In our new interview series, we are talking to Aly (Alyona) Owens, the founder of the Dill Seattle coworking space located in the industrial-chic part of Seattle called Georgetown. The Ukrainian Connection interviews tell the story of Ukrainians who found success outside of Ukraine, but who stayed connected with their Nenka. They share tips with Ukrainian entrepreneurs looking for advice, funding, and new markets.
Hi Aly, or should I call you Alyona?
Aly is for everybody who can’t pronounce Alyona. Pretty much “Aly” 50% of the time.
Where are you from originally and how did you end up in Seattle?
I’m from Izmail, Odessa region. I’m a mix of Moldovan, Ukrainian, and many other ethnicities, I’m sure. I moved to the US in 2009 but didn’t arrive in Washington state until the end of 2011. Here, I graduated with an MBA in 2014.
How did you get the idea for Dill Seattle?
Back in 2015 I moved to Austin, Texas and started a new job, working remotely while my dev team was located in Dallas, Texas. I needed a community where I'd feel productive and as a part of something. I joined one of the local coworking spaces called "Chicon Collective". It hosted 3 startups and two dozen freelancers. The membership was pretty cheap and the place had a vibe of a dorm: we all shared a kitchen and worked from couches.
I still remember the scent of that messy but fun building. People were diverse and awesome. Artists and techies found a home there. We would host workshops, somebody would always bring food to share. This environment was perfect for growing new ideas and friendships. When I moved to Seattle and joined a few communities (Slavic people, Burning Man community, and techies) I wanted to combine them all in hopes that art and tech would join and create better products, but most of all, new friendships would grow.
Does the name of your coworking space mean what I think it means?
Yes, dill is a popular Ukrainian herb. You add it to borsch. It also has many health benefits, most importantly, the flower reminds me of a bunch of little lights, all connected at its root. Like a bunch of people being connected by an idea. Dil also means “heart” in Hindi so we got quite a few Indians being fans of our coworking space.
What services does it provide to IT entrepreneurs and how is it different from other coworking spaces?
Dill is very different from other coworking spaces as it specifically focuses on smaller communities, building relationships, encouraging members to collaborate and bring in their talents and businesses.
Some coworking spaces don't allow advertisement of business, some coworking spaces focus only on startups or only on artists, or only on women, or only on minorities. We focus on having diversity. Ideally, we want to have a lawyer, a programmer, and a marketing expert, along with a CPA in the same space. This would allow each one of us to use each other's services and maybe even build a business together.
We offer the lowest prices in Seattle for the best value package, which includes the ability to host meetups, workshops, etc., included in the citizen membership (only $299). It also includes a dedicated desk, business mailing address, high-speed internet, free events hosted by Dill, free parking, snacks, and a podcast room.
What other resources would you recommend for Ukrainian IT startups and entrepreneurs visiting Seattle for fundraising or looking for partners or customers?
First, I'd recommend joining the Startups meet Angles meetup. Second, join WorkChat Seattle to connect with people. Third, other than joining the Ukrainian Monthly Social group, I'd recommend diversifying to attending meetups hosted by UW Blockchain, Cybersecurity, etc. Many investors come straight to the University of Washington to pick the top entrepreneurial talent so that's where I'd recommend finding them.
What startup events would you suggest, especially ones with Ukrainian connections?
I recommend following Nick Bilogorsky from San Francisco as startup life is way more exciting there. In Seattle, you might be able to meet the right people during the Ukrainian Monthly Social.
Any recommendations for fundraising?
There are a few folks here in Seattle who are Ukrainian and interested to invest in Ukrainian startups. I am one of them. So yes, write to me and I will be happy to support, connect, and advertise your company. [Editor: Dill’s and Aly’s contact info can be found here]
What makes Seattle unique and different when looking for customers here?
Compared to San Francisco where people make connections all the time as it's one of the most valued skills there, Seattle people are more closed off introverts. Connecting takes more time and friendships are built over time. Make sure to attend the right events, meetups, and charity events. Conferences (from ComiCon to K8) will bring you lots of connections if you are ready for them.
What is trending in Seattle in terms of demand for products or services?
VR and AR, e-commerce using VR, etc.
Any tips for Ukrainian startups looking for general office services and providers, e.g. coworking spaces, event services, catering, tax consulting, translation services, notary public, etc?
First, join the Ukrainian Association in Washington and ask anything on the group board (going through the admin). Second, downtown has many coworking spaces. I'd recommend General Assembly and the many accelerators in Seattle. Third, come join Dill to connect with folks who work for big corporations in the city and happen to be from Ukraine originally.
Thanks, Ally. It was a pleasure chatting with you (in a safe, socially distanced way). Hope to see you at one of the upcoming Ukrainian Monthly Socials.