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“Show Me You Are Willing to Learn” with Dr. Oksana Malysheva

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Oksana Malysheva is an investor, entrepreneur and business executive based in Austin, TX.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Oksana Malysheva is an investor, entrepreneur and business executive based in Austin, TX. She is the Managing Partner/CEO of Sputnik ATX, an accelerator that funds maker-founders with ideas to create positive change. Committed to igniting and fueling social innovation solutions, Dr. Malysheva’s mission is creating positive social change through education, technology and innovation. Dr. Malysheva previously held top strategic roles at McKinsey and Motorola. Trained as a PhD physicist, Dr. Malysheva brings scientific inquisitiveness, lateral thinking and mastery of insight through data to all of her business endeavors.


Jean: Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share your story about how you got into the VC space?

As someone who grew up in Ukraine, from a very young age I was fascinated with capitalism and what makes it click. My answer came when I had a chance to work on a project focused on incubators and VCs while in management consulting. The unique combination of VC funding with fresh ideas and grit from startups was the very thing that created this ‘capitalist magic’. I went on to work in management consulting and marketing for a few years, always keeping this concept in the back of my mind. When the time was right I entered the field as an angel investor, and gradually build out an organization that allowed us to handle bigger and more complex deals. It was a fascinating journey that made me realize that a lot of things that hurt companies as they become later stage ventures could have been addressed at the seed level, and that the right incubator can profoundly affect the company trajectory. Sputnik ATX is here to play this role in the Austin/Texas ecosystem.

Jean: What kinds of startups do you typically work with?

At Sputnik we work with early stage startups that have moved past the “I have an idea” stage. In other words, applicants must have a product and a customer to be considered for the Sputnik cohort. We focus heavily on helping our companies gain quick traction, and for this to be effective you must have a product and a customer.


Jean: What do you look for in the management team of your investment companies?

We are looking for leadership, grit, and humility. Being an entrepreneur is both exhilarating and insanely difficult. Unfortunately the media typically focuses on the first part and glosses over the second. You hear some stories being portrayed as unending parade of victories and strokes of genius. The real world is definitely not like that, and it is important to us at Sputnik to be real and authentic with our companies and ourselves.

Jean: Can you share a story of a successful Angel or VC investment? What were some of the highlights?

There are a few that come to mind, but let me tell you about SaveDay. SaveDay’s mission is to make quality 401k investment available to small business. Currently, more than 50% of the US workers works for small businesses but do not have access to a 401k. The cost and the hustle of setup is to blame. Saveday had to completely re-envision the process from the ground up to deliver on its promise, “Handshake in the morning, employees enrolled by lunch.”

Jean: What is one piece of advice you would give a startup?

I would remind people that starting a company is a journey, and it will require hard work, grit and determination. So you have to remember to live your life with joy no matter how hard any given moment of your journey is. Remember that in all aspects, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so choose them wisely, and that very much applies to your team.

Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

Choosing one book is very hard because I love to read, and I am always surrounded by a pile of books in all different genres. One book that has definitely made a profound impact on my life is “The Art of Happiness, 10th Edition: A Handbook for Living,” by the Dalai Lama. As a lifetime hacker, “The 4-Hour body” by Tim Ferris had a profound effect on my health, and I love his “minimal viable dose” approach to health and body management. Lastly, for female entrepreneurs learning to manage their time I recommend “I Know How She Does It” by Laura Vanderkam.


Jean: What are your “5 Things I Wish Founders Knew Before They Pitched To Me” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Be a good human, and present your genuine self when we meet. We have a strict “assholes need not apply” rule that is serving us well. I will keep silent on who did not pass this test, but I have no room in my life for this.
  2. Great ideas alone do not make a successful company, and will not be valued in millions of dollars. Ideas are nothing without execution, and founders would do well to remember that. Prove to me you can execute, or find a co-founder who can.
  3. Launching a startup company is a very hard journey that requires a lot of sacrifice. This is not a “get rich quick scheme”; there are much easier ways to do that. We often come across senior executives that want to “play startup” and keep their corporate salaries, benefits, and security. That generally does not work out well for them, the company, or investors.
  4. Show me you are willing to learn. Most of our founders are going on this journey for the first time, and have a lot to learn. We are looking for people that can hear and absorb feedback and advice, because they will grow into their roles considerably more quickly. We have one company that did not make the cut last time because we thought their business model was flawed. They fixed the problem, got admitted the next time around, and are just crushing it now!
  5. Know your space deeply, and know your numbers. If I can disprove your key assumptions with a two minute Google search, chances are you will not get funded. This has happened in our interviews more than I would care to detail.

Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I would love to meet Jeff Bezos because I’m astounded by the foresight he had. I would love to talk to him about how his vision emerged and evolved because that would be a great lesson for me and many startups.

He also seems like a phenomenal human being who is committed to his family. I’d love to understand the ways in which he keeps himself sane, engaged and motivated.

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Jean: This was really inspiring! Thank you so much for your time.

Originally published at medium.com

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