Living the Armenia to Silicon Valley Playbook

Check out this exclusive Q&A with Meruzh Danielyan, Teamable Founder/VP of Product. Meruzhan was born and bred in Armenia and has been working in Silicon Valley for the past year, managing a team of 15 employees living in Armenia. He had some great insight to some of the questions the HIVE Event audience posed via Pigeonhole and we think his perspective is super valuable. 

In early stages [your personal brand is] really important, because investors invest in you and in your team, rather than in your product. It’s really important to follow etiquette, be on time, show strong presence, have a perfect pitch, show confidence and strong leadership skills.
— Meruzhan Danielyan

1) What has your experience been coming to Silicon Valley and top three things you wish you knew when you were starting your business in Yerevan.

Coming to Silicon Valley is a real big deal for startup founders. It’s hard to build a product sitting in a room and having only Google as a discovery tool.

There are 3 main factors. 1. Trends 2. Diversity 3. Market

1. Trends: When building the product it’s really very important to be knowledgeable and forward thinking about their latest trends in technology and understand how to incorporate it into your product.
2. Diversity, Diversity, Diversity: Silicon Valley gathers all the bright minds in one place and it helps to meet a lot of people with different mindsets, cultures and habits. If you build a product you build it for people and you need to meet as many different types of people as possible to come up with solutions that would fit the needs of people.
3. Market: When building a product in Armenia it’s really hard to understand the global market landscape and find a right market fit. I’d say it’s almost impossible. So my advice to all entrepreneurs, especially the ones that do B2B business, would be to have a presence in Silicon Valley, travel here as much as possible, meet people here and learn from them. People here are open to share their experience and you shouldn’t be afraid of approaching them.

2) What role do defined goals play in a team success? How much should the engineering team be involved in big picture?

"There should be balance."

Too much involvement would be a distraction for engineering team, but the same time they should be aware of some key things that are happening on a business side. The other big thing is to explain the reason of anything they build. When I was an engineer in SV based company in Armenia, I had such a problem and I learnt from that. I would work on some features without knowing the reason. Now, I try to be open with the team, explain all the reasons any feature is being added. It motivates people to work harder because they understand the end goal. When you understand this, you look at the product differently and try to cater to the end user and how they would benefit from the feature you are building. Once the feature is released, I provide data back to the engineers as to how it’s being used from customers and how they benefit from it. We can then leverage this information for the next iteration and continuously make the product better based on the customer's experience and demands.

3) Why don't more companies hire remote workers? And do you think virtual teams can be as effective?

I don’t have an experience working with virtual teams, only some small projects. But remote workers bring a lot of problems if you manage it wrong. There are objective and subjective reasons to manage such teams in a wrong way. Just to mention a few of them - time difference, cultural difference, lack of human interaction, language barrier (in some cases) and trust building. The best way to fix all these problems is to have a person on business side who is the owner of that culture, language and spent enough time with the team to build the trust. There’s still a timezone problem, but it’s fixable with a discipline and appropriate tools. In our case, we use Jira for a task management and we keep all the communication around tasks in Jira. Every single task has a history with comments that helps to deal with it offline. For some urgent cases, screenshare calls are really helpful, but the most important thing here is a trust and space left for engineers to solve tasks using their creativity. Screenshare calls come handy only in such situations when engineer is out of any idea. S(he) discussed the problem internally and no solution found, or the solution the team came up is not the one that fits in the business needs.

4) When do you know that it's the right time to add team members?

There are two main cases: 

1) New type of work. For example, we need to do integrations and everyone is fully loaded so we need to hire a person to take that job.

2) There’s a high volume job and the team is not able to deliver on time. Internal rotations are also a way to cover some stuff and give engineering team a chance to be involved in various parts of the product, but agile methodologies for product development make it easy to feel that it’s time to hire more people.

5) What qualities define a successful entrepreneur? What differentiates them?

The biggest factor is a faith. If you really believe what you do you will succeed. But only faith is not enough. The ability to identify the most important needs for the company at every given moment and focus on that part is another huge aspect. It’s really hard to do, especially for startups there are usually more than one critical needs/problems that require attention, but good entrepreneur should be able to identify the most critical one. The other huge factor is a team and the ability to build a reliable team.

6) What do you recommend for startups looking to raise their first round of funding at the seed stage?

There’s a problem with startups at this stage. Sometimes they start worrying about raising funds too early. Don’t raise any funds unless you get to the point that it’s super critical. At the same time, it’s really important to talk to potential investors even if you are not seeking any funding at the moment. Be open and share your success, build a relationship, so when time comes they already know you, your success story and your abilities. It will save a lot of time for both of you. The other important aspect here is a “smart money”. When you raise funding, sometimes it’s not even about the capital you raise, sometime it’s about the network your investors open up for you. Don’t take money just from anyone who’s ready to give it to you, look for someone smart.

7) When it comes to finding an investor, is personal branding that important? If so, what do's and don't's could you share?

In early stages it’s really important, because investors invest in you and in your team, rather than in your product. It’s really important to follow etiquette, be on time, show strong presence, have a perfect pitch, show confidence and strong leadership skills.


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