30 Under 30: Nommi CEO Alyona Tkachenko on Solving Travelers’ Problems

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Alyona Tkachenko, is a co-founder and CEO at Nommi. Nommi is a router for international travelers, which allows them to always be connected, both at home and abroad. Before that, she worked in large companies, most of the time in Procter & Gamble – first in Kazakhstan, then in Russia. Alyona will tell us how to create a product in KZ and sell it globally.

What is it like to be a woman working in tech?

Honestly, when I hear this kind of questions, by default I understand that I don’t really like it. In my opinion, the right way of asking the question is, “How is it like to develop a tech startup in Kazakhstan?“. The difference between a man and a woman is not the most critical as long as you know how to make money. Tech business is becoming more accessible for youth, especially for girls as there’s a hypothesis that this industry is only for men.

How did you end up in tech industry?

I sincerely believe that technology can change the world. Since my childhood I love science fiction, I like to draw a possible future, so it seems to me technology is the right sphere where I need to be. The only thing, it’s not just technology. Technology is just a tool that connects to biology, physics, economics, etc.

Why “Nommi”? What’s the brand of Kazakhstan in the global market? 

I am a patriot. So even the name of our product – Nommi, is a merger of two words – “nomadic” and ”mifi”. The name refers both to a group of people who call themselves digital nomads and to Kazakhstani history, where our ancestors used to be nomads. For me, it is very important how the global market perceives Kazakhstan. I strive for creating the perception of Kazakhstan as something good, positive, a place where one would like to live or to explore our motherland. We realized that one of the greatest ways to do this is to enable people around the world to try a product that is actually made in Kazakhstan.

Why Going Global is important for Nommi? 

We think that Kazakhstan is big because it is geographically large. We used to say that this is the 9th largest country in the world in terms of territory and this creates the illusion that it is big as a market. However, in fact, it’s just  18 million people – which is around the population of Moscow. Compared to China, the United States, and South-East Asia, the figures are even less impressive, so it seems to me that if you are doing something innovative, you should immediately look after other markets.

If you do something for the international market, you should not be relatively competitive, but absolutely competitive. What is the difference? Let’s say you can be the first in Kazakhstan because the quality standards are average compared to the global market. Globally – you just can’t afford it, you always compete with the best and you must be prepared that the competition will be cruel.

What are the challenges in creating a product from scratch? 

In Kazakhstan, there is not much expertise in hardware. We are not a nation that historically boasts of this. So we had to search for information and expertise on our own, to look for people, etc. Shenzhen itself is enthusiastic about the city of “City of Makers”, supporting a program “Made in China 2025”. Secondly, when you start outsourcing this, you produce most of the things in China. This specificity is not only for our countries but also for start-ups from the US that work with China. You may run into one problem – long logistics. E.g, if you have made any device or a part of it in China, it will take time to send, receive, and provide feedback. This process can be optimized, but we actually spent a lot of time waiting for the samples from China.

What’s more important for a hardware startup at the early stage of development? 

First of all, you need to pay attention to the audience, understand who needs it. If no one needs it, it does not matter what your money is, and what product. In the second place, I would look at the money, this is especially relevant for hardware. The development takes a decent amount of money, in contrast to software. In the case of hardware, you have a lot of production costs and therefore you need to look carefully at money. The product is rather the last thing, you can always improve it if it is in demand.

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How do you analyze the market, and what do you think about the competitors?

Before we started making Nommi, we studied the pros and cons of current players for a year, we used their products. We have a vision – if you act reactively to what competitors are doing, you will not be successful. It is important to understand what you want, where you see the development of your company. We build our vision. We look within 3-5 years because this is a good planning horizon. Technologies change very quickly and to foresee the exact development of technologies for 10 years is actually quite difficult.

What would you recommend to people who want to start their own business?

If you want to start anything, always consult those who already did it. Very rarely someone invents the wheel. There is someone who is doing something similar and who knows the situation better in a certain country. That’s why you should always orient yourself on this.

I think that we have very useful communities abroad. Once you start doing an international project and business, you immediately understand that there are people who can tell you a lot of useful things. You never worked in this market and you have some assumptions. For example, in the States, we talked about working with universities, and I did not really believe in universities, although people told me that the perception of universities in Kazakhstan and the universities in the States is different, because in the States for universities students fight, even Facebook started with the university. I understand that there are some mental peculiarities that I do not know and do not take into account, but there are people on the ground who are a great source of information.

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