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Russian immigrant startups tell why they moved to the USA

Edition talks about a new wave of start-up emigration from Russia.

The founder of the educational project Elena Masolova, the investors brothers Daniil and David Lieberman, a member of the Forbes list of the richest Russians and the founder of Svyaznoy Maxim Nogotkov, founder of TrendsBrands Anastasia Sartan, founder of Budista (now Wakie) moved to San Francisco and Silicon Valley Grachik Adzhamyan, former PR-director of Mail.Ru Group Ksenia Chabanenko, founder of amoCRM and QSOFT Mikhail Tokovinin.

The list also includes the former Afisha restaurant columnist, the author of the smart messenger Luka Evgenia Kuyda, the founders of Coub Anton and Igor Gladkoborodov, the founder of AlterGeo Anton Baranchuk, the founder of the Theory and Practice website and the startup Sweatcoin Danil Perushev, the founder of the Amplifr service Nat Hajibalaev Stampsy Sergey Poido, former curator of Digital October Maria Adamyan and many others.

According to estimates, Nikolai Davydov, who moved here a year ago from Gagarin Capital, moved about a thousand people, and the flow does not run low.

Sergey Poydo

Every morning Sergey go out Stampsy wakes up, leaves a two-room apartment, which he and Yevgenia Kuida rents for $ 4000 for two, and goes to the Galvanize coworking space in the South of Market, a typical industrial quarter where local factories were rebuilt into lofts in the 1980s and 90s.

Here are Airbnb, Dropbox and Pinterest.

“This is an opportunity to learn something new and find people who can somehow help you in your project - a kind of networking. In Russia, two or three such events take place a week, but here dozens of them every day, ”Poido says.

Meetups replaced parties for him: “The first few months here you miss the Moscow rhythm. Then you get used to it. There is a special term FoMO (fear of missing out, “fear of missing something”), which describes the fear of a city dweller to be excluded from the context. In Moscow, you should be in the center of attention, so that you will not be forgotten, and in San Francisco, your project should be in the center of attention.

Getting used to it, Poydo realized that moving was one of the most correct decisions in his life. He demonstrates confidence that in case of failure with his business, he can try to get a job in the company. Poido claims that he was not afraid of moving - it was difficult to be the first, and his friends were waiting for him in San Francisco, ready to help with documents and finding housing: Roman Mazurenko, Kuida, the Lieberman brothers.


Entrepreneurs from Russia began to actively move to San Francisco two years ago, confirms the president of the Ambar business association Anna Dvornikova: “As soon as the conflict with Ukraine began, I actually worked as a free consultant on immigration issues - all the time I recommended some lawyers, helped with paperwork ”.

Investor Pavel Cherkashin believes that one of the reasons why startups choose California are the “seeds of immigration” available here. “These are the people who come first and gather around them a crowd,” he explains. - They are like guides for others. When a critical mass of such people is gathered, the rest begin to be attracted to them. "

In San Francisco, a critical mass began to form in 2014. By the fall, Russia had left more than in any other year of Vladimir Putin’s reign, Bloomberg considered, citing Rosstat.

By the end of 2014, 308 people left Russia, which is 475% more than a year earlier. It was mainly labor migrants who left. 65 people moved to the United States.

“What is a thousand people nationwide? This is nothing at all, - says Nikolai Davydov. - But what is a thousand entrepreneurs who have left? This is a bunch of people, there are several million jobs, a lot of taxes and innovations, ”he says.


Anton Generalov

I decided to leave a year ago - our Industrial Investors fund wanted to strengthen its presence in Silicon Valley, and in addition, I wanted to get an MBA from California State University. We now have three funds in the Valley: Nano Dimension ($ 150 million), Industrial Investors, and a new $ 225 million Stereo Capital fund.

