“We received our first investment on the day the war started,” founder of Deskree, a startup that raised $1.5M
On September 20, it became known that Ukrainian Dmytro Grechko’s startup Deskree had raised $1.5 million in seed funding. Deskree is a service for no-code backend infrastructure development that can save businesses of any size up to 40% of the cost and time spent on building the server side of their products.
Interestingly, Dmytro developed most of the Deskree platform himself, although he is not a professional programmer. Now, Grechko is developing his startup and working on a new project. It will allow programmers to monetize their code used by others. Dmytro spoke about his new project and the details of Deskree’s first deal in an interview with AIN.Capital.
When did you move to Canada, and why?
I initially studied at the National Aviation University, majoring in aviation management. I was going to be one of the second generation of my family to graduate from there. But at one point, I realized I wanted to see how education in other countries worked
I was admitted to Harvard, but financially I couldn’t afford it at that time. So, I was invited by York University in Canada. I had heard about Canada befor, but I had never been eager to go there.
I accepted the offer from the university, and it turned out that it was really great. I went there with my wife, who I had been together with since kindergarten, and my younger brother, who was 12 years old. My parents stayed in Ukraine.
How did you start your career in the IT industry?
I had no engineering background when I came to Canada, so I read extensively about technologies, entrepreneurship, and startups. One day, my 12-year-old brother asked me, “Why are you reading so much and doing nothing?” This question was my first turning point. I decided to make a startup.
For this, I required a few developers. Where should I find them? I thought the developers should visit hackathons, so I also had to go there. However, I needed to become a programming specialist myself, too.
Then, I learned of the Hack The North hackathon near Toronto. Guys with rare programming languages were welcomed there. So, to visit it and hire someone, I learned two ancient languages, Fortran and COBOL, just in two weeks.
But the Universe appeared to decide differently. I met there Vinod Khosla, Founder of Khosla Ventures. I think his venture fund belongs to the World TOP 10. And I told him my story. Surprisingly, he responded, “If you want to change the world by yourself, you must become an engineer.” It was my second turning point.
Then, I decided to study IT deeply. I founded a software development agency, Deskree Studio, and asked people I hired to teach me a few hours a week. Now, I have learned many programming languages. However, I prefer Node.js and TypeScript. Some parts of the Deskree platform have been written in GoLang and Typescript.
That is how I spent seven years. We completed about a hundred projects, mainly for middle-sized businesses striving for innovations in their industries to generate more revenues. There were also several startups we collaborated with.
Later, we established Deskree. And the studio was closed.
When did you get your first investment, and how much did you invest in your product?
I invested all I got as profit generated by Deskree Studio in Deskree. In total, I invested about $100,000 of my savings before we got the first investor.
When we started our first seed round in 2021, I had no clue about how it should have been going. I thought then it would take a month or two. It appeared to work the other way. A totally different way. We started raising funds at the worst time ever—in November when we were about out of funds. This time was very stressful.
We received our first check from our primary investor, Forum Ventures, on the first day of the full-scale war.
My wife and I couldn’t sleep all night and followed the news. And the next day, we had the final meeting with investors at 8 o’clock. And it was 7 o’clock when we stopped reading news about Ukraine. First, I thought I couldn’t go to the meeting. However, I decided to go. That’s how we got our first $100,000 check.
Later, we attracted two more investors, Hustle Fund and N49P. We received $200,000 and then another $300,000. In total, we raised $1.5 million in seed rounds and reported this in the past week.
We plan to raise another $0.5 to $1 million in the coming months. According to our plans, in Q1 2024, we will become profitable. And it is a pretty short time in the case of early-stage startups.
Tell us about your team. How many people work in Deskree? Do you have employees in Ukraine?
Currently, our team consists of eleven people. Two of them are Ukrainians living and working in Canada.
Back at Deskree Studio, we had most personnel from Ukraine. However, many of them relocated to Europe because of the war. We helped several people find jobs.
90% of the Deskree platform code has been written by myself not to distract Deskree Studio developers from their projects. Now we have a CTO who have 25 years of experience in very large companies. He comes from Panama. Then, we also have the Head of Design. And recently, CPO joined our team. All employees have got options. So, technically speaking, everyone who works on Deskree is my co-founder.
Deskree grew from 300 to 10,000 users just in one year. How do you find your customers?
It’s thanks to one of our investors, Vlad Magdalin, Founder of Webflow. For me, working with him is a great honor. All my projects from Studio times have been built on Webflow. In addition, we went a similar way—both of us made debts and invested all of our savings into our products. I asked him how they succeeded, and his answer was, “We used to work a lot.” So, there is no secret ingredient.
All our clients come to us on their own. We have sponsored various hackathons, but mostly, these people saw the product, used it, liked it, and told their friends.
What is your business model? What are your pricing and budgets?
We have a free plan and paid plans from $20 to $5,000 per month. The most popular is $70/month. It all depends on what the client needs.
Our task is not just to allow people to create the back-end but to make it cheaper than if they did it themselves. When the back-end is built independently, without our help, the project will cost $20,000. The same thing with us will cost $70 per month. When you create something on the Big Cloud, the provider can charge you in many ways. There are many different parameters that the client needs to understand.
Unlike large cloud providers such as AWS or GCP, we tried to make our pricing policy more understandable and transparent. So, what we did? We combined all these parameters and decided to charge the client for an API request that includes all the necessary resources at once. We also developed a system that navigates how the client’s product uses resources so that it is not the “biggest cloud” but the most optimal option for this client, which will work well and not lead to unnecessary costs.
This is how we save people up to 40-50% of their monthly budget in AWS or Google Cloud.
Do you have any competitors? I’ve never heard of anyone doing something similar to your product.
There are companies like Superbase, they make a database in a similar way. Many people think they are our competitors, but in fact, they are a company with which we would like to partner in the future and, let’s say, complement their solution within the infrastructure we are building.
The most similar is Railway.app, which is a very great product. But I haven’t seen any direct competitors that do what we do, and in the same way we do it.
What stage is your product at? What’s next?
The current product is already running. There are clients who make millions of API requests per month using our system. It is absolutely functional. Next week, we are releasing a complete redesign of the platform.
And in January, we are planning to launch our R&D project, which we have been working on for the last six months. I will not go into detail yet, but basically, we have found a way for programmers to earn money from people using their code, wherever they are.
That is, we as a company will not only help people save money on development but also earn it. We are doing this project in collaboration with some very big open source libraries. This is the next stage of Deskree’s development.