Viktoriya Tigipko is Founding Partner of TA Ventures, a $50M venture capital fund, investing in innovative seed and early-stage consumer Internet and mobile tech companies targeting the USA, Europe (Germany, UK and Nordic countries), Israel, and emerging markets like Southeast Asia and India. As of September 2015, TA Ventures has 80+ companies in its portfolio and has achieved 17 exits. TA Ventures portfolio includes such companies as AdoreMe, Auctionata, Azimo, Beepi, Dreamlines, FinanzCheck, NU3, SumUp, and others. TA Ventures is focusing on online marketplaces, fintech, digital health, Big Data, and cloud computing.
Viktoriya is a President of the Odessa International Film Festival, one of the biggest audience film festivals in Central and Eastern Europe. The number of visitors exceeds 100,000 attendees. Annually, OIFF hosts the biggest open-air screening in Europe at Potemkin Steps with more than 15,000 viewers.
Since 2010, Viktoriya has been the Organizer of the “IDCEE. Internet Technologies and Innovations” conference, which is one of the top European conferences on Internet technologies. The conference serves as a platform for 2,500+ opinion leaders, aspiring Internet entrepreneurs, VCs, angel investors, innovators, and other IT and VC industry experts from the CEE region and beyond. IDCEE hosts the biggest Startup Alley in CEE with 150 ventures. In 2013, Viktoriya launched Code Club Ukraine, a nation-wide volunteer initiative for teaching children to code, which is a local branch of Code Club World. According to numerous annual ratings, Viktoriya was listed among the TOP-5 IT influencers in Ukraine for several times (in 2012, 2013, 2014), 200 Most Influential people in Ukraine (in 2013), and 100 Most Influential Women in Ukraine (in 2012, 2013).
Visit the websites of TA Ventures and Odessa International Film Festival and follow Viktoriya on Facebook.
Who is your role model as a leader?
I am lucky: my role model is my family – my husband and 3 children. They teach me every day. As a hyperactive person, it’s hard for me to sit quietly at home. People in my company understand me immediately, and with children, the situation is opposite. So I learn from them every minute of every day. Especially, I learn to be patient and find different approaches. Thanks to them, I changed and advanced a lot. I am also really lucky to have found the perfect match in my husband. I learn from him every day. No matter if the issue concerns home or business, he is the perfect person for me to brainstorm with.
“We should look around us more attentively. Our role models are close by us; you don’t need to look far.”
For example, my co-founder is a 63 year old man, who has started to learn to code at 59. He is very happy exploring different challenging opportunities that even some young people don’t even try. He inspires me. Another role model is the Program Director of Odessa film festival. He’s a brilliant and bright person, who wanted to challenge himself and follow his heart. So he moved to Ukraine from France to work with us! Moreover, he stayed with us even when the situation in Ukraine began to get unstable.
I am grateful to all the people close to me, they are all the role models. Each person can be a role model and have something specific to teach you.
“We live in a time where we are also role models for others! Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “Do what you feel in your heart is right, for you will be criticized anyway”. We are all different, pick what’s right for you and try to be better.”
What is your greatest achievement to date?
On a personal front, it’s my children. I learned that we should laugh and smile more. When I had my first baby, I understood that with children you smile more, and your smile comes from your heart, it can’t be artificial. Children give you energy. So my greatest personal achievement was learning to smile.
In business, all my greatest achievements happened in one year, in 2010:
1) Firstly, it was the takeoff of TA Ventures to invest in new projects and support talented, open-minded entrepreneurs driven by an idea to change the world. Innovations and new originations always have been my passion. I was interested in learning what’s next for mankind, what the futurists were predicting. So it was a matter of course to found TA Ventures and back entrepreneurs who create innovations. Our first investment was in 2010, and we now have more than 80 companies in our portfolio.
“We have a huge network of over 450 funds, angel investors, entrepreneurs, family offices and private investors that we make available to our entrepreneurs.”
For example, Fabrice Grinda, the second most prolific French angel, has made over 160 investments to date. Gigi Levy-Weiss, a serial entrepreneur and angel investor from Israel, who is involved in a number of non-profit organizations in his home country. Paige Craig, former angel investor with 100+ companies in portfolio and now a VC, who used to serve in the US Marine Corps and US Intelligence Community. Thomas Korte, Founder of AngelPad, named by MIT’s 2014 Accelerator Research as #3 US Accelerator, and Forbes Magazine called AngelPad a “TOP 5 Global Accelerator” in 2012.
“These people are moving the globe. It’s an honor to work with and invest alongside them to support talented entrepreneurs. Having the fund is an opportunity to build something big, to create and grow global companies. You can be part of that process and see how entrepreneurs can change the world for the better.”
