TECHCITYINSIDER100: Alex Berezovskiy is helping bigger brands to think like a startup through his digital innovation consultancy Leto – and its Startup Rally initiative is helping grow the tech ecosystem Europe wide. Berezovskiy tells Toni Sekinah how a sideline became his main business path.
Alex Berezovskiy is a restless tech startup man on a mission.
With two companies in his native Russia, Berezovskiy, came to the UK to study computer science and founded his third business straight after graduating.
That business, Tree.io, was a software-as-a-service platform for medium to large businesses wanting to connect their IT departments to their finance and accounting teams.
“As a fresh startup, fresh out of university, not really knowing much about product startups, we made all the possible mistakes of a product startup,” Berezovskiy recalls. “But we did get there eventually and soon found ourselves with quite a lot of clients.”
Berezovskiy and his co-founder Adam Awan started to move in different directions so he took some freelance work to supplement his Tree.io work.
“That work was mainly around the startup scene, helping startups do something cool and take some ideas off the ground and that thing grew into Leto,” he recalls.
He decided to dedicate himself totally to Leto and sold his half of the Tree.io business to Awan.
Within a month of selling his stake, Berezovskiy met Oleg Gerasimenko at an event in London. They realised that they were in a similar situation and were thinking along the same lines about building “something cool”.
“About three weeks after that we actually started Leto and a week later we were sending out our first invoices. It all developed very organically but very quickly,” he says.
Three years on and the bootstrapped business is still growing and innovating. Berezovskiy says Leto has not needed to raise capital as it has been drawing revenue since day one.
Berezovskiy describes his agency business as “startup as a service”.
Today, Leto exists to help startups fill the design, technical or project management gaps in their team, offering hardware solutions, development and prototyping. The company also offers advice, guidance, and support for new ideas.
Leto has since developed into a more general innovation team that works on different projects, applying its technical digital skills to solve their clients’ problems.
“What makes us different is that we don’t want to focus on one technology or one specific niche, be it mobile or web. We’re happy to try new things and work on whatever solves the problem be it hardware or design or marketing or digital,” says Berezovskiy.
Although they began with a sharp focus on web projects and mobile apps, the Leto team also now tries new technologies and has recently made a move into hardware.“Hardware prototyping and products started catching on and we thought ‘that sounds cool’. So we got a 3D printer and started experimenting and playing with it.”
The result of that experimentation with 3D printing was landing hardware projects with big corporates like Unilever and the development of a whole new branch inside Leto.
Leto now finds itself working more and more with such established global brands. Berezovskiy says there is a growing desire among big corporates to innovate and behave like a startup by quickly executing new ideas and seeing what works. Leto can help speed up the feedback loop.
“The idea is always the same, think about the problem and come up with a solution to that in the digital space, in the tech space,” says Berezovskiy.
Although more often working with bigger corporates than with startups, Berezovskiy says there is still a lot of Leto love for the startup community.
“We believe in the tech startup community and we try to stay in touch and participate in it and give back as well,” Berezovskiy says.
In 2013 Berezovskiy and the Leto team organised the Startup Rally, a series of pitching events across different European cities over 20 days, with a winning team chosen in each location. The event proved popular, with 35 shortlisted startups, and ran the even again in 2014.
The second rally saw about 700 attendees in all. It started and ended in London, with stops in Amsterdam, Hamburg, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Munich, Zurich and Paris.
Participating founders in the rally would ideally travel between the cities to present a four-minute pitch and take a four-minute Q&A with local investors at an incubator in those cities.
The aim of the rally overall, says Berezovskiy, has been to turn the isolated tech clusters into more of an integrated ecosystem and help startups raise funding right across Europe.
Some participants in the Startup Rally were accepted into Rockstart in Amsterdam and Le Camping in Paris and others are in negotiations with investors. This year each winning team received membership of Amazon’s AWS Activate scheme, with a package worth $10,000.
Berezovskiy admits that his motivation for creating the rally is not entirely altruistic, as it helps Leto “to stay in the loop, on the look out for something cool, trendy and inspiring.”
With so much creative energy from generated by the Leto team, Berezovskiy does not have to look far afield.
In 2013 Leto set up an in-house incubator, to draw on the ideas of its own staff. The outcome of this was Moodsense, an emotion recognition and tracking platform that uses a computer’s camera. A year later, Uplifted – an app that uses the Moodsense technology – was unveiled to help users be more productive, focused and happy. Uplifted sends users tips and tricks to encourage positive behavior at work.
“The Moodsense framework can analyse your behavior and your mood, how tired and how focused you are,” says Berezovskiy. “We are hoping to use all this to feedback to people and help them be more productive and focus on the right stuff.”
Although Berezovskiy is not looking for funding for Leto, he is trying to raise money for the products that the incubator has built, like Uplifted.
“We are looking for angel investment but we’re not rushing it. We want to make sure we build something big and then we will probably raise,” he says.
Although he has aspirations for international expansion to New York or San Francisco, for Berezovskiy London is the perfect place to be in terms of size and maturity.
“There is a lot of opportunity in London and the tech scene here has a lot of potential,” he says. “I’m sure we will keep growing here.”
Alex Berezovskiy – CV
Founder and chief executive, Leto
Technical officer, Fish On Toast
UNIX/Linux Engineer, National Oceanography Centre.
BSc computer science, University of Southampton.