The Bay Area representative of Ukraine’s largest tech innovation park, UNIT.City, Matt Lewis is a builder of bridges between Silicon Valley and Eastern Europe. On the one hand he acts as an advisor to US firms seeking talented engineering teams in Ukraine. On the other, he assists startups from Kiev and Moscow to set up operations in the Bay Area, secure customers and attract venture capital. He has some 15 years of experience investing in technology companies, including positions in equity research, private equity and portfolio management. He is also an organizer of private gatherings between VCs and startups through the Bay Area based organization, Silicon Valley Planet.
Tour of UNIT.City
Director Tom Clark
Technical Director Tom Clark
Sound Technician Bill Lindemann
Character Generator Michelle Yuan
Floor Director Jim Seawright
Camera 1 Christine Cray-Rubin
Camera 2 John Farley
Camera 3 Jim Twu
Creative Designer Sergio Smirnoff
Intro speaker 0:09
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Shawn Flynn 0:29
Welcome to Silicon Valley successes. So today we have Matt from unit city, which is the largest tech park in Ukraine. We're going to talk about startups coming from Ukraine or Eastern Europe here to Silicon Valley. We're going to talk about some of the advantages and disadvantage they have. We're talking about a lot of opportunities that many people at home that's watching this may not know about. So to start, Matt, could you please introduce yourself? Well, first of all, I'd like to say thank you so much for having me on the show.
introducing myself. Let's see. Have you ever heard of a Rhodes Scholar before? I've heard that term, but please do elaborate. Yeah,
Matthew Lewis 1:05
so it's pronounced road, but it's spelled differently, r o ad. So and that means basically, I spent a lot of time on the road. So I'm from Northern California, but I lived in Europe, worked in Europe, London, Paris, and eventually ended up in Moscow for something like over 10 years. Oh, wow. Yeah. So I was doing a lot of commercial real estate in Russia and Ukraine. And today, I continue to work with Ukraine. Oh, wow. Okay. And what did you come to Silicon Valley? I'm actually from Northern California. And I started my career in tech. I was covering technology companies for an investment bank. And, and I rode that internet, boom, all the way up, and then all the way down.
And I got off the roller coaster at the very bottom. Okay, sounds good. Yeah. And then, yeah, yeah, that was an interesting ride. Then I decided to have a change of scenery. So I spent some time in London and Paris and ended up in Moscow. And I made I say, a lateral move. So so my career always had something to do with dollars and investments, initially, technology companies, then private equity, okay, so initially was investment banking, covering technology companies, then private equity, and then commercial real estate and did that for a good long time. And then came full circle. Eventually, the real estate brought me back to technology, tech innovation parks, and I represent the largest one in Ukraine. It's something like 62 acres. Wow, yeah, in the capital of the country. And, and in here, I am back in California, too. So it's kind of nice to have traveled as full circle. And it all kind of makes logical sense. And, you know, there's a storyline so
Shawn Flynn 3:01
I'm really happy about that. It sounds like you've had this amazing adventure travel in the world and experience and all these cultures in that. So with your role right now, unit city, could you explain first a little bit what unit city is and kind of the idea behind it, and what the goals are for
Matthew Lewis 3:14
it? Sure. So unit city is a huge tech Innovation Park. Now, we hear those words here in the US. And we think we know what it means. But I don't, I don't think we really do. So it's one place where there are all kinds of different technology companies. And we have that in Silicon Valley. But we have to drive everywhere to get from one place to another, okay. In Kenya, in unit city, we have a central square. And there are all kinds we have green areas and outdoor cafes and
food vendors when the weather's good, and, you know, it's it's very nice territory. And it's, it's huge. It's getting bigger. Every month, I took someone from Silicon Valley there who was asking me, you say, I don't really get the idea of a tech Innovation Park. And as we were crossing that central square, he met four really interesting people just by accident, got their contact information. By the time we got to the other end of the square exists. Now I get it. Yeah.
So you just bring together all these great minds from different sectors, say coding, schools, accelerators, big companies, r amp, D, centers, startups, and you just mix them all up. And I call it I like to think of it as the power of proximity, or also
thought up this term driving here, forced serendipity, you know, kind of make your own luck, bring all these people together.
