An interview with a mentor of UCU Center for Entrepreneurship and entrepreneur Taras Rodtsevych. Here we talk not only about the launch of his two successful startups, but also about mistakes, failures, and conclusions that help entrepreneurs move forward.
To begin with, a little on inspiration, ideas and motivation:
Where do you get your ideas from?
I started having some ideas for startups in general when I was a kid, I always have a lot of different ideas about what can be improved. It’s not up to me, it somehow arises on its own. The only thing I try to do is to restrain myself so as not to start doing too many different processes at once.
Many people are now starting to do startups specifically for money, because there is a popular opinion that this is a very profitable business. What do you think about this tendency?
I will disappoint these people, because doing ordinary business is much more profitable than doing a startup. Given the success rate and how much effort it takes to set up a particular startup, it requires much more effort, and there is a much bigger chance that it will fail. Startups are definitely not about money. It’s about wanting to change something, about something pushing you from within “Come on, you can!” Yet, I would still say that it is an activity that involves investing your own time and effort, and the question of money raises as an additional one.
Although Rodtsevich adds that, of course, “without making money, it’s a bad idea to start this startup.”
About the experience of running LookSize and UATAG, experience with these startups and failures:
One of the basic principles of startups:
There is a general principle: it is very bad to run two startups simultaneously. I am very well aware of that, but it is the same as having one child at a time is good, but when twins are born … well, that’s right! Speaking of LookSize and UATAG, they were “born” very close in time to each other, but were and remain independent and do not intersect.
Tell us more about your experience with UATAG and LookSize.
As for UATAG, we started with the fact that a friend of mine, who is an artist, raised the question of the possibility of creating 100% unique products that cannot be copied. This discussion lasted a long time. We tried different options: fingerprints are unique, but they can still be copied; the structure of a leaf is unique, but it is very difficult to distinguish between millions of other leaves… Later we came to the conclusion that there is one thing that is really impossible to repeat: it is a crack in glass. This idea was really good; we made the shape, locks and different types of stickers, but there was a problem with the actual implementation. We came to the conclusion that people do not really need 100% protection. Everyone is looking for a SIMPLE solution that will protect them by 99.9% – that’s enough for them. As a result, we came up with a digital solution – we translated the idea with a glass pattern into an electronic format, which was much more successful.
We are currently working with Jacobs, we apply our solution on their coffee jars. With this solution, two counterfeit centers have already been identified.
This is a startup that actually started with the need to select a size. We have our own marketplace of women’s clothing, which has a problem with the selection of size due to the difference in size grids of different brands. We started with this solution, and when we made it, we saw that it worked, it was interesting, so we decided to make a separate product. LookSize works with any type of clothing or footwear, with any size grid. The program takes many different factors into account, you enter your measurements once and the system “remembers” you. On all websites where LookSize is used, it immediately shows you what your optimal size in this brand and product is.
During the pandemic, people mostly switched to online shopping, did it somehow affect your startup?
Yes, as for the pandemic, there have been positive developments: more people have started buying things online. But there were also negative changes, such as last year, when people began to really save money. All clothes were reduced to night pajamas and work pajamas! Fortunately, in the fall everything returned to normal, so now we are planning to enter the Western market. When we were making our program, we tried to rely on the experience of the best American and European counterparts, trying to make our solution more perfect than those.
About the benefits of LookSize:
- Accuracy of sizing
In LookSize you enter the data manually, instead of using a photo.
We started by taking our own photos and saw that sizing was very inaccurate. And if your size on the photo is determined incorrectly, then all further fitting does not make any sense.
- This solution is suitable for people of non-standard size
The average person usually has no problems with choosing clothes, but for people with atypical appearance and physique, the supply on the market is much smaller. LookSize increases the chances of finding exactly the size, cut, etc. that suits the user.
Of course, most of us do not feel very comfortable sending our photos to a program, especially considering that the photo should be in very tight clothes or underwear, so that the program determines the exact size. LookSize saves you from these inconveniences.
