How AirSlate, a new Ukrainian unicorn startup, appeared and developed

AirSlate, a Ukrainian workflow automation service previously known as PDFfiller, has raised another round of investment and reached a total value of $1.25 billion, thus becoming unicorn. AIN.Capital explores the history of this service.

Image: AirSlate

How the service started

  • Back in the 2010s, Semyon Dukach, a famous Ukrainian investor, had an idea for a new project. He decided to discuss it with his friend from Boston, Vadym Yasynovskiy, who had moved to the US when he was 18 and had already launched several successful businesses. For instance, he sold his company Clear Software in 1996 to SPSS for $8.5 million. He worked on several startups together with Dukach.
  • By the time PDFfiller (the former name of AirSlate) was conceived, Yasynovskiy had already been “retired” – he traveled the world and was into sports and arts. But the idea for a new startup sparked his interest.
  • Dukach’s vision was to offer a service that would allow editing and e-sign PDF documents online. Yasynovskiy liked the idea. He supported the launch financially and agreed to develop the product. This is how PDFfiller came to be.

How the company developed

  • The initial investments in the company amounted to $25,000, with $5,000 coming from Dukach, and the rest, from Yasynovskiy. Vadym had a programmer from Donetsk who had worked for one of his former projects. The entrepreneur decided to involve him in the creation of the online PDF editor. As Yasynovsky would later recall, they “somehow cobbled together” a prototype, and it began to grow unexpectedly fast.
  • This growth accelerated even more when the team was strengthened by another co-founder, Borys Shakhnovich, who had also moved to the US, studied at Urbana University, and become one of the youngest professors at Boston University, and later Harvard.
  • The idea to create, edit and e-sign PDF documents online proved to be in high demand among small and medium-sized businesses in the West. Thanks to Shakhnovich’s efforts, the website’s traffic soared from several hundred to 4 million visits a month.
  • Initially, the service was free for users; later, a fee of $0.5 per document was introduced, followed by a subscription plan of $30 per year. Under Shakhnovich’s management, the service added the bank card payment option; since then, the monthly subscription rose to $20, and the annual one — to $72. In the first five years of work, the service gained 15,000 paid subscribers.
  • Over time, the service expanded to include not only PDFs but also all types of office documents to work with. Because of this, in 2019, the team rebranded the service as AirSlate.
  • At the same time, the startup raised a large investment from General Catalyst ($20 million). Other portfolio companies of this investor include Airbnb, HubSpot, Snap, Stripe, and others. The Ukrainian investor in the project was Horizon Capital, which invested through its Emerging Europe Growth Fund III (EEGF III).
  • Since then, AirSlate has repeatedly raised rounds of tens of millions of dollars from prominent investors. For example, in January 2021, the team announced the closure of a $40 million round from Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital, General Catalyst, and HighSage Ventures.

What the results are

  • Last year, Forbes was the first to write that the startup had become a unicorn after another investment round. The startup has repeatedly appeared on lists of Europe’s most expensive projects. This is no wonder: in 2021, its audience amounted to 700,000 clients from all around the world. And during the corona crisis, the project was able to increase its revenue by 65% and attract a total of $130m (including the current round).
  • As of the time of the latest round of $51.5m, Airslate can boast more than 900,000 paying customers and 100m users globally. So, its co-founder has every reason to celebrate the news on Facebook.