forgot her passport. She has three passports. Well I’m thrilled you’re here. Thank you so much for being on the first live show. Great. So could you please tell us a little bit about the general venture capital scene? What’s it like in the world? How many female VCs are there?

Viktoriya Tigipko: (03:00)
Yeah. So I’m from Ukraine and you know, it’s not that easy at all to make your story in the venture capital from Ukraine because basically it’s like the US world, first of all. And there are some other destinations which are growing like Europe, but it’s still not easy, especially to build a big venture capital firm from Ukraine. We started in 2010 and we currently have 135 investments in our portfolio and exited 45 or so. That’s quite a story. I had one partner in Germany and one partner in Boston and all of them have Ukrainian DNA, so ex- Ukrainians. So it’s easy to build a story together with the people who understands you and we have something similar like blood, Ukrainian blood. But in Ukraine, the international VC ecosystem is not that… Everything is not that easy for women. First of all, in the top one hundred global funds, it’s only 8% women partners. So that’s not good. In my fund we have a 50-50. It’s me, my partner Tatiana, then two male founders, Pavel and Igor. So we are 50-50. That’s the story of how it should be, but it’s not yet there. It’s only 8%  and it started to change actually, only a couple of years ago. Before, it was even worse. So you know, the story on sexual harassment, which was quite in the media everywhere, a couple of years ago and the process started. So now the majority of the Global Funds started hiring females to work on their funds, which is good for us because again, female founders are underfunded. Female founders have less than 15%, according to the study of Boston Consulting Group. Only 15% of female founders…

Rana Nawas: (04:53)
Sorry, 15% of startup founders?

Viktoriya Tigipko: (04:54)
Startup founders, females obviously, are getting less funding. In 2017, they got seven times less funding from the top contract global VCs. Maybe because of that. I mean we’re in the minority. We have to just jump onto the stage and start doing something.

Rana Nawas: (05:12)
So two points on that. First of all, in Dubai anyway, I really feel, or at least the people who invest in startups tell me, that it’s about 50% female startup founders. It’s a crazy difference.

Viktoriya Tigipko: (05:24)
You rock the planet, because it’s not that.

Rana Nawas: (05:28)
But you’re saying that females…female founders get seven times less funding than male founders. Now this is surprising because I believe that female founders startups actually perform significantly better. Is that right?

Viktoriya Tigipko: (05:43)
It’s 100 percent right and there are a lot of different studies confirming that. That when you have female founders in startups, they basically perform much better. How better? There are figures showing that, for example, for each dollar invested into the female startup, you get 78 cents back and for each dollar invested in a male startup, you get 34 cents. So which is bringing us to the figure that when you have female founders, actually we have a two times, two and a half times more profitable business, better business. So it definitely makes sense to do that. And understanding those figures and having them in front of us, I don ‘t understand why female startups are less valued. So there is another study which is unfortunate to the business generally, that female founded startups in terms of valuation are 80 percent less. So according to the start of 2017, it’s not 2010, 2017, the equal startup in the same geography will value 80% less if it’s a female founder compared to male founders. It’s terrible figures, understanding that, actually, women bring more value.

Rana Nawas: (07:00)
So women generate twice as much value and yet get valued at 80 percent the value of the male startup. Yeah, it’s like the gender pay gap actually.

Viktoriya Tigipko: (07:10)
Exactly. But that should change. I mean there is more visibility to the issue that I’m sure will change and there are a lot more studies in this specific way. Also, they decided the top 500 fortune companies in the fortune and when you have three females founders in the top management, then in terms of profitability and income, the company is growing much better. So the figures are not like 5% gross, it’s 66% in terms of growing the income and 58% plus in terms of growing the profitability of the company. So at least, having a couple of females in the management is a must. But that’s not our goal. Our goal is 50-50 minimum and then, let’s see, I mean that’s, that’s where we’re going.

Rana Nawas: (08:02)
So a take-away to the listeners and the audience is: you should be investing in female-led start-ups.

