Gratitude: Start noticing things that you have achieved, no matter how small. Remember that feeling and remember what you had to overcome to get here. We tend to focus so much on our failures that we forget how many times we’ve succeeded. Daily gratitude will help you harness your inner grit.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Katya Dorozhkina, Managing Partner at New York-based alternative asset management firm 13 Ventures, and CEO at VentureBoxTM.
In the past 4 years, she has invested in over 110 startups and helped achieve profitable growth and exits.
Katya Dorozhkina is on a mission to bring innovation to the people by providing capital and other resources to entrepreneurs. She invests in growth-stage consumer solutions through VentureBox and provides alternative investment options to investors through 13 Ventures.
With over 10 years of entrepreneurial experience in the startup ecosystem and corporate world, Katya loves sharing her experience to mentor fast-growing businesses and entrepreneurs. Overall, she has invested in and mentored over 100 startups.
Within four years of founding Starta Ventures, Katya has created an ecosystem and community for early-stage startups with immigrant founders to help them scale in the U.S. market. Since 2015, the total investments attracted by Starta portfolio companies have exceeded $90M in both traditional VC rounds and crypto-assets. Katya achieved four exits within three years, and eight times return for Starta’s fund.
After starting her marketing career at Nielsen, Katya advanced her product and business development skills in different industries, such as pharmaceutical and IT, as well as in FinTech and Wall Street companies. She co-founded her own company in 2009, working with clients like Samsung, Casio, American Express, American Airlines, and others.
Katya received her Master’s degree in International Economics and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Economics. In her free time, she writes books for children, donating the royalties to charity, and advocates as a founder for the Immigrant Entrepreneurship Foundation.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a very curious person, and I think that is one of the driving forces of any entrepreneur. Before starting VentureBox and joining 13Venture, I founded several businesses. I also practiced my skills within the corporate world which gave me a good perspective of the corporate “game.” Finally, I got to a point where I wanted to give back and help other entrepreneurs thrive.
I invested in early-stage deep tech startups with my previous fund, Starta Ventures, which is where I gained a deep knowledge of VC from an asset manager perspective. I also learned what investors want — what kind of risks, returns, and portfolios they are looking for. This has helped me better structure 13 Ventures’ investment offers.
As our portfolio companies were maturing, I started seeing all of the beauty and ugliness in the field of VC financing and decided to build a financial product that provides non-dilutive capital alternatives for founders. In 2019, I launched VentureBox, which provides revenue-based financing and working capital.
I am focused on the consumer sector because I love deep tech companies. In fact, I’ve invested in 106 such companies. Innovation excites me — that is the futurist talking in me — but what frustrates me is that consumers don’t always get to experience it. Not everyone will be able to fly a drone taxi or use smart robots in their everyday life, so I started investing in the consumer sector. It is also a bigger market than tech.
What inspires me is seeing people using innovative products or services every day. Innovation in, say, beauty or baby products help us optimize certain areas of life and ultimately make us happier.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
My immigration journey was challenging. I wanted to move to the U.S. because of its fair practices better-supported entrepreneurs. However, at the time there were not many visa options available. Luckily, I got a job on Wall Street that sponsored my H1B visa and later helped me get my permanent residency and then citizenship. Working on Wall Street was difficult. I was on the marketing team and business development side, building financial products. Being the only woman in the office, I definitely had a taste of the boy’s club. This, in the end, prepared me for the male-dominated world of VC.
Starting on the entrepreneurship journey requires a big leap of faith because you don’t get any of the security and stability provided by the corporate world, no health insurance, or base salary, or any other perks. So you really need to learn how to “dance with uncertainty” and win over your own mind’s poisonous thoughts of failure.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were difficult?
Although building a support system is crucial — your daily routine, faith, family, friends — the main motivator has to be your internal “why?”. Why are you doing what you are doing? My “why” has always been the “fairness” that I wanted to deliver to people, whether in the form of a product or a solution, something that will help others.
We are currently raising a new fund, so I can definitely feel the pressure. You get “audited” twice as hard as any non-immigrant white man would, which is not fair but does give me an additional drive to prove that a female immigrant can raise the capital to help others. I am working hard to prove myself every day.
Plus, I am inspired by my family and my parents. If they managed to thrive back in the Soviet era and were able to build their own businesses, I am sure I can too, given that I am living in much more entrepreneur-friendly times and in the U.S.
So, how are things going today? How did Grit lead to your eventual success?
