Meet Dmitry Buterin (or “Dima”) founder of three multi-million dollar businesses, including top-ranked membership management software company, Wild Apricot and Co-Founder of BlockGeeks.com. Dima is also an angel investor and mentor for blockchain startups and the proud father of Vitalik Buterin, creator of Ethereum. Dima is an investor in Highline Beta, and a great supporter to the company. We spoke to Dima about his own entrepreneurial journey and what drives him now as an investor.
I became an accidental entrepreneur in my twenties.
I didn’t think about it. I grew up in the USSR, which was the sort of world where the concept of entrepreneurship was non-existent. Then by some chance I became one. I learned so much and thought, “Hey this is amazing!” I wanted to know how I could help others get those learnings, that growth and these results.
From a personal perspective for any human, if you want to make an impact in business, launching a startup is the way to go. A successful startup can make a huge impact on the world. In every startup, there’s an opportunity to be the next Airbnb, Google, and so on. But startups don’t have to be huge either – impact doesn’t have to be measured by the size of your staff or revenue. There are all kinds of startups of all sizes doing meaningful work.
My journey wasn’t linear and there were some big growth moments – moments that required extreme perseverance. There’s one moment that comes to mind. It was 2008, and I had been running my business Wild Apricot for 2 years in Toronto, Canada – the last software company that I built up. Up until that moment, I had wanted to bootstrap the business and then finally we needed to raise some money. We were raising about $1 million. It took us seven months and a lot of very complicated negotiations. We finally signed the document and the next day should have received the money. I should have been feeling excited but I wasn’t.
And then what happened? It was September 2008 and Lehman Brothers defaulted and the whole financial system went down. Our investor contacted us and told us they had to walk away from the deal. Yet I was very, very happy, because at that moment I just knew that they weren’t the right investor for us. So we ended up continuing to bootstrap the business and doing really well with that.
There was this huge learning: it’s important to have alignment between you and your investors. Are they the people you want to work with? And are you philosophically and morally aligned?
“People quite often fail when they put the cart before the horse. They’re like, “Oh, we want to be a billion dollar company,” blah, blah, blah. Who cares? What is your vision? If you can start with a vision that inspires you personally, you’ll go farther.”– Dmitry Buterin
I love investing in startups because of the spirit of the founders. I get a lot of joy when supporting other people in achieving their fullest potential. It’s exciting to help people connect with what is really important to them. People quite often fail when they put the cart before the horse. They say, “Oh, we want to be a billion dollar company.” Blah, blah, blah. Who cares? What is your vision? If you start with a vision that inspires you personally, you’ll go farther. Good business is when you start with that core focus, and then you find a way to integrate that into everything that you do. You cannot predict reality. Reality will throw all kinds of stuff at you. But if you have a vision, a direction, a strategy — and you’re flexible, you’re in a good place.
When investing, the operational plan matters.
When I invest, it cannot just be “Let’s make some money proving this thing.” I need to know about the entrepreneur’s operational plan. What is their strategy? How will they get there? I’ve come across a lot of people with wonderful ideas, but there’s just blue skies and no operational plan. For me, I want to understand the vision and the people behind it, and then the operational execution.
I also focus on the industry. I know more about some industries and less about others. The decentralized space, blockchain, etc. is something I’m excited about. And I have a fair bit of knowledge about the emotional well-being of humans. I think that mental and emotional wellbeing is getting more and more attention and deserves way more attention still. So these areas attract me.
“Canada can do so much more in terms of it’s a tech startup scene. And I think Highline Beta is one of our best attempts to move the whole space forward.”– Dmitry Buterin
When it came to investing in Highline Beta, Marcus and I were good friends and I felt this personal alignment on core values – that was foundational. I liked the mission and direction of the company. Canada can do so much more in terms of it’s tech startup scene. And I think Highline Beta is one of our best attempts to move the whole space forward. Right now a lot of startups go to San Francisco and raise money over there, but Canada is such a hotbed for innovation. There is an enormous number of extremely smart people here and all the immigrants create a really rich, creative culture. Right now in Canada it can be hard to find company interest, mission alignment and scale with the right investors. So philosophically, I like that Highline Beta is trying to change that.
Ultimately, I do what I do because it gives me joy. I see lots of people who have made tons of money but they’re depressed. I’m a big believer that you don’t have to sacrifice your whole life to become successful. Let’s build businesses together where people are making a huge impact and we’re all happy. That’s how we can raise the overall level of prosperity in Canada and improve innovation – by making sure people enjoy what they do.
About Dmitry Buterin
Dmitry Buterin is a serial tech entrepreneur, investor and founder of three multi-million dollar businesses including the non-profit focused software-as-a-service company Wild Apricot. He grew up in the Soviet Union, in Grozny, Chechnya and began studying Computer Science at the Moscow Institute of Electronic Engineering (MIET) at age 17. Dmitry co-founded his first business, Columbus Russia, a financial software reseller and consultancy in 1997 and has been a serial entrepreneur since – bootstrapping every one of his companies. He lives in Toronto, Canada and is the proud father of three children – his son Vitalik (creator of Ethereum) and two daughters.
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