As the couple prepares to head back to the Triangle in September, William Tate recently shared with ExitEvent some reflections on his time in Ukraine, and updated us on the startup idea he dreamt up after years in financial planning at Morgan Stanley.
Here are excerpts from our Q&A:
EE: You aren't located where most of the conflict is occurring, so what is it like where you live and where you work?
WT: Galyna and I live in the same small city where she grew up, Alexandria, Ukraine. We bought a small, but comfortable, two-room apartment on the 8th floor of a very common Soviet-style, nine-story building.
Galyna's parents still live and work in Alexandria. Our city is less than 200 miles west of the Russian terrorists' activity in the Donbas Region. There is a military helicopter training base in our city. We often hear and see these choppers conducting their training just before they go off to battle the Russian Beast from the East. Sadly, several brave young men from our region have died protecting Ukraine from these ruthless Russian invaders.
But we live and work far enough away from the war that, except for the Ukrainian military soldiers and volunteers area funerals sometimes, life and work go on pretty much as usual. Our software development team, M.I.F. Projects, is in Kirovohrad, Ukraine. Kirovohrad is about 60 miles west of our Alexandria home. I am usually in Kirovohrad during the week working directly with our team there.
EE: Why are you so passionate about Ukraine?
WT: Ukraine offers the best of Europe's style and grace, but with a fantastic value! For example, our big comfortable downtown Kirovohrad apartment costs $200/month. We can walk a few blocks in every direction and be in a superb daily "farmer's market". We can buy a whole bag of fresh, local produce for just a few dollars.
Our tech team, M.I.F. Projects, does fabulous software development at $25/hour. Although this rate is very low cost, you get very high quality work for your money. Most American software development firms start at $100/hour. Thus, another example of Ukraine's direct value.
EE: How does this turmoil impact startups in Ukraine?
WT: Most startup activity has been in the capital, Kyiv. Kyiv has had at least one Startup Weekend Event last autumn. But I don't know about any lately. I receive regular U.S. State Department email updates warning me and other Americans to stay out of the Donbas Region. Of course, Donbas is a horrible mess now. They are on life support due to the Russian military's "covert" war there. (And it is a full-on war there!) But the rest of Ukraine is open for fabulous startup opportunities. Ukraine is a good business value in lots of ways.
EE: What is the entrepreneurial community like there now? What about before?
WT: Many Ukrainians are quite entrepreneurial! Many small businesses are springing up all over the place here. But before, Ukraine suffered about 20 years of indecision and being tugged back and forth between a market-oriented European business model and that of systemic Russian Soviet corruption. Now Ukraine is a great opportunity for any American business. I know firsthand what a great opportunity Ukraine is for our startup company.
EE: You've contracted with some developers in Ukraine and convinced other Triangle startups to do the same. Why? What are the benefits?
We have been working with M.I.F. Projects for some time. We have referred other startup teams to M.I.F. Projects due to our good experience working with them. Most of their 40+ member team speak English well. They have a full range of programmers and developers all in house. Plus, they are an exceptional value.
EE: What role can entrepreneurship play in helping Ukraine get through the conflict?
WT: Ukraine is bursting with startup opportunities! I know of several American companies that have based much of their operations here in our Kirovohrad region. Much of the local population is young, well educated, speaks English, high tech driven, understands small and startup business, and wants to move forward. Plus Ukraine is "on sale" now. The positive local business environment, relative low wage, very low cost of housing/living, and favorable currency exchange rate makes Ukraine a big value.
EE: Tell us about your startup, where it stands today and your vision for its future.
WT: My mom was an art teacher. My dad was an insurance agency owner. Growing up, I was influenced by both art and personal finance worlds. I spent most of my corporate career as a financial advisor and manager at Morgan Stanley in Silicon Valley. So I have a lot of experience in personal money management. As I was helping my clients manage their money, I discovered that drawing simple pictures helped them understand their financial accounts better. Also, by using an individual approach for each client, I saw what best worked for their personal money situation.
And that's how My Money Landscape, a one-of-a-kind personal finance software company, was born. I realized that I had a solution for the following problems people face with personal finance:
1) Lack of knowledge about scattered finances.
2) Confusion about all the financial choices, and poor decision making.
3) Not enough savings.
Our program allows users to see all of their assets, debts and insurances in a visual and comprehensive way. In addition to seeing it all on one page, our clients get unbiased advice on the best financial products. We basically save our clients' time and money.