Initially, we wanted to create our own fund in the Valley, but we realized that with local experienced partners and their connections we would be able to achieve great success. We began our search and went out to our current partners who were also looking for co-investors: Mohr Davidow Ventures partner Jim Smith, a man with vast VC experience and extensive connections in the Valley, and former vice-president of Mail.Ru, a successful entrepreneur and business angel Dmitry Dakhnovsky long lived in the United States. We are faced with many tasks, it’s no secret that there are many funds in the Valley, but we have something to offer. Our LPs are not only from Russia, but from Asia and Europe, we are a global foundation.

Nikolay Davydov

While still working for the iTech Capital fund, he often visited the Valley - he flew here three or four times a year, but at the end of 2014 he decided to leave iTech Capital in order to launch his own investment fund Gagarin Capital.

“Since they knew me here before moving, it was easier for me,” explains Davydov. - So far, our money is mostly Russian, but we always work with investors, about whose capital there is not a shadow of a doubt. Although, in fact, it is not so important here whose money you have, as who you are. A good example is Yuri Milner. He started with the money of Usmanov, an oligarch close to power. It couldn't be worse for an IT business. But Yuri Borisovich built an excellent reputation, showed the whole Valley how smart, efficient, charming he is, made several hundred deals, each of which is worthy of a separate article or book. " Davydov himself in March 2016 also contributed to a high-profile deal in the Valley - the sale of the Belarusian MSQRD application to Facebook itself. The amount of the deal was not disclosed, but according to some estimates, it was at least $ 20 million.

Finding housing in the Valley is no less difficult than gaining the trust of the locals. “You sit for hours on the craigslist classifieds site, hit F5 every 15 minutes and see what's new there,” recalls Davydov. - When you see an offer, you immediately write a letter to the agent or the owner of the house and attach to it a presentation with family photos explaining why you deserve to live here. I indicated everything: my awards, a list of publications about me, all my wife's degrees and my daughter's medals, I attached a picture of my dog. ” After that, you need to come to the open day to see the house. It costs two hours to arrive, since besides you, there will be another five or six couples in line.

“Then everyone pays $ 50 to have their credit score checked. The Russians who have moved do not have a credit score, but they still have to pay 50 bucks. Self-employed-Russian with a dog without a credit score, like me, it's just like Mexican Illegal sounds After going through all the procedures, you hope that the owner will let you go to bidding for the house. I saw one house that gave up for $ 6200 a month, we offered $ 7500 for it, and it went for $ 9800. ”

In order to rent a house in Los Altos Hills, Davydov took almost three months. During this time, he managed to live in hotels, friends and apartments, shot through Airbnb. Before I got a place to live, I had to look at 56 houses, get three offers and finally stop at one.

“I realized that the course that Russia has chosen for itself now is not very good for the future of my children. I was going to send them to study in the UK, where I studied myself, or to the States. I didn't want to send my children alone, so I was mentally ready to live in two houses, as people live, for example, between Moscow and London. As a result, we ended up with the whole family in the USA, ”says Davydov.

Maria Adamyan

In parallel with the search for housing, Russians moving here go through another important procedure - obtaining a visa. One of the most popular visas among new immigrants is the O-1. This is a work visa issued for three years and intended for foreigners with “extraordinary ability”.

To prove your extraordinaryness, you will have to provide documents confirming that the candidate has international or national awards, his publications or publications about him in the media, a dozen letters of recommendation, experience in organizations with a high reputation and much more.

“Moving here, people mainly made some kind of work visas, for example, the standard H1B. But some time ago, quotas were introduced for such visas, and it became very difficult to get them, '' Maria Adamyan, former curator of Digital October, organizer of TechCrunch Moscow, who lives in Palo Alto, explains to me. "O-1 is more difficult to design (it can take months to collect the correct dossier), but you are not competing with anyone, you are considered separately, and if you build a case convincingly, you can prove that almost any person is extraordinary."

