Lessons Learned at Yandex

May 21, 2008

I was part of the team that launched Yandex in Russia in 2000. A number of the lessons we learned in Russia are guiding the development of SchoolPulse. Can we pull of another success on that scale?

In April we launched SchoolPulse v1.0 to build some buzz in local school communities and test some of our ideas for bringing parents online. Our boilerplate describes us as a social media company — which makes sense for a business audience — but it implies that we’re more about technology than people. What we really want to be is an indispensable resource for parents that they can access from a variety of platforms — email, the web, even mobile. The value needs to be immediate and the technology should be invisible.

On Monday we kicked off our strategy process to synthesize what we have heard from the 2,000+ people who have visited the site (we’re preparing to launch our v2.0 site as part of our national launch this fall). Beyond working technology – that’s the ante – what else will it take for us to succeed in this endeavor? I want to share the recipe we cooked up over the last 8 years at Yandex.

  • Rising tide — A fast-growing market affords the opportunity to make some mistakes, which is inevitable.
  • Smart team — The more smart people, the better, including the extended advisory board.
  • Recognition that it’s not easy — It is never easy to create something amazing; as my mother always told me, “If it were easy to do, everybody would be doing it.”
  • Indispensable product/service — You cannot be successful until your users become addicted to your service. At Forrester we called this “habituating usage.”
  • Attractive and achievable business model — Ideas are great, but cash pays the bills. A strong monetization scheme is critical.
  • Strong execution — If you can’t execute on the vision, go home.
  • Runway to figure it out — Innovation doesn’t happen overnight, so be sure you have the cash to get to your vision.

I hope these nuggets will prove helpful to other entrepreneurs who are trying to figure out how to make their ideas real. Wouldn’t it be great if we can build another value creation engine like Yandex!

Gotta Brag a Bit…

May 2, 2008

I started my first company, Comptek International, in Russia in 1990.  Long story, but we eventually became the first and biggest distributor of Cisco gear in the former Soviet Union. Along the way, we developed some search technology as a skunk works project that debuted in 1997, right after Alta Vista made a big splash with its supposedly best-in-the-world search engine. We wanted to show that our search engine, called Yandex, was superior. We spun Yandex out of Comptek in 2000, convinced that we had world class technology but less certain how search monetization would work.  We figured it out, and yesterday Yandex was ranked #6 on Silicon Alley’s list of “the world’s most valuable digital startups,” comfortably sandwiched between Mozilla and Webkinz.  Not bad!

Check it out at http://www.yandex.ru.