Even from another continent, it is apparent that now is not the best time for the Russian startup market: investments are decreasing and successful startups are gradually moving over to the West. In his opinion, a successful startup can be seen from far off, in such a way that it cannot be missed. This is what happened with the Russian company MAXIMUM.
— Why did you decide to invest in a Russian startup?
— In spite of the current situation, we are continuing to look for promising Russian projects. There are some sections of the market that do not interest us (advertising technologies, for example), but we believe in the field of education. I consider that the company MAXIMUM and its team form the best educational project in Russia today.
— How do you see the startup market in Russia? Are you tracking the situation in it and the influence of the crisis?
— The Russian startup market has not gone away. Furthermore, several companies are doing fine today. Of course, the flow of financing has decreased, since many investors have stopped investing in Russian projects. This has forced some of the startups to move over to the West, taking their business with them, Unfortunately the Russian market today is very different from the rapidly developing one it was in 2010, for example.
— What in your opinion are the strong aspects of Russian projects? And what do they most lack?
— As a rule, most Russian startups have a team with a strong technological background. However, they have a very superficial understanding of specific business projects, so it often turns out that tough a project looks attractive at first, it later suddenly becomes disappointing. I have seen very many companies which developed interesting technologies, yet they could not explain what problem their service solved.
— How do startups in different countries differ? Or are there traits common to all of them?
— It is not important where a startup is located. A successful project can always be recognized by certain characteristics. These include a motivated team, a thorough understanding of business, strong financial and marketing strategies, and a lot of expertise in the local market.
— What impresses you about the MAXIMUM service? why did you decide to invest in it?
— Before taking the decision to invest in one company or another, we always check the project against a number of criteria. First we look at what sort of team runs it. We liked the creators of MAXIMUM because they had experience in their field and were passionate about their idea. We also paid attention to their knowledge of the market. The two managers of MAXIMUM had previously worked in educational companies in Israel and the USA, so they were able to apply their unique experience in Russia, where standardized test examinations had only just been introduced. A third argument in favour of the project was their LMS (Learning Management System). Today, the Russian way of preparing for examinations looks very outmode, and largely consists of classes from textbooks with a tutor. But MAXIMUM offers an online platform with the capability of solving tests on the Internet, with functions for tracking successes and finding out the strong and weak aspects of the pupil. The MAXIMUM LMS provides an opportunity to follow the work literally in real time. The project was the first in the Russian education market able to offer such a platform.
— What role do you play in MAXIMUM’s development? Do you have any influence on what decisions are taken? Do you act as advisors, or do you just observe?
— Our foundation is an investor in the company and a member of its board. We try to do all we can to help the project. But it is worth stressing that it is the startup team itself which controls the development of the business and takes the strategic decisions.
— Do you have other projects in the education field? How much do you think Internet terminologies will change the market? What awaits this field in the future?
— Yes, earlier we invested in educational companies in China, Brazil and India, but MAXIMUM was the first such startup in Russia in which we participated. Actually the brightest project in this market in the USA is the company Kaplan. However, only a year ago it was mostly an offline business. But now Kaplan has turned itself into an almost entirely online company with offline elements.
— In our view, MAXIMUM is just the sort of project to head the process of Russian education going over to the Internet. And this is particularly important if you take the size of Russia into account. Using the capabilities of the Internet makes education more accessible: school pupils from all regions will be able to prepare for examinations in a high-quality way.
— Have you yourself taken any online courses? What are your impressions?
Of course I have, I studied in Kaplan to prepare myself for the GMAT examination (a test for entering business schools Editor’s note). And do you know what? I think that if I had not studied in that programme, I would certainly have received lower marks.
— What factors influence the success of startups? And what is the reason for projects more often failing?
— I think that each company that has closed has its own reasons for failure. The problem is often that the project looks promising, but quickly proves a disappointment. It is understandable that startups require some time to become profitable, that is why investors support a company until it pays for itself or is sold to someone. But if the business angels do not see any prospects and lose faith in the project, it is closed down. This is why it is so important to keep convincing investors again and again that the service has a future.
— What would be your advice to foreign investors wishing to invest funds in Russian startups?
— If you want to invest in Russia, you have to bear in mind that to see the situation properly, it I best to have a Russian speaker in the team who understands the specific national features of the country.
Learn more about the MAXIMUM project.