Evgeny Tchebotarev, entrepreneur, photographer and founder of 500px, proves that failed entrepreneurs are often the most productive.
We first meet Evgeny Tchebotarev on a sunny Monday morning, and although he looks relaxed in his cargo shorts and t-shirt, he talks about to us about the current economic trends in Asia with drive and focus.
As Evgeny starts to discuss the market behaviour in China, it’s easy to see how the same agile mind started 500px as a solution for clients to discover freelance photographers such as himself. Based between Bali and Taiwan, we chat to the young entrepreneur about the financial struggles and almost-failures of opening his own company.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and what are you currently upto?
I founded a company called 500px in 2004. It started as a hobby and my partner refounded it in 2009 as a business. It is a big community and we raised a bunch of capitals in Silicon Valley and Series B funding in China. I’m still on the board of directors of 500px and there’s a potential for it to grow as a billion-dollar company.
Now, I’ve been consulting on product management by bridging the east and west market. After I stopped running 500px in 2016, I’ve been travelling and working in Taiwan and Bali.
What are your thoughts on consulting companies in the East?
It’s hard to convince people that they can save hundreds of thousands of US dollars by listening to my advice and strategies. Most of the companies I consult are Asian companies who are trying to expand to the West.
Finding businesses heading from the west to east is rare. There are a lot of cautionary tales where smaller western companies indulge themselves in sceptic excuses as to why it would be impossible to expand their business in Asia.
In contrast, there are self-confident companies who think a single culture holds Asia. They throw things in things and expect business to grow. Each country has a unique culture, logistical issues, and government regulations.
Investors and developers cannot comprehend the fact that Malaysia and Singapore may have an overlap but they are still different. For example, UBER found it easier to give up rather than keeping the fight with semi-government controlled businesses that have regulations written for them.
You need to know how to adapt to the market, and there are d struggles long before you succeed. You will spend a lot of money even though results may only show up after long months of toiling.
How much do programming and coding play a part in the business?
I’m a terrible programmer so I wouldn’t hire myself. I am responsible for the front-end, but since there was only two of us in the 500px team, everything had to be a learn-and-share.
It’s hard for business people to start up something that is technical. Somebody on the founding team with coding skills will help avoid all the mistakes. The most productive developers are failed entrepreneurs; those who built something but they couldn’t find the market for it. Most of the time, developers know how to build but they do not know what to build.
Can you explain in more detail to what you are referring to “not build”?
Instead of building a castle right away you build a house because there are not enough people to fill up a castle yet.
Developers without the knowledge will build a castle without calculations. They’ll build castle because you order them to do so. However, you’ll be wasting resources on something that doesn’t have a demand from the clients.
What is one thing from playbook that we can learn from?
You’re going to hear about how your company is not adequate. Don’t be stubborn and but at the same time, have perseverance.
When I am fund raising work with my team, I remind them, “It’s going to take months, so be entirely focused and diligent. You will have to pitch to investors, update finances, follow up and hear rejection.”
You can’t send out 10 emails; you have to send 300 emails out. If no one is responding, then you will need to expand your email list to around 500 people. It takes 2 to 6 months to get some results, but you have to give up on the other things and put all your attention on one thing.
What would you say has been your biggest struggle to date?
1. Keeping that happy face even when you’re in a challenging period. It was hard when 500px ran out of money knowing we have 30 individuals committing their daily life in this company.
2. You cannot share with the investors that you are facing problems. There is a bit of that showmanship.
What makes you happy?
Working with talented people.
What makes you sad?
When I am soaking wet, like yesterday. I went to the Peak but it rained so heavily, that I wasn’t even able to save my shoes. It was an unhappy experience but I knew the rain would pass eventually.