Posts by Olya Kapinos
A few weeks ago, we announced closing the first funding round of our Ukrainian startup Skyworker, and we are still receiving feedback that this case is inspiring and proves that it is possible to build tech startup here in Ukraine. So, I’d like to disclose the Skyworker story from the point when the idea was born to the point of a successful funding round and give you access to the insights that are lying under the surface.
Skyworker is the first product that helps tech companies automatically build their external tech communities to speed up the recruitment process. For example, if a company’s main stack is Python and React, then on Skyworker, it automatically gets communities of relevant candidates in these areas, tools for automated relationship building with these people, and pipelines of relevant candidates for React and Python vacancies. All data about communities, candidates’ pipelines, and their engagement with the company are displayed in analytics.
The founding day of Skyworker is the 2nd of April, 2019, but the idea validation process has started much earlier. Two years before the product idea was born, the Skyworker founding team has been building our recruiting agency under the same name – Skyworker.
At that period, we had dozens of experiments to speed up the recruiting process for our clients ― tech companies, and finally, we have found the most successful way – external tech communities building for hiring purposes.
We’ve done a lot of handwork to:
- Gather the pipelines of relevant candidates for tech companies. Those pipelines consisted of tech specialists who requested career analytical services from Skyworker Agency, so they also were our clients.
- Reveal details and analytics about companies, their teams, hiring plans, projects, and tasks to provide this information to tech specialists.
- Recommend the most loyal and relevant candidates to our clients when they opened a new vacancy.
This approach was effective, but we knew from day one that Skyworker should develop the software solution to scale up our service.
We closed our agency and have started building the Skyworker product idea in April 2020:
- Daily market and customer research. The only right product idea is the one that can solve an existing client’s problem. And here, the buts on the ground market research starts. Before writing one single code line, we conducted customer research interviews with more than 100 tech companies and more than 300 tech specialists. The purpose was to reveal the deepest hiring pain from both sides and adopt the product idea to solve it.
- Competitor research. Any existing HR or Recruiting software is still grabbing our attention. The information we are gathering from our competitors shows a detailed picture of the market, its size, trends, and competition. During the first few months, we have deeply analyzed 78 competitors and continue to do it now.
- Shaping the product idea. By the end of summer 2019, we’ve got a product prototype, gathered first early adopter companies, and first thousand of tech specialists pre-launch registrations.
The main lesson we’ve learned from that period is that daily communication with customers is the most valuable thing startup should do. There were three iterations of the product idea, four iterations of product prototype, and it’s even hard to count changes in product messaging thanks to continuous feedback on what we are doing.
Autumn 2019 was the time when we plunged into the startup competition world with our product prototype. We have applied to several competitions and were selected to the:
Lviv IT Arena Pitch, where we took the 3rd place among 144 competitors
SeedStars Competition, where we won the local and international competition in Kazakhstan. Those steps allowed us to represent the whole CEE region on the World competition
Participated in WebSummit Pitch of Ukrainian startups – Surf Pitch Night.
Among the main criteria that were important to pass those selections are the following:
- Idea – can we really prove that the clients want this product? At that time, we already had 25 early international adopters who were testing the prototype, and they were our advantage.
- Team – do we understand what we are doing? As we have deep expertise in the tech hiring field, co-founded the biggest tech community in Ukraine, and have been working together for more than three years by that time, we passed these criteria.
- Market – is it big enough? Competitors and Market research shows that only in the US, our TAM (Total Addressable Market) is $5.8 B. that is a pretty large number to be noticed.
Each subsequent competition allowed us to:
- Improve and polish the pitch to make the product value simple and clear for potential clients and investors.
- Get valuable connections during the networking process, which has such exiting concentration on that kind of competition; a startup will never find elsewhere. We’ve met hundreds of investors, Managing Partners of famous accelerators and potential clients. They gave us an equal quantity of feedback we previously were able to gather only during a month.
- Get a push. Each competition gave us a broader vision of how to improve our strategy, and moreover, gave us support in the implementation of those new ambitions:
- As winners at IT Arena, we got the mentoring program from the Le Village Accelerator in Paris and won the business trip to the US.
- As winners of the CEE Seedstars Summit, we got access to the Seedstars Investment Readiness Program.
- New connections and consultation we received during competitions and after that opened new doors for us – the first funding round is one of those doors.
As I mentioned before, we met our investor during one of the Startup Competitions. It is an international venture investor Murat Abdrakhmanov. His portfolio includes such companies as Genesis, Jiji, Chocofamily, Nommi, and others.
We closed our first investment round with a $1.5 mln evaluation in April 2020 – right after the Skyworker’s 1st birthday!
The product is now in the public beta stage. We will use investments to develop the product on the Ukrainian market and adapt it to US and European B2B clients.
Before finalizing the deal, we also were awarded by the Ukrainian Startup Fund for a $25,000 grant.
Skyworker story is all about build, test, repeat, and every single step brought us closer to this point. It is possible to build a startup from Ukraine. We hope our story will make some input in developing the startup ecosystem here.
Olya Kapinos – Marketing Manager at Skyworker