As you know, I love stories of entrepreneurs in different parts of the world finding success through grit and creativity. Mikita’s story gives us an insight into what’s happening in Belarus, and how he has navigated his way to Silicon Valley. And our Bootstrap First, Raise Money Later mantra holds!
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your personal journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Mikita Mikado: I’m from Belarus, which is a small, former Soviet Union state on the western border of Russia. I was born in 1986. That’s about the time when things went down. My journey began there. I went to a normal Belarusian school. I was a typical Belarusian kid at that time.
Sramana Mitra: How so?
Mikita Mikado: Belarus, just like America, has a typical middle class. I belong to that middle class.
Sramana Mitra: Where did you do further education? In Belarus?
Mikita Mikado: Yes, I went to a computer science school in Belarus. The thing about Belarus is that there’s no oil. There’s no gas. Medicine is owned by the state. If you want to do anything that would make you over $1,000, your chances are much better if you go into tech. That was the dream job for me. I studied math and physics really hard. I did my very best to get to a computer science school. That’s the why.
Sramana Mitra: What happened after you finished computer science school?
Mikita Mikado: In the middle of it, I got a chance to get a J1 visa. It was a student exchange program in Belarus that allowed you to stay in America for three months. I invested everything I had and jumped onto the plane. I went to the States and worked all sorts of random jobs to make all that money back and make a little extra.
Sramana Mitra: What year was this?
Mikita Mikado: That was 2006.
Sramana Mitra: J1 is not a visa you can stay on. You had to go back to Belarus.
Mikita Mikado: Yes. In the middle of that process, I started designing websites for companies and people. The next summer, I went back to the States. It was a pretty lucrative business. That got me to make enough money to pay for college so I can pay for school in America. That gets me an F1 visa, which allows you to stay a little longer.
Sramana Mitra: Where did you go to school?
Mikita Mikado: It was in University of Hawaii.
Sramana Mitra: Belarus to Hawaii.
Mikita Mikado: I get that reaction all the time.
Sramana Mitra: My reaction was just surprise that that’s what you chose. It’s a very unexpected answer.
Mikita Mikado: When I entered this program, they do job placement for you. They placed me at a restaurant. I didn’t have a lot of choices. While there, I built up a small clientele. I didn’t really choose it. It kind of sucked because minimum wage is $7 and the cost of living is pretty high. The traffic is the worst in this country. First summer, there was this three-month program. The next year was pretty tough.