Here is how we do it. First, we are the only app that takes raw financial account info, and organizes, arranges, and displays all of it in a logical way, and on a natural landscape. Then, all of the accounts are displayed on a single screen so that the users can finally see and understand how all of their accounts relate to each other. And finally, we do extensive market research for better financial solutions. As we do all this, our clients can spend more time with their loved ones, instead of searching the web for hours and hours. All they have to do is follow our simple guidance to save and make more money.
We have a "coming soon" web page at MyMoneyLandscape.com. Our program is still a work in progress. We are looking for testers, fans and fellow believers in our quest to help millions of Americans sleep peacefully at night. Also, we are looking to add partners and build a team.
EE: What role will Ukraine play in that even once you're back in the States?
WT: When we return to Durham, we'll test our MML MVP with local RTP area customers. We'll update, iterate and pivot MML as needed. Our Ukraine based M.I.F. Projects tech team will be there to update our MML software. We encourage other startup companies that need a great tech team at a fabulous value to let us know and we'll be happy to help.
EE: In your opinion, what is the main problem between Ukraine and Russia?
WT: That is a great question. And it gets to the heart of the matter here. It is nearly impossible to understand the war here without first understanding the long term history of Ukrainian and Russian people.
A Vikings settlement on the Dnieper River grew to become "Kyivan Rus" in about 500 A.D. Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, was a thriving 500-year-old city when Moscow was still not even a village. Thus, Ukraine, not Russia, was the dominate force from around the 6th to the mid 13th century. But Ukraine was destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century. After that, Ukraine declined and Russia began to rise.
Fast forward to the First World War (1914-1918), and the Russian Bolshevik Revolution (October 1917). Ukraine's first modern Independence from Russia occurred during the first nine months of 1918. Then, Lenin and his Bolshevik Red Army swept in and crushed Ukraine's freedom. As a result, Ukraine was enslaved into the largest prison that the world has ever known- the Soviet Union. (See Ukrainian-Soviet War 1917-1921.)
Ukraine had long been the "bread basket" of Eurasia. Ukraine fed everyone around for thousands of miles. But again in 1932, Ukrainian Nationalists began to move towards Ukraine's independence from Russian/Soviet repression. Joe Stalin would not allow that. He sent his Russian Red Army into Ukraine to steal its food crops and take them to Russia. The Russians exterminated millions of Ukrainian people by starving them to death.
Stalin's genocide against the Ukrainian people is called Holodomor. Holodomor is a Ukrainian word that means "Death by Forced Starvation". Stalin starved to death from six to 10 million Ukrainians for resisting Russian/Soviet integration. (See Holodomor (Ukrainian Famine/Genocide of the 1932-33)
Only eight years later in summer 1941, the German Army invaded the Soviet Union. Because the Russian Soviets had brutalized the Ukrainian people so much, many of the Ukrainians greeted the German Army as "liberators" of Ukraine. In fact, thousands of Ukrainian soldiers fought with the Germans against the Soviet Russians during the war. Stalin liked to use Soviet Ukrainian soldiers in the front lines as "Shock Troops" to attack German fortified positions. He made Soviet Ukrainian troops charge these German positions and would shoot any of these solders if they tried to retreat back to the Soviet front lines. As a result, Stalin had either hero Ukrainian soldiers, or dead ones. To Stalin, it did not matter. He was equally happy with both.
In the summer of 1991, the Soviet Union finally collapsed from within largely due to its decades of gigantic military expenditures, vast systemic corruption and totally incompetent leadership. The final round of the Soviet Union's collapse began with Ukraine's popular referendum on December 1, 1991, wherein 90% of the Ukrainian people voted for independence. Most Ukrainian people were clearly done with Russian Soviet subjugation.
From that 1991 Independence vote to the Ukrainian Revolution of February 2014, Ukraine struggled to be a true independent nation. The people of Ukraine were split on how best to move forward. The people of West and Central Ukraine wanted to advance toward European integration. But many of those in the South and East were persuaded by Russia to regress backwards to mother Russia. Ukraine swung back and forth until this past spring 2014. This is when the Ukrainian people overthrew their Russian-installed puppet president, "incompetent thug", Viktor Yanukovych, for the last time.
In May 2014, Ukraine's people overwhelmingly voted for a popular Western-leaning business man named Petro Poroshenko. Putin saw Ukraine's turmoil as an opportunity to expand his new Russian Empire. Thus Russia invaded and occupied Ukrainian Crimea. Now his Special Purpose Forces (SPETSNAZ) troops have invaded and occupied Ukraine's Southeastern industrial region called Donbas. Russia wants to annex Donbas like it did Ukrainian Crimea. But many in Ukrainian Donbas want to stay with Ukraine. Once the warring Russian terrorists fighting in Ukraine leave, the war will be over. Simple. That is why Ukraine and Russia are at war today.