You have read some of the Unicorn Series pieces already: Tableau, FireEye, RightNow, Palo Alto Networks and several others. Here’s a company that gets little coverage but is performing at Unicorn levels.
Sramana: Ratmir, let’s start our discussion by reviewing your background. Where are you from? What are the roots of your entrepreneurial journey?
Ratmir Timashev: I was born in Russia in 1966 in the mountains between the European and Asian region of Russia. I studied physics in Moscow and I attended the top science school in Russia. I was working on my PhD when perestroika came into being. Science was very prestigious under the Soviet Union and when perestroika happened, all that changed. Government funding suddenly stopped. The economy collapsed and science did not make sense. A lot of my friends who were studying science went to work in other areas.
Some were entrepreneurial and started their own businesses. I also tried some entrepreneurial activities in Russia in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. I enjoyed entrepreneurship and was pretty successful. I started by selling computers and ended up doing construction work. I did all of that as a PhD student because I had a wife and a son and did not make enough money as a PhD student to support them. I worked over the weekends and summer breaks.
I found entrepreneurship has some of its parallels to science. Both have goals you set out to achieve. In science, the goal is fame and research, in business, the goal is money. Both have ways to measure achievement. I thought that in terms of the game, the business world was very similar to the science world. These activities created a lot of adrenaline and drive.
Those side jobs led me to discover that I eventually wanted to become an entrepreneur. I decided to go to the United States in the early 1990s to learn the language and culture. I was still a graduate student at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technologies, the MIT of Russia.
Sramana: Are you still based in Russia?
Ratmir Timashev: No. Veeam is headquartered in Switzerland. Our first company was started in Columbus, Ohio. I went to the US in 1992 and the best way to get there was as a graduate student. I figured before I started a serious business, I had to learn the US culture and language. I wanted to go to the US for a few years and then return to Russia.
I attended the physics program at Ohio State University. I had to do my PhD work and in 1995 I got my green card. I was now more or less free and I did not have to stay at Ohio State anymore. I didn’t finish my PhD but instead did a second masters. I then started my first business with a partner.