Alyona Tkachenko about Nommi, Crowdfunding and Clifford D. Simak

Since the beginning of spring, we have only time to read news flashing with name of Ms. Alyona Tkachenko: finally, the distribution of Nommi devices has begun; Alyona is in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list; Nommi will soon begin to be sold on Amazon. Mrs. Gulmira Kussainova interviewed Ms. Alyona Tkachenko, CEO and co-founder of the Kazakhstan Nommi project, about the most important stages in work and personal life. 

 You can also read this article in Russian (на русском языке).

Gulmira Kussainova

November 12, 2019

About "The Word about Igor's Regiment" and Clifford Simak

"Why IT?", "How did it happen?" are the TOP questions I am asked for. I thought a lot. Each time I tell my story and understand that there is a mismatch.

I studied at the Slavic Humanitarian-Aesthetic School-Gymnasium In Shymkent and we we had 12 hours of Russian per week. We read "The Word about Igor's Regiment" in Old Slavonic. At the same time, I always liked physics and mathematics, and these subjects were easy to me. I even thought to enter to the physics faculty in St. Petersburg or Tomsk after ninth grade. But finally entered the economic at Kazakh National University by Al-Farabi (KazNU Al-Farabi). This was not a superconscious decision. It just so happened. For example, I did not know that I have an opportunity to study abroad. I did not consider KIMEP because I had German as the main foreign language at school. What can I say - even Almaty was a distant and unknown city for me at that moment. I didn't know at all what universities and opportunities exist.  

But this whole story began much earlier - with the first book in the genre of fantastic fiction. In principle, we had a lot of books at home, we bought them in piles when we stopped in Moscow on the way to relatives in Ukraine. But this book became special - it was a collection of stories by Clifford Simak.

Fiction in my understanding is a story about "what can be in the future?". It seems to me, and the roots of my story in that we want to look to the future, and do something for it. 

About Startups and Corporations

Probably I am not a classic Startupper. Despite the fact that now I am a partner in business, I am very good with corporations. If you have a choice - to keep a store next to your own home or work in a corporation, then from the point of view of influence on the world, the second - in my opinion, is much more correct. The corporation also provides much more resources for influence.

To questions about difficulties and fears, I answer: "Yes, it was scary". Because we understood that hardware is a very expensive business. Relatively speaking, if I were just asked the question: "What do you need to know for a young entrepreneur who starts a hardware business?", my answer is: "If you have 250 USD on your account, at least you can try". Two people who work on a mobile application and do everything can be enough, plus 200 USD to pay for some third-party service. For instance, with "iron" everything is different - there are samples, transportation, logistics, a large team, etc. Therefore, in our business, we constantly spend money, and we do it very quickly.

Now I look through a lot of things not from the "scary-not scary" position, but rather like that - ok, there is a problem: how to solve it? This is not a drama, this is not the end of the world, but a challenge with which you need to do something. And I'm very glad that when we started this project, I didn't know what was behind all this. It seems to me, if you know what you need and have to go through, you can simply not get started, just frightened.

For example, when we thought up what form Nommi would be, we relied primarily on the marketing component. It should primarily attract the attention of users. Would you know how much we later quarreled with the manufacturer, were upset when realized that no battery could fit in an invented form. These difficulties - then they come. And it seems to me that it is good that I did not know about them. 

About How Scary to Enter the Global Market

When I worked in Moscow as an Internal Consultant at Procter&Gamble, I looked at the numbers and understood that almost the population of Kazakhstan lives in one city. We live here in the concept of Kazakhstan, and it is deceptively large. There is a feeling that the country is big, the market is cool. But if you start to count - ok, 50% just won't be able to buy your product, another half will not be of that age, and so on. As a result, 10 thousand potential consumers remain.

Moreover, we have relatively close by, for example, Indonesia. And 265 million people live in this country. And this is a potential huge market that we simply don't think about.

When we are asked whether it was scary to enter the international market, I reply that if we can make income in a large market - then why not?

I always have a desire to do something big. I'm not very interested, for example, to open a coffee shop, I want to do something big right away. My partner has a different story - he already has a successful Kazakhstani business. He has already proved a lot to himself here. So we agreed on the desire to do something internationally. Plus, given the devaluation, we just understand that making income in dollars is not bad.

