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EPIC Mentoring Insights from Armin Saidi

Armin Saidi, CEO and founder at viciniti and founder at WICASTR, has been mentoring the last several batches of EPIC startup teams. He has been helping them overcome many challenges, motivating and inspiring them to achieve their goals.

EPIC recently interviewed Saidi to find out more about his experience as a mentor at EPIC and get some tips for our young entrepreneurs.

As the founder of viciniti and WICASTR, how do you compare the challenges of starting a company locally in Armenia vs. globally?

The world is very big and when it comes to business, everyone and almost everything is somewhat interconnected. Now, whether one produces and sells goods or services locally or internationally, he will face a series of challenges. Some are similar regardless of the  location, and others are more geared towards the markets one either operates in or sells to.

There are key challenges one may face when starting a local or global company. For example, on a global level, you will have to deal with general challenges relating to:

  • Language issues and barriers
  • Cultural barriers and challenges
  • Currency exchange rate
  • Import/export regulations and complications

Let’s also mention some challenges that are more directly related to managing a company in Armenia. We can think of:

  • Political risks and instability
  • Foreign laws and regulations, and company structure
  • Banking and accounting practices
  • Adapting one’s business model 
  • Managing across cultures  

Going global can open massive markets, increase revenues, and improve your brand’s recognition. However, like anything else in business, before you decide to go global, it’s imperative to be aware of some of the challenges you may face.

How would you evaluate Armenian startups’ potential in the global marketplace?

I can firmly say, and we have many examples to support this, that Armenian startups’ potential in the global marketplace is a force to reckon with – and it’s just beginning. 

Despite the pandemic, the political instability, and border clashes of the past year, which normally would leave a somewhat pessimistic view, we can proudly proclaim the opposite: the Armenian startup scene and technology sector are strong and booming. 

Many examples come to mind: Picsart (unicorn status), Krisp, Disqo, ARLOOPA, IntelinAir, SoloLearn, Renderforest, Expper Technologies, Coin Stats, and Service Titan (Diasporan Armenian founders with local teams), just to name a few, are all making a big mark globally.   

They are building global brands and competitive solutions to problems faced by people all over the world, which in return gives them access to a much larger market and creates countless opportunities for Armenian startups.

This is just the beginning.  I can only imagine what will happen when some of these firms either go public or exit, opening the door to a series of new entrepreneurs and startups, an influx of capital that will be redistributed to the ecosystem. At the same time, these successes will attract new investors who have already been paying attention to Armenia. All I can say is that good times are ahead.

Please share a couple of comments about your interaction with EPIC.

My interaction with EPIC has been nothing but fantastic. I don’t know if those participating in EPIC realize how lucky they are to have access to such a program, such an entrepreneur-friendly platform. I have no doubt that such a platform would have been instrumental as I navigated my early and challenging days as an entrepreneur. I think my path to success would have been much faster, and chances are I would have avoided many headaches.  

I have seen firsthand how EPIC can help emerging entrepreneurs reach their goals via their top facilities and collaboration spaces, programs, and events and incredible network of mentors, advisors, and investors.    

I am presently in my second “season” as a mentor, doing my best to help others avoid some crucial mistakes while trying to guide them and provide advice to the best of my knowledge.    

As for interaction, some of it is for selfish learning experiences. You may find me sitting in the back during Hack Nights when EPIC invites well-known and successful  entrepreneurs who generously share their time and entrepreneurial experiences and still take the time to answer questions from up and coming entrepreneurs. We, including myself, have so much to learn from others. A big thank you to the EPIC team for this.

What is your motivation for being an EPIC mentor?

Although I love the EPIC initiative, my motivation to be a mentor is less driven by EPIC itself, but more so by the belief that I need to “pay back” for all the mentors who have helped me in my career.  In my early entrepreneurial days, and even today, I often relied on mentors for advice and guidance. So many people have generously helped in the past, and as such, it is a pleasure to be able to do the same for others. 

Also, WICASTR was fortunate to participate in the Techstar incubator, Lisbon 2019 cohort. As part of Techstars, you are dealing with hundreds of mentors who all share the Techstar mantra to #GIVE FIRST. This is part of Techstar’s DNA, which should be part of any entrepreneur’s. Techstar’s mantra, simply put, “means giving—advice, resources, assistance, etc.—with no expectation of getting anything specific back. When a network of people, such as a global community of entrepreneurs, live in a #GiveFirst way, each is helpful whenever they can be.”

And I personally encourage anyone to do the same.  

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?

First you need to ask yourself if being an entrepreneur is for you. The reality is that outside the hype one reads about on social media and tech blogs, the millions of dollars of funding, the wealth creation (unicorns), and the success – being an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone.

Most think and hope that it is a path to quick money. It often takes years of hard work, long hours, many sacrifices, and no recognition to become successful. A lot of entrepreneurs give up, or fail for other reasons, like running out of money – and if that happens, it’s ok. Just be true to yourself and try to understand if this is really for you, if you are ready to embark on this rollercoaster journey.

If you think it’s for you, be ready for it mentally. It’s going to be hard and very challenging, but also fun, energizing, and motivating, especially when you start seeing some form of success.  

Regardless, try to approach this in a smart, systematic way, with conviction and direction, and always ask for help along the way. Remember the following pieces of advice that drive my entrepreneurial spirit: 

  1. Persistence wears down resistance.
  2. Things are never as good as it looks and it’s never as bad as it seems.

Just embrace this journey you have decided to take. Most importantly, make sure you are solving a real problem, and if you do, you will see the influx of money from those who are ready to pay for you to solve their problem. It’s a relatively simple formula… but hard to achieve because of so many factors.