- Easy to use and affordable
Even if you do not have a centimeter to take measurements and enter them into the program, there is a very simple method: you enter data about a piece of clothing that you own from a brand that is in the system. The program determines your size in all other brands deriving from that information.
- Convenience for partner stores
It takes 5 minutes for the store to install our solution, and all the support and settings are on our side, that’s what we take care of.
About the nature of startups. Who is a successful startuper?
What is the worst in startups, really the worst of all, is the waves, i.e. ups and downs: one day everything is fine, and the next – it all rolls down. It is very difficult for a person to be psychologically ready for all these ups and downs. To do this, you probably need to love to go hiking in the mountains, test yourself, be resilient regardless of the circumstances. For the most part, successful startupers are very emotional extroverts on the one hand, they should be strong willed as concrete, confident, with the mood “I know where I’m going, I know what I’m doing.”
A good startuper is not afraid of criticism, he/she needs it, but advice to be effective must come from the target audience of your product, and not from some “philosopher” from the outside. The greatest art of a startup is to be able to select what is useful and what is not. You always want to do everything at once, but if you take it all on yourself and don’t make a decision: what you do and what you don’t … you get stuck in these constant changes and other people’s wishes.
You say that you need to be able to make decisions so as not to become hostage to the wishes of others. Tell us what you think about the startup team. Who is the best to work with?
I have experience in dealing with different teams, and I would say that the number one principle in selecting a team – you should be happy to work with these people. It is to work, not to have fun – to work! Very often, when it comes to work, those who are very good at communicating outside business may not always be the same in the implementation of certain works.
That is, the ideal team members:
- people you enjoy interacting with;
- people tested in a working environment.
A lot of startups reach a certain stage and just rot, because people get excited just as quickly as they cool down, which is why a reliable, proven team is needed.
About clients, the path to success and mistakes or “There are 5-6 ways to go uphill from different sides, and probably billions how not to go uphill.”
A startup is growing something from scratch, there is nothing predetermined here. The main thing here is to find an understanding at the client’s level, to understand what he wants. This procedure is not one-time, it is a process in which somewhere on the 99th attempt you will get to that point and you will see that now it works, now you can move on. I have the impression that before finding the right path, I tried 99 wrong ones. We are used to thinking that there were 100 ways, but maybe there were 1,000 or 10,000, and we were lucky that we got to make the right decision on the 100th attempt.
About the compromise between your fantastic idea and the customer’s need. What to do if the desire and vision of the entrepreneur does not coincide with the needs of the audience? Does this mean that a startup is about an idea, and what if the idea does not work or undergoes edits and no longer brings you pleasure?
The ideal solution in any case is when the client is you. That is, you make the startup you need. This is important because you understand your needs better than anyone else, and if you are not a “pregnant astronaut” [in startups this term refers to a unique, very unlikely client], then there is a certain group like you – this is your target audience. Very easy and simple, in this decision it is not necessary to sacrifice neither the client, nor your own interests!
On the development of entrepreneurial culture among Ukrainian youth, education and opportunities:
Ukrainian youth are very enterprising, there are many new startups among students, but they really lack basic education in this field. What do you think the problem is?
First of all, we have a problem at the school level. I have children who are finishing school now, they teach things at school that most of us will never need in our lives. You need to have a general idea about them, you need to understand it. But things like the economy and society – we all face them every day. (We don’t want to upset our potential readers who are still in school, but despite the excessive number of unnecessary subjects in schools, Rodtsevich emphasizes that mathematics is very important. And not only for startups!)
In fact, a very large number of citizens do not understand basic social, economic, or political principles and models. A big part of the society that grew up in the Soviet Union and moved into the modern economy has retained the same “they owe me” principles. And why does someone owe you something?! The state is all of us, the state is not some big building far away in Kyiv. This principle “someone owes me” is a relic of the past that slows down the development of our society.
As for the programs made to develop startups in Ukraine (and not only), they are all united by one big problem – they pile up all startups under one measure. They have a certain matrix and they push all startups into it. It is much better for any startup when it “goes its own way.” Each startup is unique in its own way, so it needs to develop accordingly.