Women in Hi-Tech Startups: Interview with Skwibl CEO

Skwibl Tatiana Protasova, CEO of Skwibl, PR/Marketing Manager of ComboApp

What do a visual collaboration platform for designers and their clients and one of the leading mobile marketing and PR agencies have in common? The answer is - Tatiana Protasova, CEO of an innovative startup Skwibl and PR/Marketing Manager at our sister company ComboApp. Having such a person in our big Intersog family, I just couldn't help interviewing her about her startup and the difference between Ukrainian and foreign startup accelerators.

Intersog (I): Tatiana, can you please briefly describe your startup project Skwibl, what's it all about?

Tatiana Protasova (TP): Skwibl is a service that facilitates interaction between designers or design teams and their clients. It's based on the you-see-what-I-see principle. Skwibl contains and organizes all data relevant to your design project, allows designers to keep track of all tasks and sub-tasks, and clients - to oversee their project's progress in a real time. Now, you don't have to rake through the piles of emails when you badly need one -  you can easily find necessary information or edit project right in the dashboard - it's very convenient and saves a lot of time and efforts of both designers and their clients. What makes us different from other collaborative tools such as Balsamiq is the ease of use: you don't have to download any plug-ins or software to run Skwibl, nor should you be skilled in web design to edit projects.

I: And how did the idea of Skwibl occur to you?

TP: In winter 2012, a talented software developer named Yuri Karadzhov decided to create a service that would allow people to interact seamlessly in a real time. Due to the rapid evolution of technologies, it was decided not to use unreliable Flash for developing such a project. Yuri created an open source prototype and was going to mobile develop the project on his own. By that time I was about to complete my Master's Degree in Budapest where I learned a lot about startups and ways to attract investments. So I joined Yuri in his project and we started exploring Ukrainian and foreign startup accelerators. Having prepared a product presentation and demo video, we submitted them to different accelerators we found online.

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Then we found out that the Kyiv-based accelerator Eastlabs was going to pick second cohort of startups, and decided to apply right away. And Eastlabs did pick us to join the second cohort. The accelerator actually challenged us with many different tasks and our mentors taught us how to find a solution within a very short timeframe. Eastlabs has a very strong mentorship: we met a lot of IT thought leaders from all over the world who shared their experience and introduced us to potential investors. They helped us elaborate on the idea, set up a company and establish business contacts.

Yet, it was difficult for us to attract investments for our project in Ukraine, as it had a global focus. Therefore we started searching for opportunities beyond Ukraine. Eventually, we turned our gaze towards Australia as it is the homeland of such popular services as 99Designs and Freelancer, and also has a very well developed designer community. Using f6s.com, we found the ANZ Innovyz START accelerator and applied. Having overcome a lot of challenges such as revision of documentation, visa process, etc., we took part in their intensive 3-months program. By the way, we were the first project from Ukraine to have ever joined ANZ Innovyz START.

The climax of the program was a grand Demo Day that gathered over 200 investors (both VCs and angels). We had a good chance to attract investments, but there was one special condition - we were to come back to Australia. Unfortunately, our team wasn't granted visas despite an official invitation from the accelerator. It was probably related to Kyiv's Maidan that was in full swing at that time.

Recently, we've participated in the Silicon Valley Open Doors (SVOD) conference, and got some interesting leads there we're working on now.

skwibl, silicon valley open door, svod

I: What's the scope of investments you've managed to attract so far?

TP: We've attracted $40,000 in net, part of this amount was spent on company setup and taxes.

I: And how do you plan to monetize Skwibl?

TP: We're planning to develop the project as a freemium one, with free basic functionality and additional features through subscriptions.

I: What's the main difference between Ukrainian and foreign startup accelerators?

TP: Most of global accelerators operate based on the Global Accelerator Network (GAN) model developed by Brad Feld and David Cohen. Both Eastlabs and ANZ Innovyz START are based on this model, so I can't spot a huge difference here. The only difference I can think of now is the culture of doing business in Australia.

I: How would you describe Ukrainian startups community in general and what recommendations can you give to Ukrainian startuppers?

TP: In Ukraine, startups community is pretty well developed, so when you attend local events such as hackathons, open doors or conferences, you "switch on" very fast and become part of a big family. We also have IT women's community that holds a lot of interesting and useful events for startuppers.

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As for my recommendations, first of all - register your startup in various business listings such as Angel.Co, CrunchBase, f6s.com, Gust, and be very active in LinkedIn and other social networks. This will make your search for investors much easier! Also, don't forget that startups should be able to survive under a very tight budget and will a lot of ongoing challenges. Also, make sure you get the right people in your development team, as a good tech team is 60% of your startup's business success! Good luck!

Vik is our Brand Journalist and Head of Online Marketing / PR with 11+ years of international experience in IT B2B. He's also a guest blog contributor to Business2community, SitePoint, Journal of mHealth, Wearable Valley and other IT portals. You can contact him directly on LinkedIn.

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