2) Secondly, creating the Odessa International Film Festival with over 100,000 people. In July 2015, we had our 6th edition. A couple of years before that, a private bank of our family business group was supporting art-house film festivals in Ukraine. And I thought why not do something bigger? That is how the idea of a large festival was born, and there was only one place to do it – Odessa. I thought, why not start a prominent event to change the minds of hundreds of thousands of people, and in particular of young people. The grandfather of Steven Spielberg was from Odessa. Kirk Douglas was born in Odessa. Johnny Depp, Whoopi Goldberg and the founders of 20th Century Fox and Metro Goldwyn Meyer have family members that originally came from Odessa! The first moving picture film was presented in Odessa in 1894, one and a half years before the Frères Lumières in Paris. In 1907, the first film studio in the Russian Empire was set up in Odessa, where it made over 700 movies, putting it on the map as a legendary place in the world of cinema. Now the Odessa International Film Festival puts Odessa back on the international world cinema map, making it once again the cinema capital of the country. People from all over the world have presented their movies here, and among our honorable guests were such famous filmmakers as Darren Aronofsky, Rutger Hauer, Claudia Cardinale, John Malkovich, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, Geraldine Chaplin and many others.
3) Thirdly, organising the IDCEE. Internet Technologies and Innovations conference, the leading event dedicated to Internet technologies and innovations in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), with over 2500 attendees from over 45 countries, and over 150 startups from 19 countries on Startup Alley. IDCEE is now considered to be an entry point to the CEE web/VC market.
Another thing I’m proud of is setting up Code Club Ukraine, where children aged 9-11 can learn to code, mainly using the gamified program Scratch. It’s a 100% volunteer project, and the team is fantastic. Ukraine was the first country to translate learning materials (overall, 15 languages available). Within 1 year, we started up 80 clubs all over Ukraine.
What has been your biggest challenge as a woman leader?
Not to be too ‘bossy’, yet remain a woman. It’s hard to speak about this. The biggest challenge for all women leaders is to remain feminine in a male business world, and to preserve this. Sometimes women want to look and act like men. We are afraid to be assessed and not taken seriously, especially by men. Sometimes we are too bossy, yet we manage to move the process along.
“With time, you understand that you don’t need to be authoritative: you just need to be yourself, that is enough. It’s ok to smile and be yourself. Don’t get stuck in stereotypes – go beyond them!”
You should be natural, not pretending. Get rid of artificial gestures – they are not needed, and they spoil the picture. Don’t think about what a woman leader could and should be. Just be yourself!
How do you grow people in your organization? How would you describe your leadership style?
My door is always open and it’s easy to talk to me. When we need to discuss ideas, we usually meet one-on-one, and we also reserve lunchtime for brainstorming. I don’t over-control people. It’s important to have clear tasks and plans on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis, and to measure how the goals are met.
For me, it’s important that people believe in the project with their heart. It will work well if they are fully dedicated. If somebody doesn’t adhere with his heart, he is not a good fit. I strongly believe in my people. You have to find those people and trust them. I want the team to be truly engaged and involved in the project, to sincerely believe in the business, and share the same vision. In the end, the result is what matters to the whole team.
If you could do 1 thing differently, what would it be?
I was too young when I chose my first business to work in. I would advise my younger self to choose work with my heart first, and brain second. Now, I have a lot of opportunities and I choose with my heart.
“I truly believe you will not be lucky and succeed in business if you do not choose with your heart. My first business was a success due to hard work, not heart work. I would recommend everyone to choose your ‘heart-work’.”
How would you describe the difference between men and women’s leadership styles?
There are many! I notice that women lack confidence and don’t believe in themselves – yet that is such a pity. Women leaders need to have much more self-confidence and be themselves, not try to act or become like men, to fit in. Their style should be their original style, not someone else’s. There are a lot of books on this topic, including Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller Lean In. Women should be themselves. Also, education matters. It matters who surrounds you at home and at work.
Don’t treat boys and girls differently from a young age. Let them play the same games, with the same toys. Bring both boys and girls to learn code together, watch the same movies. It all matters for their future development as adults. Gender policy starts at home! Women leaders are brought up at home. Let’s start with our own kids, so that the next generation doesn’t suffer.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
It’s a pity I didn’t choose the opportunity to go beyond my network when I was young. I didn’t try different jobs earlier in my career.
“I want to advise other girls and boys not to limit themselves. Go beyond your comfort zone, try to do something completely different. Sometimes, we are so restricted by our schools and universities. You should travel, try and taste different opportunities, go and work in different fields to see what you really like doing. Otherwise, you will never take the decision.”
I would strongly recommend my younger self to try 3-5 different jobs and then decide what I wanted to do. I would also tell young people to try charity and non-profit work, where you can also travel. When I was young, I didn’t imagine working for a charity. Now, I think that working for a non-profit should be a must. This helps young people change their attitude and affects their mentality. It also makes them feel good. So force yourself to try different things!
What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?
Now I am in venture capital business, and I am very fortunate because I am doing something I love. I want to have more than 200 companies in my portfolio and to continue develop the startup and funding ecosystem in Ukraine. With 200 companies in our portfolio, we would be a significant player on a global scale.
As for the Odessa International Film Festival, I want it to become the biggest audience film festival in Central and Eastern Europe. Also, this year we took our first step on the way to becoming the link between Europe and Asia: we have become partners with Silk Road International Film festival in Fuzhou, China.
And I want to launch another business project in the next 5 years, so let’s see how it develops!
3 key words to describe yourself?