Shawn Flynn 4:48
So in this tech part, people are living, they're raising families everything, or is it just more for those guys, they just graduate from college, they single work six months leave, like, what's kind of the social dynamics,
you know, you had to work for us? Because that was a really good question.
Matthew Lewis 5:07
That's the direction we're going in. Yeah, so today, we have no trouble attracting startups. We're just we don't have to advertise nothing. They're always there. They they want to be part of our scene. And eventually we are going to build residential units will have schools for kids. So you could raise your kids there, it's gonna be a delightful place for anybody in tech who's raising a family but that comes a little bit later and a few years. Okay,
Shawn Flynn 5:36
so then right now, with with unit city, you have companies from Europe migrating to this location to set up their their offices, is that correct?
Matthew Lewis 5:45
That's correct. I would say that our emphasis is on American companies, however. Okay, so let's back up just for a minute. So. So Ukraine, it's the largest outsourcing market in Europe, believe in not they they turn out more engineers per year than any other European country. Now, it's not part of the EU. But it does have a free trade agreement with Europe. And you don't need a visa to come to Ukraine from Europe, or to go to the EU from Ukraine. Okay, so it's, it's getting economically integrated. And where did I want to go after that? What was what was your question?
Shawn Flynn 6:26
The company's go into Ukraine, and then you said mostly not so much Europe, but focus of America? Oh, yeah, there was a statistic in my head. So something like 80% of the outsourcing revenue is is
Matthew Lewis 6:42
serving us companies. Okay. Yeah.
Shawn Flynn 6:44
So US companies are very important to Ukraine. Now, are these companies, early stage companies? Are they more corporations? Who are they? Yeah,
Matthew Lewis 6:51
I think they're big corporations, their startups, I'll tell you which companies were interested in, we're interested in startups, they're on the verge of scaling. So they can see on the horizon that they need to hire a lot of engineers, and they're worried they're not going to be able to do it in Silicon Valley, because there's just so much talent to go around. And it's very expensive here.
Shawn Flynn 7:14
Okay. So with that expense, how much cheaper is it in Ukraine to hire engineers there versus the US? You know, it depends on which language you're talking about. But I would say the correct language, right. Well, just
yo. Yeah. program. Yeah. So yeah,
I'd say the pecking order in terms of cost.
Matthew Lewis 7:35
So Ukraine and Bella roofs will be about the same level, Russia is going to be a little bit more expensive, really. And, but I really, yes, it is inexpensive compared to Silicon Valley. But if someone is only interested in cost, how much it costs, if they don't hear anything else, if that's all that matters to them. We don't want that kind of customer. Okay, because they typically we make a lot of mistakes. They're focused on the wrong things. I'd like to tell you. What is interesting about working with Ukrainian programmers. Yeah. So in in Asia, and a lot of Asian countries. I hear complaints from people that they hear Yes. A lot then. And the yes
doesn't necessarily mean yes. It's like the way we say like, I hear you. I hear you. Yes.
Yes, we're speaking and I hear you. Okay. Yes, yes.
experiences way too many times.
Okay. I said, I've heard
Matthew Lewis 8:36
cases in which someone says, I'd like this done in two weeks, I'd like these features. And then two weeks go by, and it's as if that first conversation ever took place. Yeah. Okay. Now
Ukraine, Russia, that part of the world, very different, okay. Very different. So you could ask them to finish that project with those features. In two weeks, you get a response impossible, or I don't think that's a good idea.
You get pushed back. Yeah, but it's actually constructive pushback. So it's, it's a little bit jarring coming from our culture where the customer is always right. Yeah, to have to have somebody telling, you know, I don't think that's a good idea, or That's impossible. Yeah. But the funny thing is the very next day, they'll there'll be some significant process done already. Okay. Yeah. So it's it's a, it's a circuitous path, you know, no, no, no, and
Shawn Flynn 9:37
you actually get to where you want to go. Okay. Yeah. So little kind of tell me just go back to about the workflow of working with Ukraine program or development team there, if you're a start up here, or someone that as you'd mentioned, you know, is on a growth projector want to scale but may not be able to hire the engineers here. So, yeah, say I'm start up here. I have no context to Ukraine. What's the whole point process? What does it look like?
Matthew Lewis 10:04
Okay, so it depends on what kind of company you are, and whether you've already worked with teams abroad, never worked with teams abroad, my first startup PhD from Stanford think I know everything, but I don't.
