Russian startups are going global, VC investment is skyrocketing, and companies are attracting millions of users. One expert explains the fastest growing, most important Russian companies to follow.
Russian tech is big tech. Although Russia's economy has been tumultuous and the tech landscape is largely associated by Westerners as hacker-centric, a strong technological and entrepreneurial culture has developed in the country over the past half decade and produced a number of fast-growing startups.
"Russian tech is powered by programmers who are able to solve cutting-edge, non-trivial tasks," said Russian reporter and tech evangelist Maria Podolyak. "Russian tech [founders], like our fiction writers and inventors, have a romantic approach about creating new things. They want to reinvent our lives."
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Russian tech companies don't get much attention, Podolyak said, "but they should because [Russian startups] are huge and only getting bigger." In a recent interview Podolyak helped identify the top Russian tech firms Western companies should pay attention to.
With over 100 million active monthly users, Telegram may be the most well-known Russian social technology platform. Telegram is a secure instant messaging application that combines a fluid user experience with strong encryption. Prior to building Telegram, co-founder Pavel Durov helped create Vkontakte, a social network with over 350 million active users. According to Podolyak, Russian media companies and entrepreneurs use Telegram both as a public blogging platform and a private communication tool. Designed as a counter to Russia's alleged monitoring of internet traffic, and referred to locally as 'Russia's Snapchat,' messages sent using Telegram are encrypted and do not remain on company servers.
FindFace is highly accurate facial-recognition technology. The technology is assisted by the image database on massive Russian social network Vkontakte and claims over 70 percent accuracy. NTechLab, the five person engineering team that developed FindFace, claims it is able to identify one person in a billion photos, in less than one second.
Perhaps one of the most widely used web servers and load balancers applications of all time, Nginx emerged as an open source project in 2002 and built a strong community of passionate developers. In 2011 co-founders Igor Sysoev and Gus Robertson moved the company to San Francisco. According to CrunchBase, the company has raised 41 million dollars in venture funding and now provides cloud hosting infrastructure services.
Ecwid is a shopping and ecommerce application. Young hacker founder Ruslan Fazlyev does not consider Ecwid a Russian company and instead described his startup as a "global company with a Russian engineering team." With over 1 million stores and counting, the app rivals Shopify in the global ecommerce market and intends to compete aggressively in the US ecommerce market.
Adtech is one of the fastest-growing technology sectors, and Appodeal is the darling of the Russian market. The company serves programmatic ads through a fast-growing network of mobile applications. The company has nearly 2,500 affiliated publishers, serves spots to over 100 million active users, and generates 6 billion advertising impressions per month.
Russian firms are attracted to the Western markets but also hope to learn a few tricks from American marketing tactics and zeal. "Russian projects are more competitive from the tech side," Podolyak said, "but are not good in marketing and business development." Podolyak explained that many Russian startups aspire to build a company with Russian R&D roots and Americans running the business. "Russians don't want to solve small practical problems, they want to change the world," she said.
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