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This is a translation of the original article provided to us by Yevgen Sysoyev of AVentures Capital. The article has originally appeared in Ukrainian Forbes – Forbes.ua
By Pavel Mandryk and Sergei Mishko
Startup CheckiO with Ukrainian roots raised $750,00 seed round. Recruiters will help to pay the money back
International venture fund AVentures Capital, managed by Yevgen Sysoyev and Andrey Kolodyuk, also contributed to the pool of $750,000 funding. Other investors include TA Ventures, a Ukrainian fund of Viktoriya Tigipko, Vegas Tech Fund of Tony Hsieh, as well as Bob Mason and Jay Batson, private investors. Contributions of the investors are not disclosed according to the terms of the deal.
CheckiO is an online game which was designed in such way that it is necessary to solve programming tasks of different complexity to pass to the next level. The main heroes are robots which travel around the virtual islands overcoming various obstacles (tasks).
Web-site users from all over the world compete in giving the best solutions to the programming tasks. As Liza Avramenko, CEO and cofounder of CheckiO, explained, “Recently a new option was added which allows anyone in the world to add his/her own question for the users community, which means that users will be able to create the content themselves”.
Currently there are more than 27 thousand of registered users, primarily from the US. The second country with the largest number of registered users is France, and the third one is Ukraine. There are also programmers from Russia, China and India active in CheckiO platform. For the past couple of months a lot of European IT-specialists have been registered.
Early days of the project
The game was developed by CTO and cofounder of CheckiO, Alexander Lyabakh, 28, from Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. He got involved into programming while studying physics at university. After the graduation he started his career in a bank. Later, when he realized how many talented young people lose their programming skills doing routine jobs, he designed a website to compete with his friends over the best solution to interesting and challenging tasks.
As Lyabakh explained, “I registered the domain in 2010. I got that idea late at night when I was thinking how to make it possible for everybody to learn from each other in solving tasks. At that time CheckiO was just a hobby for me, but later I decided to do it professionally.”
Initially the project consisted of a set of different tasks. Current version of the tasks and the game itself were created only after the restart of the website in 2012, when the website became more user-friendly. Since then, the team has become stronger and currently there are 10 people working for this project.
The company got noticed after the presentation of the project at the annual conference of IDCEE in Kiev in October 2012, where entrepreneurs, investors and managers of the international IT companies meet to find new ideas and solutions. After that American IT bloggers wrote about the company. The next step was the support program of TechStars, when investors got interested in the company after the presentation during one of the company’s events.
As Liza Avramenko remembers now, “After the TechStars event, we were approached by some people who asked us whether it is possible to introduce us to the representatives of one fund. We did not even know the name of that fund. Later on we were informed that it was the Vegas Tech Fund of Tony Hsieh. The negotiations lasted for a long time. Investors were interested in our vision for the future, the growth in 2 to 5 years and, in particular, in our team. Investors liked our goal to become Olympic games in IT.”
As a business project, CheckiO can make money on recruiting agencies and companies seeking talented programmers. The company plans to sell brand spaces where other companies will be posting their questions.
The company announces the winner among the website users every week and rewards them with special presents from the partner companies. The best programmers become potential job candidates.
Currently CheckiO cooperates with the American publishing company O’Reilly Media (this company publishes IT books) and GitHub service (the largest web service for hosting IT projects). CheckiO also plans to launch pilot projects with some other American companies, such as HubSpot (software), Brightcove (platform for video hosting) and Dropbox in the near future. In addition to that, the company is also in discussions with Square, Mozilla and Salesforce.
A number of international universities, including the University of Arizona, the University of Washington, the University of Texas Arlington, Georgia Tech, Ollin College and the University of Queensland in Australia, started using the company’s idea and even included it in the curriculum. As Avramenko mentioned, “We receive feedback from the professors who like giving assignments using CheckiO. Students not only get involved in the game but also compete with each other and solve the questions at their own speed. A professor can check at which level a student is and give advice on the further steps.”
Since American companies are the largest clients and users of the project, Alexander Lyabakh and Liza Avramenko plan to move to Las Vegas by 18th December. Las Vegas became a hub for a lot of IT companies because of the tax free regime. The rest of the team responsible for the software development of the game will remain in Dnepropetrovsk and will work with the managers of CheckiO distantly. According to Lyabakh, “Our lead investor Tony Hsieh promised to support us. We want to get new experience in the US and to build the in-country presence. We believe in our success.”
Forbes was assured by the founders of CheckiO that the company chooses investors very diligently and refused a number of offers from a lot of local and foreign investors. As Avramenko concluded, “For us, an investor is not only a rich person. The most important is to share common believes and vision.”
The founders of CheckiO are not afraid of competition. Among the potential competitors are, for example, Hocurrent, which is a set of tasks for programmers, and a platform ТОРcoder, which organizes offline events for programmers sponsored by such famous companies as Facebook.
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