Viktoriya Tigipko: (08:08)
That definitely makes sense because I have 175 invested companies since 2010 and we’ve been seeing a lot of interesting stories of female founders and male founders and how it works and I’m a 100% sure that they should be the equilibrium, a 50-50 minimum. Less is worse. It’s really quite an atmosphere there in a startup. It’s really tears and blood and sweat and all that blended together. You have to have a moderator. I mean women are moderators, they can listen, they can interfere when it’s needed. Some can support this proper vibe in the startup ecosystem and it should be like that. And the figures, all the figures we have, all the reports do support this. So we just have to raise the voice and as a Venture Investor like myself, we have to change the situation. There’s no way that female founded startups should be valued less. I mean it should be vice versa.

Rana Nawas: (09:15)
Right. I mean we know that diverse teams perform better and we know that male and female skills compliment each other. So I can imagine in a startup environment that would work very well. Great. Okay. Well, let’s bring it to TA ventures. How did this company come about?

Viktoriya Tigipko: (09:30)
Yeah, everything, everything happens just occasionally. So I was originally from the offline business, running a couple of interesting ventures, but purely offline. It was construction. It was a big equipment projects running for railroads, airports, etc. White men business. And once it happened in 2009, a friend of a friend advised that his son who was actually looking to transfer his businesses from China and India to Ukraine because he had experience working with Ukrainian developers who are really highly ranked and are world famous. We are in the top 10 Tech Engineers worldwide. And then this guy was looking to start switching the business from China and India, which was good for us and he was looking for a contract. So basically we met and I arranged a couple of meetings with a number of people in Ukraine, in Kiev, and I said, “okay, so let’s do it together.” I mean, I like it. So, exactly what I wanted to do is like a brain casino. So really, this business keeps me up all the time. It’s interesting. It changes every moment. So that’s exactly what they want to do. And we started. We started building the company first. It was like a company builder he built for companies from scratch in Ukraine, hiring developers and building the businesses in the two sectors in travel and in the marketplace. So it was similar to Amazon for Eastern Europe and then selling to China, which is actually good. We sold the company to a couple of interesting big players, last minute, in Switzerland. One company is still in beta and another was publicly listed in a Warsaw now. So it’s okay. So the experience of building the companies was quite successful, but that exact period, we started the conference in Central and Eastern Europe and the internet technologies and innovations in 2010. It was growing like crazy because it was quite a high 2010. Everybody wanted to invest in the Russian-speaking internet, which is a huge market, especially US and the European funds. Whenever I’d come to Ukraine… Ukraine had no visas comparing to Russia where you had to give up your passport again for two weeks. And for people who are basically living in the plane, like Venture Capitalists and entrepreneurs, they couldn’t afford that. So Ukraine was an amazing territory. It was closer, no visa. So everybody started to come. We opened the world, I will say, for 100 plus speakers every year who were at internet technologies innovations conferences in Ukraine. We were live from 2010 to 2015, but then the war started in 2013 and it was getting so difficult to bring the capital to Ukraine because it was no good for two years. But we changed the format a little bit. So that’s how it started. And we were meeting a lot of entrepreneurs, meeting a lot of speakers during this conference and it was a great learning for me and sitting backstage talking with the speakers, talking with amazing people like Alan Patricof, and many many others. I take those opportunities to say okay let’s do some co-investments. Help us with the developers from Eastern Europe. This is by the way, our differentiator of the fund. So we help the company grow from a seed to earliest early on their growth path, the need to extend their tech teams, build and bring more tech talents to the teams. And then it’s a problem because, you know, in Europe, it’s more than 1 million gap in Tech talent. In the US, it’s even more. It is 1.5 million or even more of a gap in Tech. And so everybody’s hiring.

Rana Nawas: (13:10)
So when you say Tech talent, you mean the Coders and Developers?

Viktoriya Tigipko: (13:13)
Developers. Coders. Exactly. They are not enough. It’s 1.5 million gap in the US and in Europe correspondingly. And of course Eastern territories, India and some others like Asia are a huge potential for that. And in Ukraine, we have really top talent and everybody was interested so we tend to get into the best deals during that period of time through the contacts and through the networks. Networks work amazingly. That’s also important for everybody to understand: that we have to build… You have to start building your network because network really builds networks, like a network effect. The network helped us build an interesting, very interesting portfolio. And we are basically helping companies grow and bring the developers either two years temporarily or they stay in Ukraine and we form sort of extended teams in Ukraine and all that is working.

Rana Nawas: (14:03)
Great. Well let’s talk a little bit about this angel investing network you founded – iClub. So maybe you could tell us a bit about that because you’ve got VC [venture capital]: what’s the difference between your VC and your iClub?