Very good description, though. I'm just such people just came over that. Yeah,
Matthew Lewis 10:24
let's see. So I in in that case, I would recommend that someone on the team is in this time zone, who understands both cultures. So that could be someone like me, or more ideally, it would be a say, a Ukrainian or a Russian program or project manager who has 10 years experience working in US reporting to US companies and managing teams abroad. Okay, so quite a few benefits. First of all, yes, it's going to be less expensive, because the bulk of the the team is in Kiev to you're going to communicate in your own time zone. Yeah. And yes, there is an overlap of time zones, 123 hours. Yeah, but I can tell you, I,
I call someone and say, Ukraine or Lithuania, wherever it is, and they're tired when I'm at the top of my game, or vice versa. And we can never both be at the top of our games. It's very difficult. So it's nice to have someone in this time zone you can speak to, and someone who understands their point of view and knows how to deliver your message in the right context. Okay. Yeah,
Shawn Flynn 11:40
that's the key. So that person is translating both language and cultural and in kind of that point of view, and that's actually more important than just that language translation. Exactly. I couldn't agree more. Okay. Yeah. But tell me about the onboarding process. So I'm startup I come to you, I say, I want a Ukrainian development team, and you're going to be the middle person or your you'll introduce the middle person? Well, I'll continue to be involved because I want the relationship to be a successful one. Okay, I'll never completely give up some kind of involvement.
Matthew Lewis 12:12
Okay. And the unit city brand is really important to us. We, we want only success stories and Silicon Valley. So all the links
Matthew Lewis 12:26
And so depending on on your experience live, if you have no experience managing teams abroad, I think we'd better to have a few local, so save myself than a project manager based in wherever San Jose or San Francisco know who's going to interface with you and manage the team abroad. And you'd be signing a contract with US company, what else could I tell you, if if you are a company
that has a lot of resources, wants to hire a lot of engineers over time and you want flexibility, we could even create a turnkey solution where you eventually own a subsidiary in Ukraine. So we can, we can create a solution across the whole spectrum of possibilities. And, and what's great about unit city is that we have so many resources, we can pull them down. If you're scaling fast. We have a coding school with nearly 1000 students, a data science school 50 startups so and we, we know all these teams, we've seen them perform over time. So it's not as if we're giving you some people that we that we haven't properly checked out and vetted.
Shawn Flynn 13:45
that concludes part one of this interview. To find out more information, please visit Silicon Valley success is calm. And in part two, we're going to continue to talk about more of unit city of the resources and startups from Ukraine come into Silicon Valley, and vice versa. So with that, let's start part two. So Matt, can you please talk about a little bit more about the resources that unit city
Matthew Lewis 14:06
so I mentioned the coding school, let me let me flesh that out a little bit. We call it unit factory. And it the curriculum we use is from coding school. 42 Yeah, so, you know, 42 there, and Fremont. Oh, yeah. Ben over there. Yeah.
Jamie? I know the whole to hold to a critical here. Yeah,
Matthew Lewis 14:25
very nice. facilities. Yes. Yeah. So so we have their curriculum, okay. And the other is the most striking thing about their program is that tuition is free. Yeah, so I think that's a little bit like the Cambridge University model, or the Harvard University model. People are trying to get in there into Harvard, because it's a great reputation. 53 years of tuition free education. That sounds great from the top school. So when people arrive on their first day, we already have some outstanding minds in our,
you know, every class the whole universities too good to be true when they arrive, or, uh, yeah,
Matthew Lewis 15:04
I imagine some of them are scratching their heads. How is this possible? Yeah, yeah.
Who's still in my career.
Matthew Lewis 15:11
And the other thing that's unusual about the program is that there are no instructors per se. So teams are formed, and you're given cases that resemble real life problems, and you try to solve them. And there's actually some kind of map. Have you seen that map that Labyrinth, you have to work their way through? Yeah.
Shawn Flynn 15:32
before you graduate? Yeah. But, but let's go back. Tell me more about the resources of units city there. Okay. And also, let's kind of get to where we're talking about startups from unit city coming here. And maybe the difficulties that they face, right, but right, yeah, yeah,
Matthew Lewis 15:46
we haven't had a lot of startups Come this way. Yet from unit city, because we're still relatively young, where we're at two years old. Okay. Yeah. But we have what do we have 9889 buildings up beautiful office buildings. You can see the links on the on the website after this, this interview.
