Entrepreneur for life. Venture investor Oleksiy Vitchenko has invested $ 20 million in ambitious startups. Is it possible to make money on them?

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September 2014. Russia is attacking Ukraine in the east, in the air in anticipation of a financial catastrophe. It is no longer fashionable to invest in startups – accelerators Happy Farm and EastLabs have announced that they are leaving the scene.

Serial entrepreneur Oleksiy Vitchenko announces the launch of the Digital Future investment fund. “I decided to go against the flow,” says Vitchenko, 41. “Many investors have curtailed programs, I saw opportunities.” Seven years later, Vitchenko invested $ 20 million and has eight exits for three dozen portfolio companies. How did the bet on the “green” and hungry founders play?

 

From Ukraine to the world

Vitchenko studied at one of the strongest schools in Ukraine – Cherkasy Physical and Mathematical Lyceum (FIMLI). Until the ninth grade, he won district and regional math competitions. Due to health problems, he dropped out of the program and changed the exact sciences to English.

 

Alma is the founder of Digital Future, now a closed International Christian University. A feature of the private university launched in 1992 was the teaching of business disciplines in English. Vitchenko’s classmates, Maksym Lytvyn and Oleksiy Shevchenko, raised Grammarly, the first Ukrainian decacon with a valuation of $ 13 billion. “I’m more friends with Max, I know Sasha, too,” he said.

 

“I’m talking about such people that they need a vaccine against entrepreneurship,” said Vithenka Artem Borodatyuk, who has gathered a dozen businesses under the Netpeak umbrella. One of them, the search engine optimization platform Serpstat, raised $ 250,000 from Digital Future in 2016. The project did not require money, and the deal took a year to complete. The main goal was a partnership with Vitchenko, who is well known in the world of search engine optimization.

 

Vitchenko trained to earn money while still a student – he organized parties. But writing essays and essays turned out to be a real gold mine. Demand was formed by the Western education system – in the United States, students have to take 10-15 essays per semester. “All the students at the university knew English, they could write papers easily,” he says. All that was left was to pack it into convenient sites and optimize them for search engines.

 

The books of marketing guru Philip Kotler helped to scale. “I realized that you can create a lot of global online businesses from Ukraine and you don’t need to move anywhere,” says Vitchenko.

 

The academic community is not happy with the “essay to order” industry, but is taking action with a squeak. Essay services are illegal in 17 of the 50 US states. Australia declared war on them in September 2020, with lawbreakers facing up to two years in prison. The United Kingdom is preparing to take a similar step.

 

Until 2004, Vitchenko was building an essay empire with Yuri Mizyuk, who is associated with US-registered Universal Research and essaywriters. net, bestessays.com, superiorpapers.com, besttermpaper.com. The story ended in a rupture, without going into details, says Vitchenko. “Yura quit, I had to start from scratch,” he describes his version of events.

 

Headquarters Digital Future is a three-storey brick building in the capital’s Solomyanka. The founder drives a red Ferrari to the office in the middle of the private sector. Wealth is freedom, he believes. A group of one and a half dozen companies provides freedom.

 

In addition to “essays and factories”, Vitchenko owns several outsourcers: AppSolutions, acquired in 2017 from Mykola Slobodyan from Lviv, Grossum and WOW24‑7. In 2019, the translate.com translation service was added to the list – the acquisition cost $ 853,000. There is a resume writing service. “I closed it three times and reopened it three times,” says Vitchenko.

 

Vitchenko studied the basics of venture business on someone else’s example – he was an investor in AVentures Capital Yevhen Sysoyev and GrowthUP Denis Dovgopoloho. But he was bored just giving money and waiting for the result.

 

“He doesn’t go to projects where there are some ‘vanilla’ ideas,” says Borodatyuk. A down-to-earth approach is more reliable. You are unlikely to build a billion-dollar business like that, but a company of tens of millions is enough, he explains.

 

Vitchenko does not disclose the financial indicators of the group, legal entities are scattered around the world. Launched in 2015, AppSolutions has grown from $ 1 million in digital infusions to several million dollars in annual revenue, he said.

 

Govitall, an IT product company sharpened to write an essay, earns the most. She appeared in 2004 after breaking up with Mizyuk. Business processes are known: make a website, find writers and pour money into advertising. “Literally immediately there were sales of millions,” says Vitchenko. He decided to save and increase capital by investing in startups.