I don’t think success can be eventual. That would mean that I’ve stopped dreaming, which in turn would mean boredom and death. Success is something to work for every day.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I launched the accelerator Starta Ventures, my colleagues and I came up with an idea that entrepreneurs should practice their pitches in public, to give them additional confidence in speaking in front of strangers. So we got a group of ten startups together and went to Union Square. We started pitching to the public, and then five minutes later the cops showed up. They asked if we were protesting Trump. Then they got very curious and stayed to learn more about innovative, new tech solutions.
But the funniest thing was that there was a lady in the crowd, who’d been asking really smart questions. I think she was probably in her late seventies! The startup founders did not take her seriously but she actually ended up being an investor. You never, never know who you will meet in New York City. It does not matter how the person looks or if you meet them in a park, because you might just meet the right person for your business!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We question the traditional approach and help founders find alternatives to venture capital. We’ve also created a win-win approach, where our investors get greater liquidity in comparison to many other funds. Additionally, our team is truly diverse! We have been lucky enough to attract people who are passionate about it. They see the value in what we are building and our mission. We want to help our team grow not only professionally but personally.
Lastly, even though we are an asset manager fund, I like to think of us as a startup. Our young and ambitious team runs fast and adapts quickly. We are always ready to be the first ones to dip our toes in the water. This has led to us being one of the most innovative financial companies out there. We’re not just jumping on existing trends, but actually setting them ourselves.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Spend quality time with your loved ones and do something that you have never done before each day, or at least once a week. I created a special list of things I would never do, to push myself out of my comfort zone. Don’t limit yourself by your own sense of comfort. Keep an open and flexible mind and always try to see beyond your limitations.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My brothers have always supported me, especially when they saw that I was doing new things. Unfortunately, one of them passed away in 2019. He was like my father, always encouraging me. In the moments I’ve been the most afraid of failure he used to say: “Who cares? Nobody will remember it after all.” He would always ask: “What is the worst that can happen?”
When you deconstruct “the worst,” it’s not that bad after all. He never pressured me to be successful but always encouraged me to find my happiness. This is what has helped me the most. I always know that I’m moving in the right direction if I am happy with what I do. It’s important that you have a person in your life who can give you unconditional support. For many, these are not parents, but people they meet later in life. You should also become that person for someone, and support them unconditionally.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I enjoy giving back by mentoring young and ambitious founders of sustainable businesses, in particular ones relocating to the U.S. from abroad. I give them the same unconditional support I once had myself. For that purpose, we set up the Immigrant Entrepreneurship Foundation (http://immigrantentrepreneurshipfoundation.org/). Whenever I have a chance, I donate to charities that support children. I believe building curiosity is important in childhood. I also believe that we can improve the lives of people in developing countries by making new technology more affordable and available. This is one of the philosophies behind our investment practices.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)
I believe it cannot be developed but only discovered in yourself.
Understand your “why” and make a commitment to yourself.
What motivates you and why? When I am frustrated or exhausted by fundraising, I try to remember why I am doing it. I fundraise not only for myself but also because I want to help other founders and finance more brands that will help more people find happiness!
Commitment: Stick to it, and maintain your integrity.
Make a plan that helps you and then split it into smaller goals: If the goal is too big, the brain will not believe it and you will procrastinate. Make a list of things to experience beyond your comfort zone. For example, for me that was Zumba class and speaking in a big stadium! Every time you do something you fear or dislike, your brain builds new patterns.
Patience and faith: Breakdowns are inevitable — try to turn them into breakthroughs. Remember Thomas Edison’s quote: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Feed your faith with a support system that can motivate you when you can’t. Before we launched our revenue-based model, we pivoted approximately five times before we polished the model and got our first investors.
Gratitude: Start noticing things that you have achieved, no matter how small.
Remember that feeling and remember what you had to overcome to get here. We tend to focus so much on our failures that we forget how many times we’ve succeeded. Daily gratitude will help you harness your inner grit. Before I summed up my 2019, I thought it was a year of tough turbulence, but it turned out to have had lots of beautiful moments. This kind of analysis helps you look at the big picture.
Surrender: Acknowledge that you can’t do it all, then ask for help and accept it.
I realized that to build what I wanted to build, I needed leverage. In our case, the biggest leverage we have is our venture partners and ambassadors. I acknowledged that not only did I need help with fundraising, but I also needed help building community. Through our ambassadors. I am open to our investor’s recommendations. While everyone wants to be a perfect diamond, not everyone wants to be cut. I surrender to the cut because it’s important if we want to be the best.
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