The easiest way, says Adamyan, is for people with degrees and scientific publications. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists prove their talent differently: “When, having arrived here, a person unexpectedly hires a PR man to help with articles in specialized publications, it becomes clear: he is preparing documents for O-1. I noticed how in the past year several people suddenly started blogging and publishing texts about investments and startups in the media. Now almost all of them live and work here on an O-1 visa. ”

Anastasia Sartan

Life in California is attractive not only for venture capital money, professionals, great ideas. It is comfortable, sunny and close to the ocean. Russians prefer to settle in the suburbs. In San Francisco, it is inconvenient to transport a family - the city is often scolded for housing problems and a huge number of homeless people on the streets. It is believed that the quiet suburbs are safer and cleaner. Anastasia Sartan, founder of TrendsBrands, an independent clothing brand, lives in one of these quiet areas.

“To get home, I take a $ 15 train that takes me to the Valley and back to San Francisco. I pass the places of power - Menlo Park (Facebook office), Palo Alto (Steve Jobs home) and Mountain View (Google headquarters) - get off at the Santa Clara bus stop, take an Uber, and in a few minutes I find myself in Starbucks “The town of Los Gatos,” she says.

Sartan comes to the meeting with her husband and baby - they always spend Wednesday evening together. She is wearing a spacious vest and a casually thrown multi-colored scarf. “When I moved here, I realized that I didn't want to sell the XNUMXth unnecessary blouse again,” she says. - I thought about what I would like to do in America, made a list of what interests me, and there was a point bring real value to people... Perhaps this was due to pregnancy - all feelings are exacerbated, I want to make the world feel good.

She found a compromise - she made a bot Epytom (from English “role model”) for Telegram, which once a day sends its subscribers a photo of sets of clothes selected from 40 basic things.

“At Epytom, I explain how to combine these things and send me a new look every day,” Sartan says. - It works like this: you contact the bot, and he advises you what of these 40 things to wear, depending on the weather and other parameters: Hi, today is Wednesday, let's combine wide trousers with sneakers. Perfect wide trousers should be made of natural fabric and look like, - and gives photo examples of such beautiful combinations ”. How the project will earn is not yet clear; There are several options - for example, taking a percentage from online stores, links to the goods of which Epytom sends.

Brothers Gladkoborovy

The co-founder of the Coub service, which allows you to make short looped videos, Igor Gladkoborod moved to Los Altos, and his elder brother Anton is still engaged in obtaining a visa and lives in two countries: the United States and Russia. The elder creates, in the opinion of the younger, the chaos - feeding squirrels on the balcony. Squirrels quickly got used to luxury and stayed on the balcony.

We meet the Gladkobeardovs at a coffee shop, because it would take 40 minutes to queue up for delicious sandwiches in a nearby cafe, like in any other trendy public catering service in San Francisco. Coub is unprofitable and lives off investments - the company raised $ 3,5 million; the last $ 2,5 million received in 2014 from the Vaizra Capital fund of the co-founders of VKontakte Lev Leviev and Vyacheslav Mirilashvili. The main income comes from special projects - for example, Coub collaborated with Disney before the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

“On the one hand, things are not very good in Russia now, but on the other hand, there has never been much of a startup industry there, so promising projects had to go to other countries right away,” says Anton Gladkoborodov, looking at the unnaturally bright pitaya dessert. - Tech startups should work for the whole world from the very beginning. That's what we wanted. ” Coub moved to the USA in April 2015, but a few months later the brothers moved to the Valley, and the developers stayed in Moscow: “We are still a technological project. At some point, they realized that they needed to be here. New York is more for the media market.

“The nature of immigration has changed: before, leaving Russia, you burned bridges behind you and lost contact with everyone, committed social suicide, worked as you had to. And now professionals are leaving the country, people with cool projects. We cannot say that we will spend our whole life in the USA. While it is interesting and profitable for us to be in San Francisco, we are here. Then we'll see. ”

See also:

Personal experience. How much is a month of living in California

Catch the tail of the American dream: six stories of people who won the green card

Lottery "Green Card-2017" in questions and answers

Personal Experience: Love and Hate for San Francisco

Personal experience. How we arrived in the United States on a student visa

From the first person: how Muscovite settles in Los Angeles

Personal experience. How I moved to the US

From the first person. What does the Facebook office look like from the inside?

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