When Hrish first arrived in Ukraine, his goal was to start a venture capital firm as he had worked in venture capital in NYC. When he first arrived in Kyiv, he started an event company and was able to quickly expand his network and met top business angels and venture investors. In an interview with Ucluster, Hrish talks about his career path, investment philosophy and gives his advice on how to raise funds for a startup.
In 2009, after spending 8 years post-MBA in Investment Banking and Venture Capital in New York City, Hrish Lotlikar booked a flight to Eastern Europe and spent the next year travelling in Ukraine, Russia, and the Baltics. He finally settled in Ukraine, where he met his future partners and helped start EastLabs, a venture fund he co-founded with some heavy weights in the Ukrainian business milieu. “Ukraine is my heart! I just feel so at home and love it so much!” admits Hrish.
“In my first week in Kyiv I invited a bunch of people to a party. I am a social person, what can I say. I ended up, after several months, starting an event company in Kyiv which was also a really great way to meet people. The company became well known in the expat scene and we threw a lot of really fun parties. A friend I knew back in NYC happened to come to one of my events. He asked me what I was doing in Ukraine. I mentioned to him that I wanted to build a venture capital fund. He introduced me to Victor Pinchuk’s EastoneGroup and was later introduced to my future partners Eveline Buchatskiy and Olga Belkova. I also had met Viktoria Tigipko as she was just starting TA Ventures. It was exciting to meet people with common interests.”
The chance encounter at a party led to a joint venture with a major Ukrainian conglomerate EastOne Group, which became the main investor in EastLabs, an early-stage Ukrainian venture capital fund. A year later, in 2012, Hrish met two entrepreneurs from Belarus, one thing led to another, and he got involved in TechMinsk, the first entrepreneurship school and tech accelerator in Belarus backed by USAID and the US State Department.
EastLabs paused its investment activities in 2014, and Hrish had gone back to his entrepreneurial roots and helped scale Toptal, backed by Andreessen Horowitz, and then co-founded Rogue Initiative Studios, producing world-class film, TV, video games and VR experiences. Four years ago he founded SuperWorld, a virtual world in augmented reality mapped on top of the real world, where anyone can purchase a plot of virtual land and share in user activity generated by the platform.
Hrish still occasionally invests in companies he is passionate about. “I always like hearing about new companies, teams, in areas that I like,” shares Hrish. He has recently joined the advisory board and made a small investment into growthengine.ai, a company that integrates AI in the education industry and works with military and enterprise clients.
“I selectively look at the companies that I think are a fit for me and my portfolio and then bring my connections and insights on how to start, get investors, or do partnerships,”says Hrish.
Hrish Lotlikar's investing philosophy
Hrish Lotlikar has a special interest in technology companies, especially those based on artificial intelligence. However, he is also ready to collaborate with startups that deal with virtual reality, fintech technology, or even are active in the entertainment industry. Since Hrish has worked in all of these areas, he uses his experience to accelerate the startup's development and advise on things that the industry is lacking. The most important element for him is people: "Working with passionate, intelligent individuals always leads to good results, that’s why this is one of the first factors I pay attention to."
Lotlikar believes that his career in investment banking and venture capital, as well as the fact that he has lived in different parts of the world, can be useful for young startups: “If I work with a company I love, I will find dozens of things to help them with: from finding the right people to increasing profits.”
Table: Ukrainian startups with investments by the EastLabs team
|Company||Company’s profile||Money Invested|
|PromoRepublic||Calendar app that helps creating posts for social media by analyzing trends, events, etc.|| Seed Round (2014)|
$20 - 60K*
|Sportamba||Mobile loyalty program for sports fans||Seed Round (02/2014)|
|Kabanchik||A platform for ordering products and services||Seed Round (04/2013)|
|Poptop Event Planning Concierge||Helps making memorable events by guiding amateur organizers through the planning process and matching them with the right suppliers||Seed Round (07/2013)|
|ActiveGift||Gifting service for friends & family||Seed Round (01/2012)|
|Preply||An online learning platform that connects students with tutors.||Pre-Seed Round (01/2012)|
|Runfaces||Development of video services for web and mobile platforms||Seed Round (07/ 2012)|
$160K* (Total Round)
|MyTeamVoice||IP- and cloud-based telecommunication system for group voice communication||Seed Round (01/2012)|
$200K* (Total Round)
Tips for Ukrainian startups and investors
Hrish Lotlikar recommends Ukrainian entrepreneurs and founders to think globally from the very beginning. The ideal scenario is to have your team members in the countries where the startup will grow in the future. You can definitely organize your team in a distributed fashion and recruit team members in any locations you want to target. Hrish says that most Ukrainian founders have already internalized this message, and it’s not a big problem anymore. He also points out the value of networking and notes the importance of attending conferences, events, and meetings, which helps to find valuable connections.
Ideally, English should be the second, if not the first language of the company. A small detail like that can really help a startup attract attention. For angel investors and venture funds it is a sign that the team is ready to enter the international market. The United States is not the only market that startups should aim at. Hrish believes that Europe or even Asia can be a great place to grow customers. Every company needs someone engaged in marketing, design, and sales. It is essential to have a creative and cohesive team that can take the initial version of a software application and turn it into an attractive application. No matter how beautiful and unique a product is, there should always be a bit of business, marketing, and design magic. Listing the advantages that Ukrainian teams have, Hrish notes that many Ukrainians are technically very capable:
"Ukrainians are very capable and have extensive experience in various fields. If I had to choose a co-founder with whom I wanted to be on a team, I would choose a Ukrainian."Hrish Lotlikar.
The main piece of advice, Hrish believes, is what he learned from his own experience:
"If we are talking about Ukraine, Kyiv is not the only city where technology startups and many talented young people are located. Try to learn more about Ukrainian IT clusters, cities, and their culture. Organizations such as Ucluster help expand your knowledge about IT ecosystems and various startups."
We hope that Hrish's advice has been valuable to you and helped you to understand in which direction to move with your startup, as well as demonstrated what investors pay attention to when making investment decisions. In our next article we will be talking about another angel investor, who is helping Ukrainian startups and supports their initiatives.
Location: West Hollywood, United States.
Successful projects: Rogue Initiative Studios, SuperWorld, EastLabs, Startup Labs, Spencer Trask Ventures.
Ukrainian Investments: PromoRepublic, Preply, Runfaces, MyTeamVoice, ActiveGift, Kabanchik, others.