Viktoriya Tigipko: (14:16)
Yeah. Thank you Rana. So, iClub is not new. It’s a model which exists in the majority of the European geographies and also in the US and some other destinations. I’m sure you also have an investor club here. So how it works; usually they are one or a couple of best performing funds in the territory and there are a lot of offline entrepreneurs who would like to invest into the Tech companies, into the startups but they’re busy with their own businesses, but they would like to. They have this appetite to invest in different risk asset class like venture capital asset class. And they would like to join a venture capital or an investment company that is performing well, just to meet maybe once per month to consider one or a couple of investment opportunities and to rely on the due diligence of their funds. Because this is a lot of work. I mean you can imagine that it’s a lot of work to make a due diligence even for the companies in the earliest stage. So that’s exactly how I founded iClub. I met a bunch of entrepreneurs who are investing on their own, taking the risk on their own. They are just being fascinated by very clever girls and boys, ex-alum and having nice universities…etc. And they have no clue how that works, how the system works and relative competition…etc. So many different issues that should be under the due diligence when we decide to invest into startups. That’s how TA ventures work with the club. So we meet every month. We don’t meet in fancy cafeterias or restaurants. We go to technological companies like Future Unicorns, Suny Corns, a $100 million, $10 million dollar companies, which are really existing and are doing their businesses. We help iClub members meet Ukrainian entrepreneurs, like really cool entrepreneurs. They present their company, they make a show and make a tour of their company. And then the second part starts. When we present the company’s investment opportunity either from Ukraine or from Europe or from the US, whenever, the IClub members ask questions and then they put the ticket. The minimum ticket is $25,000, they can go up to $1 million, whatever. It depends on the appetite, but there is another story. And interestingly, it’s also good for the Middle East. We don’t charge any management fee on those investing into Ukrainian companies. All that is done in order to support the Ukrainian Tech ecosystem, so it’s totally for free. So we support private investors supporting startups.

Rana Nawas: (16:55)
Oh that’s amazing. So then iClub is really for very busy people who want to invest in a startup but don’t have the time or skills. I’m one of those people you gave an example of. That’s why I was smiling earlier because I invested. My first angel investment was in a movie, it’s called “Two Guns,” if anyone’s has seen it; Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington. It was sure to be a blockbuster. It bombed. I lost all my money, my savings and so since then…so I need to join the club. That’s exactly right. So, what advice do you have for people who do want to start angel investing? They do have some savings and they want to apply them, but they don’t necessarily have the skills or the confidence to do it.

Viktoriya Tigipko: (17:39)
The only one advice is to just join the professionals. Find the best performing funds in the area, in the territory of your area and form a club because that’s the only way to feel safe because there are a lot of interesting rules in angel investments or the simple rule is that you have to sort of have some. So you have to have at least 10 investments because in my story, I invested in 175 companies. I lost 13, so it’s like 10%, right? So it’s not everywhere, 10%. So there are territories where it’s 90%, but life is changing. Now it’s less companies. We’re losing less companies. We are caring more about how to make a due diligence and which companies to invest in, etc… But it is better to have 10. The more the better. Twenty, twenty five, in five years is amazing and better to go to the same ticket. Like, if you’re investing 25,000 as an angel investment, go buy 25. Don’t fall in love with the company, don’t put like one million in one company and 25 in another company. So it should be the consistency approach, so 25 or 50. So it depends, again, on your appetite. But it’s good. It’s great to be close to the professionals because the due diligence process is like a whole bunch of war. Actually, all these venture capital investments are about the due diligence. First of all, the founders, because you invest in the people. But then there are figures, there is a market side, there is an opportunity, there is competition, you have to make an analysis and you have to fly to the company no matter where the company is. We have companies in India, we have in our portfolio companies in Singapore, in Canada, everywhere and we have to fly to make it face-to-face because our statistics are like that. So one third of the companies actually have no goal after their final personnel due diligence and meeting their founding team and their top management team in the company. So that’s why we have to be really careful and it’s a 24/7, 365 job. And I just want to share that they’re also saying that Warren Buffet said that he’s so successful because he reads 500 pages a day. So that’s amazing. So who has the time to read 500 pages a day? I mean we do because of all this newsfeed that we’re just consuming and chewing everyday and all the partners, the whole team of 10 people, it’s just like a bunch of information. So I calculate it myself. So for about five hours per day I spend reading, reading in really high speed. So the people who are busy in their business don’t have that time. They have to take care of their business and they have to be reading on their business. So if you want to play in the startup investments, in angel investments, it is cool, but stay close to the professionals.

