INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
Ukraine -A Jungle Where Rockets Occasionally Take Off From
Denis Okhrimenko, CEO of Time for Machine, FinGears, and PAGL tells us how to create unique mechanical models out of metal, wood, and other materials.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Denis Okhrimenko: No matter how hard we tried to protect ourselves from COVID19 by following all the WHO recommendations: wearing masks, working remotely, etc., many of our colleagues, myself included, got infected. Personally, I have had a mild form of COVID. In general, the situation in Ukraine is pretty serious.
Our team is real optimists and dreamers, so in any difficult situation, we look for new chances and opportunities. During the lockdown, the products of Time for Machine, FinGears, and PAGL projects allow people to distract themselves from their issues and focus on creativity.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Time for Machine, FinGears, and PAGL.
Denis Okhrimenko: I’ve been fascinated by mechanics since childhood.
In 2012 I started working on Ugears, plywood mechanical construction sets.
In 2014 I cooperated with a Ukrainian investor for this project, but in 2016, due to some disagreements, I decided to leave the project and quit the business. It was a difficult time for me. Now it is quite a well-known company. In 2017, I sold my share in the project to the company.
I attracted investments for two new projects at the end of 2016. They were the Time for Machine, metal mechanical construction sets, and the PAGL project, big bricks made of molded paper. And in 2019, I drew investment in the Fin-Gears project, which is magnetic rings. All of these projects are in the toy industry.
Projects of such kind require a fresh new idea which adds to their value. Without this idea, it’s just raw material.
For example, my previous project, Ugears, was just plywood. But plywood itself would not spread quickly. And the idea of a mechanical construction set made only of plywood really skyrocketed. In 2015, we raised $406,000 on Kickstarter. And later, Time for Machine metal mechanical construction sets, even more, fascinating and sophisticated – raised $430k on Kickstarter in 2019.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Denis Okhrimenko: Sales of my latest projects, Time for Machine and FinGears, started in spring of 2020. That was just when the pandemic started. Overall, if it had not been for the closure of offline venues, our result might have been better. Still, we’re happy with the outcome of 2020.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Denis Okhrimenko: We are very careful with choosing people for our team. After all, we have to go through many uncharted roads together. As in any journey – each member of the team must be reliable and dedicated.
I think every business founder has quite a few stories for a whole book of trial and error. Maybe someday I will have a chapter in my book that I will write when I am 80: people can let you down, steal your ideas, fail to fulfill their obligations, but the main trait that distinguishes successful businesspeople from less successful ones is the ability to get over problems and move on.
My list of failures varied: sometimes, I had to give up a working project and start from scratch, or, for example, to fight the counterfeiting of my product on the world market.
My main conclusion is very simple, and it is that it’s necessary to always record the responsibilities of the parties in writing – be it an employee, a contractor, or a business partner. Before entrusting a person with a range of tasks, you need to set deadlines and monitor the performance of tasks in time. It is necessary to diversify control over the areas of the company, so you wouldn’t depend on anyone. And to patent intellectual property in advance, if there is money for it, of course.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Denis Okhrimenko: As for now, we have a personalised approach to the support service. The support department consists of a group of support specialists who work closely with R&D specialists.
We do not use chatbots – real people work in our support. We didn’t have a task just to create a “call center” that can only “sweet-talk” the client and not actually solve the problem. Sometimes we had to solve problems created by third-party stores when the item did not reach the customer. Also, we create personalized video instructions for clients that cannot cope with the difficulties of assembling the model.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, we managed to expand our team, and we are constantly working on improving our customer’s experience, it is especially important, taking into account that assembling our construction set is quite a challenging process, as it is not a simple toy.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Denis Okhrimenko: We operate from an American legal entity, and the main office is located in Ukraine, and so far, we have not been able to take out any loans in the United States. But at the end of 2019, we received a grant of 50 thousand euros for the Time for Machine project from the Polish accelerator Space3ac, which operates within the framework of the Polish agency PARP. Thanks to the program, I have completed several weeks of entrepreneurship training in Poland, and we opened a Polish company that works as part of the Time for Machine project.
Your final thoughts?
Denis Okhrimenko: I communicate with Western investors a lot. And I have a great new project in mind that is now under consideration. My goal is a diversified company in the toy industry.
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