So talking about Ukrainian startups coming this way. So one of our accelerators is focused on global startups who are interested in the US market and I will facilitate their their transition to the US what kind of problems do I see what kind of mistakes are being made over and over again? Well, a lot of startups come here, and they, they, they come over here for a week or two. And they come in a big group of startups from the same country. So they show up here. And we are Lotfi and start
it if people here think, okay, that's a little strange. Why is that important? And what do you do? Right? So you do not brand yourself is from a particular country. No one cares here. Yeah, right. Now, it's another matter if you go to, let's say, a blockchain conference. And you discover that, oh, all the good startups were from Ukraine. Well, that's a pretty powerful message. Yeah, but you got to let people discover that for themselves. Okay,
so that's number one. Number two, you really need to stay here, you need someone here. And I would say not just one person, at least two, you need to have each other's back. And you need to assimilate, you need to think like a native of Silicon Valley. And to do that you need to break out of your community, whatever it is, if you're, if you're Chinese, you should not be hanging out with all the other Chinese founders. You need to need to really dive into Silicon Valley and discover it. Yeah, yeah.
Shawn Flynn 17:41
Now, I've seen that with a lot of the groups here in Silicon Valley where where they'll send a VC over from a country and they'll just hang out with their that that group, whether we're Chinese, Japanese, Korean, they never actually immerse themselves in Silicon Valley, and they never get access to the good companies because of that, or Yes, deal flow. That's a huge mistake. What are some of the other problems that
Matthew Lewis 18:08
founders from Ukraine might face when they come here? Do they have visa problems? Or because they're startups they're able to get those? Or is that again, easier? harder? That that is a good question. And I need to crack that I have a number of friends who are immigration lawyers. So I'm just going to hand this over to them. I'm not on top of it just yet. But I have not come across anyone who has been in such dire straits. They had leaves, okay. Yeah, and I will say this of the Ukrainian startups or the Ukrainian founders who are very successful here. They spent some time United States before their startup got traction, so I don't know if WhatsApp is that he immigrated here pretty young young cool, but there's a Ukrainian team and WhatsApp and and yon is originally from Ukraine. Grammarly Grammarly I don't know if we considered Grammarly Ukrainian or Canadian but they're Ukrainian guys
pet pig. Yeah, I don't know how many years they were here before. And I think I think they got here through China actually. So that's an interesting path they took how many years
Shawn Flynn 19:20
do you think it takes a founder or someone from Ukraine to kind of get acclimated to Silicon Valley?
Matthew Lewis 19:26
Well, it depends on the person but if if you're applying yourself I would say a year Yeah, I got acclimated in Russia in about a year. Okay. Yeah, I don't look Russian. You know, I can open a taxi door No, speak English to me. Just look but yeah, my recommendation go to a lot of parties. Yeah, just just speak, speak, speak. And next thing you know your local Okay,
Shawn Flynn 19:53
so So far, we've talked about getting acclimated to Silicon Valley taken about a year the founders when they do come here, it normally will take them a little while to get acclimated and when they're here they should associate outside of just their their home countries group of course, we talked about when have a startup team here wants to outsource their their development to Ukraine best to have a project manager or one or two points of contact here for that team over overseas. There'll be a cultural difference also be a time difference.
But the cultural difference is the biggest trumps everything else trumps everything else. We also talked about the technology technological Park and the benefits of it with everyone in such a community. What are we missing? What, what hasn't been covered so far?
Matthew Lewis 20:46
Hmm. One area that I'm developing is events that tie together different tech ecosystems. And obviously, the one I care that is key if Okay, I will pull in some others as well. And the time differences difficult, but you can include startups from unit city in the agenda for a particular event. So we have through Silicon Valley planet, that's a group that I formed and yeah, I think you're aware of, it says video, too many too many organizations with Silicon Valley, but
those domain names are taken.
Matthew Lewis 21:28
So we have a, we have a FinTech event coming up on corporate pilots. Okay. We'll have some experienced individuals from big corporations from startups in the FinTech space, and telling us how to be successful in setting up a pilot. what not to do. And I'd like to have a series of such events across different sectors. Okay. Yeah. And I will be working with my colleagues at unit city, and they just launched their first batch of startups. And two of them are from FinTech. So, okay. I will, I will integrate them in my activities here.