Rana Nawas: (20:12)
And we do have a bunch of those networks in Dubai: The Women Angel Investing Network, VentureSouq, Womena, Mindshift Capital. There are several of them. So that’s open to us if anyone’s interested. Great. Now you have many passions and a big one is film. So you’re president of the Ukrainian Film Academy and of the Odesa Film Festival, right? So let’s talk about the Ukrainian Film industry. Are many movies produced in the Ukraine?

Viktoriya Tigipko: (20:38)
That’s a good question. So in 2010 we started the Odesa International Film Festival which is quite a famous pearl, I will say. It’s a famous city, a lot of Film Producers, Directors and owners of studios like Metro Golden Meyer, 20 Century Fox and many others originally are from Odesa. Like Kirk Douglas, Leonardo Dicaprio’s grandmother – a lot of famous names are originally from the city. And in the cinema world, Odesa is very famous because it’s where the cinema started. And they are ready to come to Odesa, not to Kiev. So that’s why the place was chosen 100%. And we started in 2010, and now it’s a big festival. We have 150,000 people coming every July, every second week of July. So it’s basically a nine days festival now, and the standard is one hundred plus movies that we bring every year to the festival. And there are a lot of stars coming out, all the teams and all their cast present. They are moving their standard of competition. And the interesting thing is that we have simultaneously two festivals: International Film Festival and Ukrainian National Film Festival. And I would say that after, you know, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, the Ukrainian Film collapsed completely. So we had two major studios where we were producing more than a thousand movie during the period of existence. And then it stopped completely. So when we decided to make the Ukrainian National Film Festival in 2010… Because I’m not from the industry and we could not find any movie to participate in the competition, not a single movie in 2010. And it was a problem. So basically the industry was dead and we decided to basically revitalize everything and to restart the industry from zero. So just for example, this year, 2018, we had 289 Ukrainian movies in different competitions, so from zero to almost 300 movies in the competition at the beginning. So Ukrainian movies started to bring a similar quantity of money in the Box Offices compared to the US blockbuster. So a couple of them started 100,000, then a couple of million. And now I think next year we will see the 10 million Box Office for Ukrainian movies. So this year, we will target 3 million, which is amazing. It is an incredible story for the country that basically collapsed in the film industry and then was re-built from scratch. So it’s a huge team that is doing the festival. And to have the festival, you have to have a Film Academy, right? So the Ukraine didn’t have their Film Academy and we started it in 2017, so it will be the third investor of the Ukrainian Film Academy, which is totally cool. You also have the Film Festival, which is great. The Film Academy should be there because it brings a very positive vibe into the industry.

Rana Nawas: (23:40)
What does the Film Academy do?

Viktoriya Tigipko: (23:42)
It’s like Oscar – Oscar Film Academy. So basically there are people who are qualified to be the academics so they join the academy and they form their management. They choose who will be running the show in the academy. They are on their own. We cannot influence them somehow. We just help them exist. We started this academy. It’s like Lola Cezar in the European geographies and should be the enemy because their academics should know the Film Industry of their own country. They should see each other’s movies. And that’s exactly what the academies do – they force them to watch the movies which are in different combinations. And then they meet once per year and every month for different meet-ups. And that completely changed the face of the industry. So we’re happy to help the Ukrainian industry grow and basically restart.

Rana Nawas: (24:31)
Great. So you’re saying that a Ukrainian movie is going for $3,000,000 revenue target?

Viktoriya Tigipko: (24:36)
In the Box Office, there’s one movie which will reach $3 million pretty soon, I think by the end of November and next year we will see the $10 million Box Office.

Rana Nawas: (24:46)
And how big is the Ukrainian audience? How big is the Ukraine?

