Dennis Kibirev: Swiss EP EIR in four different countries
Dennis Kibirev was our Entrepreneur in Residence in four different countries. In this interview, he shared his experience in different countries and regions with us.
It's a rare opportunity to have an Entrepreneur in Residence visiting four countries where Swiss EP is active, so let's hear more about this extraordinary experience.
Photo credit: Enxhi Dyrmishi
Dennis Kibirev is a mentor, entrepreneur, and growth expert. As an Entrepreneur in Residence, he was our guest in Vietnam, Albania, Kosovo, and North Macedonia. He shared his adventures and experience with us.
How would a pitch about yourself in front of startups sound?
I got involved with my first 'startup' at the age of 23 while I was still working for Unilever. The experience of running this side hustle, while short-lived, got me hooked on entrepreneurship, and I've since been involved with launching and growing startups in multiple geographies. In addition to this, I've been formulating and implementing sales and marketing strategies for over 15 years now as a startup executive, including launching products and services across four continents. I've summarised this experience in my 'Growth Engineering' series of workshops that I have so far presented to 200+ founders via accelerators, venture funds, and universities across North America, Asia Pacific & EMEA.
How did you learn about the Swiss EP EIR program? Why did you decide to join the program back in 2019? And what motivated you to do it again in 2021?
I was heading up marketing for a fast-growing startup out of Melbourne, Australia, when I came across the Swiss EP Vietnam program through my social network. I've always wanted to experience the startup scene in an emerging Asian economy as an insider, and this seemed like one of those unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that would allow me to do exactly that. Overall, I'm glad that I decided to do the EIR stint as I met many amazing people I'm in touch with, both Vietnamese and the wider southeast Asian business community. I was even planning to come back to Vietnam and do a follow-up 'tour' last year but, because of COVID, this never eventuated. With Albania loosening COVID restrictions earlier this year, the opportunity came to engage with the Swiss EP Balkan's partner ecosystem, so I naturally jumped at this. As a bonus, it was great to spend the entire summer in balmy southern Europe.
You were active in Vietnam and the Western Balkans region. Could you compare your work in these two regions? What are the main similarities and differences when it comes to your work with POs and startups?
Because my family is from Russia and I've spent several years living in that country, it was easier for me to relate to the founders' general line of thinking in the various Balkan countries as the mentality is similar. Balkan founders found certain concepts easier to grasp based on the way that I described them. In Vietnam, the culture is very different from Eastern Europe. To effectively explain certain constructs to local founders, I had to pay more attention to how I talked about them and how I delivered the information. This was an exciting experience, and I enjoyed the challenge. What was very clear in both cases is that, as founders, we all have to jump through the same hoops when it comes to building a startup. Regardless of where you are from, it takes a lot of grit and determination to launch a new product or concept into the market successfully. It was always inspiring to see how founders braved similar - but slightly different - odds to enable their visions in different countries.
What are the most significant differences between startups in the regions you've worked in? And are there any crucial commonalities? Any surprising commonalities?
One of the things I've observed as a result of mentoring startups globally, not just Vietnam and the Balkans, is that a startup founding team can be based almost anywhere in the world these days and still create a successful global product. COVID has seriously leveled the playing field for startups with great ideas who aspire to be global from day one. This also applies to raising capital, not just taking a product to market. VCs and accelerators seem to be much more open to startups from opposite sides of the globe now. It actually feels like a seismic shift of sorts in that respect. I believe startups need to capitalize on this zeitgeist as conditions are ripe to get admitted into an accelerator in Singapore, Australia, North America, or Europe - no matter where you are domiciled. However, suppose I had to specifically compare the general thinking of startup founders in Vietnam and the Balkans. In that case, I'd say that founders in the former aren't as focused on going global from the get-go as the country has a large enough population to sustain a significant scale. However, founders from, say, Albania or North Macedonia realize that their respective countries are too small population-wise and have no choice but to look to Europe, North America, and beyond to achieve a substantial level of growth.
What do you like about WB and Vietnam? Is there any particular community or a startup that made a strong impression on you?
I met several founders in both regions that I have a deep level of respect and admiration for, especially when considering that they've built their startups without having access to the same investment pool and resources as their peers in North America or Europe. I have to say that I really loved seeing what Startup Macedonia is trying to do locally, including working on government-level initiatives to support the country's startup ecosystem. It's inspirational how their private and public sectors are actively trying to come up with a model that will enact their shared vision of an innovation-driven economy, realizing the benefits this will bring to the country as a whole. Vietnam seems to provide a high degree of government support for startup initiatives. This is undoubtedly helping the country position itself as an emerging 'startup nation' both globally and in South East Asia specifically.
What is your general advice for people who are considering becoming Swiss EP EIRs?
In short: do it! If you have the opportunity to give back in this way and use your current experience to help founders in a developing market, you are likely to find it immensely rewarding. While giving back in life is generally a very rewarding endeavor, an EIR gig is a fantastic way for entrepreneurs to leverage their professional experience to potentially have an outsized impact at a regional or country-level if a local founder ultimately makes it. A startup you end up mentoring may use that knowledge as the springboard they need to achieve a new level of success for themselves and the innovation community in which they're an active participant. Of course, committing to an EIR mission in a different part of the world is a big undertaking and will be influenced by where you are at in terms of your startup career and individual circumstances. However, Swiss EP definitely helps to simplify the burden of making such a leap and will help to provide you with a life experience that is otherwise hard to come by. Personally, I loved getting an inside glimpse into how startups work in these very different parts of the world, and I feel that these insights have ultimately made me a stronger and more globally aware entrepreneur. And it seems that in our interconnected world, such a perspective is a definite competitive advantage. Not to mention the fact that you'll have the opportunity to build a fantastic global network of like-minded individuals that you'll be able to keep in touch with for years to come!
Thank you Dennis, it was a pleasure talking to you.