More than a month ago, we finally started sending Nommi to everyone who participated in crowdfunding. It is gratifying that we sent the largest number of devices to users in the States. Within a month we deal with reviews and feedbacks. Firstly, it pleases that consumers like the device itself - it would be really difficult to change the hardware. There are many comments on what and how it works. We realized that the product is not yet intuitive enough. But this can be solved - we answer to everyone, we give them links to videos with instructions. Also we are still very happy that people buy traffic. Our main income is not from device sales, but from traffic sales. I think after some time we will have an even clearer picture. And now - I am very glad that we produced Nommi. This is the stage to which eighty percent of hardware companies simply do not reach. 

About Partnership with Kairat Akhmetov

We met with my partner Mr. Kairat Akhmetov at the demo day of Mr. Arman Suleimenov's projects. Arman made his summer training camp for programmers, where I and Kairat came with my team. Closer communication began at the "Most" Business Incubator.

Kairat is a person very close to me in spirit. He is very interesting to me. We always discuss a bunch of different ideas. However, it cannot be said that we immediately had an idea - to open a business. Kairat had his own project, then I had a programming school with other partners. But one day he returned from the States and told a story about how many difficulties he had just because he bought the wrong Sim Card. And he added – we need to come up with something about this. We began to discuss and ideas began to appear. So over time, I completely moved to the Nommi Project.

Sometimes I am joking that we will be a great team if we do not kill each other. Sometimes our opinions diverge very much. And despite the difficulties, I see much more power in this. It is great that Kairat and I have a completely different background. I have a corporate one, and I am a person who loves to plan, structure everything, look at the task from all possible sides. Kairat has a striking feature - spontaneity. He simply does not think that something is impossible. And sometimes this leads to very cool results. Plus he has vast experience in business. And I rely on it.

We are different, so we complement each other very well. The main thing is to hear each other to the maximum and attentively.

When we started working on the project, we had a common desire to make a Kazakhstani project that would be successful in the global market. There were no special agreements between us. Yes, in an ideal world everything is super from the very beginning. But in fact - you start, do something, and when you come to the next stage, you understand - you need to refine, improve what was already done. I think if we started by discussing the details, we would just be stuck on the points - who and what should do. I admit that this approach can be effective, but not in our case. 

About Investors and Crowdfunding

For the Kazakhstan market, we are quite experienced guys in dealing with investors. At the stage of pre-crowdfunding, we tested the idea and decided that we want to carry out crowdfunding. What I want to say: there is such an illusion - do crowdfunding and collect money. As practice shows, in order to collect money, you need to spend money. We found an American agency that helps prepare for crowdfunding because we decided - we should not think that we are smarter than them. For all this, it was necessary to spend a certain amount of money, plus we had a team on which we also spent our money. And we thought - even if we can't attract an investor, what do we even want to do next?

In this concept, we went to look for investors. And I am very glad that we had, let's say, not a local approach to investing. Why? Because at that time an American company was already registered with us, we read a lot and searched for information - how and what should be. We had two rounds of investment. First angelic - we found two investors. And relatively recently, we closed another round - with SkyBridge and private investors, and received 400 thousand dollars of investment. SkyBridge is a separate important stage for us, because it is an institutional investor, from whom we receive not only money, but also contacts that are relevant to us. Plus, when a fund comes in with investments, it is very important that all participants have the same vision. And the management team at SkyBridge, before investing in us, used a similar product. That is, they well understand the need that exists. And that also helped us make a deal.

It is important to understand that in the future, an investor is a very close partner with whom you will have to communicate a lot. Therefore, the choice of investor must be approached seriously.

I think this is a big plus that we approached the Nommi project with experience, that we were not just from the university bench. I do not say that it is impossible. It just turned out to be easier, because we had an understanding - who is on the market and what everyone is doing. Therefore, for example, during the same crowdfunding, our guys helped on the first day, when it was necessary to collect 30% of the target amount. What did we do? They just walked around Smart Point, called our friends, asked them to support us. In principle, they knew us, and most of the first customers are Kazakhstanis. Could this be done if we did not know anyone at all in the market? Probably less likely. 

Photos were provided by Alena Tkachenko

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