A Slice on Olga Nikitina, Co-Founder and CPO of Via.Delivery
Olga Nikitina’s entrepreneurship journey began in Russia with a meal kit delivery service (think Hello Fresh). While running this for six years, Nikitina and her co-founder (also husband) were let on to another problem: the expensive and outdated last mile of delivery. They went to found Via.Delivery, launching and growing it in Russia before moving their headquarters to San Francisco, California. The company is now in 5 countries, with over 21,000 brick-and-mortar locations.
In Russia, alternative delivery methods had already been established for some time, but there seemed to be a decline. “We noticed that this trend of ‘buy online pick up in store’ froze when the pandemic started. We thought it’s actually a perfect time to introduce alternative delivery options. We started working with brick and mortar retailers to bring them traffic, with e-commerce businesses to give their clients alternative options.”
In the U.S., however, people are more accustomed to deliveries being made right to their door. While this posed a potential challenge, Nikitina and her partner still decided to test the U.S. market when they were invited to the Alchemist Accelerator Program. They had issues attempting to travel to the U.S. from Russia during a pandemic, however. “It was very risky that we came to the U.S. in August 2020. We couldn’t fly directly from Russia, but we flew through Turkey when Turkey opened its borders. We just bought the first tickets to come, and we were the only startup from the batch in Alchemist that flew to the U.S.” Once they got to San Francisco, they found it easy to make new connections and fundraise through the accelerator. Nikitina describes San Francisco and the entire Silicon Valley as the “perfect place if you want to build a startup and disrupt markets.”
Throughout her journey founding two startups, Nikitina has learned some valuable lessons.
“Treat your idea as a hypothesis. Many founders think that there is only one correct way. The reality is different, but they don’t want to believe it and then they just keep spending money doing what they think is correct… When I was a perfectionist and not very experienced, I used to measure success by revenue and clients. Now I consider everything, I see things in a different perspective. I measure my success by how many hypotheses we tested, both those that were successful and those that were not.”
If she’s not an expert in a certain aspect of the business, she finds someone who is. “You will always go faster if you have a team. I know that some people have this idea and they’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to involve someone,’ ‘I don’t trust someone,’ or, ‘No one will do that better than I do.’ But I think that’s completely wrong. Because as a team, you can do much more. I would always suggest the founder of a startup to involve other people and even involve people better than you are.”
Though startups are very risky, Nikitina was never interested in taking a traditional path. “My partner and I were the only ones from our master program who never took a corporate path. All of my classmates have already built their careers in Google or Facebook or somewhere else. They really can’t understand how you can work for many, many years with a very low salary and so many pitfalls and failures.” Nikitina is motivated by her team, the freedom that comes with entrepreneurship, and by taking a step back every once in a while to see how far she’s actually come.
Nikitina’s main goal for the future is to find Via.Delivery’s product-market fit. She’s flexible with how they get there, though, “I never have an idea that it only can work the way we imagined it. It’s an educated guess at the beginning. As long as we find our niche, our market, and start selling, even if it’s not the way we planned it, I think it’s okay.”
Olga Nikitina is originally from Russia but has worked and studied in France, the U.S., and Austria. She got her Bachelor’s in International Economics from the Siberian Federal University, a Master’s in International Business from Saint Petersburg State University and a Master’s in Management from Vienna University of Economics and Business. Her first startup was a meal-kit delivery service in Russia, and her current venture is Via.Delivery, now based in San Francisco, California. Connect with Nikitina on LinkedIn.