Viktoriya Tigipko: (24:49)
Ukraine is 40 million. Ukraine is 40 million and in Kiev the population is 4.5 million. But you have to know that we don’t have enough cinema theaters in Ukraine so it’s only 400 cinema theaters, which is, I will say, five times less compared to European destinations and compared to some other destinations, it is 10 times less. So of course the Box Office, it’s cinema theaters, but now the paradigm is changing. So we are watching movies on Youtube, different streaming platforms and then it changes. That’s why Ukrainians are watching, I would say, like 50-50 movies in streaming platforms and in cinema theaters.

Rana Nawas: (25:31)
So what’s been different about Ukrainian film? What are the themes that they’re exploring these days? Are they very political or are they very social or are they very athletic? I don’t know anything about Ukrainian Film.

Viktoriya Tigipko: (25:42)
I mean the best of Ukraine is that the people have an amazing sense of humor. So all the comedies are winners. Then social, family stories or relationships. I mean now those are the winners of the Box Office because when you’re doing the blockbusters on horror movies…etc, it’s not that easy. I mean the most expensive, the most difficult movies basically are horror. So we cannot do that properly compared to what the American industry can offer. Also blockbusters. I mean it’s total different budgets. We have to understand that Ukrainian budgets for movies are like $100,000 and up to a couple of million. It’s not like tens of millions compared to similar budgets in the US. So that’s the basic, the main topics.

Rana Nawas: (26:31)
Yeah. Now I don’t know how you have time to do any more than you already do – TA ventures, iClub, Odesa Film and Ukraine Academy, but you do. You’ve started a club called “The Code Club,” which is an initiative to get 9-11 year olds coding. Can you tell us more about that? Why did you start that?

Viktoriya Tigipko: (26:49)
Again, so it happened just occasionally. There was the Duke of York speaking at one of the meet-ups of Global Internet Leaders in London. A couple of times per year, we sit in the same jury in different accelerators…etc. But the interesting thing was that I liked the idea. Then MIT (Massachusetts Technological Institute) created, for free, the methodology to teach kids from 7 to 14 years old in gamification form. There’s all the different languages, starting from scratch, then scratch advance, CSS, JavaScript, Python and many others. And it’s totally for free. And every year they invest additional money in order to change these programs and add new ones because the languages are changing. It’s not about coding, it is about algorithmic thinking, which is important. And kids from 7 to 14 years go there for free. The code club was like a matching platform. So basically you have to say okay we would like to open the club in the office of the company. Doesn’t matter, it can be in the office of any business entity; in the library, in the school, anywhere. But the only demand of the code club is that if you open the club in your office for the kids of your employees, you have to open the doors also for the kids from the surrounding districts. That’s important. And currently we have 570 clubs and more than 10,000 kids enrolled in the program. And in a year it will be more than one thousand clubs and 20,000 plus enrolled in the program. So this is how we’d like to help change and preserve the Ukrainian DNA of engineering skills. The kids will then think algorithmically, focusing on STEM. There’s an opportunity for them to get it for free. By the way, if you want to join this program, it’s called Club Global. It’s not only an Ukrainian initiative, it is a global initiative. Again, it’s for free there. Somebody could start this initiative here and it’s totally for free. They have all the special tutorials to teach them gamification for basically every lesson, one and a half hour lesson, and with the cartoon, they make their specific language, which is cool. And the volunteers, who come to teach, they also do it for free and they say that the best job in their lives is to be a volunteer teacher in that school because there are a lot of young stars and a lot of programs that have already been launched in the world. They’ve been started by these kids. I mean you cannot imagine how talented our kids are. So you have to start this Code Club in the Middle East as well.

Rana Nawas: (29:29)
Amazing. Well, we’re getting kicked off the stage so I’m going to wind up with two rapid fire questions? Sorry guys. Unfortunately, we’re not going to get to the questions, but two quick questions then I’m going to close really quickly. I read somewhere that you love yoga. What’s your favorite yoga pose?

Viktoriya Tigipko: (29:51)
Standing on my head.

Rana Nawas: (29:52)
Head stand?

Viktoriya Tigipko: (29:52)

Rana Nawas: (29:52)
Oh okay, awesome. Okay.

Viktoriya Tigipko: (29:55)
Smooth. Relaxing.

Rana Nawas: (29:56)
Wow. amazing. Okay. Last question, favorite holiday destination?

Viktoriya Tigipko: (30:03)

Rana Nawas: (30:03)
Ibiza. Yeees! Alright, thank you Viktoriya. Thank you so much.


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