Shawn Flynn 22:03
So right now in Ukraine, other FinTech blockchain, what are the developers ahead of their Yeah, on the forefront of
Matthew Lewis 22:11
Yeah, so they're, their strongest verticals are technological verticals, not so much market, and I just want to stress this point. So Ukraine's shortcoming today is
a lack of entrepreneurial experience. My Cheryl is a fantastic entrepreneur, by the way, I'm so impressed by him, I have to say and that part out yet or
not flattering him, and I'm just so impressed.
But as far as technology goes, and engineering know how Ukraine is, is near the top. So that would be blockchain. That would be computer vision.
Let's see, that would be artificial intelligence. That would be Internet of Things. I'm sure I'm missing something. But there four or five that we have really strong teams in. Okay. Yeah,
Shawn Flynn 23:05
that's a and what advice would you give to a founder in Ukraine before coming to Silicon Valley or advice you wish? So if you could pass on any, any one key thing of knowledge? What would it be?
Matthew Lewis 23:19
I suppose I would try to engage in some long distance acclamation, I'd read up, I'd watch a lot of videos like this video, for instance,
I would, I would, I would learn how VCs do business here. Okay, how did they do them different here than in Ukraine. And this is a gross generalization. Okay, so
we got time,
Matthew Lewis 23:45
I would say that typically, in that part of the world businessmen want to control too much they want to, they want to control absolutely everything, their employees, and they're not capable of sharing, they're not interested in sharing, they're afraid of sharing now, my my shareholders the exact opposite of that. And that's why so unusual. He works through partnership. And that's how he grows his businesses and how he manages risk as someone who's lived in that part of the world for so long. That is, I can tell you that it's so unusual and so great to have a shareholder like that for our our tech Innovation Park. So an investor invested in early stage companies, he gonna try to acquire 60% of the company or when you're saying control it, could you go into a little bit more detail? Well, there, there are a number of venture capital firms in Ukraine, and they're good and they're plugged into Silicon Valley. So I'm not I'm not disparaging them at all. There's not enough of them. That's that. That's one problem. Not enough angels. But as I'm speaking about the founders, to the typical businessman, if he's not plugged into the Silicon Valley way of doing things, if he's not trying to get here, you're not educating himself and he's just doing business he just says a new enterprise,
often he'll want to control everything when he when he sells the company, he'll overprice it he'll want to sell 100% and make a killing immediately. Yeah,
there's, there's a learning curve. Okay. Yeah, a cultural learning curve. Wow. Yeah,
Shawn Flynn 25:30
that is different about the presentations to pitch decks and that when the companies come here, are they prepared? Or is that something that they have struggled with as well? Yeah,
Matthew Lewis 25:45
the they're if they're a unit city, chances are the pitch decks look pretty good, because we have some really talented folks running our accelerators. We've got one gentleman who spent, I don't know, three, four or five years living in New York City. So there are the national mentors there. Yeah, yeah, we have those. I my, my pet peeve is that they're too colorful, they're too busy. There's just so much graphic artistry going on. I can't see the words. So.
So with that, though,
Shawn Flynn 26:15
like to give you some time, how can people contact you and tell them last little bit about unit city?
Matthew Lewis 26:24
you'll learn so much more about unit city by coming and I know the majority of you aren't going to do that. So there will be a link in which you'll see our shareholder walking around the tech Innovation Park. And there's English subtitles below that'll give you a great sense of what unit city is all about. Also, if you're interested in the events, and there will be some Ukrainian startups every once in a while. At these events. The the the site to check out is Silicon Valley planet. com.
Okay, can you say that one more time
Matthew Lewis 26:55
Silicon Valley planet. com and unit city unit dot cities the domain name and there'll be a link showing the actual tour of the territory. Okay, yeah, yeah,
Shawn Flynn 27:08
we can have both those links at the bottom under your bio. Yeah, it's Silicon Valley successes. com America wonder how many times we say Silicon Valley and in a sentence but with that would like to thank everyone for watching would also like to mention our next guest, who will be on the show jock, who is a social media expert. He will be talking about using LinkedIn, Facebook, and many other social medias to benefit your startup. So look forward to seeing you at the next episode. Once again, thank you, Matt.
And thank you.
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